Sinai Peninsula connects Africa with Asia, which is geographically part of it. Sinai is situated near the Red Sea and washed by the Gulf of Aqaba in the east and the Gulf of Suez in the west. This peninsula is considered one of the most amazing regions of Egypt. Nevertheless, it is mostly known for the tragic events that happened there. Sinai Peninsula was the center of conflicts for many years since the first Arab-Israeli war. However, it was possible to avoid most of the conflicts if parties had learnt to negotiate with each other. History knows many examples of how the unwillingness to compromise, recklessness, and political deafness led warring parties to bloody tragedies. The tragic events in 1973 between Israel and Egypt on Sinai Peninsula serve as a vivid example of such behavior. Both armies suffered heavy losses during the battle. However, until now, researchers from different countries have not reach a single opinion on the question of the outcome of the war. The Arab countries believe that in 1973, they gained a victory by destroying the myth of the invincibility of the Israeli army, while Israel, by contrast, believes that its army won the battle. Despite different opinions, there is a common view that both countries could not lead the war without the support from different countries.
The battle of Sinai marked the beginning of the war between Egypt and Israel. On October 6, 1973, armed forces of Syria and Egypt attacked Israel. It is considered the fourth Arab-Israeli conflict that lasted for eighteen days. Governments of these countries tried to negotiate with the Israeli authorities regarding the occupied lands. However, Israel categorically rejected the proposals received from the neighbors, forcing the Arabs to take extreme measures presupposing the rejection of negotiations. These events were the beginning of a prolonged political conflict. Thus, return of taken once lands became for the Arabs a matter of principle. However, Israel’s authorities were sure that Egypt would not attack. Having a rather quick and convincing victory in 1967, Israel was completely convinced that the Arabs would not dare to attack them in the coming decades. However, Israel’s guesses were not right.
The battle of Sinai was the desire of the Egyptian army to return the taken lands. In the book The Yom Kippur War: Politics, Legacy, Diplomacy, it is noted that “the roots of the October War of 1973 are directly related to the military and diplomatic outcomes of the Six Day War of June 1967”. The desire of Egypt to return the occupied Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights and restore territorial integrity acquired paramount importance when Anwar Sadat came after the death of the president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Taking into account the errors committed, the Egyptians took great efforts to build and strengthen its combat power as well as develop a new military strategy. Arabs began preparations for the future attacks in 1971 when they built special training centers near Cairo and Alexandria. In these centers, mobilized Egyptian Armed Forces practiced practical skills in combat operations under conditions of crossing the cannel and overcoming the height in a hilly area. The number of engineering units in part of the Egyptian armed forces greatly increased. Thus, Egypt did thorough preparation before the attack on Israel.
The next step was to attract another neighbor, namely Syria. To divert the attention and efforts of Israelis, Syria had to start fighting from the side of the Golan Heights. Thus, Israel’s conduct of the war on two areas could significantly increase the Egyptians’ chances of gaining the victory. According to some sources, additional impetus for the entry of Syria into the war was the attack of the Israeli air force on the Syrian plane in 1973. Therefore, Syria also wanted to take revenge.
Egypt and Syria learned many lessons after the defeat in the Six Day War. Thus, their first step was great rearmament of their armies. The Soviet Union made a huge contribution to their provision with more modern military equipment. It supplied Egypt with tanks of different modifications as well as with the instructors for soldiers’ training. Arabs equipped the army with a great number of 9M14 Malyutka, which were capable of quickly and effectively destroying enemy’s equipment. Exercises that were periodically conducted by Arabs alarmed Israeli intelligence and border outfits at first. Nevertheless, they still did not believe that Egypt would attack. In addition, Arabs approached the issue of choosing the day of the attack extremely carefully as it was one of the major Jewish holidays, namely Yom Kippur. They knew that Israelis would spend this day in prayer and the majority of institutions would not work. In the book The Egyptian Strategy for the Yom Kippur War, it is written that “in early October 1973, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar – Egypt launched an all-out war whose objectives were limited to crossing the Suez Canal and constructing a military defence layout along a narrow strip on the canal’s eastern bank”. In such a way, Egyptian and Syrian armies with the help of the Soviet Union performed a great job preparing to attack Israel.
However, Israeli authorities became aware of the upcoming attack; thus, civil population was mobilized in several adjoining districts. Some members of the government of Israel long demanded to take urgent actions. The government of the country constantly received data regarding the impending attack. Despite this, indecision and uncertainty of Golda Meir pressured by the Secretary of State of the United States as well as skepticism of the Defense Minister were ultimately decisive factors.
For the Israeli military, the power, with which the enemy attacked the Sinai territory, was sudden. Describing the tank battles of the fourth Arab-Israeli war, many historians compare them with such grandiose historical events as the Battle of Kursk in World War II. Apparently, this battle is regarded one of the most massive tank battles in history. Egyptians performed constant attacks on Israeli positions from air. The Egyptian artillery conducted a crushing blow with more than two thousand mortars and guns. For less than twenty minutes, the Egyptian army destroyed practically all firing points of Israel. Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal, at the same time preparing passes for equipment for seventy pre-designated areas. Thus, all these actions indicate coherence and good preparation of the army.
Although the Israelites were discouraged by the unexpected pressure of the enemy, speed, and scale of the attack, their retaliatory actions were immediate. As soon as the first Egyptian soldiers set foot on the land of Israel, they were immediately attacked by the armored units. Due to the lack of time for preparation, the army of Israel acted blindly without intelligence data, which proved to be an extremely ill-advised decision. As a result, the Egyptian army with the help of the equipment from the Soviet Union managed to destroy more than two hundred Israeli tanks by the end of the day. Famous Israeli aircraft suffered losses as well. It is worth noting that in three days, the army of Israel lost approximately eighty aircraft. The next day, one mechanized, two armored, and five infantry divisions of Egyptians hosted on the territory of Sinai. The number of infantrymen reached a hundred thousand people, and there were more than eight hundred tanks. The effectiveness of Egyptian placement strategies of anti-tank weapons combined with the inability of the Israeli air force to provide protection for the troops led to heavy losses of Israel on the Sinai front in the first days of the war.
