The Consequences of the Yom Kippur War

Arlette Regan, Dickson College, 2010

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The following essay was written in response to the question: “What were the consequences of the Yom Kippur War?” It was submitted as part of the Modern Middle East unit at Dickson College, Semester 2, 2010.

The Yom Kippur War, fought in October 1973 by a coalition of Egyptian and Syrian forces against Israel, was a highly significant event in the long running history of Arab-Israeli conflict. The war had far-reaching economic and social implications for those involved. It left Israel militarily weakened, destroying the widely accepted myth of Israeli invincibility. On the other hand Arab morale was boosted considerably, their initial success in the war making up for Arab defeat in the Six Day war. As a consequence of the war Arab oil producing states established power in the international community by engaging in an oil embargo, creating a degree of Arab unity never before achieved. The war resulted in a considerable shift in the regional balance of power, with Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat gaining the leverage needed to initiate peace negotiations with Israel.

The Yom Kippur War came as a major shock to Israel. Due to previous military successes, Israel had a heightened view of its military capability. The military was complacent, feeling that the Arab states offered no serious threat. Contemporary commentators note that Defence Minister Moshe Dayan believed that “the 1967 war was the last of wars… after which there is nothing left for the Arabs but to plead for mercy”( Badri, Magdoub & Zohdy 1978, p203). In the first few hours of the war, Dayan stated that the it “[would] end in a few days with victory” (Samuel, 1989, p137). Arab success in the initial phases of the war destroyed theories of Israeli military invincibility previously accepted world wide, particularly after Israeli success in the Six Day War. Despite the fact that Israel was ultimately successful, ending the war on the offensive, and certainly better off than the Arabs, the war nonetheless “came as a blow to the people, they expected something easier and better” (Embassy of Israel, 1976, pg 70) as Dayan later stated. US Senator William Fulbright substantiates that view suggesting that “Israel was forced to drop the myth of absolute military security as achieved through the occupation of territories” (Badri, Magdoub & Zohdy 1978, p206). Despite Arab success being mainly in the early stages, when combined with factors of, surprise and Israeli lack of preparation it was felt to be a crushing defeat. It undermined the Israeli aura of invincibility and left Israel feeling vulnerable and weak; hence the war is still held in a very negative light by Israel today.

Following the war, public outrage at the incompetence of the Israeli Defence Force (hereby IDF) and government resulted in, the Agranat Commission Report, which explained the outcome of the war, and allocated blame (Blumberg, 1998, p122). Israeli Defence Force intelligence was held responsible for overlooking indications that an attack was going to occur, resulting in the invasion coming as a complete surprise, giving Egypt and Syria the upper hand. Recognising this failure as the major issue, Israel began a “substantiative reconstruction of Military Intelligence” (Rubin, Ginat & Ma’oz, 1994, p62) as recommended by the Agranat Commission. The report also emphasised Israel’s lack of preparation. Military complacency based on a view that “Arab states would not be prepared to risk an attack” (Tzabag, 2001, p184), caused high Israeli casualties (roughly 2300 dead), and huge losses of artillery, helicopters and aircrafts (Isseroff, 2005). The report discredited various Israeli officials, resulting in many suspension and dismissals (Ohana & Wistrich, 1995, p46). Whilst Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan “did not bear any personal responsibility” (Neff, 1988, p87) the war had undermined the faith of a vulnerable public in their leader’s ability to protect them. Consequently pressures resulted in the resignation of Golda Meir and her cabinet, and the establishment of a new government led by Yitzhak Rabin (Blumberg, 1998, p123). The Rabin government subsequently engaged in peace talks with Egypt.

