The Yom Kippur War: 50 years on

The past week has been one of the most horrific in the recent history of the Middle East, and the actions of Hamas in massacring innocent civilians, including women and children, are pure evil. I think US President Biden is right when he described the atrocities as “the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust”.

Now Israel is preparing to strike back, with hundreds of  army reservists mobilised as the country prepares for a land invasion of the Gaza Strip. Already a relentless bombing campaign has started, and food, water and electricity supplies have been cut off until the hostages that Hamas have taken are released.

It’s clear that this war is going to be brutal, and the suffering of innocent Palestinians as Israel seeks to wipe out Hamas will be intense. Such is the horror of war. We can only pray that action will be swift and decisive.

However, I fear that former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is right in his assessment of the actions of Hamas: namely, that they were deliberately intended to provoke a reaction so extreme from Israel that it in turn incenses neighbouring Arab states and leads to a regional conflagration against Israel. After all, what Hamas wants is the destruction of the State of Israel.

In other words, a re-run of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. And it is no coincidence that the Hamas attacks came on the 50th anniversary of the conflict.

It’s a pathetic understatement to say that the consequences of 1973 for the Middle East have been deeply problematic. Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and Golan Heights, beginning the Yom Kippur War, but Israel pushed both armies back within three weeks. A power imbalance was established that has lasted to this day.

One of the most immediate consequences of the Yom Kippur War was that it helped to trigger an oil embargo by several Arab states protesting US support for Israel’s response. Oil prices nearly quadrupled in the next three months, and they stayed at elevated levels even after the conflict was resolved, effectively plunging the West into a prolonged recession and ending the post-war Keynesian economic consensus.

I fear that the consequences of this war will be equally tumultuous unless massive diplomatic efforts are made over the coming months. With the war in Ukraine ongoing, and the pandemic shockwaves still reverberating, ensuring that this conflict does not spread beyond Hamas and Israel is imperative.

Marcus Alcock,

Editor, Emerging Risks