Forty-one years ago today, the deadliest Arab-Israeli military conflict commenced with a surprise attack, coordinated mainly by Egypt and Syria, on the Israeli occupied territories in Suez and the Golan Heights. The Yom Kippur War would instantly go down in infamy as the bloodiest military confrontation between Israel and its Arab neighbors totaling nearly 53,500 total casualties on all sides involved; compared to 5,500 casualties during the 1967 Six-Day War, and 10,000 casualties during the 1956 Suez Crisis.
A wrecked Israeli tank during the early days of the Yom Kippur War. Israel lost approximately 500 tanks during the first three days of confrontation, placing a high priority on tank replacements during the airlift campaign.
This military campaign immediately presented a crisis of worldwide proportions that not only threatened the long-term stability of the Middle East but dramatically heated tensions between the United States and Soviet Union after long fought years towards rapprochement by the Nixon Administration. In order to achieve the best possible outcome from this tragic event, RN and his staff, along with the U.S. military needed to carefully and strategically maneuver on various fronts all the while confronting hostile domestic and internal backlash in response to Watergate, the resignation of Vice President Agnew, and the firing and subsequent resignations of high ranking Justice Department officials.
From the start of the conflict, each side had many pieces of the board in play. The following is a brief summary of what each major player had to work with:
Arab States (belligerents: Egypt, Syria, Iraq):
• Reclaim land and prestige lost as a result of the 1967 war.
• Remove Israel’s superior bargaining position dependent on occupation of 1967 conquered lands.
• Force Israel into negotiations from a position of relative weakness.
• Maintain lands captured in 1967 to preserve ideal negotiating position with respect to Arab states, PLO, and other Arab-Palestinian groups.
• Maintain superior combat effectiveness over Arab enemies in the face of being extremely outnumbered by Arab forces.
• Cannot strike preemptively in order to not appear to be the aggressor at the risk of losing U.S. support.
• Take supportive action for Israel that allows U.S. to maintain strong diplomatic and military influence.
• Do not allow the balance of war to tilt in either direction in order to bring about negotiations with parties on equal terms.
• Allow Israel to maintain its balance vis-à-vis the invading forces by supplying it with sufficient military material and arms.
• Maintain domestic acceptance of arms supply to Israel in the face of the reciprocal OPEC oil embargo.
• Do not allow U.S. relations with the USSR to escalate out of hand as a result of the conflict.
• Maintain fleeting influence in region by aiding Arab states in the war.
• Maintain influence, credibility, and prestige in the region by making it possible for Arabs to reclaim the lands lost in 1967.
• Attempt to expand Soviet military influence on the ground by sending in as many military personnel as possible under whatever diplomatic guise necessary.
On this day in 1973, the armies of Anwar Sadat’s Egypt and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria launched surprise attacks on Israel. The Arab armies took advantage of Israel’s observation of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar — Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement — when broadcasting is curtailed and many soldiers are given leave to be with their families.
For the remainder of October 1973, the crisis in the Middle East would test the resolve of each of the aforementioned parties and the global community as a whole. Over the next few days The New Nixon will be posting additional entries regarding different angles of the Yom Kippur War focusing on the various efforts and policies of the Nixon White House to end the war and to bring the warring parties back on the path to peace.