War of Attrition

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War of Attrition
Part of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Suez canal map.jpg
The Israeli-Egyptian war of Attrition was centered largely on the Suez Canal
DateJuly 1967 – August 7, 1970 (ceasefire)
Sinai Peninsula (Israeli control)
Result Both Egypt and Israel declared they won, continued Israeli occupation of Sinai
Flag of Israel.svg Israel
Flag of Egypt.svg Egypt
Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union
State of Palestine PLO
Commanders and leaders
Israel Levi Eshkol
Israel Yigal Allon
Israel Zalman Shazar
Israel Haim Bar-Lev
Israel Mordechai Hod
Israel Uzi Narkiss
United Arab Republic Gamal Abdel Nasser
United Arab Republic Ahmad Ismail Ali
United Arab Republic Anwar El Sadat
United Arab Republic Saad El Shazly
State of Palestine Yasser Arafat
Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev
275,000 Egyptian: 200,000
Soviet advisors: 10,700–15,000[1]
Casualties and losses
721 soldiers and 127 civilians killed
30—40 aircraft lost[4]
~10,000 Egyptian killed(estimate)[5])
at least 3 Soviet pilots killed

~60 aircraft lost[4]

Template:Campaignbox Arab-Israeli conflict The War of Attrition (Hebrew: מלחמת ההתשהMilhemet haHatashah, Arabic: حرب الاستنزافḤarb 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 Six-Day War. However, this 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.

Egyptian Front

Israel's victory in the Six-Day War left the entirety of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula up to the eastern bank of the Suez Canal under Israeli occupation. 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 year.

Egypt 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.[6] 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 Heikal:

If the enemy succeeds in inflicting three-thousand casualties in this campaign, we can go on fighting nevertheless, because we have manpower reserves. If we succeed in inflicting ten-thousand casualties, he will unavoidably find himself compelled to stop fighting, because he has no manpower reserves.

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. Fearing 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 ceasefire.

In August 1970, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt agreed to an "in place" ceasefire under the terms proposed by the Rogers Plan. 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.[2][6]

The Israelis responded with a policy which their Prime Minister, Golda Meir, dubbed “asymmetrical response,” wherein Israeli retaliation was disproportionately large in comparison to any Egyptian attacks.[6] 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 Canal.

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 October War or by the Israelis as the Yom Kippur War. This war was ultimately also a political success for Sadat (although a military stalemate),[7][8] 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.[9][10][11] 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[12] Ultimately, Sinai would return to Egypt four years later after the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.


July 1, 1967: Egyptian Army artillery fires on an Israeli armored infantry company near the Suez Canal. The Israeli unit commander is killed and thirteen Israeli troops are wounded.[13] 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 of Port Fouad. 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 Egyptian hands.[14][15]

July 2, 1967: The Israeli Air Force conduct an air strike against Egyptian artillery that had supported the commandos at Ras Al-'Ish.[15]

July 14-15 , 1967: 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.[16]

August, 1967: Another Israeli attempt to occupy Port Fouad is stopped again at Ras Al-'Ish by Egyptian commandoes.[14]

October 21, 1967: Egyptian naval forces sink the Israeli destroyer INS Eilat, killing forty-seven.[2]

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.[17]

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.[6]

October 30, 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 Line".[18]

March 3, 1969: Nasser officially voids the ceasefire of October 1968.[19]

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 damage.[6]

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 20 - July 28, 1969: Operation Boxer - Nearly the entire Israeli Air Force (IAF) bombs the northern sector of the Canal, destroying anti-aircraft positions, tanks and artillery, killing 300 Egyptian soldiers. 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 mortars, continues.

October 17, 1969: The USA and USSR begin diplomatic talks to end the conflict.

December 9, 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.[20] In an engagement that day, the Egyptians, supplied with newly delivered P-15 radars, hold 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 combat.[21]

January 22, 1970: President Nasser secretly flies to Moscow to discuss the situation. His request for new SAM batteries (including the 3M9 Kub and Strela-2) is 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 Kremlin did not want to provide. Nasser 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 leader, General Secretary Brezhnev, finally 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.

March 15, 1970: The first fully-operational Soviet SAM site in Egypt is completed. It is part of three brigades which the USSR sends to Egypt.[22]

April 8, 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. The single-floor school was hit by five bombs and two air-to-ground missiles.[23]. 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 appear.

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.[24]

June 25, 1970: An Israeli A-4 "Skyhawk", in an attack sortie against Egyptian forces on the Canal, is pursued by a pair of Soviet-piloted MiG-21s 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.[22]

June 27, 1970: The EAF continued to launch air raids across the canal. On June 27 around eight Egyptian Su-7s 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.[25]

July 30, 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 and eight 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.[22] Following the Soviets' direct intervention, known as "Operation Kavkaz"[22], Washington 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 Line.

August 7, 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.

September 28, 1970: President Nasser dies of a heart attack, and 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 lost 30-40.

See also



  • Benny Morris. (1999). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–1999. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-42120-3.
  • Bar-Simon Tov, Yaacov. The Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition, 1969–70. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.
  • Chaim Herzog and Shlomo Gazit. The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.
  • Whetten, Lawrence L. (1974). The Canal War: Four-Power Conflict in the Middle East. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-23069-0.
  • Rabinovitch. (2004). The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East. ISBN 0-8052-4176-0.
  • Nicolle, David; Cooper, Tom (2004). Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat (First ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 96. ISBN 1841766550.


  1. ^ Russian Aviation and Air Power in the Twentieth Century, Robin D. S. Higham, John T. Greenwood, Von Hardesty, Routledge, 1998, p.227
  2. ^ a b c Gard, Mitchell. "Myths & Facts Online: The War of Attrition, 1967–1970". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
  3. ^ Lorch, Netanel. "The Arab-Israeli Wars". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2007-03-03. Unknown parameter |publishdate= ignored (help)
  4. ^ a b Nicolle and Cooper, 32-33
  5. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Death Tolls
  6. ^ a b c d e "Israel: The War of Attrition". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
  7. ^ Operation Valiant: Turning the Tide in the Sinai
  8. ^ The 1973 Arab Israeli war. Major Steven J. Piccirilli, USMC. Globalsecurity.org, 1989
  9. ^ Green, op. cit. Living by the Sword. pp. 90–99. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  10. ^ Farr, LTC, U.S. Army, Warner D. "THE THIRD TEMPLE'S HOLY OF HOLIES: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS". The Counterproliferation Papers. USAF Counterproliferation Center. The Counterproliferation Papers. Retrieved 2009-02-18.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Dr. George W. Gawrych The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: The Albatross of Decisive Victory, p.74
  12. ^ Rabinovich, 493
  13. ^ Herzog and Gazit, p. 196
  14. ^ a b Saad El Shazly, The Crossing of the Suez p.84
  15. ^ a b El Gamasy, The October War, 1973 p.99
  16. ^ El Gamasy, The October War, 1973 p.99-100
  17. ^ El Gamasy, The October War, 1973 p.101
  18. ^ "Book Review: At Noon The Myth Was Shattered". Egyptian State Information Service. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
  19. ^ "Palestine Facts: What was the War of Attrition during 1969-1970?".
  20. ^ "9 Statement by Secretary of State Rogers- 9 December 1969". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
  21. ^ Nicolle and Cooper, 31
  22. ^ a b c d Cooper, Tom (2003-09-24). "War of Attrition". Air Combat Information Group. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
  23. ^ "The Innocent Dead". Time Magazine. 1970-04-20. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  24. ^ Nicolle and Cooper, 32
  25. ^ Nicolle and Cooper, 33

External links