War of Attrition during 1969-1970

What was the War of Attrition during 1969-1970?

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Brig. General Raful Eitan (1968)

The Arab states suffered a great loss of credibility following the June 1967 Six Day War when they lost badlyto the much smaller Israeli forces. This was especially true for Egypt which had to endure Israeli troops entrenched on the east bank of the Suez Canal. the The canal was closed to shipping, and Israel was occupying the Sinai, a large piece of Egyptian territory. Israel built the Bar Lev Line, strong fortifications along the Suez Canal defense line. In addition to hostilities with Egypt, the War of Attritionincluded attacks along all three fronts (Egypt, Syria/Lebanon and Jordan) ever since the June 1967 cease-fire. For example, terrorists continuously infiltrated into the Jordan Valley, leading to IDF helicopter-borne search operations.

Nasser responded by maintaining a constant state of military activity along the canal–the so-called War of Attrition, Various dates are given for the start of this war, but it reallybegan immediately after the cease fire of the Six Day war, in July of 1967. There was shellingand sniper fire along the Suez front continuously, with escalating activity which peaked from late1968 through August 1970. The period included a naval battle on October 21, 1967, when Egypt sank the Israeli destroyer Eilat, killing 47, with the first successful employment of antiship missiles with homing warheads.

Nassar was determined to test Israel’s ability and determination to hold onto its gains from the June 1967 Six Day War. Given the wide disparity in the populations of Israel and Egypt, Israel could not long tolerate trading casualties one-for-one with the Egyptians. Therefore, the Israeli government, led by Golda Meir, pursued a policy of “asymmetrical response”– retaliation on a scale far exceeding the individual attack.

On March 3, 1969, Egyptian President Gamal Abd El-Nasser announced that the ceasefire agreement with Israel was null and void. The Egyptians opened a heavy artillery barrage along the entire length of the Canal on March 8, 1969, in a well-planned and premeditated offensive. In April, the Egyptians advanced two SA-2 missile batteries to the Canal, limiting the IAF’s freedom of action in the skies. In early July of 1969, the IAF initiated a series of air battles against Egypt’s MiGs near the Suez. About 20 MiGs were shot down in these dogfights. From July 20th onwards, the IAF began a series of attacks against Egypt’s SAMs. The IAF carried out roughly 500 sorties against the SAMs, until – by late November – they had been crippled.

In an attempt to pressure the Egyptians to stop the fighting, the IAF began attacking strategic targets deep within Egypt. Between January and April 1970, 118 sorties were carried out against radar stations, SAMs and military camps in Egypt.

In March 1970 the Soviet Union began to install in Egypt SA-3 missile batteries manned by Soviet personnel. In April it became known that Soviet pilots were flying operational missions from air bases in Egypt. The heavy involvement ofthe Soviets in Egypt and the United States support of Israel increased the chance ofa super-power confrontation in the Middle East. To avoid this, the US became more active in attempting to reach a cease-fire agreement (See the Rogers Plan).

On August 7th 1970, Israel and Egypt accepted the American proposal, that led to a ninety-day cease-fire between the sides. But subsequent US efforts to negotiate an interim agreement to open the Suez Canal and achieve disengagement of forces were unsuccessful.

On August 7, 1970 the Soviets and Egyptians deployed sophisticated ground-to-air SAM-2 and SAM-3 missiles in the restricted 32-mile-deep zone along the west bank of the Suez Canal,in a 78-mile band between the cities of Ismailia and Suez. This was a clear violation of the cease-fire agreement, which barred the introduction or construction of any military installations in this area.

According to Time magazine, US reconnaissance:

  • …showed that the 36 SAM-2 missiles sneaked into the cease-fire zone constitute only the first line of the most massive anti-aircraft system ever created.

The Israeli death toll between June 15, 1967, and August 8, 1970, was 1,424 soldiers and more than 100 civilians. Another 2,000 soldiers and 700 civilians were wounded.Israel also lost 10 Israeli airmen killed and 15 combat aircraft.

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