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The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

Al Jazeera examines three weeks of war from which both Arabs and Israelis claimed to emerge victorious.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat once called it the last war. But four decades after Sadat uttered those words, the Arab-Israeli conflict has no end in sight. The story of the war that Egyptians call the October War and Israelis know as the Yom Kippur War has never been thoroughly explored.

I definitely don't think that there are any winners in war. There'll be someone who loses more, someone who loses less, but there are no winners in wars, and that’s something which has stayed with me since 1973.

by Yoram Dori, 600th Israeli Reserve Armoured Brigade

So what happened during those three weeks in October 1973?

To this day, both sides – Arabs and Israelis – claim to be the victors.

It was a war that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear confrontation between two global superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union.

It also gave the world a fuel crisis and a new entry in the dictionary ‘Shuttle Diplomacy’, as Henry Kissinger, the US secretary of state, flew from country to country in an effort to broker a peace deal.

Egypt’s 2011 revolution and the toppling of the old regime resulted in the discovery and opening of many previously undisclosed files related to the war in October. It provided us with unprecedented access to participants in it and to the places where they fought.

The War in October draws on rare film archive selected from many sources around the world, along with graphic illustrations, maps, and animated sequences to plot the movements of forces in the many battlefields of the conflict.

The series features interviews with people who planned and fought in the three weeks of battles that took place on both the Egyptian and Syrian front, including characters from other countries that participated in the fighting – Iraqi, Jordanian, Moroccan and Palestinian. The interviewees include experts, diplomats, officials and members of the military from the US, the former Soviet Union and Europe. 

EPISODE 1: The Crossing


The first part of the series focuses on the build-up to the war and the role of an Egyptian double agent. It examines Egypt and Syria’s lightning attack against an unprepared Israel as well as the Israeli response, the mobilisation of reserves and stabilisation of the Syrian thrust into the Golan Heights in a bloody tank battle in what became known as the ‘Valley of Tears’.

And it looks at the failure of an Israeli counterattack in the Sinai and the Egyptian consolidation of bridgeheads on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal.

EPISODE 2: The Heat of Battle


The second part of The October War investigates the Israeli counterattack on both fronts, pushing Syrian and supporting Arab forces back across the ceasefire line, and taking control of territory deep inside Syria and almost within reach of Damascus.

On the Suez front, Israeli forces under Ariel Sharon identify a gap in the Egyptian Canal defences, and after fierce fighting in The Battle of the Chinese Farm, they succeed in crossing the Canal to occupy positions in Egypt, behind the Egyptian front line. Meanwhile differences emerge in the Arabs’ war aims, as Syria looks to conquest, while Egypt seeks only to jump-start peace talks.

EPISODE 3: The Battle and Beyond


Stalemate at the battlefront brings the threat of involvement by the two global superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union.

For a full 24 hours the world stands on the brink of nuclear confrontation. Kissinger brokers a UN monitored peace deal, but turns a blind eye to an Israeli land grab.

Arab oil-producing nations turn the screw on Western supporters of Israel by cutting production. Finally a ceasefire is agreed which paves the way for the eventual return of Sinai to Egypt. But the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to this day.