The war also signified a major turning point for Arab countries in the broader Middle East conflict. Egypt and Syria went into the war hoping to win back land taken by Israel during the Six Day War, (the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights). Despite failing to achieve this goal, the Arab coalition was vindicated for its crushing defeat in the Six Day War of 1967 (Parker, 2001, p 68). For example, Egyptian President, Sadat claimed that through their initial success “the Arab armed forces performed a miracle in the war as judged by a military measure” (Bardi & Magdoub & Zohdy, 1978, p 201). While the war did not conclude in an Arab military victory, “both the Egyptian and Syrian armies had regained their honour and prestige,” (Badri, Magdoub & Zohdy, 1978, p20), and so emerged feeling victorious nonetheless. Carefully planned Arab use of the element of surprise was critical her, it being not mere chance that Israel was caught off guard. Rather Egypt and Syria actively deceived Israel, to create false ideas of their capabilities, plans and intentions. In particular “they conducted secret negotiations… released reports that gave misleading ideas on the quality of their military… and masked troop movements prior to the invasion” (Lai, 2004, p221). By taking Israel unprepared, the initial invasion, “provid[ed] them with unique military advantages” (Lai, 2004, p 226), and demonstrated that “the Syrians and Egyptians could fight just as skilfully as the Israelis” (Heikal, 1975, p246). Although limited, this success restored Arab the Arab world’s confidence in their military forces and governments, and so marked a turning point for Arab countries in relation to the wider conflict. Egyptian President Sadat stated that “the Arab world can rest assured that it has now both a shield and a sword.” (Badri, Magdoub & Zohdy 1978, p201), and also that, “now the Israeli soldier is fleeing before the Egyptian solider. It is not only a great triumph for Egypt but has enormous significance outside Egypt” (Tamir, 1988, p167).

In fact the success in the war changed the Arab image in the international community. It also subsequently contributed to other forms of Arab cooperation particularly evident in the oil crisis or embargo that began as a result of the war. Indeed, the use of Arab control of oil supplies as a political weapon was one of the most significant consequences of the war. Increasing world oil consumption in the years preceding the war made oil a necessity, “essential for the functioning of the modern industrial society” (p235, Laqueur, 1974). In the 1973 Oil Embargo, the Arab oil producing states cut production by 5%, refusing export to the US and other Western countries, in retaliation for external support to Israel (p29, Lesch, 2006). The Daily News Kuwait stated that, in particular the Arab states aimed “to make the United States aware of the exorbitant price the great industrial states [could] pay as a result of the blind and limitless support for Israel” (Laqueur, 1974, p237). Indeed, the embargo had a huge impact on United States (US) economy, “in the twenty years before the war their energy consumption had doubled” (Laqueur, 1974, p238), causing an increasing dependence on imported Arab oil. Reduced imports combined with the energy crisis occurring in the US, saw closure of US petrol stations, US houses went without heating, and a general crisis in the petroleum market. The Saudi oil minister told US congressmen that “when there is a shortage in fuel in the United States and your people begin to suffer- the change will begin” (Laqueur, 1974, p240). One consequence was change in US foreign policy, with a focus on achieving Middle East peace, ultimately to prevent renewal of the embargo. Another more long term consequence was an increasing US focus on conserving energy, and regulating fuel efficient. In addition the US developed policies to ensure that it could sufficiently finance inflating prices resulting from the embargo.

Although the oil embargo did not last long it had huge impacts beyond those felt in the US. Using oil as a weapon enabled the Arabs to gain considerable bargaining power in the broader international community, as evident in other changes that occurred as a result of Arab pressure. For example, “Egypt was able to impose its will, and reopen the Suez Canal to international navigation” (Israel Embassy, 1976, p39). There were also consequences for the Egyptian economy. Prior to“1973 the economy of Egypt was under an almost intolerable strain… Egypt had become the laughing stock of the Arab world” (Westwood, 1984, p204). The war brought a radical economic transformation, particularly due to oil revenues. While “Israel could claim to be the military victor… Egypt, Syria and the Arab cause in general were clearly the political victors” (Westwood, 1984, p148). Ultimately the “Arab states emerged as an economic and political power” (p66, Israel Embassy).

