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04/25/2002

October 6, 1973

The following was written on 1/27/00 for Hott Spotts, but in light
of recent events bears repeating. It is also a prelude to a
lengthier discussion of Camp David and the role that Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat played. I have made some slight changes
to the original piece.

---

As a result of the Six-Day War that Israel fought in 1967 with
Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, the
West Bank and the Golan Heights. Following this conflict, the
Soviet Union went about rearming Egypt and Syria, while in
Egypt, Anwar Sadat succeeded Arab world leader Gamel Abdel
Nasser as president upon Nasser’s death in 1970.

Sadat immediately set about holding Israel to the provisions of
UN Security Council Resolution No. 242, signed after the Six-
Day War, which stipulated that Israel was to return the territories
captured by it in the conflict. When Israel balked, Sadat
proceeded to initiate one crisis after another along the Suez
Canal. Still in 1970, at one point Israeli bombers operated deep
inside Egyptian territory, the result being that the Soviets then
installed a major air-defense system for their Egyptian friends,
along with some 15,000 military personnel.

That same year, Jordan’s King Hussein ordered his army to
attack the PLO (which had started a civil war in Jordan), Syria
then invaded Jordan, and Israel mobilized. Of course the U.S.
and the Soviet Union didn’t exactly just stand by and the world
was once again on the brink of major war, before cooler heads
prevailed, Syria withdrew and the crisis ended.

In 1972 Sadat, seeking to become more of an independent force,
dismissed his Soviet advisers and asked all Russian technicians
to leave the country as well.

While all this was going on, however, the U.S. and the Soviet
Union were in the midst of d tente, as President Nixon and
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev counted the Middle East among
their various policy goals. For his part, Nixon, along with his
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, sought to reduce the role of
the Soviets in the region, while Moscow’s objective was, in the
words of Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, “to win back Arab
confidence, prevent their military rout, and to bank on our hopes
that the new collaborative relationship with the Nixon
administration would allow us to share in the peace process.”

Over the course of 1973, Dobrynin, as Soviet ambassador to the
U.S., repeatedly warned the U.S. that Moscow suspected a new
war may be on the horizon. The American assessment was
dominated by the belief in Israel’s military superiority and that
all the warnings could be dismissed as a bluff.

So it was that both Israel and the U.S. were taken completely by
surprise when on October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a
massive, Pearl Harbor-type attack on the Holy Day of Yom
Kippur.

At the outset, Israel was in dire straits. A meager force of 180
tanks faced an onslaught of 1,400 Syrian tanks in the Golan
Heights region, while in the Suez, just 500 Israeli defenders were
attacked by 80,000 Egyptians. It’s not hard to understand why
Israel suffered a devastating initial blow, losing a 5th of its air
force and a third of the tanks in the first 4 days of battle, before a
massive call-up of reserves helped to slow the advancing
Egyptian and Syrian armies.

[Now that we are all far more aware of the territory involved
after the events of the past 18 months, it really is amazing Israel
survived.]

After the war broke out, the Soviets pushed for Israel to
withdraw from all lands taken in 1967, while Washington
opposed any Israeli capitulation. The Soviets began to re-supply
the Egyptian and Syrian forces (who were also aided by troops
from at least 9 other Arab nations), as Washington debated how
much the U.S. would aid Israel. Some in the Nixon
administration felt that aid to Israel would do irreparable harm to
our relations with oil-rich Arab nations. Nixon held fast and
approved a massive airlift of some 550 flights and 1,000 tons of
military supplies a day, far bigger than the Berlin airlift of 1948-
49. [All this while our European “allies” in NATO would not let
our planes use their airspace, so we shouldn’t be surprised at
European reaction today to the current conflict.] Historian Paul
Johnson calls it “Nixon’s finest hour.” Without the support, the
fate of the state of Israel was in serious doubt.

Of course Nixon had a lot on his mind back then. Watergate was
preoccupying him in a big way, so, as a result, Henry Kissinger
took center stage.

