It was during the first desperate hours of Egypt's surprise attack across the Suez Canal that artillery gunner Moshe Sadeh received an order he never imagined he would hear as an Israeli soldier -- to retreat.
"It was a shock," he recalled 30 years after the bitter campaign for control of western Sinai.
"Everything in our training told us, `Go forward, don't give up an inch and the Arabs will quit,'" he said.
But a fierce, two-pronged offensive by Egypt and Syria on Oct. 6, 1973, shattered the Israeli army's myth of invincibility, restored Arab pride after a string of crushing defeats and shook up the Middle East in ways still being felt today.
In the months leading up to the war, Israeli leaders had been aware that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria might try to reconquer Sinai and the Golan Heights, territories their countries lost in 1967.
And yet, due to a mix of over-confidence, miscalculations and intelligence failures, Israel was caught off guard when the attacks came on Yom Kippur, holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Sadeh, a New York-born accountant, had just returned home from morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue when air raid sirens sounded the call to arms.
Little more than 24 hours later, he was manning a mobile artillery battery in the parched landscape of the Sinai peninsula, firing shell after shell at Egyptian forces pouring across to the eastern side of the canal.
Mahmoud, then a 29-year-old Egyptian soldier, remembers crossing the waterway with his comrades and breaking through Israel's vaunted Bar-Lev Line of forts, bunkers and sand barriers.
"It was difficult but it was the sweetest moment," he said at the October Museum in Cairo, where a large diorama, complete with sound effects and flashes of light, gives Egypt's official version of the war as a great victory for the Arabs.
Bleak days for Isreal
Indeed the situation looked bleak for Israel during the first week as the Syrian and Egyptian armies advanced on two fronts, inflicting heavy losses. At first, some Israelis even feared the very existence of their country was at risk.
But Israel then went on the counterattack, repelling the Syrians, encircling the Egyptians and making gains beyond the 1967 ceasefire lines before international pressure brought the fighting to an end.
Even the Sinai pull-back that unsettled Sadeh's artillery crew was short-lived. Their unit soon joined up with armored columns led by General Ariel Sharon for a counter-thrust across the canal onto the Egyptian mainland.
It was a move widely credited with turning the tide of the war and also cemented Sharon's image as Israel's warrior-protector, which nearly 27 years later would propel him into the prime minister's office during another crisis.
"Our army was caught with its pants down," said Sadeh, now 56. "But we recovered and again taught our enemies a lesson."
Israel puts its official death toll from the 18-day war at about 2,300. Egypt and Syria have been less forthcoming about their casualties. Military historians estimate Egyptian losses at 7,000 to 15,000 men and Syria's at 3,000 to 3,500.
Analysts say the outcome should be judged not militarily but politically -- as the forerunner to land-for-peace deals that would eventually be struck not only between Israel and Egypt but with the stateless Palestinians as well.
"There was a dawning of understanding that a negotiated peace was the only way to stop the cycle of regional wars," said Benny Morris, a leading Israeli historian and author of Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict.
Israel -- even as it embarked on a massive military build-up to avoid being overwhelmed again by its enemies' sheer numbers -- began to realize it could not live by the sword indefinitely.
Egypt felt it had overcome the humiliation of the 1967 war and could now bargain with Israel as equals.
Sadat, concluding that the Americans were the only ones capable of restraining Israel, cast his lot with the US and turned his back on the Soviet Union, until then Egypt's Cold War patron.
Five years later, Sadat and then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin forged the US-brokered Camp David accords, paving the way for Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab state and the return of a demilitarized Sinai to Egypt.
Like most of the Arab world, Palestinians scorned the deal as a betrayal of their cause but it forced them to gradually adapt to a new reality -- that Arab countries would no longer support them militarily in fighting for Israel's destruction.
Fails to bring peace
Today ties between Israel and Egypt are frosty, and Camp David has failed to pave the way to broader Middle East peace.
Syria, which commemorates the launching of its 1973 offensive as a national holiday, is still officially at war with Israel, which continues its occupation of the Golan.
Israeli-Palestinian interim peace agreements of the mid-1990s modeled on Camp David's land-for-peace formula have fallen apart during three years of bloodletting that began after US-sponsored talks on a final settlement broke down.
Egypt has made sporadic attempts to mediate, but Israel is not ready to place full trust in its former enemy.
Ordinary Egyptians have made clear their sympathies lie with the Palestinians and that the last vestiges of the 1973 war will not fade until Palestinian grievances are addressed.
"Peace [between Israel and Egypt] is better than fighting. But Israel still has bad intentions," Mahmoud said.
Israel has voiced disappointment at the "cold peace" with Egypt but there are signs of a thaw: On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the 1973 war, thousands of Israelis were booked at Egyptian resort hotels on Sinai beaches.
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