Attrition war

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Attrition war
Most of the Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition took place on the Suez Canal
Most of the Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition took place on the Suez Canal
date June 1968 to August 7, 1970
place Sinai Peninsula , Suez Canal
Casus Belli Conquest of the Sinai Peninsula by Israel in the Six Day War
output armistice
Parties to the conflict

IsraelIsrael Israel

Egypt 1972Egypt Egypt

Troop strength
unknown unknown
Soviet military advisers : 10,700–15,000

1,424 soldiers killed and> 127 civilians killed
2,000 soldiers wounded and 700 civilians wounded
15–16 fighter aircraft lost

~ 5,000 soldiers and civilians killed
3 Soviet pilots killed
101–113 fighter aircraft lost

As a war of attrition ( Hebrew מלחמת ההתשה Milhemet haHatashah ; Arabic حرب الاستنزاف, DMG Ḥarb al-Istinzāf ; English: War of attrition ) describes the military conflict between Egypt and Israel from 1968 to 1970. It was started by Egypt to recapture Sinai , which Israel had conquered in the Six Day War . The war ended with a 1970 armistice ; neither party has gained territory.


In general, a war of attrition , also known as a war of fatigue , is a limited but longer lasting military conflict in which the mutual losses far exceed the possible or actual gains.

Attrition wars arise either because one party relies from the outset on specifically exhausting the opponent's forces, even if it cannot inflict direct defeat on him, or because the fronts gradually freeze due to the exhaustion of resources of the opponents involved. The resources in the hinterland also play an important role. Germany’s industry was not prepared for a war of attrition during the First World War .

In game theory , the term is used in a similar sense for a game with an accumulated cost that is greater than the winnings.


The Israeli army had the armed forces of Egypt added in the Six Day War a heavy defeat. The entire Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal was in Israeli hands. The armies of Gamal Abdel Nasser , which were considered to be the strongest in the Arab world, were not only defeated all along the line, they were also badly humiliated. A strong feeling of shame and a need for retaliation were the result.

The United Nations and the two superpowers tried in vain to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. On November 22, 1967, UN Security Council Resolution 242 was passed, which provides for the Israeli withdrawal "from occupied territories" in exchange for peace. Diplomatic means, however, did not lead to anything, and after all Arab states had declared in the Khartoum resolution on September 1, 1967 that they wanted “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel”, Nasser declared that it was clear, that "what was taken through violence must be regained through violence".

Egyptian President Nasser's plan was described by his confidante, journalist Muhammad Heikal , as follows:

“If the enemy succeeds in causing us a loss of 50,000 men, we can still fight on because we have human reserves. If we manage to cause him a loss of 10,000 men, he will inevitably find himself in a situation where he has to stop fighting because he has no human reserves. "

Thanks to generous Soviet arms deliveries, Egypt was able to make up for its material losses from the Six Day War much faster than was expected in Israel. In addition, hundreds of Soviet military advisers came into the country, the number of which was 1,500 at the start of the war. Their presence, along with that of Soviet pilots and ships, threatened to escalate the conflict into an east-west confrontation. When five Migs with Egyptian license plates but Soviet pilots were shot down on July 30th, Israel called these pilots "Egyptians".


The war of attrition began in June 1968 with isolated Egyptian artillery fire on the Israeli front line on the east side of the Suez Canal. In the months that followed, artillery fire intensified, killing several Israelis. The Israeli army retaliated on the night of October 30th when helicopter landing troops destroyed Egypt's main electricity supply.

The blackout caused Nasser to suspend hostilities for a few months; meanwhile, hundreds of important targets were provided with defensive reinforcements. At the same time Israel strengthened its position on the east side of the Canal by building the Bar-Lev Line , a series of 35 fortifications in north-south direction occupied by infantry units.

An Israeli wounded by Egyptian artillery fire is cared for next to an M5 half-track vehicle.

In February 1969, Nasser escalated the conflict by declaring the ceasefire agreement of November of the previous year null and void. On March 8, the Egyptian artillery began a massive bombardment of the Bar-Lew Line, in which Soviet MiG-21 fighter squadrons also took part. This resulted in high Israeli losses.