As the war raged, the UN was frantically trying to end it, while
Washington and Moscow were at odds. On October 12,
Kissinger informed the Kremlin that the U.S. would not send
troops to the Middle East unless the Soviets did likewise. Then
on October 17, with Israel now prepared for its massive
counterattack, President Sadat of Egypt turned down a cease-fire
proposal, a move that Ambassador Dobrynin later characterized
as “a gross political and strategic blunder.”

Throughout the crisis, the hotline between Washington and
Moscow was burning up, while Kissinger and Dobrynin kept in
constant touch. On October 20, Nixon agreed with Brezhnev
that the two great powers “must step in, determine the proper
course of action to a just settlement, and then bring the necessary
pressure on our respective friends for a settlement which will at
last bring peace to this troubled area.” At least this is the note
that Nixon wanted Kissinger to deliver to Brezhnev. But
Kissinger didn’t, thinking it would undercut his own diplomatic
efforts.

Israeli troops now advanced and were close to outflanking the
Egyptian Third Army in the Sinai. This was the time of the
“Saturday Night Massacre” back in Washington, when Nixon
fired the attorney general and lesser officials from the
Department of Justice for refusing to dismiss Archibald Cox, the
Watergate special prosecutor. But as a cease-fire resolution drew
near, Kissinger stalled to allow Israel to encircle the Egyptian
forces.

Finally, on October 22, the Security Council adopted Resolution
338, declaring a cease-fire. [242 and 338 are the same
resolutions you hear so much about today.] Fighting in the
Golan subsided but after just a few hours, the agreement
collapsed as the Israelis advanced to the Suez Canal in an attempt
to crush the 25,000 Egyptian forces still on the eastern side of the
canal. Both sides claimed the other resumed the shooting.

[About this time, Sadat told Brezhnev that Israel was marching
on Cairo. Help us save Egypt, he exclaimed. But it turned out
that 3 or 4 Israeli tanks were simply on a reconnaissance
mission.]

On October 23, a new cease-fire resolution called on both sides
to return to their initial positions and provided for UN observers.
But on the 24th, fighting erupted once again in the Suez. At this
point some in the Politboro argued for Soviet troop involvement
but Brezhnev said no. A message was sent to Nixon, however,
hinting of Soviet participation.

In the early hours of the 25th, Kissinger gathered a small group of
administration officials (while the President slept) and put
American nuclear forces on a heightened state of alert. It was a
ploy. At the same time broadcast reports in the U.S. said Soviet
aircraft were moving closer to the region. Dobrynin argued with
Kissinger that the U.S. government was trying to create the
impression of a dangerous crisis. Kissinger countered that the
order would be withdrawn the next day (and it was).

Later on the 25th, the UN Security Council adopted still another
resolution that finally put an end to the war by sending a UN
peacekeeping force to the Middle East, pointedly excluding
contingents from any of the 5 permanent members of the
Security Council. According to Dobrynin, Kissinger later
conceded to him that putting the forces on a high state of alert
was a mistake and, contrary to most stories told today, there
never was a serious threat of direct military involvement between
the two super-powers.

During the course of the three-week war, a new Arab
organization by the name of OPEC began wreaking its own
havoc, initiating an oil-embargo on nations supporting Israel and
raising prices some 400 percent. In the end, though, America’s
ties with Egypt and Sadat were strengthened, some would say at
the expense of Israel. Kissinger launched his “shuttle
diplomacy” and quickly became a hero in Arab capitals as well
as Jerusalem. While the process failed to produce a
comprehensive formula for peace, it did set the stage for Camp
David, the story of which we will pick up next time.

[Note: The human cost of the Yom Kippur War was substantial,
with Israel losing 2,700 soldiers, Syria 3,500 and Egypt about
15,000.]

Sources:

“A History of the Arab Peoples,” Albert Hourani
“In Confidence,” Anatoly Dobrynin
“A History of the American People,” Paul Johnson
“Diplomacy,” Henry Kissinger
“The American Century,” Harold Evans

**Hott Spotts will return on May 9.

Brian Trumbore


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-04/25/2002-      
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Hot Spots

04/25/2002

October 6, 1973

The following was written on 1/27/00 for Hott Spotts, but in light
of recent events bears repeating. It is also a prelude to a
lengthier discussion of Camp David and the role that Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat played. I have made some slight changes
to the original piece.