Combat actions continued even at night time, and in this regard, the Egyptians and Syrians had one significant advantage. The Soviet T-55 constituted the major share of the tank park of Arabs. These tanks had night vision equipment to control the gunner. This fact gave an opportunity to conduct a successful bombardment of enemy armored vehicles as in Israeli tanks, only a driver could use night vision devices. Significantly, such qualities as high maneuverability connected with the relatively low weight as well as the small size of the aircraft made them not so assailable in comparison with the large and heavy tanks of the Israeli army. However, the large size and weight of the tanks of the Israeli army provided more favorable conditions for their crews. These tanks had a greater angle of lifting and lowering of the piece of ordnance. What is more, they were two times greater in the number of ammunition. Furthermore, they had more powerful engines. Later, these factors played an important role in the outcome of the war.
Until October 10, there was fierce fighting on the peninsula, in which the Egyptian army gained victories. After four days of combat actions, the situation on the battlefield a little stabilized and there was a small respite. From time to time, the Israelis performed minor counter-attacks on the Egyptian firing points. Talking about respite, it was explained quite simply as both sides of the armed conflict expected reinforcements from their sponsors, namely the United States from the part of the Israelites and the USSR from Egypt and Syria. Israel preferred not to risk as the situation was already extremely shaky.
The activity on the Sinai front resumed on October 14 when four infantry and two armored divisions of Egyptians attacked the enemy and immediately moved ten kilometers ahead. However, with the support of eighteen helicopters equipped with ATGM «TOW», the Israelis managed to destroy almost half of the Egyptian tank brigade. Importantly, these helicopters as well as other equipment of the Israeli army were given by the United States. In the subsequent night battle, the Israelis defeated two hundred and sixty tanks and two hundred armored vehicles of the Egyptians. On the contrary, the loss of the Israeli army made not more than forty tanks. It is worth noting that losses on both sides increased so greatly that countries could not fight without additional supply of arms and equipment from interested countries. Over the next ten days, Israel received from the United States one hundred and twenty-eight combat aircraft, a hundred and fifty tanks M60, two thousand ATGM of the latest sample, a plurality of missiles, and many cluster bombs. After obtaining weapons, the Israelis began the first front counterattacks. Therefore, without the US aid, the outcome of the battle of Sinai would hardly be so beneficial to Israel.
Over the next few days, many military operations were conducted. Despite numerous victories of the Egyptian army before, it began to suffer great losses. On October 19, the Israeli army prepared to strike a decisive blow to the hated neighbor. However, at this point in the relations of Middle Eastern countries, the United Nations decided to intervene and demanded the immediate cessation of hostilities. Both sides used a lull to regroup and prepare for new battles. The Israeli army stopped only after the capture of Suez, and this last step in the battle stopped the war.
All participants in the war suffered notable losses. For nineteen days of fighting, the Arab states lost three hundred sixty-eight helicopters and airplanes and seventeen hundred armored vehicles. More than eighteen thousand people were killed, and about fifty thousand servicemen were injured. Israel lost one hundred and fourteen helicopters and airplanes and more than eight hundred armored vehicles and tanks. About two and a half thousand Israelis were killed, and seven and a half thousand people were wounded. Therefore, both parties felt the effects of military operations.
Until now, researchers from various countries have not reached consensus on the outcomes of the war. The Arab countries believe that in 1973, they gained a victory. According to them, only after the war, Israel agreed to the talks, which led to the liberation of Sinai Peninsula. By contrast, Israel believes that its army won. If to proceed from the goals that the warring parties set, none of them was fully achieved. Moreover, nothing would be possible without the active participation of other countries such as the United Sates and the USSR.
Nevertheless, some historians do not agree that the USSR and the United Sates played a major role in the battle. They believe that only skillful tactics on the part of both sides was important in the battle of Sinai. Importantly, many prominent people participated in the war. In addition, patriotic spirit of both sides was extremely strong. These facts helped the armies conduct successful military operation. Nonetheless, the majority of historians have another opinion. They consider the military aid from the USSR and the United States to play a decisive role in the war as these countries provided the most modern equipment without which none of the parties could fight.
According to most historians, the fourth Arab-Israeli war ended in a draw with the exception of one positive thing, namely the Israeli elite finally was engaged in improvement of relations with the countries of Middle East. After negotiations in 1974, Egypt and Israel signed an armistice agreement. Syria and Israel also reached an agreement on disengagement. Israeli troops left the west bank of the Suez Canal retaining; however, they remained control over the Golan Heights. In 1979, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty signed at Camp David entered into force. Despite these agreements, there are still tense relations between these countries.
The region of the Middle East is overwhelmed by conflicts of different nature, strength, and depth. Some of these conflicts have millennial roots, and some have emerged in the last few years. They involve the main capitalist and local tribal associations, intelligence services, religious communities, ambitions of local monarchs and dictators, and statesmen of the West. The Middle East usually tries to resolve conflicts by means of armed violence. The region almost always gravitated towards armed violence. The battle of Sinai is not an exception as a great number of military equipment was used in the course of the battle. Moreover, most part of this equipment was given by the United States and the USSR that greatly influenced the course of the war. The main outcome of the battle was the death of a great number of people from both sides.