TEL AVIV (Oct. 14)
As the new Mideast war went into its ninth day Israel forces advanced toward the Syrian capital of Damascus. Israel a the latest report had gone some 20 kilometers inside Syria beyond the 1967 cease-fire line. During the weekend Israel widened and stabilized its breakthrough into Syria.
It was a tough battle. First there was the Syrian defense line, a line built in depth, marked with anti-tank positions and weapons, with mines and barbed wire and scores of tanks and armored vehicles. When the Israelis had overrun this line and were engaged in mopping up operations, a new armored division came into contact with the Israeli units. It was soon identified as the Iraqi armored division sent to the aid of the Syrians.
A fierce armor battle ensued yesterday between the Israelis and the Iraqis but after two hours, the Iraqis retreated leaving behind scores of tanks. Some estimated that they have lost over 70 tanks. The remnants of the Iraqi force have joined the Syrians in preparing a defense line to protect Damascus. This, however, did not prevent them from performing several local counter attacks which were repulsed with heavy losses to the attackers.
The Israelis continued to improve their position in the wide breakthrough and continued to advance. They were reported today to be only a few kilometers from the Syrian township of Sasa which is said to have been deserted by its population. On Friday night an Israeli raiding unit penetrated deep into Syria and demolished a bridge some 100 kilometers northeast of Damascus. It is on the main route from Damascus to Baghdad and was designed to interfere with the Iraqi reinforcement to Syria.
The unit also attacked an Iraqi convoy on its way to the Syrian front. It was a clean job – none of the raiders was hit. Meanwhile the Israeli airforce continued its action, destroying Syrian air-force and military installations as well as coming in with close ground support for Israeli armor. The Israelis have not yet encountered any Jordanian forces reportedly sent to Syria by King Hussein. However, among prisoners taken by Israelis were some Moroccan soldiers.
It appeared that the Moroccan task force sent to Syria – in a brigade strength – was posted in the northern section of the Syrian front, the place chosen by Israelis for their breakthrough. The Moroccans, who were equipped with American arms and equipment, soon had to fall back and retreat as the Israelis made their advance. Israelis were using the captured American jeeps and American automatic service rifles which were used by the Moroccans. The Iraqis-had Centurion tanks with 135-MM guns.
Today Israeli soldiers using sub-machineguns and machineguns downed a Syrian Sukhoi plane which attacked them. A Syrian MIG escorting the Sukhoi turned tail and left the scene as soon as it saw the fire barrage of the small arms downing the Sukhoi. The villages through which Israeli army passed were apparently inhabited by poor peasants. Shabby, poor looking mud houses or even stone houses stood adjacent to bunkers and positions of the Syrian line.
An Israeli commentator said that the Syrian airforce has lost by yesterday about half of its first line planes but its operational ability is even less as airfield, radar stations and installations were hit, thus crippling it even more. The Syrians lost at least 800 tanks on the Israeli side of the cease-fire line. Syria put into battle some 1400 tanks of the total number of 2000 combat tanks. Meanwhile Israel has announced that its forces have captured 414 prisoners of war both in the Sinai and the Syrian borders, 58 of them officers.
On the Sinai front there was a new development that had political as well as military implications when for the first time French-made Mir age planes were seen on the Egyptian side participating in attacks on Israeli soldiers. Libya is the only Arab country to have Mirages. An army spokesman confirmed tonight that two of the seven Egyptian planes downed in the Sinai scene were Mirages. Earlier in the morning the army spokesman has stated that Mirage planes were seen participating in the battle in Sinai.
After a relatively quiet night, the Egyptians opened an offensive along the Suez front today. Israel is containing all attacks in all sections of the front. Heavy losses were inflicted on the Egyptians and scores of tanks were hit by Israelis. The battles in the Sinai are continuing. The Egyptians lost today about 220 tanks in a daylong armor battle that was waged after the Egyptians opened an offensive along the wide front of the Sinai line. A communique issued by the army spokesman said that the Egyptian offensive of this morning diminished towards evening. The Egyptians did not succeed in penetrating any of the Israeli sections.
Yesterday Egypt staged continuous attacks from their narrow stretch along the canal and were repulsed by the Israeli force which inflicted heavy casualties on the Egyptians. The Egyptians were estimated to have lost 60 tanks in the battle. Israel shot down 26 enemy planes yesterday, six of them Egyptian. During the night Israeli forces carried out raids behind the Egyptian lines along the western bank of the canal. Today’s engagement between Israeli and Egyptian armor on the Suez front was the biggest battle of the war and its outcome is fateful for determining the future of the war, according to Religious Affairs Minister Zerah Warhaftig who attended this morning’s 3 1/2-hour Cabinet session.
One of the stories of the Yom Kippur War that will be told for days to come is that of Israelis on the jetty that forms the southern entrance to the Suez Canal. Forty Israeli soldiers were posted there and with the aid of three tanks they fought back the Egyptians who tried time and again to assault and storm this important position Some of the soldiers were injured. But the position continued to maintain contact with the new Israeli line and continued to fight back.
But yesterday the commander of the position radioed his superior that if the injured were to be saved they must surrender. The position relayed to the rear the names of soldiers – both injured and not. The Red Cross was told to intervene and arrange for the surrender of the 40 Israelis. They took nothing from the position when the Egyptians came up, but a scroll wrapped in a red and yellow cover.
A wide range of Soviet armament and equipment, including the personnel anti-tank weapon, the “Frog” half-ton warheaded missile and the sophisticated Sukhoi 20 which is hardly known in the West, have been captured by the Israelis. The latest capture was that of a new Russian tank the T-62, a much more sophisticated brother of the known T-54 or T-55. Two of these tanks, unimpaired, were exhibited to the press on Israeli soil – the first time such a weapon was displayed in a non-Communist or non-Arab country. An Israeli armor officer described it as a good tank and after experiments it would be possible to use such tanks in the Israeli armor corp.