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The Middle East is known to possess a wide range of religious, cultural, economic, ethnic, and ideological diversity. Serving as a geostrategic gateway between essential players such as Africa, Asia, and Europe, the Middle East has a history of both cultural and religious conflict as well as political instability in the modern era. Thus, the sovereignty of the states and the rights of their citizens have continuously been threatened by neighboring states on a regular basis. In particular, conflict over territory, as well as the search for political and spiritual influence, contributed to the process of shaping the nation. The competition over territory involved a variety of issues, including vital resources, such as oil and water, claims over religious sites, commerce centers and trade routes, cultural homelands, as well as geostrategic location. The majority of religious rivalries involved Islam, Judaism, and Christianity along with their political forms such as Islamic fundamentalism or Zionism. The background of the dispute between the Arabs and the Israelis lied in the opposing foundations of Arab nationalism and modern Zionism, with much of the conflict centering around the completing claims to the cultural and religious homelands between Muslims and Jews, the armed control of strategic territories, crucial threats to the state of Israel, as well as the search for self-determination by Palestinians.
The Ramadan War of 1973 was the fourth of the Arab-Israeli wars, which was initiated by Syria and Egypt in October of that year on an essential Jewish day called Yom Kippur. It also took place during Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting as established in the Islamic tradition. Thus, to Israelis, the war as the Yom Kippur War and the Ramadan War to Arabs. It enabled the development of a new context in the Arab world through changing the approach of the US foreign policies toward handling the affairs in the Middle East (Gutfeld & Vanetik, 2016). The events that pre-shaped the beginning of the Ramadan War were formed six years before. In 1967, Israel began its attacks on Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, which unleashed the June war that led in the occupation of historic Palestine by the Israeli along with the Egyptian Sinai desert and Golan Heights. Within six days, the army of Israel delivered a significant disadvantage to the forces of three Arab countries and managed to occupy land that was three times larger (Tibi, 1998). As six years passed, both Egypt and Syria decided to coordinate a two-front campaign in order to recapture the territories they had lost back in 1967.
The Ramadan War was an important event that contributed to the furthering of hostile relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union. For the two nations, the Middle East was a setting in which they could compete to create client states and facilitate influence, with the region affected significantly by the Cold War’s geopolitical dictates (Tibi, 1998). For example, while the USSR was the leading supplier of arms and aid to Egypt and Syria, the US was a supplied of key military equipment to Israel, along with some economic assistance. The United States aimed at ensuring that Israel is not defeated in the Arab-Israeli conflict while the Soviet Union wanted to ensure that Egypt is not conquered, with either superpower wanting to jeopardize their improved relationships with the other when trying to break the peace between Israel and Egypt.
The Role of President Anwar al-Sadat
The role of the former Egyptian President, Anwar al-Sadat, is important to note as related to the Ramadan War because the confrontation between countries occurred during his rule. Anwar Sadat is considered to be a controversial figure because his legacy was associated with a series of ongoing processes, such as the Arab-Israeli peace process, the economic development of Egypt, as well as the political liberalization of Egypt (Alterman, 1998). Anwar al-Sadat became the leader of the company upon the death of former President Nasser, at the time of an intense and competing political, economic, and diplomatic changes. One of the most prominent objectives that were set at the beginning of the presidency is the intent to recover all Arab territory that Israel occupied following the 1967 war as well as to reach a peaceful solution of the long-term conflict. In order to achieve this, Sadat aimed to use all international diplomacy means; however, he understood that military action was the likely scenario. Therefore, while exploring peaceful options of conflict resolution, President al-Sadat simultaneously started preparing Egypt for limited war.
From the diplomatic perspective, the President believed that there was a need for creating a sense of urgent crisis in order to ’tilt’ the balance of power in the favor of Egypt. Al-Sadat sought to widen the support of the international community for the cause of Arabian countries whole, also strengthening the relations with third countries to increase the pressure on Israel regarding political, diplomatic, and economic affairs. In particular, the President wanted to convince the United States government to use its influence on Israel and to enable an environment of support among the African and Arab countries as well as the help from the United Nations (Gutfeld & Vanetik, 2016). In addition, he pursued collaboration with Arab producers of oil in order to establish an embargo as a political means of manipulation. Cutting production and boosting oil prices was expected to implement international pressure on the government of Israel in order to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Considering the history of military failures in the previous wars between countries, al-Sadat had to overcome the negative reputation of Egypt. As a representative of his people, the President needed to show both honor and dignity of his country, which are important principles embedded in bot the Arab culture and the Muslim religions. Because the Arab military were down in their spirits due to the outcome of the Six-Day War, a repeat of the tragedy would be a moral disaster for the country. Therefore, Anwar Sadat understood the essential role of establishing Egypt as a powerful force in the region if the country managed to recapture its territory, with such a victory in a limited war serving as a means of overcoming the humiliation that Arab states encountered in 1967. As mentioned by Sadat himself, “first to go would be the humiliation we had endured since the 1967 defeat; for, to cross into Sinai and hold on to any territory recaptured would restore our self-confidence (Al-Sadat, 1978, p. 244).
