The final timing of war against Israel was only chosen three days before the battle – Photo compiled by Egypt Today/Mohamed Zain The final timing of war against Israel was only chosen three days before the battle – Photo compiled by Egypt Today/Mohamed Zain

1973 Arab-Israeli War; Code name: Operation Badr

Sat, Oct. 7, 2017
CAIRO – 7 October 2017: President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi delivered a speech on Wednesday as he commemorated the 44th anniversary of the 1973 Arab–Israeli War.

“The October victory was not a mere military triumph to liberate our lands, but also a victory over hopelessness and frustration to reclaim dignity and achieve peace,” President Sisi said during his short speech.

The 1973 war was fought by a coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, against Israel in Sinai and the Golan Heights, which had been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967.

Speaking of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, however, brings details of a military operation carried out by the Egyptian Army, which sparked a fog of war and tipped the scales of battle, namely Operation Badr.

The war in 1973 goes back to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948; an ongoing dispute that witnessed numerous battles extended until the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel had captured Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, about half of the Golan Heights in Syria and some territories of the West Bank.

On September 1957, eight Arab heads of state from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait and Sudan gathered at the Khartoum Arab Summit that kicked off August 29, 1967 and declared an Arab unity that consolidates all efforts to eliminate the Israeli aggression and regain the occupied territories.

Khartoum_Arab_Summit,_1967
(L) to (R): King Fasal of Saudi Arabia, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Abdullah Sallal of Yemen, Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah of Kuwait and Abd al-Rahman Arif of Iraq during the Arab League Summit in Khartoum, following the 1967 War - Photo courtesy of Bibliotheca Alexandrina

During the summit, the eight states rejected any peaceful settlement with the state of Israel, declaring the “Three No’s”; as there would be no peace, no recognition and no negotiation with Israel.

The war escalated after the Six-Day War into the War of Attrition, which involved fighting between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and their allies.

The War of Attrition continued until 1970, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser believed that only military action would compel Israel to fully withdraw from Sinai.

In a hard-hitting speech in front of the Egyptian General Assembly, Nasser asserted that Egypt would fight to regain its territories occupied by Israel if the United Nations failed to restore them, saying he was not satisfied by the UN Security Council’s peace formula.

Photo 1 - Nasser's article
Not Satisfied With UN Plan, Egypt will fight, Nasser Shouts, the article was published in Pitsburgh Post-Gazette on November 24, 1967

Nasser died in September 1970. His successor Anwar Sadat presented his interim agreement intentions to the Egyptian Parliament as a step towards settlement on February 4, 1971, which extended the terms of the ceasefire that followed the War of Attrition.

The tabled agreement stated the recognition of Israel as independent state as defined by the United Nation's Security Council in exchange for a total Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories, especially the Sinai Peninsula.

Sadat said Egypt's offer to reopen the Suez Canal in return for a partial Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Sinai Peninsula still stands, however, he added, "Egypt is not ready to relinquish one inch of its territory or to bargain with the Palestinian's rights."

The Suez Canal was closed by Egypt during the war in 1967; reopening it was highly regarded an essential step towards peace in the Middle East.

Photo 2 - Suez Canal Reopening
Reopening of Suez not seen imminent, the article was published by the Gazette, Montreal, on May 11, 1971


Taking a look at the document, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir immediately shelved the document after realizing that Israel would return Gaza Strip, most of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in addition to dividing the Israeli state from Egypt and Syria. The deal was considered by U.S. diplomat Joseph J. Sisco as the best opportunity to reach peace for Israel since its establishment; Israel declared it had no intention of returning to the pre-1967 borders.

Henry Kissinger, who served as the United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, made an offer to Sadat's emissary Hafiz Ismail that Israel will withdraw from all of Sinai, except for some strategic points.

"Ismail remained cool to my scheme of separating sovereignty and security. He called this 'diluted sovereignty,' but said he would check with Sadat and let me know. I never heard from him," Kissinger mentioned in the second volume of his New York Times bestseller 'Henry Kissinger Years of Upheaval'. "Ismail knew that Sadat was determined on war."

