From October 6-25, 1973, an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria led an attack on Israel that could have led to a confrontation between nuclear-armed powers. With the Cold War in the backdrop, the threat of nuclear war remained ever present during the three weeks of hostilities.
Three days into the conflict, the Israeli Prime Minister ordered the country’s nuclear strike planes and missiles to go on high alert after early battlefield defeats. Egyptian and Syrian forces successfully broke through Israeli defenses on the Sinai Peninsula and near the Golan Heights. These advances and the fear of a nuclear war led the United States to supply its ally with material including airplanes, helicopters, tanks, missile systems, artillery and ammunition to replace its conventional losses. In response, Moscow began supplying the same to Egypt and Syria.
American intelligence erroneously reported that the Soviets had also delivered nuclear-armed Scud missiles to Egypt to defend its ally against a potential Israeli strike. Washington accordingly raised its defense readiness to DEFCON 3, which ensured that the Air Force could mobilize in 15 minutes to deliver a nuclear strike. This readiness was dropped a few days later after the Russians assured President Richard Nixon that no nuclear action was planned and subsequently retreated their ships. Israeli victories later in the final weeks of the war abated any perceived need to use nuclear weapons.