War of Attrition
|War of Attrition|
|Part of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Cold War|
The Israeli–Egyptian war of Attrition was centered largely on the Suez Canal.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Levi Eshkol
| Gamal Abdel Nasser
Ahmad Ismail Ali
Anwar El Sadat
Saad El Shazly
Abdul Munim Riad †
Nikolai Yurchenko †
|275,000 (including reserves)||Egyptian: 200,000
|Casualties and losses|
|694–1,424 soldiers killed
227 civilians killed
2,659 wounded, from this 999 at the Egyptian front
2,882–10,000 soldiers and civilians killed
60–114 aircraft lost
Hundreds of casualties
Following the 1967 Six-Day War, no serious diplomatic efforts tried to resolve the issues at the heart of the Arab–Israeli conflict. In September 1967, the Arab states formulated the "three nos" policy, barring peace, recognition or negotiations with Israel. 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, 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. Hostilities continued until August 1970 and ended with a ceasefire, the frontiers remaining the same as when the war began, with no real commitment to serious peace negotiations.
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. 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.
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.
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 1973 Yom Kippur War. Ultimately, Israel would return Sinai to Egypt after the two nations signed a peace treaty.
Various military 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." 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.
Simon Dunstan notes that, although Israel continued to hold the Bar Lev Line, 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." On the tactical level, 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. 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.
The Egyptian Air Force and Air Defense Forces performed poorly. Egyptian pilots were rigid, slow to react and unwilling to improvise. 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. 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.
July 1, 1967: An Egyptian commando force from Port Fuad moves south and takes up a position at Ras el 'Ish, located 10 miles south of Port Said on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, an area controlled by the Israelis since the ceasefire on June 9, 1967. An Israeli armored infantry company attacks the Egyptian force. The Israeli company drives off the Egyptians but loses 1 dead and 13 wounded. However, another source claims that an Israeli attack on Port Fuad was repulsed.
July 8, 1967: An Egyptian Air Force MiG-21 is shot down by Israeli air defenses while on a reconnaissance mission over el-Qanatra. Two Su-7s equipped with cameras are then sent out to carry out the mission, and manage to complete several turns over Sinai without any opposition. Two other Su-7s are sent for another reconnaissance mission hours later, but are attacked by Israeli Air Force fighter jets. One Su-7 is shot down.
July 11–12, 1967: Battle of Rumani Coast - The Israeli Navy destroyer INS Eilat and two torpedo boats sink two Egyptian torpedo boats off the Rumani coast. No crewmen on the Egyptian torpedo boats are known to have survived, and there were no Israeli casualties.
July 14, 1967: Artillery exchanges and aerial duels erupt near the Suez Canal. Seven Egyptian fighter aircraft are shot down.
October, 1967: In retaliation to the sinking of the Eilat, Israeli artillery bombards oil refineries and depots near Suez. In a series of artillery exchanges throughout October, the Egyptians sustain civilian casualties. Egypt evacuates a large number of the civilian population in the canal region.
March 21, 1968: In response to persistent PLO raids against Israeli civilian targets, Israel attacks the town of Karameh, Jordan, the site of a major PLO camp. The goal of the invasion was to destroy Karameh camp and capture Yasser Arafat in reprisal for the attacks by the PLO against Israeli civilians, which culminated in an Israeli school bus hitting a mine in the Negev. However, plans for the two operations were prepared in 1967, one year before the bus incident. When Jordan saw the size of the raiding forces entering the battle it was lead to the assumption that Israel had another goal of capturing Balqa Governorate to create a Golan Heights similar situation. Israel assumed that the Jordanian Army would ignore the invasion, but the latter fought alongside the Palestinians and opened heavy fire that inflicted losses upon the Israeli forces. This engagement marked the first known deployment of suicide bombers by Palestinian forces. The Israelis were repelled at the end of a day's battle, having destroyed most of the Karameh camp and taken around 141 PLO prisoners. Both sides declared victory. On a tactical level, the battle went in Israel's favor and the destruction of the Karameh camp was achieved. However, the relatively high casualties were a considerable surprise for the Israel Defense Forces and was stunning to the Israelis. Although the Palestinians were not victorious on their own, King Hussein let the Palestinians take credit.
June 1968: The war "officially" begins, with sparse Egyptian artillery bombardment of the Israeli front line on the east bank of the Suez Canal. More artillery bombardments in the following months cause Israeli casualties.
October 30, 1968: Israeli helicopter-borne Sayeret Matkal commandos carry out Operation Helem (Shock), destroying an Egyptian electric transformator station, two dams along the Nile River and a bridge. The blackout causes Nasser to cease hostilities for a few months while fortifications around hundreds of important targets are built. Simultaneously, Israel reinforces its position on the east bank of the Suez Canal by construction of the Bar Lev Line.
November 3, 1968: Egyptian MiG-17s attack Israeli positions, and are met by Israeli interceptors. One Israeli plane is damaged.
