October War: The Crossing saga

Ezzat Ibrahim , Thursday 5 Oct 2023

Al-Ahram Weekly revisits the 18-day war, providing analyses of war tactics, assessing what the war achieved, and recording the accounts of surviving heroes.

photo: Antoune Albert
photo: Antoune Albert


The October War is a landmark in the collective memory of Egyptians, a milestone that will endure for decades to come.

The military confrontation taught the Egyptian people that the loss of hope, as the then minister of defence Ahmed Ismail said, is the greatest threat a nation can face.

On 16 October 1973, an exultant president Anwar Al-Sadat stood before the People’s Assembly, proud of what his soldiers had achieved on the battlefront.

“Perhaps this day has come,” he told the assembled members, “not for us to boast and brag, but to remember, study, and pass down to our children and grandchildren, generation after generation, the tale of struggle, hardships, and the bitterness of defeat, of how heroes emerged from this nation and this people in a dark period to carry the torch of light and illuminate the path so that we could cross the bridge between despair and hope.”

Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the astounding events which began when Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal, breaching the supposedly impregnable Bar Lev Line.

In the chronicles of Middle Eastern history, the October War stands as a pivotal moment that continues to resonate deep within the region’s political and military psyche.

It had an enduring impact on the strategies and technologies of warfare: the audacious and unexpected incursion by Egyptian and Syrian forces underscored the importance of accurate intelligence and tactical surprise.

The events of October 1973 saw a metamorphosis in anti-tank warfare, redefining strategies with the adept use of anti-tank missiles by Egyptian and Syrian forces against Israeli armoured units. It catalysed the development of advanced armoured vehicles, anti-aircraft systems, and electronic warfare, with both sides jamming radars, and highlighted the importance of comprehensive air defence strategies.

It underscored the significance of agile troop deployment in response to unforeseen exigencies and pushed military strategists to enhance their troop mobilisation capabilities. On the battlefield massive tank skirmishes exacted a toll on both sides, prompting advancements in tank design and anti-tank munitions and redrawing tactical playbooks.

The October War left an indelible mark on military doctrine, triggering major shifts in operational planning and reshaping the interplay between civilian leadership and military decision-making. It also set the stage for a more engaged diplomacy, necessitating international mediation efforts involving superpowers like the United States and the Soviet Union, culminating in the Camp David Accords in 1978 and the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

This diplomacy reshaped the geopolitical landscape by highlighting the global consequences of regional conflicts and the role of great powers in crisis management.

Nor, after half a century, have the lessons to be gleaned from the war ended. The echoes of the October War continue to sound within the lecture halls of military academies. Its political ramifications serve as a beacon for nations across the region, casting a spotlight on the still urgent need to build a peace rooted in justice and the recognition of rights, a peace that cannot be derailed by the obstinacy of a single party.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 5 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: