War of Attrition ( Milhemet haHatashah,
Ḥarb al-Istinzāf) was a limited
war fought between Israel and Egypt from 1967 to
1970. It was initiated by Egypt as a way to force
Israel to negotiate on favourable terms the return of the Sinai Peninsula, which had been captured by Israel in the 1967
objective was not realized, and instead the hostilities ended with
a ceasefire signed between the countries in 1970 with frontiers
remaining in the same place as when the war began, with no real
commitment to serious peace negotiations.
Israel's victory in
the Six-Day War left the entirety of the
Peninsula up to the
eastern bank of the Suez
Canal under Israeli
Egypt was determined to regain Sinai, and also
sought to mitigate the severity of its defeat. Sporadic clashes
were taking place along the cease-fire line, and Egyptian missile
boats sank the Israeli destroyer INS Eilat
on October 21 of the same
began shelling Israeli positions along the Bar Lev Line, using heavy artillery,
deep-penetration raids into the Sinai, MiG
aircraft and various other forms of Soviet Union assistance with the hope of forcing a war-weary
Israeli government into concessions.
Israel responded with
aerial bombardments, airborne raids on Egyptian military positions,
and aerial strikes against strategic facilities in Egypt.
The rationale of the Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser
, was explained by
journalist Mohamed Hassanein
The international community and both countries attempted to find a
diplomatic solution to the conflict. The Jarring Mission
of the United Nations
was supposed to ensure that
the terms of UN
Security Council Resolution 242
would be observed, by late
1970, it was clear that this mission had been a failure.
the escalation of the conflict into an "East vs. West"
confrontation during the tensions of the mid-Cold War, the American President,
Richard Nixon, sent his Secretary of State, William Rogers, to formulate the Rogers Plan in view of obtaining a
1970, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt
agreed to an "in place" ceasefire under the terms proposed by the
The plan contained restrictions on missile
deployment by both sides, and required the cessation of raids as a
precondition for peace. The Egyptians and their Soviet allies
rekindled the conflict by violating the agreement shortly
thereafter, moving their missiles near to the Suez Canal, and
constructing the largest anti-aircraft system yet implemented at
that point in history.
The Israelis responded with a policy which their Prime Minister
, dubbed “asymmetrical
,” wherein Israeli retaliation was disproportionately
large in comparison to any Egyptian attacks. Following Nasser’s
death in September 1970, his successor, Anwar Al-Sadat
, ceased current hostilities
with Israel, focusing instead on rebuilding the Egyptian army
and planning a full-scale attack
on the Israeli forces occupying the eastern bank of the Suez
The military crossing of the Suez Canal by Egyptian Forces took
place three years later and was a complete success, and was the
trigger for the fourth Arab-Israeli war, known by the Arabs as the
or by the Israelis as the
Yom Kippur War
. This war was
ultimately also a political success for Sadat (although a military
stalemate), despite Egyptian military setbacks that occurred after
the initial successful crossing, as it forced the Israelis to the
negotiating table. However, the ultimate result was that the IDF
encircled the Egyptian Third Army and it was faced with
annihilation on the east bank of the Suez Canal, with no protective
forces remaining between the Israeli Army and Cairo. When the cease
fire came into effect, Israel had lost territory on the east side
of the Suez Canal to Egypt, but gained territory west of the canal
and in the Golan Heights Ultimately, Sinai would return to Egypt
five years later after the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.
July 1, 1967: Egyptian Army
fires on an Israeli armored infantry company near the Suez Canal.
The Israeli unit commander is killed and thirteen Israeli troops
are wounded. An Egyptian force of around thirty commandos
supported by artillery defeated a mixed Israeli force of ten tanks
and mechanized infantry in repeated attacks at Ras Al-'Ish, south
The victory was a significant morale
booster for the Egyptians in the aftermath of defeat. Port Fouad
and its vicinity is the only part of the Sinai to remain in
, 1967: The Israeli Air Force conduct
an air strike against Egyptian artillery that had supported the
commandos at Ras Al-'Ish.
