What was the background of the Yom Kippur War in 1973?
The three-year period 1971 to 1973, was one of relative tranquillity. Though the Six Day War cease-fire was broken time and again by the advancement of Egyptian missiles on the Suez Canal front, the peace itself was not shattered until October 1973 by the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.
During this time, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat tried to force a peace agreement on Israel several times, based on his terms: complete withdrawal of Israel from all the areas that Israel captured in 1967 during the Six Day War.Sadat, attempting to be a leader of the Arab world, needed to redress the humiliating losses of 1967. He was equally interested in the Sinai oil fields that were vital to his failing economy, but remained in Israeli hands. He began with presssure on Israel directly in 1971 and later, in 1972 and 1973, expanded his efforts by trying to involve the United States, threatening war unless the US made Israel sign a agreement that included full withdrawal.
Henry Kissinger recalls the situation in an interview with CNN, saying:
- To understand our policy in 1973, you have to go back to 1969. When the Nixon Administration came into office, we found Russia the main arms supplier of the Arabs (or at least to the Arabs in confrontation with Israel), a supporter of the radical Arab peace program, and asking us to collaborate with them in imposing this -- for which we had no incentive, because why should we do this in conjunction with them? We established the policy that we would thwart any move backed by Soviet arms, until some Arab leader would become so frustrated that he would turn to us for diplomacy, and then we would try to take as even-handed a position as we were capable of developing.
Failing to get the US support he needed, Sadat, in collusion with the Soviet Union, made a series of moves designed to mislead Israel and the US into thinking that tensions had cooled and Egypt's relationshipwith the Soviet Union was in trouble. To make the point, in July of 1972 Egypt expelled their Soviet military advisors and announced the reason as Soviet reluctance to supply advanced weapons to be used against Israel. The year following July 1972 was employed by the Egyptians in preparing for the surprise attack across the Suez Canal and for its co-ordination with the parallel attack, by the Syrian forces, on the Golan Heights. The Syrians became direct beneficiaries of the Egyptian-Soviet deception: The experts expelled from Egypt were transferred to Syria, with the consent of the Egyptian government.
At some point in 1973, the OPEC countries came to a radical decision to execute a sudden and steep increase in oil. Egypt saw the potential to couple that decision withthe use of the vast oil resources as a political weapon. The key move would be to proclaim an embargo, to coincide with the war they were preparing against Israel. This embargo would deny oil to the whole of the Western world in order to extort from them support in bringing Israel to her knees. Overnight the countries of Europe and Japan, heavily dependent on Middle East oil, would be reduced to begging the Arabs for relief.
The timing of the OPEC announcement on October 16, 1973, the eleventh day of the Yom Kippur War
, of a drastic rise in oil prices to coincide with the imposition of the embargo had the bonus for the Arabs of making it appear that Israel was at the root of the difficulties of the West.
Prior to the outbreak of the war, Israeli intelligence was aware of Arab war plans, including details of the Egyptian assault to come. But there was a failure to perceive the full intent, that Egypt and Syria, backed by the other Arab states were ready to act.Therefore, the attacks on Yom Kippur came as a surprise, a shock that put the survivalof Israel at risk and shook the confidence of the nation in its military and leaders.
The opening attacks of the Yom Kippur War by Egypt and Syria
came almost as a complete surprise to Israel and warning notice was given too late for an orderly call-up of the reserves before zero hour.