On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria, launched the October War (6-26 October) against Israel over its continued refusal to end the occupation of Egyptian (Sinai) and Syrian territory (Golan Heights), seized in 1967. Although the attack took Israel completely by surprise, and trashed its carefully constructed myth of military invincibility, it was ultimately unsuccessful in reclaiming these territories at the time. (The Sinai was later returned to Egypt, but only in stages (1974-1982), with restrictions, and, in full, only after the conclusion of a US-engineered peace treaty (1979) which gave Israel a free hand to invade and occupy Lebanon in 1982. (See my 15/2/09 post A Likud Peace.) The Golan Heights, annexed by Israel in 1981, remain under Israeli occupation.)
So what was it in particular that goaded the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat (1918-1981), to chance all on a war with Israel?
The influential editor of the Egyptian daily, Al Ahram, Mohamed Heikal, records a confidential conversation he had with the president on September 10, 1973. Here's the key extract:
"We turned to the likely Israeli response, and the President stressed his anger at what he called Israel's 'intolerable arrogance.' He picked up the second black file. 'This.' he said, 'is a dossier on Israeli intentions.' He pulled from it a report of a television interview given a month or so earlier by [Israeli] General Dayan, in which Dayan had made it quite clear that Israel was determined to build a new port and town at Yamit, on Egyptian territory bordering the Gaza Strip. Dayan had talked of this as a 'primary military defence line'. Egypt, his remarks showed beyond doubt, was to be presented with a fait accompli. 'Look at that,' said the President. 'If it was only for that one statement of Dayan's I think we should go to war'." (The Road to Ramadan: The Inside Story of How the Arabs Prepared for and Almost Won the October War of 1973, 1975, pp 21-22)
In a word, Sadat had little choice. The sober truth is that but for his decision to go to war, and the diplomatic moves which it set in train, the Egyptian Sinai would be as riddled with Israeli settlements as the occupied Palestinian West Bank is today.