Yom Kippur War 1973- The cease-fire and immediate aftermath -Golan Heights

Yom Kippur War - On the Golan Heights

In the Golan Heights, the Syrians attacked the Israeli defenses of two brigades and eleven artillery batteries with five divisions and 188 batteries. At the onset of the battle, approximately 180 Israeli tanks faced off against approximately 1,400 Syrian tanks. Despite the overwhelming odds and the fact that most of the Syrian tanks were equipped with night-fighting equipment, every Israeli tank deployed on the Golan Heights was engaged during the initial attacks. Syrian commandos dropped by helicopter also took the most important Israeli stronghold at Jabal al Shaikh (Mount Hermon), which had a variety of surveillance equipment.

Fighting in the Golan Heights was given priority by the Israeli High Command. The fighting in the Sinai was sufficiently far away that Israel was not immediately threatened; should the Golan Heights fall, the Syrians could easily advance into Israel itself. Reservists were directed to the Golan as quickly as possible. They were assigned to tanks and sent to the front as soon as they arrived at army depots, without waiting for the crewman they trained with to arrive; without waiting for machine guns to be installed on their tanks, and without taking the time to calibrate their tank guns (a time-consuming process known as bore-sighting).

As the Egyptians had in the Sinai, the Syrians on the Golan Heights took care to stay under cover of their SAM missile batteries. Also as in the Sinai, the Syrians made use of Soviet anti-tank weapons (which, because of the uneven terrain, were not as effective as in the flat Sinai desert).

The Syrians had expected it would take at least 24 hours for Israeli reserves to reach the front lines; in fact, Israeli reserve units began reaching the battle lines only fifteen hours after the war began.

By the end of the first day of battle, the Syrians (who at the start outnumbered the Israelis in the Golan 9 to 1) had achieved moderate success. Towards the end of the day, "A Syrian tank brigade passing through the Rafid Gap turned northwest up a little-used route known as the Tapline Road, which cut diagonally across the Golan. This roadway would prove one of the main strategic hinges of the battle. It led straight from the main Syrian breakthrough points to Nafekh, which was not only the location of Israeli divisional headquarters but the most important crossroads on the Heights." During the night, Lieutenant Zvika Greengold, who had just arrived to the battle unattached to any unit, fought them off with his single tank until help arrived. "For the next 20 hours, Zvika Force, as he came to be known on the radio net, fought running battles with Syrian tanks—sometimes alone, sometimes as part of a larger unit, changing tanks half a dozen times as they were knocked out. He was wounded and burned but stayed in action and repeatedly showed up at critical moments from an unexpected direction to change the course of a skirmish."

Over four days of fighting, the 7th Israeli brigade in the north (commanded by Yanush Ben Gal) managed to hold the rocky hill line defending the northern flank of their headquarters in Nafah. For some as-yet-unexplained reason, the Syrians were close to conquering Nafah, yet they stopped the advance before reaching Nafah, letting israel assemble a defensive line. The most reasonable explanation for this is that the Syrians had precalculated estimated advances, and the commanders in the field didn't want to digress from the plan. To the south, however, the "Barak" brigade, bereft of any natural defenses, began to take on heavy casualties. Commander Colonel Shoham was killed during the first few days of fighting, as the Syrians desperately tried to push inwards towards the Sea of Galilee.

The tide in the Golan turned as the arriving Israeli reserve forces were able to contain and, starting 8 October, push back the Syrian offensive. The tiny Golan Heights was too small to act as an effective territorial buffer, unlike the Sinai Peninsula in the south, but it proved to be a strategic geographical stronghold and was a crucial key in preventing the Syrian army from bombing the cities below. By Wednesday, October 10, the last Syrian unit in the Central sector had been pushed back across the purple line (the pre-war border). 

A decision now had to be made—whether to ease the fighting down and end the war at the 1967 border, or to continue the war into Syrian territory. Israeli High Command spent the whole of October 10 debating this, well into the night. Some favored disengagement, which would allow soldiers to be redeployed to the Sinai (Shmuel Gonen's ignominious defeat at Hizayon in the Sinai had happened two days before). Others favored continuing the attack into Syria, towards Damascus, which would knock Syria out of the war; it would also restore Israel's image as the supreme military power in the Middle East and would give them a valuable bargaining chip once the war ended. Others countered that Syria had strong defenses—antitank ditches, minefields, and strong points—and that it would be better to fight from defensive positions in the Golan Heights (rather than the flat terrain of Syria) in the event of another war with Syria. However, Prime Minister Meir realized the most crucial point of the whole debate—"It would take four days to shift a division to the Sinai. If the war ended during this period, the war would end with a territorial loss for Israel in the Sinai and no gain in the north—an unmitigated defeat. This was a political matter and her decision was unmitigating—to cross the purple line... The attack would be launched tomorrow, Thursday, October 11" 

From 11 October to 14 October, the Israeli forces pushed into Syria, conquering a further twenty-square-mile box of territory in the Bashan. From there they were able to shell the outskirts of Damascus, only 40 km away, using heavy artillery.

cease fire agreement was signed in Geneva on May 31, 1974, and included, inter alia, the establishment of UN observers in the demilitarized zone, arrangements for an exchange of prisoners of war, and IDF evacuation of the territory it took in the Yom Kippur War as well as the city of Kuneitra, which was captured in the Six-Day War.

Set of pictures taken inside Syria of the IDF tank corps ceremony prior to the evacuation 

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