The Ingenious General

WASHINGTON, DC – Had Ariel Sharon never entered politics, he would still be known around the world as a military commander and tactician. In both roles, he was extraordinary, because his methods diverged from normal military practices, even in the unconventional Israeli army.

Consider the Yom Kippur War. On October 16, 1973, ten days after Egypt’s army surprised the Israelis by crossing the Suez Canal, Sharon turned defeat into victory by leading his own troops across the canal through a narrow gap in the Egyptian front. The Israelis swiftly spread out behind the Egyptians, overrunning anti-aircraft batteries and blocking supply and reinforcement routes.

Within six days, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had to plead for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire: so many Egyptian units were cut off, wrecked by air strikes, under attack, or fully encircled that no major forces were left to stop the advancing Israelis – not even to guard the road to Cairo.

The Egyptian high command was convinced that Sharon’s crossing was only an overnight raid by light forces. Their reasoning was sound: The Israelis did not control even their own side of the canal, so they could not possibly reinforce the first wave of a few hundred men with a handful of tanks. Rather than pulling their units back across the canal to chase the raiding Israelis, the Egyptian commanders believed that their forces could capture all of them by converging toward one another, thus closing the two-mile gap that Sharon had exploited.