The war and subsequent developments saw Sadat, in gaining high praise and considerable prestige internationally. Before the war there had been limited support in Egypt for peace and a general reluctance to negotiate peace after the crushing defeat in the 1967 war. Egypt had felt in “a position of weakness and feared that any settlement would be entirely dictated by Israel” (Lai, 2004, p221), making it impossible for Sadat to make serious efforts towards peace. Many were of the opinion that “the depth of Egypt’s sense of humiliation required a military achievement to make it possible for [him] to offer peace” (Rubin, Ginat, Ma’oz, 1994, p35). Juts two years before the Yom Kippur war, Sadat’s peace initiative was rejected by Israel. By contrast success in the Yom Kippur war was seen as restoring Arab honour, resulting in far more public support for peace. Subsequently peace negotiations could being between Egypt and Israel, leading to the 1978 Camp David Accords. Further, one of the most significant indications of a shift in power caused by the war is that the Israeli leadership felt that, after the Yom Kippur war, political settlements were now necessary to avoid future wars. Rather than being a decision where Israel had the luxury to choose peace or not, after the war Israel was in a weakened position, where they felt there were limited alternatives (Rubin, Ginat, Ma’oz, 1994, p62). Dayan substantiated that “if [he was] ready to admit one mistake it is the fact that we did not accept Sadat’s initiative in 1971. This could have prevented the war” (Rubin, Ginat, Ma’oz, 1994, p38). Ultimately Sadat’s increase in power resulting from the war is demonstrated in his ability to pursue peace talks that in prior years had been regarded as a joke.

Here too, the oil embargo was of great importance, for it made the war relevant to the western world, and it “renewed interest from world powers” (Bickerton, & Pearson, 1990, p140). It helped gain considerable support of the Arab cause from external powers. The economic power that the Arab world displayed in the embargo resulted in, both a big push towards acceding to Arab demands, and pressure on Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders. With considerable international support, Egypt was now able to “convince Israel to leave Sinai and withdraw from the occupied territories to the borders before the Six Day war” (Neff, 1988, p67). Further, some parts of the Golan Heights were returned to Syria. Hence there were clear links between Camp David and the oil embargo.

Ultimately, the repercussions and major developments flowing from the Yom Kippur war were felt in the Middle East and beyond. The most significant consequences for Israel included the destruction of the myth of Israeli invincibility, changes in senior government and Defence Force personnel, and changed policies on peace. On the Arab side, morale was boosted and the oil embargo’s international impacts redefined the strength of Arab positions in significant aspects of international relations. Amongst other things helping to set the stage for peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel and contributing to some progress towards achieving peace in the Middle East.

Bibliography


Books

Badri, H, Magdoub, T & Zohdy, M, 1974, The Ramadan War, 1973, T.N. Dupey: Virginia.
This book provides an Arab perspective on the war, it was particularly useful for researching the motivations of Egypt and Syria, and provided great details of the course and consequences of the war, in particular it was useful for the information on the oil embargo, and Arab use of oil in the world.

Bard, M, 2008, Middle East Conflict: Complete Idiots Guide, Penguin: New York.
This book provides a comprehensive outline of the events that took place.

Bickerton, I & Pearson, M, 1990, The Arab- Israeli Conflict, Longman Cheshire: Melbourne.
This book gives an outline of the course, outcomes and impact of the Yom Kippur war exploring the repercussions for both Arabs and Israeli’s.

Blumberg, A, 1998, The History of Israel, Greenwood: Westport.
A number of chapters outlined some of the long lasting consequences of the war in particular in terms of settlements and achieving peace.

Dowty, A, 2005, Israel/ Palestine, Polity: Cambridge.
This book had a specific chapter that was highly relevant to my topic as it outlined specific repercussions of the war.

Embassy of Israel, 1976, October War, Press and Information Bureau: Canberra
This constitutes of a number of Primary sources, and data of the sociological and military results of the war for Arab Israeli societies.

Harris, N, 1998, Israel and the Arab Nations in Conflict, Wayland: Sussex.
The chapter on the Yom Kippur war provides details on the use of the oil weapon in particular.

Heikal, M, 1975, The Road to Ramadan, Collins: London.
First hand accounts on the progress of the war, detailing the course and consequences.

