The October War began shortly after midday on Saturday, October 6, 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a concerted surprise military attack on Israel (1). They had chosen to attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, a day when most Israelis were in synagogues praying and fasting. Due to the advantage of surprise, Egypt succeeded in crossing the Suez Canal on October 7th and Syrian forces advanced on the Golan Heights. By October 10th, however, after heavy losses, Israeli forces succeeded in reversing the tide of battle in the North and during the next three days, Israeli forces advanced 10 km beyond the 1967 cease- fire lines into Syrian territory. On the Egyptian front, Israeli forces succeeded in crossing the Canal on the 14th and surrounded the Egyptian Third Army. Fighting continued despite a cease-fire agreement on 22 October, which almost brought the USSR and the US to confrontation. Finally, on Oct. 26th a US-Soviet sponsored Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire was accepted by all parties.
Talks between Egypt and Israel, with the active participation of US Secretary of State Kissinger, continued for two months and concentrated on Israeli withdrawal to post-Six Day War lines, the problem of the encircled Third Army, and the exchange of prisoners. Israel agreed to withdraw to 20 km from the Canal. The size of both armies was reduced, and a Disengagement Agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt on January 18, 1974. The negotiations with Syria took much longer and mutual fire continued throughout the spring of 1974. In the final agreement, signed on May 31, 1974, Israel returned parts of the Syrian town of Quneitra. A UN buffer zone was established and as in the case of the Israel-Egypt agreement, a US Memorandum of Understanding was given to Israel (2).
(1) In order to deceive the Israelis, Egypt embarked on frequent false mobilizations of forces prior to the actual attack on October 6th. Syria, keen to recover the Golan Heights, joined with Egypt in preparations for the surprise attack. Israeli intelligence leaders were not alarmed by Egypt’s steps as they strongly adhered to what later became known as The Conception – their assessment that Egypt would not embark on a war against Israel until it had obtained advanced fighter-bombers and Scuds.
(2) Michael Brecher and Jonathan Wilkenfeld, A Study of Crises, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997