The attack Egypt launched against Israel in 1973 is a rare example of a war fought primarily to pave the way for peace. From the outset, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's strategic objective was clearly to gain a tactical victory by recovering part of the land to the east of the Suez Canal. Then, the dignity of that victory having strengthened his position in the eyes of the Egyptian people, he would sit down at the peace table. Attaining that victory, however, would not be simple: the Israeli army had defensive lines on the eastern banks of the Suez Canal. The start of any Egyptian offensive thus meant implementing one of the most difficult military operations: an assault water crossing against a defended position. The Egyptians were well equipped with brilliantly innovative Soviet assault bridging materials, but the most significant problem was how to achieve surprise. For 18 months the Egyptians rehearsed the operation every day by approaching the canal with their assault forces but stopping short of actually launching the attack.
On 6 October 1973, the rehearsal phase suddenly ended. The Egyptians advanced to the canal's banks, as they did every day, but, on this occasion, they continued across the water. The Israelis had been lulled into a false sense of security, and the canal was successfully crossed. This operation, in conjunction with a series of air strikes against Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula, allowed the Egyptians to advance further than they had anticipated.
While the Egyptians were pushing into the Sinai, the Syrian army and air force attacked Israeli positions on the Golan Heights on the Syria-Israel border. On 22 October, after two weeks of intensive fighting, the Egyptians and Israelis agreed to a ceasefire. However, the fighting continued as Israeli forces commanded by General Adan received orders to continue operations against the Egyptian 3rd Army in the Sinai. Adan's troops crossed the Suez Canal and launched a broad sweep to the west and south, thus encircling the 3rd Army. Israel, having overcome the strategic surprise that the opposing troops initially enjoyed, was now fully mobilized and appeared ready and capable of striking even at the Egyptian capital. Such an attack would have denied the Egyptians the ability to sue for a full peace. The U.S. secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, realized what was at stake and entreated the Israelis to restrain their forces west of the canal. The Israelis and Egyptian agreed to another ceasefire on 24 October. Once the ceasefire had been established, the two nations conducted negotiations that led to the Israeli-Egyptian Disengagement Agreement that was signed on 18 January 1974.
On 27 October 1973, after a series of bitter debates between the American and Soviet delegates, the United Nations (UN) Security Council unanimously voted to establish UN Emergency Force II (UNEF II) to deal with the crisis. The UNEF II contingent of 6,973 troops included 1,145 Canadians. UNEF II's main objective was to supervise the ceasefire and disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli troops. The Canadian contingent, made up of troops from various formations and units across the country, consisted of communications and service support specialists. The 1st Canadian Signals Regiment from Kingston, Ontario, provided much of the framework for the first contingent. The UNEF II remained in the Middle East until 1979.
With the finalization of the Camp David Accords in 1979, UNEF II could be disbanded. The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) replaced it later that year. Canada started contributing to the MFO in 1986 with a helicopter squadron and as many as 140 servicemen. It currently supplies about 26 personnel to the MFO.
Sadat's courageous vision, backed by the Egyptian army's solidly planned and executed operations, produced the desired result: an end to 30 years of war. Not all Egyptians, however, were pleased with the outcome. On 6 October 1981, just two years after reaching the Camp David Accord with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israeli, Sadat was assassinated. Muslim fundamentalists opposed to any accommodation between Egypt and Israeli orchestrated the plot.