Joffe, L, 1996, Keesing’s Guide to the Middle East Peace Process, Catermill: London.
This book details the significance of the Yom Kippur war in the peace process.

Lesch, Ann, 2006, Origins and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Greenwood: London.
Was specifically useful for researching the oil debacle, and the consequences of oil in particular.

Laqueur, W, 1974, Confrontation: The Middle East and World Politics, Quadrangle/ The New York Times Book Co: New York.
This book was particularly useful in terms of its information on the use of oil as a political weapon, and how the Arab oil producing states were able to impose their will, as they emerged as a political power.

Neff, D, 1988, Warriors against Israel, Amana: Vermont
Provides first hand accounts of the war in considerable, outlines day by day accounts of the war and the consequences of the war.

Ohana, D & Wistrich, R (ed.), 1995, The Shaping of Israeli Identity: Myth, Memory and Trauma, Frank Cass: London.
This book outlines the consequences of the Yom Kippur war specifically for Israeli’s, in terms of how it shaped the Israeli identity.

Parker, R (ed.), 2001, The October War; a Retrospective, University Press of Florida: Florida.
This book identifies the failures of Israel as being crucial to the success of the Arab coalition, as well as going into some detail surrounding the consequences of the war.

Reich, B, 1996, An Historical Encyclopaedia of the Arab- Israeli Conflict, Greenwood Press: Connecticut.
The relevant chapters provided an accurate and non biased outline of the course of the war, and had a few primary sources within it.

Rubin, B, Ginat, J & Ma’oz, M (ed.), 1994, From War to Peace, New York Press: New York
The chapter on “The Yom Kippur War as a Factor in the Peace Process” was particularly useful in outlining how the war influenced the peace negotiations that followed.

Samuel, R, 1989, A History of Israel, Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London.
This book was particularly useful as it provided a lot of information about Sadat’s involvement in the war and the resulting prestige and power he gained from the war.

Tamir, A, 1988, A Soldier in Search of Peace, Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London.
This text provides an Israeli soldiers account of the war, with a detailed overview of the war; and where it fits in with the peace process.

Westwood, J, 1984, The History of the Middle East Wars, Hamlyn: London
There is a relevant chapter that gives both Palestinian and Israeli perspectives on the Yom Kippur war and outlines the military and political consequences.

Journal Articles

Lai, B, 2004, 'The Effects of Military Mobilization', Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 211-229, Sage Publications
This article details how the surprise initiative worked so well and what the consequences of the war were in terms of achieving peace.

Liebman, C, 1993, 'The Myth of Defeat: The Memory of the Yom Kippur War in Israeli Society', Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 399-418, Taylor and Francis
This article provided details of the effect of the Yom Kippur war to the Israeli society, in particular illustrates the issues of Israeli myth of invincibility.

Safran, N, 1977, 'Trial by Ordeal: The Yom Kippur War', Journal of International Security, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 133-170, MIT Press
This article identifies the issue of Israeli security as being fundamental, but also outlines the consequences of the war for Israel, Egypt and Syria.

Shlaim, A, 1976, 'Failures in National Intelligence Estimates: The Case of the Yom Kippur War',
Journal of World Politics, Vol 28, No 3 pp 348-380, Cambridge University Press
Goes into considerable depth surrounding the Agranat report, and illustrates why the surprise tactic used by Egypt and Syria worked so effectively.

Tzabag, S, 2001, 'Termination of the Yom Kippur War', Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp182-205, Taylor and Francis
This article outlines the positions, decisions and constraints at Israel’s Ministerial level, giving evidence of the breach in intelligence.

Internet

Isseroff, A, 2005, Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary: Yom Kippur War
Retrieved October 16 2010 from: <http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/YomKippurWar.htm>
This outlines the course of the war, the failures, the losses and some significant consequences.

Rabinovich, A, 2003, 30 Years to the Yom Kippur War, Retrieved October 4 2010 from: <http://info.jpost.com/C003/Supplements/30YK/new.02.html#new>
This website details the course of the war in great detail.