Following the Israeli air strike, the Egyptian General Command in
Cairo began planning for a retaliatory air strike; a risky move
since the Egyptian Air Force had very few aircraft remaining. On
July 14, ten MiG-17
fighter bombers, escorted
by ten MiG-21
fighters, attacked Israeli tank
and armored concentrations in the southern sector of the canal. The
air strike was a success with no losses, whilst two Israeli
aircraft were downed. The air strike was repeated again the
following day, with a successful outcome.
1967: Another Israeli attempt to occupy Port Fouad is stopped again at Ras Al-'Ish by Egyptian
October 21, 1967: Egyptian naval
forces sink the Israeli destroyer INS
, killing forty-seven.
October, 1967: In retaliation to the sinking of the Eilat, Israeli
artillery bombards the oil refineries and depots near Suez. In a
series of artillery strikes between both sides throughout October,
the towns of Ismailia and Suez are shelled by Israeli artillery.
With civilian losses mounting, Egypt evacuates a large number of
the civilian population in the canal region.
June 1968: The war "officially" begins, with sparse Egyptian
artillery bombardment of the Israeli front line on the east bank of
the Suez Canal. More artillery bombardments in the following months
kill Israeli soldiers.
, 1968: Israeli heli
-borne commandos ("Sayeret Matkal
") destroy Egypt's main
electricity supply. The blackout causes Nasser to cease hostilities
for a few months while fortifications around hundreds of important
targets are built. Simultaneously, Israel reinforces its position
on the east bank of the Suez Canal by construction of "the Bar Lev
March 3, 1969: Nasser officially voids the ceasefire of October
March 8, 1969: Egyptian artillery begins massive shelling of the
Bar Lev Line resulting in many Israeli casualties. MiG-21
fighters are employed in the attack. The IDF
retaliates with deep raids into Egyptian territory, causing severe
May-July 1969: Forty-seven IDF soldiers are killed and one-hundred
and fifty-seven wounded. Although Egypt suffers many times more
casualties than Israel, it continues its aggressive stance. Israel
manages to sustain the high casualty rate but is hard-pressed to
find a definite solution to the conflict.
- July 28
1969: Operation Boxer
- Nearly the
entire Israeli Air Force
bombs the northern sector of the Canal, destroying anti-aircraft
positions, tanks and artillery. The aerial offensive continues
until December and reduces Egyptian anti-aircraft defenses to
almost nothing. It also manages to reduce the artillery bombardment
somewhat. However, shelling with lighter weapons, particularly
, 1969: The USA and USSR begin
diplomatic talks to end the conflict.
, 1969: The Rogers Plan is
publicized. It calls for Egyptian "commitment to peace" in exchange
for the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. Both parties strongly
reject the plan. President Nasser instead opts to plead for more
sophisticated weaponry from the Soviet Union to withstand the IAF
bombings. The Soviets initially refuse to deliver the requested
weapons. In an engagement that day, the Egyptians, supplied with
newly delivered P-15 radars
technological superiority to some degrees over the Israelis for
once. Two Mirages were spotted by one such radar, and the Mirages
promptly turned off their airborne radars to remain electronically
invisible. A pair of MiG-21s arriving to intercept came up against
the Mirages head-on, and opened fire with their 23 mm cannons.
The Mirages made a climbing turn and lost sight of the MiGs, who
were in fact below them. The MiG-21s fired their missiles and shot
down both Mirages. Later in the evening, EAF Lt. Ahmed Atef shot
down an Israeli F-4 Phantom II
making him the first Egyptian pilot to shoot down an F-4 in
22, 1970: President Nasser secretly flies to Moscow to discuss
His request for new SAM
batteries (including the 3M9 Kub
approved. Their deployment requires qualified personnel along with
squadrons of aircraft to protect them. In effect, he needs Soviet troops
in large numbers, something the
did not want to provide.
then threatens to resign, implying that Egypt might turn to
Washington for help in the future.
The Soviets had
Invested heavily in President Nasser's regime, and so, the Soviet
obliged. The Soviet presence was to increase from 2,500–4,000 in
January to 10,600–12,150 (plus 100–150 Soviet pilots) by June 30
, 1970: The first fully-operational
Soviet SAM site in Egypt is completed. It is part of three brigades
which the USSR sends to Egypt.
