War of Attrition
Part of the Arab–Israeli conflict and the Cold War
A map

The Israeli–Egyptian war of Attrition was centered largely on the Suez Canal.
DateJuly 1, 1967 – August 7, 1970 (ceasefire)
(3 years, 1 month and 6 days)
Location
Sinai Peninsula (Israeli controlled)
Result

Egyptian front:

Jordanian front:

Belligerents
 Israel

 Egypt
 Soviet Union


PLO
 Jordan
 Syria[1]
 Cuba

Expeditionary forces:

 Kuwait[2]
Commanders and leaders
Zalman Shazar
Levi Eshkol
Yigal Allon
Haim Bar-Lev
Ariel Sharon
Mordechai Hod
Uzi Narkiss

Gamal Abdel Nasser
Ahmad Ismail Ali
Anwar El Sadat
Saad El Shazly
Abdul Munim Riad 
Andrei Grechko


Jordan King Hussein
Jordan Zaid ibn Shaker
Jordan Amer Khammash
Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat
Palestine Liberation Organization Abu Iyad
Strength
275,000 (including reserves) Egyptian: 200,000
Soviet: 10,700–15,000[4]
Jordanian: 15,000[5]
PLO: 900–1,000[6][7]
Casualties and losses
694[8]–1,424[9] soldiers killed
227 civilians killed[8]
2,659 wounded, from this 999 at the Egyptian front[8]
24[10]–30[11] aircraft
Egypt:
2,882[12]–10,000[10] soldiers and civilians killed
6,285 wounded[13]
60[11]–114[14] aircraft lost
PLO:
1,828 killed
2,500 captured[15]
Jordan:
300 killed[16]
4 captured
30 tanks
Soviet Union:
58+ dead[17]
5 aircraft
Cuba:
180 dead
250 wounded[18]
Syria:
500 killed[16]

The War of Attrition (Arabic: حرب الاستنزاف, romanizedḤarb al-Istinzāf; Hebrew: מלחמת ההתשה, romanizedMilhemet haHatashah) involved fighting between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and their allies from 1967 to 1970.

Following the 1967 Six-Day War, no serious diplomatic efforts tried to resolve the issues at the heart of the Arab–Israeli conflict. The 1967 Arab League summit formulated in September the "three no's" policy: barring peace, recognition or negotiations with Israel.[19] The Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser believed that only military initiative would compel Israel or the international community to facilitate a full Israeli withdrawal from Sinai,[20][21] and hostilities soon resumed along the Suez Canal.

These initially took the form of limited artillery duels and small-scale incursions into Sinai, but by 1969, the Egyptian Army judged itself prepared for larger-scale operations. On March 8, 1969, Nasser proclaimed the official launch of the War of Attrition, characterized by large-scale shelling along the Suez Canal, extensive aerial warfare and commando raids.[20][22] Hostilities continued until August 1970 and ended with a ceasefire,[23] the frontiers remaining the same as when the war began, with no real commitment to serious peace negotiations.

Egyptian front

Israel's victory in the Six-Day War left the entirety of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula up to the eastern bank of the Suez Canal under Israeli control. Egypt was determined to regain Sinai, and also sought to mitigate the severity of its defeat. Sporadic clashes were taking place along the cease-fire line, and Egyptian missile boats sank the Israeli destroyer INS Eilat on October 21 of the same year.

Egypt began shelling Israeli positions along the Bar Lev Line, using heavy artillery, MiG aircraft and various other forms of Soviet assistance with the hope of forcing the Israeli government into concessions.[24] Israel responded with aerial bombardments, airborne raids on Egyptian military positions, and aerial strikes against strategic facilities in Egypt.

The international community and both countries attempted to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The Jarring Mission of the United Nations was supposed to ensure that the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 242 would be observed, but by late 1970, it was clear that this mission had been a failure. Fearing the escalation of the conflict into an "East vs. West" confrontation during the tensions of the mid-Cold War, the American president, Richard Nixon, sent his Secretary of State, William Rogers, to formulate the Rogers Plan in view of obtaining a ceasefire.

In August 1970, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt agreed to an "in place" ceasefire under the terms proposed by the Rogers Plan. The plan contained restrictions on missile deployment by both sides, and required the cessation of raids as a precondition for peace. The Egyptians and their Soviet allies rekindled the conflict by violating the agreement shortly thereafter, moving their missiles near to the Suez Canal, and constructing the largest anti-aircraft system yet implemented at that point in history.[24][25]

The Israelis responded with a policy which their Prime Minister, Golda Meir, dubbed "asymmetrical response", wherein Israeli retaliation was disproportionately large in comparison to any Egyptian attacks.[24]

Following Nasser's death in September 1970, his successor, Anwar Al-Sadat, continued the ceasefire with Israel, focusing on rebuilding the Egyptian army and planning a full-scale attack on the Israeli forces controlling the eastern bank of the Suez Canal. These plans would materialize three years later in the Yom Kippur War. Ultimately, Israel would return Sinai to Egypt after the two nations signed a peace treaty in 1979.