December 3, 1968: The Israeli Air Force bombs PLO camps in Jordan. The Israeli jets are intercepted by Hawker Hunters of the Royal Jordanian Air Force, and an Israeli fighter jet is damaged during the brief air battle.
March 8, 1969: Egypt strikes the Bar Lev Line with artillery fire and airstrikes, causing heavy casualties. Israel retaliates with raids deep into Egyptian territory, causing severe damage.
March 9, 1969: The Egyptian Chief of Staff, General Abdul Munim Riad, is killed in an Israeli mortar attack while visiting the front lines along the Suez Canal.
May–July 1969: Heavy fighting takes place between Israeli and Egyptian forces. Israel loses 47 dead and 157 wounded, while Egyptian casualties are far heavier.
July 18, 1969: Egyptian commandos raid Israeli military installations in Sinai.
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.
July 20–28, 1969: Operation Boxer – Nearly the entire Israeli Air Force attacks the northern sector of the Canal, destroying anti-aircraft positions, tanks and artillery, and shooting down eight Egyptian aircraft. An estimated 300 Egyptian soldiers are killed, and Egyptian positions are seriously mauled. Israeli losses amount to two aircraft. Egyptian artillery fire is reduced somewhat. However, shelling with lighter weapons, particularly mortars, continues.
August 1969: The Israeli Air Force flies about 1,000 combat sorties against Egypt, destroying dozens of SAM sites and shooting down 21 aircraft. Three Israeli aircraft are lost.
September 9, 1969: Operation Raviv – Israeli forces raid Egypt's Red Sea coast. The raid is preceded by Operation Escort, with Shayetet 13 naval commandos sinking a pair of Egyptian torpedo boats that could have threatened the Israeli raiding party. Three commandos are killed when an explosive device detonates prematurely. Israeli troops backed up by aircraft captured Egyptian armor, and destroy 12 Egyptian outposts. The Egyptians suffer 100–200 casualties, and a Soviet general serving as a consultant to the Egyptians is also killed, while one Israeli soldier is lightly injured. An Israeli plane is shot down during the raid, and the pilot's fate is still unknown.
September 11, 1969: Sixteen Egyptian aircraft carry out a strike mission. Eight MiGs are shot down by Israeli Mirages and a further three Su-7s are lost to Israeli anti-aircraft artillery and HAWK surface-to-air missiles.
October 17, 1969: The United States and Soviet Union begin diplomatic talks to end the conflict.
December 9, 1969: Egyptian aircraft, with the assistance of newly delivered P-15 radars, defeats the Israelis in an aerial engagement, shooting down two Israeli Mirages. Later in the evening, an Egyptian fighter flown by Lt. Ahmed Atef shot down an Israeli F-4 Phantom II, making him the first Egyptian pilot to shoot down an F-4 in combat. The same day, the Rogers Plan is publicized. It calls for Egyptian "commitment to peace" in exchange for the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. Both parties strongly reject the plan. Nasser forestalled any movement toward direct negotiations with Israel. In dozens of speeches and statements, Nasser posited the equation that any direct peace talks with Israel were tantamount to surrender. President Nasser instead opts to plead for more sophisticated weaponry from the Soviet Union to withstand the Israeli bombings. The Soviets initially refuse to deliver the requested weapons.
December 26–27, 1969: Israel launches Operation Rooster 53, carried out by paratroopers transported by Sikorsky CH-53E and Super Frelon helicopters. The operation results in the capture of an Egyptian P-12 radar at Ras Gharib and carrying it to Israel by 2 CH-53 Sea Stallion Helicopters. The operation enabled Israeli and American learning of the latest Soviet radar technology, and caused a huge morale impact on the Egyptians.
January 22, 1970: President Nasser secretly flies to Moscow to discuss the situation. His request for new SAM batteries (including the 3M9 Kub and Strela-2) is approved. Their deployment requires qualified personnel along with squadrons of aircraft to protect them. Thus, he needed Red Army personnel in large numbers, something the Kremlin did not want to provide. Nasser then threatens to resign, implying that Egypt might turn to the United States for help in the future. The Soviets had invested heavily in President Nasser's regime, and so, the Soviet leader, General-Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, finally obliged. The Soviet presence was to increase from 2,500–4,000 in January to 10,600–12,150 (plus 100–150 Soviet pilots) by June 30.
January 22, 1970: Operation Rhodes. Israeli paratroopers and naval commandos are transported by IAF Super Frelon helicopters to Shadwan Island where they kill 70 Egyptian soldiers and take 62 more prisoner at the loss of 3 dead and 7 wounded. The soldiers dismantle an Egyptian radar and other military equipment for transport back to Israel. IAF aircraft sink two Egyptian P-183 torpedo boats during the operation.
February, 1970: An Egyptian commando platoon attempts to set up an ambush in the vicinity of the Mitla Pass but is discovered. The entire unit is either killed or captured.
