The aftermath of the Yom Kippur War
The 1973 Yom Kippur War wrought a substantial change in Israel. The war stunned a population that had believed that the Arabs would not dare attack. Also, Israel had lionized its military: In the popular view, the IDF’s capability for combat reached near-legendary levels.
Its intelligence services were regarded as among the finest in the world. At the same time, Arab military capabilities had been underestimated, and senior Israeli decision-makers had talked about the absence of war in the Middle East for the next 10 to 15 years.
Israel’s confident optimism was eroded by the war, and the subsequent reevaluation tended to breed a feeling of uncertainty. There was a mixture of anger and frustration engendered by political and military factors associated with the conduct of the war. Despite significant military accomplishments, Israel, under international pressure, was unable to achieve its desired goals.
In purely tangible terms, the war had perhaps the most far-reaching effect of any of the conflicts to that date. Manpower losses for the period October 6 to October 24 were announced as 1,854 Israeli soldiers killed in battle, but this figure rose as severely wounded soldiers died and as those who were killed in the cease-fire period were added to the totals.
The number of wounded was about double this. The total of about 5,000 casualties was high for a country with a total population just over 3 million. The war shook morale and confidence.Deteriorating economic conditions contributed to the unsettling circumstances. The prewar economic boom was replaced by increasingly stringent conditions in the postwar period.
The mobilization of the largest part of the civilian reserve army of several hundred thousand caused dislocations in agriculture and industrial production despite a large number of volunteers, from within Israel and other countries, who replaced the mobilized reserves. Tourism and diamond sales, major and important sources of foreign currency, fell during the war.
The port of Eilat, at the southern tip of Israel on the Gulf of Aqaba, a major oil terminus, was cut off by an Arab blockade at the Bab el Mandeb Strait between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa at the entrance to the Red Sea, thus affecting the flow to Israel of oil from Iran and trade with East Africa and Asia.
The material losses were large and included important and expensive elements of Israel’s air force and armor (most notably Phantom and Skyhawk aircraft and tanks). The mobilization of civilian trucks severely affected the transportation sector, and this, in turn, further hampered the recovery of the economy.
The cost of the war—including tanks, planes, guns, fuel, and ammunition—was estimated to exceed $5 billion, higher than the annual state budget. Military expenditure lost production, and damage to civilian and military installations on the Golan Heights was part of the cost.
Increased taxes and war-related levies were introduced, and a high rate of inflation (approximating 40 percent) began to have its effect. Initially, the economy was slowed by the mobilization of much of the country’s able-bodied manpower, not only during the war but in the period that followed. The replacement of military equipment lost in battle, the servicing of the prewar debt, and the acquisition of new matériel to meet current and future defense needs added to the burden.
But there was also the realization that Israel could not readily reduce nondefense expenditures. There were the requirements of immigrant absorption and the need to continue development programs and to deal with social and economic gaps. In a partial effort to improve the situation, the Israeli pound was devalued by 43 percent and a broad-scale austerity program was instituted. These measures were announced on November 10, 1974.
Israel’s position in the international community deteriorated with the outbreak of fighting. Although Israel had not initiated the war, Israel was widely condemned, and numerous states broke diplomatic relations with it.Prior to the war, Israel’s international position had been declining. The propaganda war had been turning in favor of the Arabs, and Israel had been losing world sympathy.
This could be traced in most instances to Israel’s continued refusal to withdraw from occupied Arab territories and its responses to Arab terrorism, which increasingly came under international condemnation.
Since the break in relations with Uganda in the spring of 1972, prompted by Arab (especially Libyan) financial and technical assistance, several states in Africa severed relations, and in September 1973, Cuba took a similar action.
Immediately prior to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, Israel had come into sharp dispute with Austria over the refusal of Austria to continue to provide facilities for Russian Jewish emigrants on their way to Israel. Increasingly, international and regional organizations called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.
During the course of the war and immediately afterward, Israel’s ties with most of the states of Africa were broken. Many of them linked the rupture of relations with Israel’s refusal to withdraw from territories occupied since the Six-Day War. Except for South Africa, no major African state publicly backed Israel or offered assistance.
To most Israelis, this not only symbolized the injustice of the international community but also the success of Arab oil blackmail and the failure of Israel’s program of international cooperation. Israel had provided many of these African states with technical assistance, which they had lauded publicly for its importance in promoting African development.
A shift in the attitudes and policies of the European states was more significant. Israel’s international isolation was compounded by the unwillingness of the European allies of the United States to allow the use of their facilities and/or airspace for the shipment and transfer of supplies to Israel during the war.
On November 6, 1973, the nine members of the European Community (EC) called on Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territories and recognize the rights of the Palestinians.
Japan, which had hitherto adopted and maintained a posture of neutrality in the Arab-Israeli conflict, now shifted to a more pronounced pro-Arab position. Japan called for implementation of the UN Resolution 242 (1967) and stressed the Arab interpretation of the resolution, calling on Israel to withdraw from all Arab territories.
The war also increased Israel’s dependence on the United States. No other country could or was prepared to provide Israel with the vast quantities of modern and sophisticated arms required for war or for the political and moral support necessary to negotiate peace. Many members of the U.S. Congress went on record in support of the Israeli position and the U.S. military resupply effort.
On October 19, 1973, President Richard Nixon asked Congress to authorize $2.2 billion in emergency security assistance for Israel in order “to prevent the emergence of a substantial imbalance resulting from a large-scale resupply of Syria and Egypt by the Soviet Union.” The United States also alerted its armed forces when there was an indication that the Soviet Union might become involved militarily in the area.
A year later, on October 14, 1974, the General Assembly of the United Nations invited, by a vote of 105 to 4 (with 20 abstentions and seven absences), the PLO to participate in the General Assembly debate on the Palestine question.
This was a further setback for Israel’s position. It emphasized Israel’s international isolation and its dependence on the United States (which, with Israel, had provided two of the four votes against the UN decision). In addition, it complicated Israel’s negotiating stance.
The decision of the Arab summit meeting in Rabat (October 26–29, 1974) to recognize the PLO as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and to call for the creation of an independent Palestinian state on any occupied “Palestinian land” that Israel may relinquish created a new factor.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin responded, “Well, I don’t believe that Israel can negotiate with those that first declare that their purpose is the destruction of Israel. After all, these leaders are committed to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish independent state.
Second, they try to carry it out by murderous activities, the kind that were carried into Qiryat Shemona, Ma’alot and other places.” On November 5, 1974, Rabin reiterated that Israel would not negotiate with the PLO.