The Israeli army responded with attacks that reached deep into Egyptian territory and caused severe damage. Although the Egyptian losses were much higher than the Israeli ones, Nasser did not deviate from his aggressive tactics. Israel was able to compensate to some extent for its own high losses, but was very interested in ending the attacks.

Israeli armored artillery bombard Egyptian positions from Sinai in 1969.

On July 20 and 24, almost the entire Israeli air force bombed the northern canal sector, destroying several air defense positions, some tanks and artillery units. The Egyptian air defense was almost completely destroyed by further air strikes until December. The heavy artillery fire could be reduced, but the fire with lighter weapons, in particular mortars, continued.

Without an air defense, the Israeli Air Force was able to move unassailable in Egyptian airspace, and on October 17, the Egyptian army submitted to defeat. Talks between the superpowers then began, leading to the Rogers Plan , which was published on December 9th. He demanded the Egyptian commitment to peace in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. Both sides vehemently rejected the plan. Instead, Nasser hoped for more sophisticated Soviet weapons to withstand the bombing of the Israeli air force. However, the Soviet Union initially refused to supply the weapons requested.

On January 22nd, 1970, Nasser secretly flew to Moscow to discuss the critical situation. His request for SAM batteries (including the 3M9 Kub and the 9K32 Strela-2 ) was willingly granted, but building them required qualified personnel and strong air units to protect them from Israeli attacks. It was not until Nasser's threats to turn to the Americans in the absence of this personnel aid that the Soviet head of state Leonid Brezhnev consented. The Soviet workforce grew from 2,500-4,000 in January to 10,600-12,150 on June 30th. There were also 100–150 pilots.

The direct intervention of Soviet forces, known as Operation Kavkaz , proved problematic for Israel. Washington feared an escalation and disapproved of Israel's bombing campaign. On April 8, the Egyptian “Bahr il-Baqar” primary school was bombed by the Israeli air force, killing 47 school children. As a result, Israel stopped such attacks and focused instead on facilities on the canal.

This gave Egypt the opportunity to build its SAM systems closer to the canal. Soviet MiG fighters provided the necessary airspace protection. On April 18, eight MiGs flew over the canal zone and were intercepted and shot down by two F-4 phantom fighter-bombers.

Despite heavy losses, the Soviet and Egyptian defenses could be brought closer to the Canal without Israel being able to prevent it. The SAM batteries would have allowed Egypt to move its artillery units to threaten the Bar-Lew Line. Negotiations resumed in April 1970, this time with the US as the main negotiator. A truce was signed on August 7th. It was supposed to last for three months and forbade either side to change the military status quo within a zone 50 kilometers east and west of the 1967 armistice line.

Despite the ceasefire, Egypt continued to move SAM units to this zone in an effort to better position itself for a possible end to the ceasefire. By October there were finally 100 SAM systems in the zone.

However, Nasser was unable to finish his “liberation of the canal” because he died of a heart attack on September 28th. Vice President Anwar Sadat succeeded him.

Balance sheet

During the war 1,424 Israeli soldiers were killed and over 3,000 were wounded. The Israeli Air Force admitted the loss of eleven aircraft. The Egyptian casualty figures, which are much higher, were not officially announced. The Israeli historian Benny Morris claims in his book Righteous Victims that around 10,000 Egyptian soldiers and civilians were killed and, citing statistics from the Israeli army, writes that 98 planes were shot down.

Both sides declared themselves victorious. Egypt pointed out that this time (unlike in 1948, 1956 and 1967) no territories were lost. Israel emphasized that the Egyptian offensive could be stopped and that it was not intended to conquer Egyptian territories. It was also assumed that Egypt had now realized that it could not defeat Israel in a conventional war. However, Sadat began planning for the Yom Kippur War almost immediately , which followed only three years later.

See also


  • Benny Morris : Righteous Victims. A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999, 1999 ISBN 0-679-42120-3 .
  • Bar-Simon Tov, Yaacov: The Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition, 1969–70 . New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. D. T. Bishop, Chris Cannings , A generalized war of attrition. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 70: 85-124 (1978).
  2. How Israel Shot Down 5 Russian MiGs in 3 Minutes , The National Interest, April 26, 2018.