---

As a result of the Six-Day War that Israel fought in 1967 with
Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, the
West Bank and the Golan Heights. Following this conflict, the
Soviet Union went about rearming Egypt and Syria, while in
Egypt, Anwar Sadat succeeded Arab world leader Gamel Abdel
Nasser as president upon Nasser’s death in 1970.

Sadat immediately set about holding Israel to the provisions of
UN Security Council Resolution No. 242, signed after the Six-
Day War, which stipulated that Israel was to return the territories
captured by it in the conflict. When Israel balked, Sadat
proceeded to initiate one crisis after another along the Suez
Canal. Still in 1970, at one point Israeli bombers operated deep
inside Egyptian territory, the result being that the Soviets then
installed a major air-defense system for their Egyptian friends,
along with some 15,000 military personnel.

That same year, Jordan’s King Hussein ordered his army to
attack the PLO (which had started a civil war in Jordan), Syria
then invaded Jordan, and Israel mobilized. Of course the U.S.
and the Soviet Union didn’t exactly just stand by and the world
was once again on the brink of major war, before cooler heads
prevailed, Syria withdrew and the crisis ended.

In 1972 Sadat, seeking to become more of an independent force,
dismissed his Soviet advisers and asked all Russian technicians
to leave the country as well.

While all this was going on, however, the U.S. and the Soviet
Union were in the midst of d tente, as President Nixon and
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev counted the Middle East among
their various policy goals. For his part, Nixon, along with his
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, sought to reduce the role of
the Soviets in the region, while Moscow’s objective was, in the
words of Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, “to win back Arab
confidence, prevent their military rout, and to bank on our hopes
that the new collaborative relationship with the Nixon
administration would allow us to share in the peace process.”

Over the course of 1973, Dobrynin, as Soviet ambassador to the
U.S., repeatedly warned the U.S. that Moscow suspected a new
war may be on the horizon. The American assessment was
dominated by the belief in Israel’s military superiority and that
all the warnings could be dismissed as a bluff.

So it was that both Israel and the U.S. were taken completely by
surprise when on October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a
massive, Pearl Harbor-type attack on the Holy Day of Yom
Kippur.

At the outset, Israel was in dire straits. A meager force of 180
tanks faced an onslaught of 1,400 Syrian tanks in the Golan
Heights region, while in the Suez, just 500 Israeli defenders were
attacked by 80,000 Egyptians. It’s not hard to understand why
Israel suffered a devastating initial blow, losing a 5th of its air
force and a third of the tanks in the first 4 days of battle, before a
massive call-up of reserves helped to slow the advancing
Egyptian and Syrian armies.

[Now that we are all far more aware of the territory involved
after the events of the past 18 months, it really is amazing Israel
survived.]

After the war broke out, the Soviets pushed for Israel to
withdraw from all lands taken in 1967, while Washington
opposed any Israeli capitulation. The Soviets began to re-supply
the Egyptian and Syrian forces (who were also aided by troops
from at least 9 other Arab nations), as Washington debated how
much the U.S. would aid Israel. Some in the Nixon
administration felt that aid to Israel would do irreparable harm to
our relations with oil-rich Arab nations. Nixon held fast and
approved a massive airlift of some 550 flights and 1,000 tons of
military supplies a day, far bigger than the Berlin airlift of 1948-
49. [All this while our European “allies” in NATO would not let
our planes use their airspace, so we shouldn’t be surprised at
European reaction today to the current conflict.] Historian Paul
Johnson calls it “Nixon’s finest hour.” Without the support, the
fate of the state of Israel was in serious doubt.

Of course Nixon had a lot on his mind back then. Watergate was
preoccupying him in a big way, so, as a result, Henry Kissinger
took center stage.

