40 Years Since the Yom Kippur War #2: The Counterattack

After a surprise attack that sparks the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the IDF must regroup and act quickly against Egypt and Syria. The enemies’ anti-aircraft missiles overwhelm the Israel Air Force, forcing the IDF to rely almost completely on its ground and naval forces. The proximity of Israeli villages and towns to the Syrian border poses an urgent challenge, pushing the IDF to confront enemy forces in battle.

The Egyptian advance

After being taken by surprise during the first hours of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the IDF tries to stop the Egyptian military’s advance from the south. By the second day of the war, Egypt’s forces cross the Suez Canal with hundreds of tanks and approximately 100,000 troops. The Egyptian ground forces, which are heavily equipped with Sager anti-tank guided missiles, begin to attack the IDF’s tanks. Meanwhile, Egypt’s anti-aircraft missiles (SA2-3-6-7) pose an overwhelming challenge for Israeli planes attempting to stop the Egyptian advance. As a result of Israel’s limitations, the Egyptian forces take control of several IDF positions along the canal.

Two IDF reserve divisions lead by Maj. Gen. Avraham Adan and Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon come to the aid of Israel’s embattled forces. In an urgent message to the southern troops, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. David Elazar emphasizes what’s at stake in the battle. “I ask you to remember that your divisions are the only thing standing between the Egyptians and Tel Aviv,” he says.

On October 8, 1973, with three divisions on the ground, the Israeli military launches an initial counterstrike against Egyptian forces in the northern Sinai Peninsula. Lacking aerial support, the IDF suffers tremendous losses during the attack.  In order to regain its ground, the IDF decides to strengthen its defenses rather than continue its offensive into the Sinai. This change in strategy allows the IDF to devote additional resources to its battle against Syria in the Golan Heights.

Yom Kippur War, Southern Front

Meanwhile, the Israeli Navy battles Egyptian forces at sea. The navy registers major successes on two fronts, sinking Egyptian boats in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Suez. Several days later, the navy destroys another missile boat in the port of Hurghada in the gulf.

During the coming days, the IDF maintains a defensive line approximately 10 kilometers into the Sinai. In order to reach Israel’s tanks, Egypt’s forces must advance beyond the protection of their anti-aircraft missiles positioned along the canal. The IDF takes advantage of this limitation to regroup and prepare for the next phase of battle with Egypt – the counterattack.

On the night of October 10, the Egyptian infantry tests Israel’s defensive line. The infantry forces, covered by artillery and Sager anti-tank guided missiles, attack Israel’s tanks but find the IDF ready to defend itself. After a forceful Israeli response, the Egyptian infantry suffers major losses. Having regained its footing, the IDF launches Operation Magavit and Operation Pontiak, successful missions that lay the groundwork for a broader counterattack.

On October 12, Egypt’s second and third armies prepare themselves for an intensified Israeli offensive. As part of these preparations, they move an enormous number of forces east of the canal.

An uphill battle with Syria

Despite the IDF’s efforts, Syrian tanks enter Israeli territory during the early-morning hours of October 7. Several Syrian tanks cross through Rafid  – located in the southern part of the Syrian front  – attempting to reach the Northern Command’s military base. Other tanks advance southwest, threatening Israeli villages near the border. Just hours after the beginning of Syria’s advance, 600 of its tanks have penetrated into Israeli territory. The Syrians continue westward, taking control of a key IDF position in the Golan’s mountainous Hermon region.

The IDF dispatches reserve troops from its 210th and 146th Divisions to confront the Syrian advance. The reserve troops stop the Syrian forces and secure the Northern Command base. Meanwhile, IDF tanks manage to block a second Syrian attack  – but at a heavy price.

On October 8, after holding the Syrian forces, the IDF launches an initial counterstrike against Syria. Israeli forces push Syrian troops away from the southern part of the Golan Heights, but they fail to liberate the Hermon position. On the northern front, the IDF’s 7th Brigade manages stops the attack of Syrian tanks in a major battle, later to be called the Valley of Tears. The battle marks a major turning point in the war – placing the strategic advantage into the hands of the IDF.

Yom Kippur War, Northern Font

On the morning of the October 9, Israel’s Phantom fighter jets fly undetected into Lebanese territory before continuing to Damascus. After reaching their destination, the jets successfully bombard Syria’s military headquarters. On the following day, they bombard a series of airports in Syria, forcing the Soviet Union, Syria’s key ally, to withdraw its aircraft from the region.

After discussions within the IDF and Israel’s political echelon, Israeli forces cross the Syrian border and continue their counteroffensive. After an IDF attack in the norther part of the Golan, the 210th Division destroys Syria’s anti-aircraft missiles and takes control of Syrian territory. In response to Israel’s attacks, forces from Iraq come to Syria’s aid and help it delay the IDF’s advance. Operation Gown, a military operation lead by the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade, prevents Iraq from sending additional forces into the war. During the operation, Israel’s paratroopers venture about 250 kilometers into Syrian territory, destroying a bridge that Iraq plans to use in order to move its forces.

Having gained a decisive advantage on the northern front, the IDF invests significant resources to secure the Sinai. In the coming days, IDF soldiers will sacrifice their lives and stand firm against the enemy, pushing them back despite extraordinary challenges. With little rest and tough battles ahead of them, the soldiers must continue their difficult mission to protect the people of Israel.