|Part of the Arab Cold War|
Map of Libya and Egypt
|Commanders and leaders|
|Anwar Sadat||Muammar Gaddafi|
|3 Divisions and Air Force||3 Brigades and Air Force|
|Casualties and losses|
4 MiG-21 aircraft
|400 dead and wounded
20 Mirage 5 aircraft
On July 21, 1977, there were first gun battles between troops on the border, followed by land and air strikes. On July 24, the combatants agreed to a ceasefire under the mediation of the President of Algeria Houari Boumediène and the Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
Relations between the Libyan and the Egyptian government had been deteriorating ever since the end of Yom Kippur War from October 1973, due to Libyan opposition to President Anwar Sadat's peace policy as well as the breakdown of unification talks between the two governments. There is some proof that the Egyptian government was considering a war against Libya as early as 1974. On February 28, 1974, during Henry Kissinger's visit to Egypt, President Sadat told him about such intentions and requested that pressure be put on the Israeli government not to launch an attack on Egypt in the event of its forces being occupied in war with Libya. In addition, the Egyptian government had broken its military ties with Moscow, while the Libyan government kept that cooperation going. The Egyptian government also gave assistance to former RCC members Major Abd al Munim al Huni and Omar Muhayshi, who unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 1975, and allowed them to reside in Egypt. During 1976 relations were ebbing, as the Egyptian government claimed to have discovered a Libyan plot to overthrow the government in Cairo. On January 26, 1976, Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak indicated in a talk with the US Ambassador Hermann Eilts that the Egyptian government intended to exploit internal problems in Libya to promote actions against Libya, but did not elaborate. On July 22, 1976, the Libyan government made a public threat to break diplomatic relations with Cairo if Egyptian subversive actions continued. On August 8, 1976, an explosion occurred in the bathroom of a government office in Tahrir Square in Cairo, injuring 14, and the Egyptian government and media claimed this was done by Libyan agents. The Egyptian government also claimed to have arrested two Egyptian citizens trained by Libyan intelligence to perform sabotage within Egypt. On August 23, an Egyptian passenger plane was hijacked by persons who reportedly worked with Libyan intelligence. They were captured by Egyptian authorities in an operation that ended without any casualties. In retaliation for accusations by the Egyptian government of Libyan complicity in the hijacking, the Libyan government ordered the closure of the Egyptian Consulate in Benghazi.
The Libyan government claimed to have uncovered an Egyptian espionage network in Libya. US diplomatic circles viewed this tension as a sign of Libyan intentions to go to war against Egypt, and one diplomat observed:
LARG [Libyan Arab Republic Government] anticipates military attack from Egypt, which it hopes to exploit and cause overthrow of Sadat.
Throughout 1976 the Egyptian government was concentrating troops along the Libyan border. It enjoyed the support of the US government, who viewed Libya negatively, and was promised by Washington that no move in US-Libyan relations was to be made without consultation with Cairo. Policy experts in the US and Britain assessed that Sadat was planning an attack on Libya in order to overthrow Gaddafi. Relations kept deteriorating, and in early May 1977 Sadat turned down an American request to engage in reconciliation talks with the Libyan government.
Tensions between the two countries had increased during April and May 1977, as demonstrators attacked each other's embassies. In June 1977, Libyan leader Gaddafi ordered the 225,000 Egyptians working and living in Libya to leave the country by July 1 or face arrest.
Sequence of operations
|This section does not cite any sources. (November 2014)|
In June 1977, thousands of Libyan protesters began a "March on Cairo" as they headed towards the Egyptian border. The Libyans wanted to demonstrate against the increasing likelihood that Egypt would enter into a peace treaty with Israel. On July 20, after the protest march was stopped by Egyptian border guards, Libyan artillery units fired at Egypt in Sallum.
On July 21, 1977 Libyan forces carried out a raid on Sallum. The raid was carried out by the 9th Tank Battalion and supported by a few Mirage 5 aircraft.
Anwar Sadat and his generals ordered 3 divisions to head to the Libyan border when news of the advancing Libyan tanks reached them. The three divisions quickly beat back the Libyan brigades, destroying most of their equipment. The Egyptian Air Force and 3 divisions of the Egyptian Army stormed across the Libyan border and captured some key border towns. Libyan military bases in Al Adm (Gamal Abdul El Nasser Air Base), Kufra and Umm Alayan were bombed.
Other Arab states then asked Sadat not to launch a full-scale invasion of Libya (which Sadat and his generals allegedly planned on doing on 26 July). Sadat heeded their call and forced Libya into a ceasefire. The Egyptian Army then withdrew from occupied territory.
Armistice and aftermath
Mediation by Algeria, and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, finally led to a ceasefire. Sadat gave his forces instructions to stop all attacks on 24 July 1977 and agreed to an armistice. Though the fighting stopped the next day, a rift between Arab states remained. Many conservative Arab governments had sympathy for Egypt and Sadat, while leftist and pro-Soviet Arab states endorsed Libya and Gaddafi.
In August 1977, an agreement to exchange prisoners of war led to a relaxation of tension between the two states. After four days of fighting, Libyan casualties were 400 dead or wounded, while Egyptian casualties were roughly 100 dead.
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- Pollack p.368
- "Transcript of talk between Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir, March 1, 1974" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-24.
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- Eilts to State Department, May 6, 1977
- Marvine Howe, "The Arabs Can't Seem to Stop Fighting", New York Times, 24 July 1977, p. E2