As the war raged, the UN was frantically trying to end it, while
Washington and Moscow were at odds. On October 12,
Kissinger informed the Kremlin that the U.S. would not send
troops to the Middle East unless the Soviets did likewise. Then
on October 17, with Israel now prepared for its massive
counterattack, President Sadat of Egypt turned down a cease-fire
proposal, a move that Ambassador Dobrynin later characterized
as “a gross political and strategic blunder.”

Throughout the crisis, the hotline between Washington and
Moscow was burning up, while Kissinger and Dobrynin kept in
constant touch. On October 20, Nixon agreed with Brezhnev
that the two great powers “must step in, determine the proper
course of action to a just settlement, and then bring the necessary
pressure on our respective friends for a settlement which will at
last bring peace to this troubled area.” At least this is the note
that Nixon wanted Kissinger to deliver to Brezhnev. But
Kissinger didn’t, thinking it would undercut his own diplomatic
efforts.

Israeli troops now advanced and were close to outflanking the
Egyptian Third Army in the Sinai. This was the time of the
“Saturday Night Massacre” back in Washington, when Nixon
fired the attorney general and lesser officials from the
Department of Justice for refusing to dismiss Archibald Cox, the
Watergate special prosecutor. But as a cease-fire resolution drew
near, Kissinger stalled to allow Israel to encircle the Egyptian
forces.

Finally, on October 22, the Security Council adopted Resolution
338, declaring a cease-fire. [242 and 338 are the same
resolutions you hear so much about today.] Fighting in the
Golan subsided but after just a few hours, the agreement
collapsed as the Israelis advanced to the Suez Canal in an attempt
to crush the 25,000 Egyptian forces still on the eastern side of the
canal. Both sides claimed the other resumed the shooting.

[About this time, Sadat told Brezhnev that Israel was marching
on Cairo. Help us save Egypt, he exclaimed. But it turned out
that 3 or 4 Israeli tanks were simply on a reconnaissance
mission.]

On October 23, a new cease-fire resolution called on both sides
to return to their initial positions and provided for UN observers.
But on the 24th, fighting erupted once again in the Suez. At this
point some in the Politboro argued for Soviet troop involvement
but Brezhnev said no. A message was sent to Nixon, however,
hinting of Soviet participation.

In the early hours of the 25th, Kissinger gathered a small group of
administration officials (while the President slept) and put
American nuclear forces on a heightened state of alert. It was a
ploy. At the same time broadcast reports in the U.S. said Soviet
aircraft were moving closer to the region. Dobrynin argued with
Kissinger that the U.S. government was trying to create the
impression of a dangerous crisis. Kissinger countered that the
order would be withdrawn the next day (and it was).

Later on the 25th, the UN Security Council adopted still another
resolution that finally put an end to the war by sending a UN
peacekeeping force to the Middle East, pointedly excluding
contingents from any of the 5 permanent members of the
Security Council. According to Dobrynin, Kissinger later
conceded to him that putting the forces on a high state of alert
was a mistake and, contrary to most stories told today, there
never was a serious threat of direct military involvement between
the two super-powers.

During the course of the three-week war, a new Arab
organization by the name of OPEC began wreaking its own
havoc, initiating an oil-embargo on nations supporting Israel and
raising prices some 400 percent. In the end, though, America’s
ties with Egypt and Sadat were strengthened, some would say at
the expense of Israel. Kissinger launched his “shuttle
diplomacy” and quickly became a hero in Arab capitals as well
as Jerusalem. While the process failed to produce a
comprehensive formula for peace, it did set the stage for Camp
David, the story of which we will pick up next time.

[Note: The human cost of the Yom Kippur War was substantial,
with Israel losing 2,700 soldiers, Syria 3,500 and Egypt about
15,000.]

Sources:

“A History of the Arab Peoples,” Albert Hourani
“In Confidence,” Anatoly Dobrynin
“A History of the American People,” Paul Johnson
“Diplomacy,” Henry Kissinger
“The American Century,” Harold Evans

**Hott Spotts will return on May 9.

Brian Trumbore