Libyan–Egyptian War

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Libyan–Egyptian War
Part of the Arab Cold War
Map of Libya and Egypt
Date July 21–24, 1977
Location Libyan–Egyptian border
Result Libyan invasion of Sallum repelled, return to status quo ante bellum[1][2]
Egypt Egypt Libya Libya
Commanders and leaders
Egypt Anwar Sadat Libya Muammar Gaddafi
3 Divisions and Air Force[3] 3 Brigades and Air Force
Casualties and losses
100 dead
4 MiG-21 aircraft
2 Su-20[4]
400 dead and wounded
60 tanks
40 APCs
20 Mirage 5 aircraft
1 MiG-23MS

The Libyan–Egyptian War was a short border war between Libya and Egypt in July 1977.

On July 21, 1977, there were first gun battles between troops on the border, followed by land and air strikes. On July 24, the combatants agreed to a ceasefire under the mediation of the President of Algeria Houari Boumediène and the Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.


Relations between the Libyan and the Egyptian government had been deteriorating ever since the end of Yom Kippur War from October 1973, due to Libyan opposition to President Anwar Sadat's peace policy as well as the breakdown of unification talks between the two governments. There is some proof that the Egyptian government was considering a war against Libya as early as 1974. On February 28, 1974, during Henry Kissinger's visit to Egypt, President Sadat told him about such intentions and requested that pressure be put on the Israeli government not to launch an attack on Egypt in the event of its forces being occupied in war with Libya.[5] In addition, the Egyptian government had broken its military ties with Moscow, while the Libyan government kept that cooperation going. The Egyptian government also gave assistance to former RCC members Major Abd al Munim al Huni and Omar Muhayshi, who unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 1975, and allowed them to reside in Egypt. During 1976 relations were ebbing, as the Egyptian government claimed to have discovered a Libyan plot to overthrow the government in Cairo. On January 26, 1976, Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak indicated in a talk with the US Ambassador Hermann Eilts that the Egyptian government intended to exploit internal problems in Libya to promote actions against Libya, but did not elaborate.[6] On July 22, 1976, the Libyan government made a public threat to break diplomatic relations with Cairo if Egyptian subversive actions continued.[7] On August 8, 1976, an explosion occurred in the bathroom of a government office in Tahrir Square in Cairo, injuring 14, and the Egyptian government and media claimed this was done by Libyan agents.[8] The Egyptian government also claimed to have arrested two Egyptian citizens trained by Libyan intelligence to perform sabotage within Egypt.[9] On August 23, an Egyptian passenger plane was hijacked by persons who reportedly worked with Libyan intelligence. They were captured by Egyptian authorities in an operation that ended without any casualties. In retaliation for accusations by the Egyptian government of Libyan complicity in the hijacking, the Libyan government ordered the closure of the Egyptian Consulate in Benghazi.[10]

The Libyan government claimed to have uncovered an Egyptian espionage network in Libya. US diplomatic circles viewed this tension as a sign of Libyan intentions to go to war against Egypt, and one diplomat observed:

LARG [Libyan Arab Republic Government] anticipates military attack from Egypt, which it hopes to exploit and cause overthrow of Sadat.[11]

Throughout 1976 the Egyptian government was concentrating troops along the Libyan border. It enjoyed the support of the US government, who viewed Libya negatively, and was promised by Washington that no move in US-Libyan relations was to be made without consultation with Cairo.[12][13][14] Policy experts in the US and Britain assessed that Sadat was planning an attack on Libya in order to overthrow Gaddafi.[15] Relations kept deteriorating, and in early May 1977 Sadat turned down an American request to engage in reconciliation talks with the Libyan government.[16]

Tensions between the two countries had increased during April and May 1977, as demonstrators attacked each other's embassies. In June 1977, Libyan leader Gaddafi ordered the 225,000 Egyptians working and living in Libya to leave the country by July 1 or face arrest.

Sequence of operations

In June 1977, thousands of Libyan protesters began a "March on Cairo" as they headed towards the Egyptian border. The Libyans wanted to demonstrate against the increasing likelihood that Egypt would enter into a peace treaty with Israel. On July 20, after the protest march was stopped by Egyptian border guards, Libyan artillery units fired at Egypt in Sallum.

On July 21, 1977 Libyan forces carried out a raid on Sallum. The raid was carried out by the 9th Tank Battalion and supported by a few Mirage 5 aircraft.

Anwar Sadat and his generals ordered 3 divisions to head to the Libyan border when news of the advancing Libyan tanks reached them. The three divisions quickly beat back the Libyan brigades, destroying most of their equipment. The Egyptian Air Force and 3 divisions of the Egyptian Army stormed across the Libyan border and captured some key border towns. Libyan military bases in Al Adm (Gamal Abdul El Nasser Air Base), Kufra and Umm Alayan were bombed.

Other Arab states then asked Sadat not to launch a full-scale invasion of Libya (which Sadat and his generals allegedly planned on doing on 26 July). Sadat heeded their call and forced Libya into a ceasefire. The Egyptian Army then withdrew from occupied territory.[citation needed]

Armistice and aftermath

Mediation by Algeria, and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, finally led to a ceasefire.[citation needed] Sadat gave his forces instructions to stop all attacks on 24 July 1977 and agreed to an armistice.[citation needed] Though the fighting stopped the next day, a rift between Arab states remained. Many conservative Arab governments had sympathy for Egypt and Sadat, while leftist and pro-Soviet Arab states endorsed Libya and Gaddafi.

An editorial in The New York Times summed up an American perspective of the war by quoting a Palestinian: "If the Arabs haven't got Israel to fight, they will be fighting each other."[17]

In August 1977, an agreement to exchange prisoners of war led to a relaxation of tension between the two states. After four days of fighting, Libyan casualties were 400 dead or wounded, while Egyptian casualties were roughly 100 dead.

See also


  1. Countrystudies - Libya and Arab Unity "Libya and Arab Unity" Check |url= value (help). Library of Congress. Retrieved 2 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Cooper, Tom (13 November 2003). "Libyan Mirage-Order". Western & Northern Africa Database. Air Combat Information Group. Retrieved 2 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Pollack, Kenneth M. (2004-09-01). Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991. Bison Books. p. 365. ISBN 0-8032-8783-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Pollack p.368
  5. "Transcript of talk between Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir, March 1, 1974" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Hermann Eilts to Department of State, January 25, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Robert Carle (US Embassy in Tripoli) to Department of State, July 22, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Hermann Eilts (US Ambassador to Egypt) to Department of State, August 9, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Hermann Eilts to Department of State, August 11, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Herman Eilts to Secretary of State, August 25, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Robert Carle (US Chargé d'Affaires ad interim to Libya) to Department of State,August 26, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Robinson to the Embassy in Cairo, September 3, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Robinson to US Delegation and Secretary of State, December 29, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Robinson to the Embassy in Tripoli, December 31, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Spiers (US Embassy in London) to Department of State, October 19, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Eilts to State Department, May 6, 1977
  17. Marvine Howe, "The Arabs Can't Seem to Stop Fighting", New York Times, 24 July 1977, p. E2