, 1970: Israeli Air Force F4 Phantom II
fighter bombers kill forty-seven
Egyptian schoolchildren at an elementary school in what is known as
Bahr el-Baqar massacre
single-floor school was hit by five bombs and two air-to-ground
missiles.. This put a definite end to the campaign, and the
Israelis instead then concentrate upon Canal-side installations.
The respite gives the Egyptians time to reconstruct its SAM
batteries closer to the canal. Soviet flown MiG fighters provide
the necessary air cover. Soviet pilots also begin approaching IAF
aircraft during April 1970, but Israeli pilots have orders not to
engage these aircraft, and break off whenever Soviet-piloted MiGs
May, 1970: During the final days of the month, the IAF
launched major air raids against Port Said, believing a large amphibious force was assembling
in the town.
On the 16th an Israeli aircraft was shot down
in air combat, probably by a MiG-21.
, 1970: An Israeli A-4 "Skyhawk"
, in an attack sortie against
Egyptian forces on the Canal, is pursued by a pair of
into the Sinai. The
"Skyhawk" is shot down or, according to the Israelis, hit and
forced to land at a nearby air base. In response, Israel plans and
executes an ambush of Soviet-piloted MiGs.
, 1970: The EAF continued to launch
air raids across the canal. On June 27 around eight Egyptian
and MiG-21s attacked Israeli rear areas
in the Sinai, shooting down a Mirage and capturing its pilot. The
Israelis claimed to have shot down two aircraft.
, 1970: A large-scale dogfight,
involving eight to twenty MiG-21s (besides the initial eight, other
MiGs are "scrambled", but it is unclear if they reach the battle in
time), eight Mirage III
F-4 Phantom II
jets takes place, west
of the Suez Canal. Ambushing their opponents, the Israelis down
four Soviet-piloted MiGs, and, according to some sources, a fifth
is hit and crashes en route back to its base. Three Soviet pilots
are killed, while the IAF suffers no casualties except a damaged
Mirage. Following the Soviets' direct intervention, known as
fears an escalation and redoubles efforts toward a peaceful
resolution to the conflict.
Early August, 1970: Despite their losses the Soviets and Egyptians
manage to press the air defenses closer and closer to the canal.
The Soviet operated SAMs shoot down a number of Israeli aircraft.
Israelis do not respond effectively. The SAM batteries allow the
Egyptians to move in artillery which in turn threatens the Bar Lev
, 1970: A cease-fire agreement is
reached, forbidding either side from changing "the military status
quo within zones extending 50 kilometers to the east and west of
the cease-fire line." Minutes after the cease-fire, Egypt begins
moving SAM batteries into the zone even though the agreement
explicitly forbids new military installations. By October there are
approximately one-hundred SAM sites in the zone.
, 1970: President Nasser
dies of a heart attack
his Vice President, Anwar al-Sadat
takes the reins. Sadat agrees to end the War of Attrition and
almost immediately begins planning the Yom Kippur War
, which would take place
three years later.
5,000 Egyptian soldiers and civilians, and 3 Soviet pilots were
killed during the conflict. Israeli losses totalled 1,424 soldiers
and 127 civilians killed, with 2,000 soldiers and 700 civilians
wounded. The Arabs and Soviets lost 60 aircraft, while the Israelis
- Bar-Simon Tov, Yaacov. The Israeli-Egyptian War of
Attrition, 1969–70. New York: Columbia University Press,
- Chaim Herzog and Shlomo Gazit. The Arab-Israeli Wars: War
and Peace in the Middle East. New York: Vintage Books,
- Operation Valiant: Turning the Tide in the
- The 1973 Arab Israeli war. Major Steven J.
Piccirilli, USMC. Globalsecurity.org, 1989
- Dr. George W. Gawrych The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: The Albatross of
Decisive Victory, p.74
- Rabinovich, 493
- Herzog and Gazit, p. 196
- Saad El Shazly, The Crossing of the Suez p.84
- El Gamasy, The October War, 1973 p.99
- El Gamasy, The October War, 1973 p.99-100
- El Gamasy, The October War, 1973 p.101
- Nicolle and Cooper, 31
- Nicolle and Cooper, 32
- Nicolle and Cooper, 33