Fifty years ago today, a war erupted in the Middle East that changed not just the region, but the world. It’s a war of many names, depending on who you ask: the October War, the Yom Kippur War, the Ramadan War, or the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
The war’s victor is just as disputed. It began with a two-pronged attack against Israel by Egypt and Syria. Egypt attacked from the south, to take back the Sinai Peninsula, and Syria from the north, to take back the Golan Heights.
Israel had captured both six years prior in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, alongside occupying what remained of historic Palestine.
The recently formed state was riding high on that victory: it never anticipated an attack like this, especially not during Yom Kippur, an auspicious day for Jews. Meanwhile, the politics of the Cold War played in the background.
The Soviets supplied the Arab countries with weapons and the United States backed Israel. The two sides were on the brink of military conflict for the first time since the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
On October 16, 10 days after the start of the war, Israeli forces managed to penetrate Egyptian and Syrian defence lines, majorly turning the tide of the war in their favour. Fighting came to a stalemate.
Twelve days into the conflict, the Arab oil-producing countries, under the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), decided to reduce oil production by five percent.
They also enforced an embargo on the US, suspending oil supply. These actions led to soaring oil prices – and affected the trajectory of the Cold War.
The embargo had the US scrambling for solutions to the conflict. Former US national security adviser Henry Kissinger came in to usher a ceasefire agreement, scuttling between Cairo, Damascus and Tel Aviv in an attempt to forge Arab-Israeli peace.
His “shuttle diplomacy” – as his efforts were termed – worked, bringing on the ceasefire that would end the war.
A few years later, Egypt and Israel normalised relations through the signing of the Camp David Accords on September 17, 1978, which laid out conditions for an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Normalisation with Israel had been the outcome of the war, and a second attempt by Arab states to go to war against the Israeli occupation and to restore the rights of Palestinians was ultimately never realised.