Yom Kippur War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Yom Kippur War was the fourth major Arab-Israeli conflict since the establishment of Israel. Although Israel prevailed, the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria demonstrated the modernization of the Arab militaries and the absence of adequate Israeli vigilance. The war also brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of conflict.

Summary of Event

While the Arab-Jewish struggle predated the establishment of Israel in 1948, that development resulted in the immediate outbreak of hostilities between the Arab states—Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and others—and Israel. The Arabs argued that the seizure of Palestine to form Israel was theft and resulted from a Zionist conspiracy that was supported by the United States and Great Britain. After the initial hostilities, the Arabs and Israelis continued the conflict in the 1956 Suez Canal crisis Suez Canal crisis (1956) and the Six-Day War of 1967. Six-Day War (1967)[Six Day War] During the early 1970’s, new Arab leadership emerged in Egypt and Syria that was committed to destroying Israel and regaining the territories that were lost in the previous wars; during the same time, the Middle East became a source of contention in the Cold War Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Yom Kippur War (1973) Arab-Israeli relations[Arab Israeli relations] Israeli-Arab relations[Israeli Arab relations] [kw]Yom Kippur War (Oct. 6-26, 1973) [kw]War, Yom Kippur (Oct. 6-26, 1973) Yom Kippur War (1973) Arab-Israeli relations[Arab Israeli relations] Israeli-Arab relations[Israeli Arab relations] [g]Middle East;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] [g]Africa;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] [g]Israel;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] [g]Syria;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] [g]Egypt;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] [c]Cold War;Oct. 6-26, 1973: Yom Kippur War[01290] Meir, Golda Sadat, Anwar el- Assad, Hafez al- Hussein I Dayan, Moshe Elazar, David Nixon, Richard M. [p]Nixon, Richard M.;U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations] Brezhnev, Leonid [p]Brezhnev, Leonid;U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations

After the Yom Kippur War with Israel in 1973, Egypt sought closer relations with the United States. In 1974, Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat (left) hosted a visit from U.S. president Richard M. Nixon.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

In spite of extensive military maneuvers and operations near their country’s border, Israeli leaders did not anticipate any Arab offensive in October, 1973. Despite a private warning by King Hussein I of Jordan to Prime Minister Golda Meir that war was about to begin, the Israeli assessment in the fall of 1973 concluded that as this was the holy season of Yom Kippur (Israel) and Ramadan (Islamic Arabs) and the Israeli defenses were not on full alert, no such attack was imminent. Early on the morning of Yom Kippur (October 6), Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan met with Israeli general David Elazar; Elazar was convinced that an Arab attack was imminent and urged a preemptive assault on Syria while Egyptian intentions were being evaluated. Meir and Dayan refused to authorize such an operation. On the same day, Presidents Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Hafez al-Assad of Syria launched a multipronged military offensive that forced Israeli forces into retreating during the next two days.

The Egyptian force was the largest in the field, with 300,000 troops (of its 800,000-man army); the Arab force also included 150,000 Syrian and 60,000 Iraqi soldiers, along with significantly fewer combatants from Jordan and other smaller Arab and Arab-allied states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Uganda, Pakistan, and Cuba). This force opposed an Israeli army of 415,000. Although the Arab coalition held a commanding lead in tanks, armored vehicles, and aircraft, the Israelis countered those resources with superior leadership and determination.

Israel was confronted by a two-front war and faced a difficult international environment. European states were reluctant to provide any support to Israel because of their fear of an oil embargo. The Soviet Union was openly supplying the Egyptian and Syrian forces with goods. Nonetheless, Israel succeeded in repelling the Arab forces and launched offensive operations in the Sinai Peninsula against the Egyptians and in the Golan Heights against the Syrians. On October 15, the Israel offensive in the Sinai began. Israeli forces rolled back and outflanked the Egyptians; within days, they had crossed the Suez Canal and threatened Egypt. On the Syrian front, the Golan Heights had been recovered by October 10, and by October 14 the Israelis had fought their way into Syria and were bombarding Damascus with heavy artillery. Israel’s only external support came from the United States, which launched Operation Nickel Grass Operation Nickel Grass on October 13. This operation gave Israel a measure of freedom of action with regard to its use of military hardware, as the United States pledged to replace destroyed Israeli heavy equipment.

