Essay: The Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War resulted in a large shift in regional balance of power, allowing for peaceful negotiations and a coalition between Arab states to start. 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. Benjamin Lai, Israeli historian stated in 2004 that ‘Egypt had felt in a position of weakness and feared that any settlement would be entirely dictated by Israel’ (Lai, 2004, p221). This would make it impossible for Anwar Sadat, Egyptian President, to make serious efforts towards peace. Prior to the war, Egypt was in no position to discuss any political or peace matters with Israel. Many ‘New Historians’, including Josiah Ginat, Israeli historian, are 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). This view is endorsed by how two years before the Yom Kippur war, Sadat’s peace initiative was rejected by Israel (Rubin, 1994). By contrast success in the Yom Kippur war was seen as restoring Arab honour, resulting in an almost unanimous international support for peace. Subsequently peace negotiations could begin between Egypt and Israel, leading to the 1978 Camp David Accords. Moreover, 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). Israeli Defence Minister and politician during the Yom Kippur war, Moshe 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.

The aftermath of the war left Israel considerably exposed which resulted in countries questioning the validity of the widely accepted myth of Israeli invincibility. 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). This is representative of Israel’s impudent attitude towards the Arab states, which led them to heavily underestimate the force of the Arab army. This was further supported by how in the first few hours of the war, Dayan stated that the war ‘[would] end in a few days with victory’ (Samuel, 1989). Arab success in the initial phases of the war destroyed theories of Israeli military invincibility previously accepted worldwide, particularly after Israeli success in the Six Day War. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a concept took hold that the Arabs were unwilling to go to war against Israel. The concept was based on the idea that the 1967 War was such an overwhelming victory that the Arabs would not be able to overcome Israel for the time being. 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) as Dayan later stated. This is further corroborated by how US Senator William Fulbright substantiated the 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). 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.

Arab oil producing nations established power in the international community by engaging in an oil embargo. This changed many countries foreign policies to focus on achieving Middle East peace, ultimately to prevent the renewal of the embargo. 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% and also refused 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). Indeed, the embargo had a huge impact on United States economy, Israeli economist, Hanadi Laqeur states, ‘in the twenty years before the war their energy consumption had doubled’ (Laqueur, 1974), 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 in 1974 that ‘when there is a shortage in fuel in the United States and your people begin to suffer – the change will begin’ (Laqueur, 1974). This is representative of how the Arab nations used oil as a political weapon to help bargain with the West. 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 positive consequences for the Egyptian economy. According to American historian, Christopher Westwood, ‘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. This is further supported by how ‘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 and a forced to be reckoned with on the international scale.

The international community now saw the Arab coalition as a threat because the Arab morale was boosted considerably after their initial success of the war. 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). This is relevant because it shows how the Arab coalition were up against a much more experienced and equipped enemy and thus the Arab military was now seen as a threat for their ability to get victory against such an opposition. While the war did not conclude in an Arab military victory, according to New Historians, ‘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 here, 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 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). This is representative of the unity and solidarity now felt by the Arab countries and is further endorsed by Azir Chahoud, an Arab diplomat in 1974, ‘We may never be unanimous and we will probably never speak in one voice,’ one Arab diplomat said, ‘but for the first time we are now speaking in different accents against a common background with a few exceptions for a common goal.’ As a result of the Yom Kippur War the Arab military’s morale was boosted and thus the international community now saw the Arab coalition as a threat.
Ultimately, the repercussions and major developments flowing from the Yom Kippur war were felt in the Middle East and beyond. The most significant consequences of the war included helping to set the stage for peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel and contributing to some progress towards achieving peace in the Middle East, the destruction of the myth of Israeli invincibility, morale was boosted and the oil embargo’s international impacts redefined the strength of Arab positions in significant aspects of international relations.

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