This Week in History: US Aids Israel in Yom Kippur War with Operation Nickel Grass

Israel USWe are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

On October 6, 1973, the young State of Israel went through a trial of fire and came perilously close to losing. Israel’s fate hung in balance while overwhelming Arab forces advanced into the heart of the tiny country, bringing Israel close to total annihilation. Also referred to as the Ramadan War or October War, the Yom Kippur War was a historic conflict that helped shape the future of US-Israel relations.

A Syrian and Egyptian-led coalition supported by the former Soviet Union launched a surprise attack on Israel the morning of October 6. The attacks focused on the Golan Heights and the Sinai, territories gained by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. 32,000 Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal and advanced almost unopposed into the Sinai. They quickly overwhelmed the Bar Lev Line, a series of fortifications Israeli military experts claimed was impenetrable.

Meanwhile, Syria opened fire on Israeli’s northern border with 140 batteries of artillery as 1,260 Syrian tanks began to advance in the Golan Heights. Most of Israel was fasting and praying at this time, and were in shock and distress over the attacks.

In response to an urgent request from Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, President Richard Nixon initiated an aerial resupply operation to Israel starting on October 13. Nicknamed “NICKEL GRASS”, the airlift soon proved the value of maintaining a responsive and efficient military airlift system. For the next 32 days, MAC C-141 and C-5 cargo transports streamed steadily into Lod International Airport at Tel Aviv from load points throughout the United States carrying urgently needed war materials.

Through Operation Nickel Grass, the United States saved the Jewish state from a devastating defeat at the hands of Arabs armed to the teeth with Soviet weaponry.

The Yom Kippur War clarified for the American people where the various Middle East players stood when it came to the Cold War. The Soviet Union had made it unmistakably clear that it was Israel’s enemy, just as it was the enemy of the United States. The war marked a turning point in Israel’s relation with the United States on a strategic level as well. Israel not only proved proficient at destroying Soviet weaponry used against it by Egypt and Syria, it also shared captured Soviet weapons with the United States. This was an intelligence coup for the U.S. military, and it demonstrated that oil was not the only strategic asset available to the United States in the Middle East. Israel, too, was an asset.

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