During the late 1960’s and into 1970 there were a series of cross-border confrontations between Egypt and Israel in the Sinai (the so-called War of Attrition).
The aggressive Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, died in 1970 and was replaced by Anwar Sadat, who was willing to make a peace agreement if Israel partially withdrew its forces from Sinai. However, over the next two years the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, persistently refused Egyptian peace offers, making plans to build a port and create settlements at Rafah in the Sinai.
On the afternoon of October 6th 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a joint invasion of Israel. It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and a national holiday. The Israelis were taken completely by surprise. Golda Meir and her Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan had not interpreted recent Egyptian and Syrian military concentrations on the Suez Canal and Golan Heights as a prelude to war. Egyptian forces poured across the Suez Canal and their tanks advanced across Sinai. Egypt, equipped with Soviet-made antitank and antiaircraft missiles, repelled Israel’s counterattacks on land and in the air.
In the north, Israeli forces, with just 170 tanks, were driven back on the Golan by far greater Syrian forces with Iraqi support, including 1500 tanks and 1000 artillery pieces. During 3 days of desperate fighting, Israel’s 7th Brigade held the line of hills north of Nafah and, with the help of reserve forces, counterattacked and drove back the Syrians until they were within artillery range of Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Meanwhile, General Ariel Sharon, against Dayan’s advice, led his division across the Suez Canal and attacked the Egyptian army from the rear, as well as cutting off their supplies, and coming within 100 km of Cairo, Egypt’s capital.
Under US and Soviet pressure, a cease-fire was agreed. Although Israel had managed a rapid recovery of nearly all the territory won in 1967, they had been caught badly off guard, casualties had been heavy and defeat had come very close. Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan resigned from the government.