Video by Yoav Ben-dov www.ybd.net [Hanoi, Vietnam, 24 Feb. 2009]  – A nice example of self-organization as described by complexity theory. There are no fixed “top-down” laws (i.e. traffic lights), and yet the incredible traffic flows continuously. In complexity terms, the collective motion emerges from the multiple local interactions between the “agents” (drivers and pedestrians), mediated by horn sounds, eye contact, and body gestures.

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” ~ Sun Tzu, “The Art of War“.

During the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War (Yom Kippur War) highly strategic manoeuvres occurred on the Suez canal. It was crucial to surpass it on time. Rather quickly. The war was fought on October, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria, and it began when the coalition launched a joint surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, which coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Egyptian and Syrian forces crossed ceasefire lines to enter the Israeli-held Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights respectively, which had been captured and occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War [Wikipedia]. The conflict led to a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, both of whom initiated massive resupply efforts to their allies during the war.

Anyway, the war began with a massive and successful Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal during the first three days, after which they dug in, settling into a stalemate. The Egyptian army put great effort into finding a quick and effective way of breaching the Israeli defences. But the Israelis had built a large 18 meter high sand walls with a 60 degree slope and reinforced with concrete at the water line. Egyptian engineers initially experimented with explosive charges and bulldozers to clear the obstacles, before a junior officer proposed using high pressure water cannons. The idea was tested and found to be a sound one, and several high pressure water cannons were imported from Britain and East Germany [Wikipedia]. The water cannons effectively breached the sand walls using water from the canal.

photo – Egyptian forces crossing the Suez Canal on October 7, 1973 [Source: Wikipedia]

After that success, however, a swift passage of the entire army over the Suez canal was needed. The problem was that the Egyptian army had to make a rather quick passage with several different convoys of tanks and regular logistic trucks, over very tiny bridges (fig.) as quick as possible. Some say, that the Egyptian general in charge did not halt any of the convoys, in order to give precedence to some in particular. Instead, contrary to logic, he gave an order for them to continuously flow, without having any official at the bridge entrance to organize them. Any right convoy tank that felt that the other left convoy truck should enter first, he would stop some seconds, and only after that, should make his own bridge passage over Suez. What’s history now, is that the decision, was entirely left to them, locally… and fluid. No “traffic lights” at all, … contrary to the usual hard strict regulaments of any army we know today. If that’s not wise tactics, tell me what it is?! …