On 25 October 1973 an Israeli tank battalion advanced on the Egyptian town of Adabiya. Weeks earlier the Egyptians had surprised the Israelis during the holiest day of the Jewish calendar with an attack on Yom Kippur. Thousands of Egyptian troops attacked Israeli defenses along the Suez Canal, eventually breaching the steep sand embankments and flooding the eastern Sinai with Egyptian troops. It was the fourth conflict between Egypt and Israel since the Jewish nation’s founding in 1948. On each occasion the Israelis had triumphed over their Arab neighbors, eventually gaining the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula in the wars waged against the small country.
Despite having a considerably larger military than the Israelis, and supplied with modern equipment from the Soviet Union, the Egyptians continually failed in their military expeditions. Plagued with corrupt leadership and poor military training and morale, the Egyptians were unable to field an effective fighting force. In 1962 the Egyptians deployed an expeditionary force to Yemen to support the fledgling republic defeat the Royalist force of Muhammad al-Badr. The Egyptians deployed 70,000 troops to the region, and quickly became embroiled in a military quagmire. Despite having the advantage of tanks, armored vehicles, and modern jet aircraft, the Egyptians were unable to defeat the Royalist forces. The historian Michael Oren remarked “Yemen became Egypt’s Vietnam.”
In 1967 Egypt withdrew its forces from Yemen, just as Israel was launching the Six-Day War. Egypt again suffered a catastrophic defeat. The Israelis gained complete control of the Sinai Peninsula, establishing defensive outposts on the eastern banks of the Suez Canal. The Israelis also defeated Jordan and Syria in the conflict, adding the West Bank and East Jerusalem to its borders and establishing defensive outposts along the pivotal Golan Heights, territory that remains under Israeli control today. In response to the crushing defeat the Egyptians rebuilt their military and modernized their equipment with Soviet tanks, aircraft, anti-tank missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. When the Egyptians started the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis were caught completely off-guard. Initially the war was successful for the Egyptians. They overwhelmed Israeli defenses and it appeared they were poised for victory. The Israeli counterattack exposed the continued weakness in the Egyptian command structure and victory quickly slipped from their grips.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, Egypt was one of the significant contributors to the Arab contingent of the Allied forces. When the US and Allied forces launched Operation Desert Storm in January 1991, Egypt and other Arab nations pushed into Kuwait, helping drive the Iraqis out. The victory in Operation Desert Storm was the first achievement for the Egyptian military since World War II, when Egyptian forces fought alongside the Allies.
Look for more information regarding the Egyptian in North Yemen in the future Modern War issue #21 with the article “Nasser Strikes: The Egyptian Army in North Yemen: 1962-1967” and join the conversation on Facebook!