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The Libyan–Egyptian War was a short border war between Libya and Egypt in July 1977.

Libyan–Egyptian War
Part of the Arab Cold War
Map of Libya and Egypt
Date21-24 July 1977 (3 days)
Libyan–Egyptian border
Result Libyan invasion of Sallum repelled, return to status quo ante bellum[1][2]
Breakup of the Federation of Arab Republics
 Egypt  Libya
Commanders and leaders
Egypt Anwar Sadat Libya Muammar Gaddafi
3 divisions[3] 3 brigades
Casualties and losses
100 killed
4 MiG-21s destroyed
2 Su-20s destroyed[4]
400 killed & wounded
60 tanks destroyed
40 APCs destroyed
20 Mirage 5s destroyed
1 MiG-23s destroyed

On the 21 July 1977, there were the first gun battles between troops on the border, followed by land and air strikes. On the 24 July the combatants agreed to a ceasefire under the mediation of the President of Algeria Houari Boumediène and the Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.



Relations between the Libyan and the Egyptian government had been deteriorating ever since the end of Yom Kippur War from October 1973, due to Libyan opposition to President Anwar Sadat's peace policy as well as the breakdown of unification talks between the two governments. Frequent, politically-driven deportations of Egyptian migrants working in Libya also contributed to tense bilateral relations.[5] There is some proof that the Egyptian government was considering a war against Libya as early as 1974. On the 28 February 1974, during Henry Kissinger's visit to Egypt, President Sadat told him about such intentions and requested that pressure be put on the Israeli government not to launch an attack on Egypt in the event of its forces being occupied in war with Libya.[6] In addition, the Egyptian government had broken its military ties with Moscow, while the Libyan government kept that cooperation going. The Egyptian government also gave assistance to former RCC members Major Abd al Munim al Huni and Omar Muhayshi, who unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 1975, and allowed them to reside in Egypt.

During 1976 relations were ebbing, as the Egyptian government claimed to have discovered a Libyan plot to overthrow the government in Cairo. On 26 January 1976, Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak indicated in a talk with the US Ambassador Hermann Eilts that the Egyptian government intended to exploit internal problems in Libya to promote actions against Libya, but did not elaborate.[7][verification needed] On 22 July 1976, the Libyan government made a public threat to break diplomatic relations with Cairo if Egyptian subversive actions continued.[8] On August 8, 1976, an explosion occurred in the bathroom of a government office in Tahrir Square in Cairo, injuring 14, and the Egyptian government and media claimed this was done by Libyan agents.[9][verification needed] The Egyptian government also claimed to have arrested two Egyptian citizens trained by Libyan intelligence to perform sabotage within Egypt.[10] On the 23 August, an Egyptian passenger plane was hijacked by persons who reportedly worked with Libyan intelligence. They were captured by Egyptian authorities in an operation that ended without any casualties. In retaliation for accusations by the Egyptian government of Libyan complicity in the hijacking, the Libyan government ordered the closure of the Egyptian Consulate in Benghazi.[11][verification needed]

The Libyan government claimed to have uncovered an Egyptian espionage network in Libya. US diplomatic circles viewed this tension as a sign of Libyan intentions to go to war against Egypt, and one diplomat observed:

LARG [Libyan Arab Republic Government] anticipates military attack from Egypt, which it hopes to exploit and cause overthrow of Sadat.[12][verification needed]

Throughout 1976 the Egyptian government was concentrating troops along the Libyan border. It enjoyed the support of the US government, who viewed Libya negatively, and was promised by Washington that no move in US-Libyan relations was to be made without consultation with Cairo.[13][14][15] Policy experts in the US and Britain assessed that Sadat was planning an attack on Libya in order to overthrow Gaddafi.[16] Relations kept deteriorating, and in early May 1977 Sadat turned down an American request to engage in reconciliation talks with the Libyan government.[17]

Tensions between the two countries had increased during April and May 1977, as demonstrators attacked each other's embassies. In June 1977, Libyan leader Gaddafi ordered the 225,000 Egyptians working and living in Libya to leave the country by July 1 or face arrest.