The Egyptian Air Force and Air Defense Forces performed poorly.[26] Egyptian pilots were rigid, slow to react and unwilling to improvise.[27] According to U.S. intelligence estimates, Egypt lost 109 aircraft, most in air-to-air combat, while only 16 Israeli aircraft were lost, most to anti-aircraft artillery or SAMs.[27] It took a salvo of 6 to 10 SA-2 Egyptian anti-aircraft missiles to obtain a better than fifty percent chance of a hit.[27] Kenneth Pollack notes that Egypt's commandos performed "adequately" though they rarely ventured into risky operations on a par with the daring of Israel's commandos,[26] Egypt's artillery corps encountered difficulty in penetrating the Bar-Lev forts and eventually adopted a policy of trying to catch Israeli troops in the exterior parts of the forts.[28]

Timeline

1967

An Egyptian Ilyushin Il-28 bomber attacks Israeli forces in the Sinai
An Egyptian Ilyushin Il-28 bomber attacks Israeli forces in the Sinai
Israeli naval personnel celebrate their victory after an engagement with Egyptian naval forces near Rumani.
Israeli naval personnel celebrate their victory after an engagement with Egyptian naval forces near Rumani.
Israeli destroyer INS Eilat that was sunk by the Egyptian Navy, killing forty-seven sailors
Israeli destroyer INS Eilat that was sunk by the Egyptian Navy, killing forty-seven sailors

1968

Israeli paratroopers in action during the Battle of Karameh in 1968
Israeli paratroopers in action during the Battle of Karameh in 1968
King Hussein after checking an abandoned Israeli tank in the aftermath of the Battle of Karameh
King Hussein after checking an abandoned Israeli tank in the aftermath of the Battle of Karameh
An Israeli military vehicle on patrol in the Jordan Valley, circa 1968
An Israeli military vehicle on patrol in the Jordan Valley, circa 1968
Israeli air raid against targets in Jordan after firing towards Israel from Jordan, circa 1969
Israeli air raid against targets in Jordan after firing towards Israel from Jordan, circa 1969
Israeli artillery in action in 1969
Israeli artillery in action in 1969
President Nasser of Egypt (with binoculars) surveys positions at the Suez Canal in November 1968
President Nasser of Egypt (with binoculars) surveys positions at the Suez Canal in November 1968

1969

F-4E Phantom of the Israeli Air Force. The aircraft was used to good effect as "flying artillery" during the war. Roundel markings on nose credit this aircraft with three aerial kills.
F-4E Phantom of the Israeli Air Force. The aircraft was used to good effect as "flying artillery" during the war. Roundel markings on nose credit this aircraft with three aerial kills.
Israeli forces in the Suez Canal area
Israeli forces in the Suez Canal area
Israeli Shayetet 13 naval commandos during Operation Bulmus 6
Israeli Shayetet 13 naval commandos during Operation Bulmus 6

July 19–20, 1969: Operation Bulmus 6 – Israeli Shayetet 13 and Sayeret Matkal commandos raid Green Island, resulting in the total destruction of the Egyptian facility. Six Israeli soldiers and 80 Egyptian soldiers are killed. Some Egyptian casualties are caused by their own artillery.

Israeli troops at the Firdan Bridge by the Suez Canal, 1969
Israeli troops at the Firdan Bridge by the Suez Canal, 1969
A BTR-50 armored personnel carrier being loaded onto an Israeli landing craft as part of Operation Raviv
A BTR-50 armored personnel carrier being loaded onto an Israeli landing craft as part of Operation Raviv
Soviet/Egyptian S-125 anti-aircraft type missiles in the Suez Canal vicinity
Soviet/Egyptian S-125 anti-aircraft type missiles in the Suez Canal vicinity

1970

Israeli paratroopers in action during Operation Rhodes
Israeli paratroopers in action during Operation Rhodes
Soviet medal issued to Soviet military personnel who served in Egypt during the War of Attrition.[citation needed] The medal says Москва-Каир (Moscow-Cairo).
Soviet medal issued to Soviet military personnel who served in Egypt during the War of Attrition.[citation needed] The medal says Москва-Каир (Moscow-Cairo).
Israeli war ribbon signifying participation in the War of Attrition
Israeli war ribbon signifying participation in the War of Attrition

Aftermath

Various historians have commented on the war with differing opinions. Chaim Herzog notes that Israel withstood the battle and adapted itself to a "hitherto alien type of warfare."[85] Ze'ev Schiff notes that though Israel suffered losses, she was still able to preserve her military accomplishments of 1967 and that despite increased Soviet involvement, Israel had stood firm.[86]

Simon Dunstan wrote that Israel was successful in continuing to hold the Bar Lev Line and forcing the Egyptians to come to the negotiating table, although the war had sapped Israeli morale. However, he claimed that the war's conclusion "led to a dangerous complacency within the Israeli High Command about the resolve of the Egyptian armed forces and the strength of the Bar-Lev Line" while the Egyptians saw the war as a great victory in spite of their heavy casualties and the mauling their air defenses had sustained, becoming confident in their ability to counter Israel's air power.[20]

Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor consider the war to have been a defeat for Israel, arguing that Israel was compelled to accept the ceasefire because Soviet air defenses were downing Israel's F-4 Phantoms at an unsustainable rate. They argued that Egypt's blatant violation of the ceasefire by moving SAM batteries into the canal zone after the war's end without response was a sign of Israel's failure. They consider the lopsided Israeli victory over the Soviets in Operation Rimon 20 as having enabled Israel to accept the ceasefire without losing face, with that battle and illustrious tactical exploits by Israeli ground troops being used to claim victory.[87][88]

Soviet-born Israeli researcher Boris Dolin also considers the war to have been an Israeli defeat due to the effectiveness of Soviet SAM batteries against Israel's Phantom fleet: "Contrary to the official version, the ceasefire was not an Israeli victory over Egypt. Quite the opposite, it was an expression of Israeli defeat at the hands of an effective and determined Soviet force. Facing the crushing power of the Soviet Union, Israel could only display relatively limited capabilities. We found ourselves up against a giant, and without a real military solution."[89]

US diplomat David A. Korn, who served as political officer and chief of the political section at the US embassy in Tel Aviv during the war, considers the war to have ended in a stalemate, with no clear victor or vanquished on either side, but claimed that "this fact was poorly understood in Israel, where the war was retrospectively deemed a success for Israeli arms." He wrote that Israel's failure to acknowledge that the war was not an Israeli victory led it into a false sense of security, which resulted in opportunities for an interim peace with Egypt being neglected. However, he also claimed that it is a matter of speculation as to whether the Yom Kippur War could have been avoided had the outcome been analyzed more realistically by Israel and the United States.[90]

Howard Sachar notes that Israel accepted the ceasefire because it was clear that the war was developing into a Soviet-Israeli confrontation, the Israeli military had taken significant casualties, and because the United States offered additional sales of F-4 Phantoms to induce Israel into accepting it, while Egypt accepted it because it was desperate for a break in the wake of its heavy casualties and the near-depopulation of the cities in the canal zone. After Egypt violated the ceasefire by moving forward its SAM batteries, the United States offered additional F-4 Phantoms after Israel considered retaliation. Although the ceasefire was set to last three months, in practice it continued after that.[91]

Israeli military historian Yaniv Friedman claimed that Israel's aggressive policy in directly striking Soviet troops was a success, in that it helped persuade the Soviets to push for a ceasefire: "The Russians understood well that the conflict is not worth it. Humiliations, loss of prestige, and the understanding that just because Israel isn’t currently revealing to the world that it shoots down Russians doesn’t mean that it will always keep quiet. Further escalation could also bring the US into the theater, something that scared the Russians." He credited Israel with successfully asserting itself against a global power. According to Friedman, even though Israeli decision-makers recognized the disparity in strength, the war involved a core Israeli national security interest while to the Soviet Union it was one theater among many.[64]

Casualties

According to the military historian Ze'ev Schiff, some 921 Israelis, of whom 694 were soldiers and the remainder civilians, were killed on all three fronts.[92] Chaim Herzog notes a slightly lower figure of just over 600 killed and some 2,000 wounded[93] while Netanel Lorch states that 1,424 soldiers were killed in action between the period of June 15, 1967 and August 8, 1970. Avi Kober estimated Israel's total military and civilian dead at 726, of whom 367 were soldiers killed on the Egyptian front between June 1967 and August 1970 and 359 were soldiers and civilians killed along the Syrian and Jordanian fronts.[16] Between 24[94] and 26[95] Israeli aircraft were shot down. A Soviet estimate notes aircraft losses of 40. One destroyer, the INS Eilat, was sunk.

As with the previous Arab–Israeli wars of 1956 and 1967, Arab losses far exceeded those of Israel, but precise figures are difficult to ascertain because official figures were never disclosed. The lowest estimate comes from the former Egyptian Army Chief of Staff, Saad el Shazly, who notes Egyptian casualties of 2,882 killed and 6,285 wounded. Historian Benny Morris states that a more realistic figure is somewhere on the scale of 10,000 soldiers and civilians killed. Ze'ev Schiff notes that at the height of the war, the Egyptians were losing some 300 soldiers daily and aerial reconnaissance photos revealed at least 1,801 freshly dug graves near the Canal zone during this period. Among Egypt's war dead was the Egyptian Army Chief of Staff, Abdul Munim Riad.[92]

Between 98[94] and 114[95] Egyptian aircraft were shot down, though a Soviet estimate notes air losses of 60. Several Egyptian naval vessels were also sunk.

Soviet forces are known to have sustained significant losses. One Russian veterans' website compiled an admittedly incomplete list of 58 dead, including victims of accidents and disease.[96] In August 1970, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported that 100 Soviet military personnel had been killed in Egypt over the past year.[97] Five Soviet MiG-21 aircraft were shot down in aerial combat during Operation Rimon 20.[98][81]

The PLO suffered 1,828 killed and 2,500 captured.[92] An estimated 300 Jordanian soldiers and 500 Syrian soldiers were killed.[16] Cuban forces, which were deployed on the Syrian front, were estimated to have lost 180 dead and 250 wounded.[18]

See also

Conflicts

Politics

People

References

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Bibliography