From the outbreak of the war, the United Nations United Nations;Yom Kippur War had been the center of diplomatic activities to bring about a cease-fire. Led by the United States and the Soviet Union, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on October 22 to support Resolution 38, which called for a cessation of hostilities. While this action signaled that the combatants would soon cease their military operations, it coincided with another event that threatened to expand the war. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sent a letter to President Richard M. Nixon calling on the United States to join the Soviet Union in maintaining the peace by sending in troops. The United States responded by denouncing this Soviet expansion and moved to raise its defense condition (DEFCON) status. The Soviets were startled by the American action and backed off their demands, fearing that a general world war could develop.

By October 26, Israel and the Arabs had agreed to implement a cease-fire. The twenty-day war resulted in the deaths of more than 2,600 Israelis and 8,500 Arabs and the Israeli destruction of most Arab tanks and aircraft. Once again, Israel prevailed with American support; however, Egypt had gained new respect based on the performance of its armed forces during the early days of the war.


The Yom Kippur War demonstrated the potential vulnerability of Israel, the renewed Egyptian-Syrian military organization and capabilities, and the tenuous nature of the policy of détente Détente (U.S.-Soviet relations) between the United States and the Soviet Union. This fourth major conflict between the Arab states and Israel also reflected the depth of the antagonism and the need for effective and moderate leadership. While Nixon and Brezhnev moved quickly to repair U.S.-Soviet relations, the positions of Egypt’s Sadat and Syria’s Assad were solidified by this struggle; King Hussein I of Jordan also enjoyed renewed support in the Arab world because he was an ally of Egypt and Syria.

The Israeli government was reshaped after a postwar inquiry. Meir was forced to resign on April 11, 1974; Dayan followed Meir in resigning as the defense minister. Following a government under Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin, Yitzhak the right-wing Menachem Begin Begin, Menachem became prime minister in 1977. Sadat and Begin joined the new U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;Camp David Accords and concluded the Camp David Accords Camp David Peace Accords (1978) in 1978—it was the final peace agreement between Egypt and Israel of the twentieth century. Egyptian hostility to this arrangement resulted in the assassination of Sadat on October 6, 1981, by a group of military officers. Yom Kippur War (1973) Arab-Israeli relations[Arab Israeli relations] Israeli-Arab relations[Israeli Arab relations]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allen, Peter. The Yom Kippur War: The Politics, Tactics, and Individual Actions by Which Israel Repelled the Arab Invasions of 1973. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982. Highly readable pro-Israeli account of the war that is nevertheless reliable.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blum, Howard. The Eve of Destruction: The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur War. New York: HarperPerennial, 2004. Authoritative study of the war based on more than one hundred interviews of Arabs and Israelis involved in the struggle. Provides multiple insights into the war’s causes and prosecution.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boyne, Walter J. The Two O’Clock War: The 1973 Yom Kippur Conflict and the Airlift That Saved Israel. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2002. Readable and serious study of the war that is sympathetic to Israel.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunstan, Simon. The Yom Kippur War. 2 vols. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005. Excellent introduction to the war that emphasizes the military actions in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. Supplemented with marvelous maps and many photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Golan, Galia. Yom Kippur and After: The Soviet Union and the Middle East Crisis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Scholarly study of Soviet policy in the Middle East centered on the Yom Kippur War and the crisis in U.S.-Soviet relations that resulted.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hart, Harold H. Yom Kippur War Plus One Hundred Days: The Human Side of the War and Its Aftermath, as Shown Through the Columns of the Jerusalem Post. New York: Hart Publishers, 1974. Valuable testimony of the impact of the war on Israeli society.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herzog, Chaim. The War of Atonement: The Inside Story of the Yom Kippur War. New ed. London: Greenhill Books, 2006. Solid and critical study of the war, with a focus on the Israeli perspective; excellent on the military crisis that confronted Israel and the performance of the Israeli armed forces.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Richard Bordeaux, ed. The October War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001. Collection of essays by academics and participants focuses on the politics and diplomacy surrounding the war. Includes important statements by James Schlesinger (U.S. defense secretary) and Simcha Dinitz (Israeli ambassador to the United States).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rabinovich, Abraham. The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East. New York: Schocken Books, 2004. Comprehensive study of the war, its origins, and the diplomacy surrounding it. Scholarly and readable.

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Categories: History