The Yom Kippur War was the last in a series of conventional wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors that convulsed the second half of the 20th century.  It is also one of the great — and largely understudied — hinge points of history.  In the Middle East, what began as a surprise attack against the Jewish State on Judaism’s holiest day paradoxically marked the start of an improbable journey toward a new regional peace. For the wider Cold War, the Arab-Israeli upheaval brought the superpowers closer to nuclear cataclysm than any point after the Cuban Missile Crisis; it also set the conditions for the United States to outflank the Soviet Union and emerge as the preeminent power in the Levant, while consigning Moscow to the fringes of the region where it would remain for decades. And for the world economy, October 1973 would unleash equally epic change — as the Arab oil embargo smashed and then remade Western industry.

This Weekend Seminar, taught by foreign policy scholar Vance Serchuk, will study the dramatic events surrounding the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. Students will consider the war as a case study in the exercise of military, diplomatic, and economic power, analyzing the collision of rival U.S., Soviet, Israeli, and Arab strategies. The seminar will also explore the larger-than-life personalities at the center of the conflict — Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Anwar Sadat, and Golda Meir — examining how the character and decisions of these individual leaders shaped the course of the war and its aftermath.

Images courtesy CIA via WikiCommons, Israeli troops | Israeli tanks

Vance Serchuk on American interventions abroad

Faculty

Vance Serchuk

Vance Serchuk is Executive Director of the KKR Global Institute and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to joining KKR, Mr. Serchuk served for six years as the senior national security advisor to Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut).

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

READINGS:

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. What was UN Security Council Resolution 242, and what was its significance?
  2. What was President Richard Nixon’s initial approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict upon taking office in January 1969? What was the proposed approach of Secretary of State William Rogers and how did it differ from that of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, and where did Nixon come down between them?
  3. How did the Nixon Administration relate its approach to the Middle East, on the one hand, and to its Cold War strategy, on the other?
  4. What was the Soviet Union’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War? What was Israel’s strategy under Prime Minister Golda Meir? What was the approach of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt?
  5. How did the succession of Anwar Sadat following the death of Nasser alter Egyptian strategy? How was Sadat’s approach to Israel and the superpowers different from that of Nasser?
  6. How did the 1972 Moscow summit affect Sadat’s calculus? Why did Sadat evict Soviet forces from Egypt in 1972?
  7. What was Sadat’s calculus in deciding to go to war in October 1973? What did he seek to achieve? To what extent was Sadat’s decision to launch the war linked to superpower dynamics? When do you think he made the decision to go to war?
  8. What was Syria’s objective in deciding to go to war in October 1973? To what extent were Egyptian and Syrian war aims in alignment?
  9. What caused the outbreak of the October 1973 war? Was the war preventable?

READINGS:

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. The Yom Kippur War is often described as the greatest intelligence failure in Israeli history, comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11 for the US Is this fair?
  2. What warnings did Israel and the United States receive that Egypt and Syria were preparing to go to war? Why were they discounted? What were the reasons that led both Israeli and American officials to fail to anticipate the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War?
  3. Why didn’t Israel launch a preemptive strike?
  4. What was the initial US response following the outbreak of the war? What were the underlying strategic assumptions on Washington’s part? What, if any, vital interests did the Nixon Administration see at stake in the war?
  5. What military changes enabled Egyptian and Syrian forces to achieve unanticipated battlefield gains against the Israelis? Why were the Israelis unprepared for them?
  6. What was the US domestic political context as the war broke out? To what extent did this impact US strategy or decision-making?

READINGS:

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. How did US strategy change as expectations of a rapid Israeli victory were proven mistaken? What were the key considerations for Nixon and Kissinger as the war intensified?
  2. Why did the Nixon Administration undertake an airlift to Israel, and how did it evolve in structure and substance? What strategic considerations was Washington balancing? What were the arguments for caution, what were the arguments for a more robust approach, and where did President Nixon ultimately come down?
  3. What impact did the airlift have? What was its strategic significance, if any?

READINGS:

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. Why did the Soviets invite Kissinger to Moscow for negotiations? What was his rationale in accepting? What was Kissinger’s strategy going into the negotiation? How did President Nixon complicate this plan?
  2. What was UN Security Council Resolution 338, and what did it achieve? How does it compare to the objectives of the key parties at the start of the conflict?
  3. What led to the Soviet threat to intervene directly in the conflict following Kissinger’s return to Washington following the declaration of the cease-fire? How did the US react to the Soviet threat, and why?
  4. What were the US domestic political circumstances as the nuclear alert unfolded?
  5. Who had emerged as the winners and losers of the Yom Kippur War as of late October 1973? How do you judge the performance of the key decision-makers in Washington, Moscow, Jerusalem, Cairo, and Damascus during the crisis?

READINGS:

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. What was the US approach to Arab-Israeli diplomacy following the cessation of fighting? How did this effort differ from the US effort under Secretary Rogers in 1969-1970? What changed?
  2. What was the rationale for the Geneva Conference? What role did Kissinger envision for the Soviets in Arab-Israeli diplomacy?
  3. What was the strategy behind Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy”? What did it achieve, and why?

READINGS:

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. What was the impact of the October 1973 war on global energy markets? How did this alter Western economies?
  2. What was its impact on the Soviet Union and the Cold War?
  3. What was the historical significance of the Yom Kippur War? What, if any, are the lessons to be learned from it?

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