Thus, Sadat was faced with the challenge of the need to expend the efforts and increasingly scarce resources in order to prepare the country for military war. However, the Egyptian economy was not strong enough in order to bear the burden of military mobilization, with the continuing loss of the revenue from the Suez Canal becoming a significant financial issue for the country. Time became a critical problem, and Sadat could no longer afford another year of living in failure, otherwise, he would not be favored in terms of political reputation. The President had no other choice but to use military force to refresh its communication with Israel and win the public opinion by reopening the Suez Canal.
The achievement of the set political goals needed the implementation of a limited armed operation that would be sufficient for encouraging an international emergency raising the prospects of superpower confrontation, thus involving both the US and the USSR to resolve the larger and more significant conflict on the terms that would be welcomed by Egypt. It is essential to note that both the full-blown offensive and the on-off armed operations would be ineffective because of their intense strain on the economy of the country as well as its military capabilities. In turn, Sadat believed that the political objectives of Egypt would be achieved by recapturing and holding a portion of the Sinai.
The Arabs developed a plan of a blitzkrieg when both rival sides were in the celebration of religious feasts. The fourth passage of arms within the Arab-Israeli conflict was launched with the help of air attacks at 14:00 on Saturday, October 6, 1973 (Tibi, 1998). The timing of the military action coincided with Ramadan for the Arabs and the Yom Kippur for the Israelis. Together with Egypt’s commander of armed forces, General Ahmed Ismail, Sadat believed that “military operation that regained and successfully held even a small portion of the Sinai, and that inflicted heavy human and material losses on the Israeli Defense Forces would amount to a significant defeat for Israel” (Al-Sadat, 1978, p. 246). According to them, such a move would eliminate the unquestioned confidence of the Israelis, and therefore its security doctrine, increasing Arab confidence in the armed forces of Egypt as well as the confidence of those forces in themselves. To target Israel’s center of military forces, General Ismail created a plan the objective of which was to pass through the Suez Canal, cross Israel’s defense line of Bar Lev, and then establish a defensible foothold on the canal’s eastern bank (The Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, 2013). An important challenge to address was that Israel had significant superiority on air, which meant that its military leadership would not hesitate to launch a strike if an attack from Egypt was imminent, based on the experience of 1967.
Timing and the strategies of deceptions were essential for Egypt to achieve success in the campaign. According to the General’s plan, it was crucial that Egypt overcomes every advantage that Israel had while also exploiting its vulnerabilities. The measures of deception became essential for reaching the defeat of Israel; for example, the measures implemented had to disorient the enemy in terms of military preparations of the country. This was expected to encourage Israel to face high mobilization expenses in the twofold size when responding to false alarms, misinterpreting the true intentions of Egypt. The Egyptian leadership chose Yom Kippur the time of the strike because it was one of the most important holidays in Israel. During that time, media broadcasting was highly limited, which would impair the ability of the Israeli Defense Forces to quickly mobilize. Since the offense was implemented during Ramadan, a period of fasting and limited physical activity, taking advantage of Yom Kippur was seen as a benefit for Egypt. Although, it is important to point out that the military force of Egypt did not consider the fact that the citizens of Israel used to spend most of their time at the time, which would enable alternative procedures of call-up. However, this did not ultimately matter because the deceptive efforts of Egypt turned out to be so effective that the Israeli Defense Force did not facilitate mobilization until the night of the attack. Such a response was too late for Israel to thwart the assault coming from Egypt. Just as Ismail had initially planned, the first twenty-four hours of the conflict belonged to the military forces of Egypt.
Collaboration with Syria
In order to increase the prospects of success in the offense, President al-Sadat and General Ismail aimed to convince the Syrian front to join Egypt in the strategic operation, which would involve a simultaneous unexpected offense in the Golan Heights. The leadership of Syria agreed to participate in the offense together with Egypt because President Assad aimed to recover Golan, which was the territory lost during the 1967 war (Tibi, 1998). Senior Syrian and Egyptian staff officers collaborated closely together during 1973 to agree on the timing of the strategic offense for both countries as well as develop mechanisms for coordinating joint assaults, including the specific airstrikes.
