Exactly 40 years ago, on October 6 1973, Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal with the intention of pushing the Israelis out of the Sinai Peninsula. They took Israel by surprise, timing the attack to take place on Yom Kippur, the most sacred religious festival in the Jewish calender. Simultaneously, Syria attacked the Golan Heights.
Backed by the air force, led by Hosni Mubarak, who became president in 1981, Egypt made spectacular initial advances into the territory, but both it and the Syrians were furiously repulsed when the Israeli army came into action.
In his book, ‘The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East,’ Abraham Rabinovich says that ultimately both sides won.
“Who won the war? Egypt won the war, Israel won the war. Both sides to an equal measure,” he said. “Egypt regained its territory, and more importantly, its pride – its pride and the Arab pride, by the early successes. Israel won the biggest political achievement it could have imagined – peace with the largest Arab country.”
The resulting, ferocious, 19-day conflict finally led to the signing of the Camp David Accords, the return of Sinai to Egypt, which had lost control of the region in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt.
The attacks of October 6 have therefore traditionally been regarded as a golden moment for Egypt, and celebrated annually as a national victory. But commentators like Abraham Rabinovich note that Israel remains traumatised by the experience of having been taken by surprise and very nearly overwhelmed by hostile military action.