February 9, 1970: An air battle between Israeli and Egyptian warplanes takes place, with each side losing one plane.
March 15, 1970: The first fully operational Soviet SAM site in Egypt is completed. It is part of three brigades which the Soviet Union sends to Egypt. Israeli F-4 Phantom II jets repeatedly bomb Egyptian positions in Sinai.
April 8, 1970: The Israeli Air Force carries out bombing raids against targets identified as Egyptian military installations. A group of military bases about 30 kilometers from the Suez Canal is bombed. However, in what becomes known as the Bahr el-Baqar incident, Israeli F4 Phantom II fighter jets attack a single-floor school in the Egyptian town of Bahr el-Baqar, after it was mistaken for a military installation. The school is hit by five bombs and two air-to-ground missiles, killing 46 schoolchildren and injuring over 50. This incident put a definite end to the campaign, and the Israelis instead then concentrate upon Canal-side installations. The respite gives the Egyptians time to reconstruct its SAM batteries closer to the canal. Soviet flown MiG fighters provide the necessary air cover. Soviet pilots also begin approaching IAF aircraft during April 1970, but Israeli pilots have orders not to engage these aircraft, and break off whenever Soviet-piloted MiGs appear.
May, 1970: During the final days of the month, the IAF launch major air raids against Port Said, believing a large amphibious force is assembling in the town. On the 16th an Israeli aircraft is shot down in air combat, probably by a MiG-21.
June 1970: An Israeli armored raid on Syrian military positions results in "hundreds of Syrian casualties."
June 25, 1970: An Israeli A-4 Skyhawk, in an attack sortie against Egyptian forces on the Canal, is attacked and pursued by a pair of Soviet MiG-21s into Sinai. According to the Soviets, the plane was shot down, while the Israelis claim that it was damaged and forced to land at a nearby airbase.
June 27, 1970: The EAF continued to launch air raids across the canal. On June 27 around eight Egyptian Su-7s and MiG-21s attack Israeli rear areas in Sinai. According to Israel, two Egyptian aircraft were shot down. An Israeli Mirage was shot down, and the pilot was captured.
July 18, 1970: An Israeli airstrike on Egypt causes casualties among Soviet military personnel.
June 30, 1970: Soviet air defenses shoot down two Israeli F-4 Phantoms. Two pilots and a navigator are captured, while a second navigator is rescued by helicopter the following night.
July 30, 1970: A large-scale dogfight occurs between Israeli and Soviet aircraft, codenamed Rimon 20, involving twelve to twenty-four Soviet MiG-21s (besides the initial twelve, other MiGs are "scrambled", but it is unclear if they reach the battle in time), and twelve Israeli Dassault Mirage IIIs and four F-4 Phantom II jets. The engagement takes place west of the Suez Canal. After luring their opponents into an ambush, the Israelis shoot down four of the Soviet-piloted MiGs. A fifth is possibly hit and later crashes en route back to base. Four Soviet pilots are killed, while the IAF suffers no losses except a damaged Mirage. The Soviets respond by luring Israeli fighter jets into a counter-ambush, downing two, and deploying more aircraft to Egypt. Following the Soviets' direct intervention, known as "Operation Kavkaz", Washington fears an escalation and redoubles efforts toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Early August, 1970: Despite their losses, the Soviets and Egyptians manage to press the air defenses closer to the canal, shooting down a number of Israeli aircraft. The SAM batteries allow the Egyptians to move in artillery which in turn threatens the Bar Lev Line.
August 7, 1970: A cease-fire agreement is reached, forbidding either side from changing "the military status quo within zones extending 50 kilometers to the east and west of the cease-fire line." Minutes after the cease-fire, Egypt begins moving SAM batteries into the zone even though the agreement explicitly forbids new military installations. By October there are approximately one-hundred SAM sites in the zone.
September 28, 1970: President Nasser dies of a heart attack, and is succeeded by Vice President Anwar Sadat.
According to the military historian Ze'ev Schiff, some 921 Israelis, of which 694 were soldiers and the remainder civilians, were killed on all three fronts. Chaim Herzog notes a slightly lower figure of just over 600 killed and some 2000 wounded while Netanel Lorch, states that 1,424 soldiers were killed in action between the period of June 15, 1967 and August 8, 1970. Between 24 and 26 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 1948, 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.
Several Egyptian naval vessels were sunk. The Palestinian PLO suffered 1,828 killed and 2,500 were captured. Jordan’s intervention on behalf of the PLO during the Battle of Karameh cost it 40-84 killed and 108-250 injured. An estimated 58 Soviet military personnel were killed and four to five Soviet-piloted MiG-21 aircraft were shot down in aerial combat. Syrian casualties are unknown but an armored raid by Israeli forces against Syrian positions in June 1970 led to "hundreds of Syrian casualties." Cuban forces, which were deployed on the Syrian front, were estimated to have lost 180 dead and 250 wounded.
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