The role of Syria was linked to the fact that Sadat thought that Israel perceived Golan Heights as more critical than Sinai. For example, the Golan dominated the Jordan and Hula River Valley and Lake Tiberias, which are highly critical for allowing control over such an important resource as water. Therefore, when the simultaneous attacks would occur in both the Sinai and the Golan Heights, the initial response of the Israeli Defense Force would be to defend the Golan from the Syrian assault. Such a strategic move was intended to diminish at least the first response of Israel to the attack from Egypt, thus diluting the ground and air strength of the rival. Despite the range of advantages offered by the cooperation between Egypt and Syria in the strategic offense against Israel, the collaboration resulted in previously unexpected vulnerabilities. For example, Syrian cooperation meant increased expenses as related to the extension of the assault in the Sinai beginning the surface-to-air missile attack cover to lessen the pressure on Syrian forces that the Israeli Defense would have to implement. Nevertheless, the cooperation with Syria on the part of Egypt was considered an asset because it was beneficial in helping President Sadat achieve his limited victory in the war. Israel prioritized responding to the attack on the Golan, which was a positive outcome for the aims set by Egypt. Eventually, Egyptian troops took the Defense Forces of Israel by surprise by sweeping its forces deep into the Sinai Peninsula while Syria was struggling to occupy Israeli soldiers out of the Goal Heights. However, Israel launched a counterattack to regain control of the Golan Heights, with the cease-fire going into effect on October 25, 1973. Thus, it is necessary to point out that there were two important setbacks in the strategy implemented by Egypt. For example, the assumption of Sadat that both the United States and the Soviet Union would be instantly drawn into the Ramadan War due to the limited military victory of Egypt over Israel was incorrect. Both General Ismail and President Sadat failed to anticipate the counterattack of Israel across the Canal, which signifies another disadvantage in the strategy.
In the Ramadan War, both Israel and the Arabs declared their victory, with the latter managing to salvage their defeats and after the repeated losses of territory in the previous three wars. Within four years after the end of the offense, President Sadat visited Jerusalem to give a peace speech to the Parliament of Israel. In addition, both Sadat and former Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin were invited by US President Jimmy Carter to Camp David, which pointed to a beginning of positive relations with the United States. Nevertheless, there was a long way to go for the establishment of reliable connections. Even though the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in March 1979 in Washington, there were some limitations, with the framework not being established for several reasons and the two sides laying blame on the other. In particular, the proposal of peace did not include specific information on the subject of Palestinian refugees, with the key issue of the status of Jerusalem remaining unresolved.
The Ramadan or the Yom Kippur War signified a significant historical event that influenced the political relations between Arabs and Israelis. The offensive of Egypt was successful in allowing President Sadat achieve his crucial strategic objectives when he made the decision that there would be no other resolution to the conflict rather than limited war (Alterman, 1998). The main objective was reached – Egypt created and successfully secured a foothold in the Sinai. Such an accomplishment was instrumental in helping Egypt to shape a psychological framework for further negotiations while also encouraging the US to pressure Israel into willingly giving away its control over the Sinai. From the political standpoint, Sadat’s initiative to begin a strategic attack resulted in setting in motion a chain of reactions that would be favorable to Egypt within the sociopolitical climate of the Middle East. It could be noted that the unity and the effectiveness of Egyptian leadership appeared almost overnight. With the help of Egypt’s success, it was possible to reclaim the lost honor that the country desperately needed in order to move further (Alterman, 1998). Until October 1973, much of Egyptian citizens’ hopes for regaining lost territories seemed unrealistic. For instance, the lack of superpowers’ interest in resolving the conflict between Arabs and Israelis as well as the reputation of Israel as having an invincible army created a gloomy image of Egypt’s future. Nevertheless, the Yom Kippur War initiated by Sadat forced the conflict on the top of the list of US and USSR’s priorities and encouraged them to resolve important claims made by Egypt in a way that would be consistent with national interests.
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However, the positive results were not immediate to Egypt. It took some time, with the Sadat-inspired oil embargo leading to both the European community and Japan to endorse the demands of Arabs before the US compelled Israel to give away its control over Sinai. Significant prospects for the peace in the Middle East were associated with Sadat’s limited military offense as well as the diplomatic offensive leading to the historic 1977 visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David Accords in 1978, as well as the initial treaty of peace between Israel and an Arab state in 1979.
The Ramadan or the Yom Kippur War was instrumental in establishing a new environment in the Arab world and changing the approach of the US toward its foreign policies regarding the Middle East. Both Arabs and the Israelis found themselves in periods of important religious holidays, which would enable a delayed military response from the party that was being attacked by the other. Such timing was strategically chosen by the military and political leadership of Egypt that aimed to catch Israel in an unprepared position unexpectedly. The strategy was developed by President Sadat and General Ismail as a means of taking advantage of the holidays and having the upper hand in the initial strikes. In addition, the collaboration with Syria and Egypt meant that Arabs could strike Israel from two fronts, thus enabling its Defense Force to divert its attention to the Golan Heights, which was strategically important to the country. Even though both sides declared victory, Sadat’s and Ismail’s offense allowed Egypt to recover from the guilt of losing territories in the past. While there was a long way to go toward a comprehensive peace process, the Ramadan War represented an essential step toward establishing a framework for further negotiations.
Al-Sadat, A. (1978). In search of identity. Harper & Row.
Alterman, J. (1998). Sadat and his legacy: Egypt and the world, 1977-1997. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Gutfeld, A., & Vanetik, B. (2016). A situation that had to be manipulated: The American airlift to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Middle Eastern Studies, 52(3), 419-447.
The Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum. (2013). President Nixon and the role of intelligence in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Web.
Tibi, B. (1998). Conflict and war in the Middle East. Palgrave MacMillan.