Israel reported smashing dozens of Egyptian tanks and missile batteries in desert combat on both banks of the Suez Canal today in the third day of an armored battle that could decide the 1973 Middle East war.
The armies of Syria, Iraq and Jordan launched counterattacks against Israeli forces on the northern front in an apparent attempt to relieve pressure on Egypt.
An Israeli spokesman said that the Israeli task force operating behind the Egyptian lines on the West Bank of the Suez Canal had pushed 13 to 19 miles into Egypt.
Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit said: "We have destroyed anti-aircraft batteries, artillery batteries and all sorts of other installations. At the same time we are fighting enemy counterattacks and so far have knocked out 70 of their tanks on both parts of the canal."
Gazit said that the Israelis shot down 25 Egyptian and Libyan aircraft, "the last 11 of them having been downed in a battle that ended about 5 p.m.
Military sources said Israeli troops massing on the Egyptian-held western bank of the 102-mile-long waterway had captured some of highly sophisticated Soviet-built surface-to-air missiles that have bedeviled Israel's pilots.
On the northern front the Tel Aviv Command said Arab troops counterattacked today after two days of relative quiet to put pressure on Israeli forces holding 300 square miles of Syrian territory seized during the current fighting.
The command said the Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian troops attacked behind the forward Israeli lines at the central sector of the Golan Heights, but were turned back with heavy Arab losses.
An Israeli spokesman, in comments about the fierce fighting in the south, said today, "I satisfied with the results, but there is no shutting our eyes to the heavy price we are paying."
Both Israeli and Egyptian officials describe the action as the biggest armored battle of all time, rivaling the massive North African and European tank engagements of World War II.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said his men "have gained the initiative" on the southern front and were moving toward the war's "decisive battle." Egypt said its troops were fighting with "tenacity and ferocity" despite stiff Israeli opposition.
The opposing armies-zigzagging across desert sands in hundreds of tanks and armored cars - reported inflicting tremendous losses and expressed amazement their opponent were still fighting.
"According to military rules, a commander who finds that his forces are suffering such great losses would disengage from the battle and fall backwards," the semi-official Cairo newspaper Al Ahram said today. "But the Israeli commander is throwing new tanks and armor into the fighting."
Israeli military spokesmen reported destroying 110 counterattacking Egyptian tanks yesterday, raising to 500 the number knocked out on the southern front since last Sunday.
Egypt reported destroying 30 Israeli tanks, 10 armored cars, five artillery emplacements, two rocket launchers, three bulldozers and an ammunition depot in yesterday's fighting.