Egypt began by the end of 1972 to improve its military tactics and build up its forces, receiving jet fighters and anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank weapons and guided missiles. However, all preparations for crossing the Suez Canal were being leaked, giving a reason to Sadat to expel almost all of the 20,000 Soviet military advisers in Egypt in July 1972.

The plan to attack Israel was code-named Operation Badr (Arabic for full moon), it had been planned in the beginning of 1971 in absolute secrecy; soldiers only knew about going to war a few hours beforehand.

sadat-1973 operation room
President Anwar Sadat at the 1973 operation room

Israel never knew at the time that neither Egypt nor Syria would march to war against the Israeli army based on several assumptions. Israel assumed that Syria would not go to war with Israel unless Egypt declared it as well.

Another assumption made by the Israeli Directorate of Military Intelligence was based on information provided by senior Mossad agent Ashraf Marawan, former president Nasser's son-in-law, that Egypt would not go to war until they were supplied with the MiG-23 fighter-bomber in order to neutralize the Israeli Air Force. Israel was tricked into thinking that the war with Egypt was not imminent.

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Soviet MiG-23 aircraft - DoD photo/VIRIN: DN-ST-89-08431

Egypt ensured a stream of false information regarding maintenance problems and a lack of personnel to operate the advanced war equipment, especially after the expulsion of the Soviet military observers.

Another scheme carried out by the Egyptian Army in May and August 1973 began by conducting military exercises near the borders in order to swindle the Israelis into dismissing war preparations.

One October 4, the Egyptian army publicly announced the demobilization of around 20,000 troops, some of the men were given leaves to perform Umrah, while other soldiers were also given instructing cadets in military colleges to resume their courses on October 9, a move that would lull Israeli suspicions.

On the morning of October 6, 1973, Egypt deployed special squads of troops along the Suez Canal, their task was to show themselves without their gears or armor to swim and fish.

Only President Sadat, his Minister of War, Ismail Ali, knew about the war plans before October 1.

In Syria on the other hand, only President Hafez al-Assad, his minister of war, commander-in-chief, the director of operations, the director of military intelligence, the commander of the Air Force and commander of the Anti-Aircraft Defense networks knew about the plan to attack Israel.

Radio Damascus also announced on October 4 that president Assad would begin a nine-day tour of Syria's eastern provinces on October 10.

The final timing of the attack was only chosen on October 3.

The attack began at 1:55 p.m.; Israel was woefully unprepared as it was celebrating the Yom Kippur holiday. Egypt had deployed five divisions of 100,000 soldiers, 1,350 tanks and 2,000 guns and heavy mortars as preparation for an assault across the Suez Canal.

At exactly 2:00 p.m., Operation Badr sparked with a massive airstrike, as more than 200 Egyptian aircraft conducted simultaneous strikes against three airbases, three command centers and some artillery positions and radar installations.

Some 32,000 infantry began crossing the Suez Canal under cover of the initial artillery barrage at five separate crossing areas; by this, the Egyptians prevented Israeli forces from reinforcing the Bar Lev Line and started attacking the Israeli fortifications.

Bar_Lev_line_fort
A trench and bunker of the Israeli Bar Lev Line - Photo courtesy of Dār al-Shurūq, Egypt

The Bar Lev Line was a chain of fortifications built by the Israeli army alongside the eastern coast of Suez Canal after capturing Sinai during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Bridging and crossing the canal was only one part of the issue, the real problem however, lied in the greatest amount of time that would be consumed in breaching the sand banks that the Israelis build above the canal as even blowing holes into the banks using high explosives would consumed a huge amount of time. The solution that eased the mission was to use powerful hoses to melt away the walls of sand.

Maj Gen DK Palit added in his 'Return to Sinai: The Arab Offensive, October 1973 that a young engineering officer improved upon the idea by building a powerful turbine pump, which performed the job in far less time.

According to Egyptian military commander, Saad el-Shazly, who was Egypt's chief of staff during the October War, "Within six hours, fifteen strongpoints had been captured as Egyptian forces advanced several kilometers into the Sinai."

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Egyptian military commander, Saad el-Shazly

By the end of the 1973 war, Israel suffered the loss of at least 2,800 soldiers, while around 8,800 soldiers were wounded and some 293 others were held captive. Approximately 400 Israeli tanks were destroyed in addition to 102 airplanes.
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