Yom Kippur War 1.0 began on the 6 Oct 1973 and was a watershed moment in the history of the Middle East. It was the first time an Arab nation had a measure of Israel on the battlefield. The earlier three wars, 1947-48, 1956, and 1967, were won decisively by Israel. This created an aura of invincibility around the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). This was shattered once and for all when Egypt successfully carried out a daytime attack on the Bar Lev line defences of the Suez Canal and pushed Israel out of the Sinai Peninsula.
Attack across an obstacle like the Suez Canal is a military nightmare. Surprise, an essential element in any attack, was achieved by the Egyptians with a very clever tactic. Egypt kept its armed forces permanently mobilized near the Suez Canal. From 1967 to 1973, the Egyptians began to carry out mock canal crossing drills regularly. Every such time, the conscription-based Israeli Army was forced to mobilize and go on an operational alert. Over time, Israel began to believe that these were scare tactics and the Bar Lev line was impregnable.
The height of barriers created by the Israelis was such that Egypt couldn’t launch bridges and induct tanks across the Canal. Israel estimated that it would take anything up to 12 hours of dozing to make a pathway in a 20-meter-high embankment. By that time Israel could easily concentrate its armoured reserves and eliminate a possible Egyptian bridgehead.
It is believed an Egyptian Lieutenant found a brilliant solution to the problem. He suggested the use of high-powered water pumps to hose down the sand walls, using water from the Canal. This ‘secret’ weapon nullified Israel’s basic calculations of time and space. Israel also relied on its vastly superior Air Force to effectively defend the Bar Lev line. The supply of effective anti-aircraft missile shield by the Soviet Union negated this advantage. The missile shield on the West Bank could overlap up to 20-30 km. on the East Bank. Under this protection, the Egyptian forces were safe from the Israeli Air Force. Breaching Bar Lev line was more than a tactical victory, it shattered the myth of Israeli military superiority over the Arabs.
Politically, it awakened the Arab world that used oil weapon against the West. Israel was forced to give up its conquests from the 1967 war.
Yom Kippur 2.0 has similarly dealt a blow to the Israeli ability to control extremist group like Hamas. The Israeli tactic of ground raids and air attacks to deal with the rocket attacks has run its course and has shown to be ineffective. While the 1973 war showed Israeli weakness against the Arab states, the Hamas attack has raised question marks on its ability to deal with fringe groups. The colossal intelligence failure of ‘Mossad’ is a blow to Israeli prestige. Even earlier, in 1982, in an abortive military campaign against Hizbollah in the Beka valley of Lebanon, Israel came up second best. Hamas’s success against Israel has emboldened similar groups all over the world. Using the civilian population in Gaza as a shield, Hamas has neutralized Israeli retaliatory ability. The compromise solution to the Palestine problem, the two-state solution, so painfully crafted by the US, lies in tatters.
Under the pressure of domestic public opinion, moderate Arab states who were veering towards recognition of Israel’s right to exist are on the back foot. Temporarily, Iran and its hardliners, increasingly under pressure after the Hizab controversy, seem to have come up with a victory, however pyrrhic. A disparate Israel would be under pressure to widen the ambit of the conflict and attack Iran. If its existence is threatened, Israel would not hesitate to use its nuclear weapons against Iran. The danger of ushering in a nuclear anarchy in world affairs is real.
The 1973 Yom Kippur War was contained as the Soviet Union and the US alerted their nuclear forces and forced their respective client states in the Middle East to observe restraint. In the post-Cold War era, this stabilizing factor is absent. The world is again resembling the multi-polar chaos as obtained on the eve of WWI.
Ever since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when both superpowers concluded that nuclear war can never be won and therefore must never be fought, Global stability existed till the 1992 dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today the UN has been reduced to mere spectators and with no consensus between major powers, the world has become a dangerous place. Spread of technology and smart weapons has limited the major powers’ ability to influence events. Social media that acts to spread information acts as a fuel to spread the fire of hatred.
The need for reform of UN has never been more urgent. A more proactive and representative UN could deal with conflicts before they spread to engulf a whole region and the entire world. India with its credibility with both parties to the conflict has unique opportunity and duty to stop the spread of the Middle East conflict. It is indeed India’s moment.