October 17, 2020

Forty-seven years ago, Egypt and Syria launched a massive surprise attack on Israeli forces dug into fortifications along the Suez Canal and Golan Heights. The ‘limited’ Arab objective was to recapture both strategic areas that had been seized from the two Arab states in Israel’s victorious 1967 War.

Re-armed with modern – but by no means top drawer – Soviet weapons, Egypt and Syria sought to drive the Israelis back, then wait for the great powers to impose a truce. It was a badly flawed strategy, which assured the heavily armed Israelis would control the military initiative with their superiority in air power and armor.

At first, the Arab surprise attack caught Israel flat-footed. Israeli reserve armored forces were still in storage when Egyptian and Syrian armor and infantry stormed across the 1967 cease-fire lines.

Warnings of the impending assault from the most important Israeli spy, Ashraf Marwan – amazingly the son-in law of the late Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser – were ignored or shrugged off in Israel which was still filled with hubris over its lopsided, US-assisted victory in the 1967 War.

This was the first big mystery of the 1973 War. Was Marwan really a Mossad spy or a double agent, as Egypt later claimed, disinforming Israel on the time of the Arab offensive? Marwan later fell to his death – or was pushed – from a London apartment.

Syria’s armor drove into the Golan Heights from their starting positions on the plains east of Golan and the Mount Hermon massif.

The opening Arab assault was a remarkable success. I walked much of the Suez Canal soon after the war and was awed that Egypt’s military engineers had managed to get so many tanks and men across the wide canal under enemy fire.

Equally amazing was Egyptian infantry using highly effective new Soviet Sagger anti-tank missiles and air defense units employing SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles to blunt Israeli counter attacks. Hundreds of Israeli US-supplied M40 and M60 tanks and 20% of Israel’s formidable air force were destroyed.

Most of Israel’s 15 Bar Lev forts built to defend the Suez Canal were stormed. As a connoisseur of modern fortification, I was fascinated to explore the fallen Israeli forts. Syria inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli armor defending the Golan Heights and on its forts.

The second big mystery of the war concerns the savage fight for Golan. Syrian armor and mechanized divisions had managed to claw their way to the top of the Golan Heights, from where they looked down on Galilee and most of northern Israel. We don’t know whether Syria intended to drive into Galilee, formerly a heavily Arab area, or try to defend the Golan ridgeline. But orders went out from Syrian HQ to halt the Syrian offensive when the downhill road to Galilee and Jordan River bridges were wide open. Why did the Syrians halt their advance when victory was in their grasp?

The answer remains a mystery. But the best assumption is that Soviet spy satellites saw Israel move 13 Jericho missiles out of caves at two airbases and affix their 20-kiloton nuclear warheads. Moscow immediately warned Washington and its Arab allies, both of whom feared an imminent Israeli nuclear strike against targets that included Damascus and Cairo.

So, both Egypt and Syria halted their advances. Israeli forces, bolstered by the arrival of powerful reserve armored divisions, seized the initiative and went on to achieve a brilliant victory that included crossing the Canal and encircling Egypt’s III Corps. The fighting ended after Israel failed to seize Suez and towns on the way to Damascus. Threats of Soviet intervention and America’s resupply of almost all of Israel’s lost weapons brought the 1973 War to a close.

Egypt regained Sinai – Syria and the Palestinians got nothing. The US sank ever deeper into the turbulent affairs of the Arab world. After a bad scare, Israel triumphed as the Mideast’s premier military power.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis

This post is in: Egypt, Israel, Syria


  1. Joe from Canada says:

    Over the years, your articles have supplied the missing pieces in intricate puzzles all over the world.

    Those pieces have been carefully woven into proper contexts.

    You have set a high bar in journalism that few attempt today.

    Steinbeck, in “The Grapes of Wrath” noted the common tendency to look to “results not causes” of problematic situations.

    Today’s herd of journalists, pressed by deadlines for the 30 second clip, show the most dramatic results of crises. Not the root causes.

    The explanations of causes are left to the forensics of cold flesh; never explicable in 30 second clips; therefore, often lost in the daily deluge of obscenities and palaver.

    How does one properly thank the few, like Margolis, Dyer, Fisk…?

    May their legacy be assumed by a new generation…sooner, rather than later.

    Poor CNN. By chasing every Trump flatulation, they made him what he is.

    Hope that you are well!

    Thank you!


  2. I was so looking forward to reading Eric’s comments after Trumps recovery from the “deadly” Corona virus, almost mere HOURS after contacting it, more or less proving what a growing number of scientists and doctors are saying now….that the China flu is not The Black Plague or World War Z or the end of the world. It’s just a flu….maybe a little more virulent than usual but nonetheless, a flu.

    The Pandemic is over people. Despite the alarming high number of cases in this “second wave”, the actual death rate is rather low….especially when compared to the initial outbreak. Now while the West obsesses about the second wave, in Wuhan (Ground Zero for this thing) they’re holding music festivals!


  3. So it was the Zionist threat to wreak havoc on civilian populations in Syria and Egypt what stopped the war. One has to wonder what the Netanyahoo regime will be capable of in the event of a conflict with Iran.

  4. Raj Sathya says:

    To catch Israel off guard the Egyptians and Syrians decided to launch an attack on the Yom Kippur religious holiday the only day there are no radio or television broadcasts , shops close and all transportation was shuts down as part of religious observations.The technique is similar to the attack against UBAGASTHU in the year of 900,the Budhist/Hindu country which was observing Nitra Tharma i.e. they dont carry arms after sunset, the muslims took advantage of the situation and conquered it, Ubagasthu was renamed as Afghanistan in later days.The cowardly attack on Israel on their religious day caused Egypt 7,700 men while Syria lost 3,500 men.
    Though the sudden attack caught Israel off guard, in less than 24 hours Israel had mobilized two armored divisions, which soon turned the Syrian advance into retreat.The Israelis advanced, capturing territory deep inside Syria. As a result, units from the Iraqi, Saudi and Jordanian armies joined the fight on the Syrian front to face the counter attack, still the Israelis manage to achieve significant gains- advancing to within 35km of Damascus, and occupying new territories to bring to the bargaining table. On October 16, 10 days after the start of the war , Israeli forces managed to penetrate Egyptian and Syrian defence lines and came within a shocking distance from Cairo, the Egyptian capital city. Egypt left with no choice but to call for peace with Israel by raising its white flag, in 1977 Anwar Sadat was in Jerusalem giving a speech of peace to the Israeli parliament , the Knesset; the rest is history.After the 67 and 73 war the Arab countries realized the strength of Israel,forced them to submit to the Jewish nation. Today, the world is watching the reactions of the Arabic nations coming close to Israel attempting to make peace with the tiny country.

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