For three years after 1970, President Sadat of Egypt planned a surprise attack with Soviet support. The attack took place on the Jewish Day of Atonement (“Yom Kippur” in Hebrew) an annual day of fasting and prayer during which the country comes to a standstill.

On 6th October 1973 Egyptian and Syrian troops struck simultaneously. Egyptian tanks crossed the Suez Canal, demolished the Israeli defence lines, and sped through the Sinai towards Israel. At the same time 1400 Syrian tanks advanced in the Golan Heights. The Egyptian and Syrian forces were assisted by a Russian airlift of sophisticated arms supplies, including brand new wire-guided anti-tank (“Sagger”) missiles, which were a decisive factor in the early battles.

The Israeli forces were unprepared and taken by surprise. President Nixon agreed to an American airlift of military supplies after a delay of over a week, and without British or European agreement for transit arrangements.

Eventually, after two weeks of fierce tank battles, Israeli forces gained control in the Sinai, and units under the command of General Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal, entered Egypt, cutting behind and encircling the Egyptian Third Army, which was on the Israeli side of the Canal.

On 22nd and 24th October, cease-fires proposed by the UN came into effect. Lengthy negotiations took place at a camp called “Kilometre 101”, i.e. 101 Kilometres from Cairo. The Egyptian Army was released from encirclement and Israeli forces withdrew to the east side of the Canal.

The 1973 war is still celebrated in Egypt. The victory museum in Cairo stands in a suburb re-named “10th Ramadan” after the date which is the Egyptian name for the war.

1974 Kissinger’s “Step-by-Step Negotiations”

After a dramatic series of flights between Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger succeeded in negotiating “disengagement agreements” which put in place narrow demilitarized zones between the opposing forces in the Golan Heights, and next to the Suez Canal.

Israel newspaper cartoon during the war

1977 Sadat in Jerusalem

In November 1977, after secret contacts involving President Ceausescu of Romania and King Hassan of Morocco, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt made the historic announcement to the Egyptian parliament, broadcast on American television, that he was prepared to enter into direct peace negotiations with Israel. “I am willing to go to the ends of the earth for peace”, he said. “Israel will be astonished to hear me say now, before you, that I am prepared to go to their own house, to the Knesset itself, to talk to them.”

Prime Minister Menachem Begin responded immediately, and a State visit by Sadat to Jerusalem was arranged. After nearly thirty years of rejection by the Arab world, Israel was jubilant. Sadat was greeted with a fanfare of trumpets when he made his address to the Knesset in Jerusalem on 20 November 1977. In his speech he called for the return to Egypt of all of the Sinai in exchange for a peace treaty.

1978 The Camp David Accords

Protracted negotiations now took place. Eventually talks were held between Sadat, Begin and US President Carter at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Virginia. On 17th September 1978, Sadat and Begin signed a document entitled “The Framework for Peace in the Middle East” and known as the “Camp David Accords”

The document was divided into two parts. Since it was important to Egypt that the accords should not be seen as a withdrawal from their commitment to the Palestinians, the first part of the document was entitled “West Bank and Gaza”. It provided for a five-year period of limited self-government, or “autonomy”, in the West Bank and Gaza, the terms of which were to be negotiated with Palestinian and Jordanian representatives. This period of autonomy was to be followed by negotiations for a final status of the territories. In fact it was 12 years before Palestinian representatives were prepared to negotiate with Israel over the proposed autonomy arrangements.

The second part of the document provided for Israeli withdrawal from the whole of Sinai over a period of three years, in exchange for demilitarisation, and the presence of an international observer force, which was not under the auspices of the UN. Australia agreed to contribute army personnel to the observer force. The withdrawal would be followed by normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel and this took place in 1982, with the implementation of the formal peace treaty of 1979.

See Camp David Accords 1978.