Course of the warEdit

On the 21 July 1977 the Libyan 9th Tank Battalion carried out a raid on Sallum. The unit was ambushed in the town and subjected to a well-planned counterattack by an Egyptian mechanised division, which inflicted fifty percent casualties on the 9th Tank Battalion. The battalion subsequently retreated. A few Libyan Mirage 5 aircraft bombed nearby settlements, causing minimal damage. The Egyptians claimed to have shot down two of them with anti-aircraft fire.[18]

Several hours later the Egyptians initiated a large counteroffensive. MiG-21s and Su-20s raided the Libyans' Gamal Abdel Nasser Airbase at Al Adm.[19]

Anwar Sadat and his generals ordered 3 divisions to head to the Libyan border when news of the advancing Libyan tanks reached them. The three divisions quickly beat back the Libyan brigades, destroying most of their equipment. The Egyptian Air Force and three divisions of the Egyptian Army stormed across the Libyan border and captured some key border towns. Libyan military bases in Al Adm (Gamal Abdel Nasser Airbase), Kufra and Umm Alayan were bombed by the Egyptian Air Force.

Other Arab states then asked Sadat not to launch a full-scale invasion of Libya (which Sadat and his generals allegedly planned on doing on the 26 July). Sadat heeded their call and forced Libya into a ceasefire. The Egyptian Army then withdrew from occupied territory.[citation needed] The conflict disrupted the border trade and smuggling activities of the Bedouins.[20]

Armistice and aftermathEdit

Mediation by Algeria, and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, finally led to a ceasefire.[citation needed] Sadat gave his forces instructions to stop all attacks on the 24 July 1977 and agreed to an armistice.[citation needed] Though the fighting stopped the next day, a rift between Arab states remained. Many conservative Arab governments had sympathy for Egypt and Sadat, while leftist and pro-Soviet Arab states endorsed Libya and Gaddafi.

An editorial in The New York Times summed up an American perspective of the war by quoting a Palestinian: "If the Arabs haven't got Israel to fight, they will be fighting each other."[21]

In August 1977, an agreement to exchange prisoners of war led to a relaxation of tension between the two states. After four days of fighting, Libyan casualties were 400 killed or wounded, while Egyptian casualties were roughly 100 killed.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Countrystudies - Libya and Arab Unity". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  2. ^ Cooper, Tom (13 November 2003). "Libyan Mirage-Order". Western & Northern Africa Database: Libya & Egypt, 1971-1979. Air Combat Information Group. Archived from the original on 21 March 2013.
  3. ^ Pollack 2004, p. 365.
  4. ^ Pollack 2004, p. 368.
  5. ^ Tsourapas, Gerasimos (2015). "The Politics of Egyptian Migration to Libya". Middle East Report and Information Project. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  6. ^ "Transcript of talk between Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir, March 1, 1974" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 22, 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  7. ^ "Hermann Eilts to Department of State, January 25, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  8. ^ "Robert Carle (US Embassy in Tripoli) to Department of State, July 22, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  9. ^ "Hermann Eilts (US Ambassador to Egypt) to Department of State, August 9, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  10. ^ "Hermann Eilts to Department of State, August 11, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  11. ^ "Herman Eilts to Secretary of State, August 25, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  12. ^ "Robert Carle (US Chargé d'Affaires ad interim to Libya) to Department of State, August 26, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  13. ^ "Robinson to the Embassy in Cairo, September 3, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  14. ^ "Robinson to US Delegation and Secretary of State, December 29, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  15. ^ "Robinson to the Embassy in Tripoli, December 31, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  16. ^ "Spiers (US Embassy in London) to Department of State, October 19, 1976". Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  17. ^ Eilts to State Department, May 6, 1977
  18. ^ Pollack 2004, pp. 134–135.
  19. ^ Pollack 2004, p. 135.
  20. ^ Hüsken 2018, p. 47.
  21. ^ Marvine Howe, "The Arabs Can't Seem to Stop Fighting", New York Times, 24 July 1977, p. E2