The air defense umbrellas over the Canal and the Golan took a terrible toll on Israeli aircraft. Israel acknowledged the loss of 102 aircraft, over half lost in the first three days of combat.
Though Israel had lost some 500 tanks (400 in Sinai), by October 10 both Arab offensives had stalled. Israel counter-attacked in Sinai and on October 15 crossed the Canal into Africa.
U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pressed both sides for a ceasefire, to begin October 22. Israeli tanks approached Damascus, and Syria agreed to the ceasefire. In Sinai and Africa, fighting persisted. As Israeli forces cut off an Egyptian army in Sinai, on October 24 the Soviet Union threatened to send Russian soldiers to Egypt to enforce the ceasefire. The U.S. responded by putting its forces on alert, including its nuclear forces. The war officially ended October 25, though ceasefire violations continued.
The disengagement talks between Egypt and Israel on October 28 were rancorous, but in retrospect laid the groundwork for what became the Camp David Peace Process.
The superpower posturing and nuclear-saber rattling was dangerous, but understood to be diplomatic signals. Avner Cohen, however, contends that on October 9 the situation became so dire that Israel considered using nuclear weapons. Israel didn't, but its desperate national leaders peered into the nuclear abyss.
The October War demonstrated to many Israelis that a decision to pre-emptively strike, deferred by even a day or two, could put Israel's existence at risk. An intelligence failure in a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Iran could be fatal. Israelis compare the shock of the October 1973 surprise attack to the American reaction to Pearl Harbor. Iran's ayatollahs should take note.
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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