Austin Bay
The 1973 October War was the Arab-Israeli war Israel almost lost.

Historians generally attribute Israel's costly victory to two Israeli lapses, a successful enemy deception operation and a very astute Egyptian war plan. The lapses and enemy deception scheme still shape Israeli security policy, especially toward Iran and its nuclear weapons program.

Israel's first lapse occurred when its intelligence services failed to detect the size and scale of enemy military preparations. Spies noticed more tanks on Syria's side of the Golan Heights and increased activity on Egypt's side of the Suez Canal. However, they failed to discern the Syrian and Egyptian strategic intent.

Short hours before Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal on October 6, Israel's second lapse occurred when its national command authority failed to act with decisive force. Though the spies now confirmed a major enemy buildup, the government decided to wait and forgo a pre-emptive attack.

Egypt's and Syria's military and political deception operation deceived Israeli spies and leaders. Both nations skillfully camouflaged their war preparations.

Egypt's Sinai plan utilized clever combat-engineer techniques and leveraged Israeli battlefield elan. Egyptian engineers would use high-pressure water hoses to breach the Canal's sand walls. A massive artillery preparation would suppress Israeli defenders in their Bar Lev Line fortifications while assault divisions crossed. Once in Sinai, Egyptian forces would remain beneath an air defense "umbrella" provided by sophisticated Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-aircraft guns. The "umbrella" would ambush over-confident Israeli pilots. (Syria would employ a similar "umbrella" over the Golan.) Meanwhile, Egyptian ground forces would ambush Israeli tanks, counter-attacking hell-for-leather. Egyptian infantry armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles would hide until the tanks drew close. When possible, the infantrymen were told to wait until they could hit the Israeli tanks from the flank or rear. Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, believed that even a limited defeat of Israel's vaunted armored forces would have galvanizing morale effects in Egypt and throughout the Arab world.

On October 6, Egyptian forces breached the canal in two hours and pushed beyond Israel's thin Bar Lev Line forts. On the Golan Heights, three Syrian armored divisions attacked two Israeli brigades. The Golan brigades took horrendous casualties, but never broke. Their stand may have won the war, but for the next 96 hours the victory and defeat hung in dreadful balance as Israeli reservists raced to the front.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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