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The Six Day War

The Six-Day War was a war between Israel, on the one hand, and Egypt, Jordan and Syria, aided by Iraq, on the other. The war lasted six days (June 5-10 1967), and in it the IDF captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, Eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The total area conquered was three times as large as the pre-war State of Israel. Purely as a military operation, the Six-Day War is considered one of the greatest successes in the history of modern warfare.

The quarrels between Syria and Israel over the sources of the Jordan River provided the background for the outbreak of war. Since 1964 the Syrians had attempted to divert the waters of the Banias and the Hatsbani. These operations would have denied Israel about two-thirds of the waters flowing from the sources of the Jordan River, which were among the more important sources of water for the State of Israel. The Israeli reaction consisted of military actions which were aimed at putting an end to the construction of the alternate channels for this water.

In an attempt to lessen the Israeli pressure at the Israeli-Syrian border, the Soviet Union sent a false message in May 1967 to Egypt, according to which Israel was concentrating forces in order to invade Syria. The aim of this false message was to encourage the Egyptians to pressure Israel militarily on the Sinai front and thus prevent any possible Israeli attack along the northern border. The Egyptians began to send military forces to Sinai and, at the same time, the Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-el-Nasser demanded that the UN evacuate its Emergency Force from Egyptian territory.

On May 22, 1967 Nasser declared that on the following day the Straits of Tiran – through which sea traffic made its way between Israel and Africa and the Orient – would be closed to Israeli shipping. In addition he announced that he was more than ready for Israel to wage war on Egypt because of this step. The blocking of the Tiran Straits was a clear casus belli. This Egyptian action, which was extremely popular throughout the Arab world, was a direct provocative act, the significance of which was that the Israeli deterrent was no longer active. Mass demonstrations took place in the Arab states, calling for war with Israel in order to destroy the Jewish State.

The Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula numbered some 100,000 soldiers, organized in seven divisions, including 930 tanks. At the end of May, agreements of military coordination were signed between Egypt and Syria, Egypt and Jordan and Egypt and Iraq. Thus came into being to the east of Israel a military coalition made up of Syria, Jordan and Iraq, which applied uncomfortable pressure to Israel and actually endangered her continued existence.

As a result of the military tension, Israeli society was deeply concerned about its likelihood of survival. IDF reserve forces were drafted and prepared for defensive actions along the borders of Israel. The Israeli government took a series of political steps in a desperate attempt to remove the threat to Israel’s survival and to re-open the Straits of Tiran. By the beginning of June it was clear that political activity would not be enough to remove the threat to the continued existence of the State and that there was no alternative to military action. On June 3rd the Americans expressed their silent approval of military action to be taken against Egypt. Israel had entered into a stage from which the only way out was war.

The Stages of the War
The Air Strike
The war began on June 5, 1967 at 7:43 a.m. with a massive air strike. During the first hours of the war, some 185 Israeli Air Force jet fighters attacked military bases and airfields in Egypt. The Israeli Air Force struck almost simultaneously at all the Egyptian airfields. The airfields were attacked numerous times on the same day and the Egyptian Airforce was almost completely paralyzed for the duration of the war. Immediately after the first strike part of the Israeli air forces were sent to attack the airfields serving the airforces of Syria, Jordan and Iraq. These strikes were a complete surprise. On the very first day of the war about 350 of the 600 jet planes belonging to the airforces of the Arab states confronting Israel. This achievement gave the IDF absolute air supremacy, and in fact determined the fate of the war from its beginning. The Air Force provided the Israeli ground forces with strong support and played a decisive role in speeding up the rate of the fighting. The initial air strikes undoubtedly led to the fact that the Israeli population centers were left almost untouched by the Arab airforces.
The Egyptian Front

On Monday, June 5th, at 8:15 a.m. the IDF attack on the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip began. It included three divisions that attacked along three separate axes, together with two additional divisions attacking independently.

The ground forces attacking, under the command of the General of the Southern Front, Yeshayahu Gavish, included 11 brigades and some 600 tanks. The main attacking force was the armored division commanded by General Yisrael Tal, which advanced along the seacoast of northern Sinai and, four full days later, reached the Suez Canal at Kantara, opposite Ismailiya.

The division commanded by General Ariel Sharon broke through the Abu Ageila area and fought a decisive battle at Umm-Katef. These forces advanced, reaching the a-Nakhal region approximate four days later.

On the 7th and 8th of June, with the help of paratroopers, Israeli Navy forces took control of the southern Sinai coastline all the way to Sharm-esh-Sheikh, Ras Nasrani, A-Tur, Abu-Rodes and Ras Sudar. The entire Sinai Peninsula was in IDF hands, including the Gaza Strip, and the Egyptian forces that had been there ceased being active fighters. Egypt had been soundly defeated in this campaign.  

The Jordanian Front

Despite Israeli warnings to Jordan not to intervene in the war, the Jordanians opened fire from their artillery aimed at Jerusalem and at other points along their border with Israel.

At the command of the General of the Central Command, Uzi Narkis, there were seven divisions that attacked the Jordanian forces during the first three days of the war from four directions: from Jerusalem, from Latrun, from Qalqiliya and from the Jezreel Valley. Most of the battles were quick, but some – especially in northern Jerusalem and in the breakthrough towards the Old City – were difficult, and entailed numerous casualties.

The Harel Brigade captured the hills to the north of Jerusalem, the Dothan Valley and Radar Hill.

The Jerusalem Brigade, which began the fighting in Jerusalem, took the High Commissioner’s Palace and Sur Bahir. Brigade 55, composed of reserve paratroopers, took the Jordanian positions in and around Jerusalem, Tel el-Ful, Ammunition Hill, Rockefeller Museum and finally the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Within less than three days IDF forces took control of the entire “West Bank”, including eastern Jerusalem, while the remaining Jordanian units withdrew to the east of the Jordan River.

The Syrian Front

During the early days of the war, the IDF refrained from taking land action against the Syrians in order not to split its efforts on three fronts simultaneously. The Hula Valley settlements suffered Syrian artillery shelling all through the war. On Tuesday, June 6, 1967, a Syrian tank battalion attempted to attack the Tel Dan area and Kibbutz Dan, but was repulsed by the regional defense units, infantry forces and a single IDF tank unit stationed along the front. Only on Friday, June 9, after the fighting on the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts had drawn to a close, did the IDF engage the Syrians – and large forces were dispatched to the region. Starting on the morning of June 9, the Israeli Air Force began to pound the Golan (then known as the Syrian) Heights heavily and steadily. At the same time, seven divisions under the command of the General of the Northern Command, David Elazar, attacked the Golan Heights. The attack was concentrated on the Banias and northern Golan Heights area, because the gradient up to the Heights was relatively moderate in this region. This enabled armored forces to go up and advance almost half the way to Kuneitra. In the southern Golan Heights, infantry forces and paratroopers attacked the Syrian positions and they too advanced a considerable distance. During the night the IDF expanded the area under its control to the south, all the way to the Benot Yaakov bridge. On Saturday morning, June 10, armored and infantry units broke through eastward with strong air support, and in the northern Golan Heights reached the heights of Mt. Hermon and Kuneitra, while in the south they reached the Rafid junction. At 2 p.m. on June 10, the fighting in the Golan Heights ceased, and the Six Day War was over.

The Results of the War 

Israel’s casualties in the war were over 800 dead and about 4,000 wounded.

It is estimated that the Arab armies lost between 17,000 and 23,500 dead and thousands more wounded.

During the war over 400 Arab planes were destroyed, of which 60 were airborne; over 500 Arab tanks were destroyed or captured. Some 70% of 
all the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian heavy equipment – valued at over a billion dollars – were put out of commission.

Israel achieved a stunning political and military victory, in that no pressure was applied by the superpowers to compel her to withdraw immediately from all the territories liberated (unlike the situation after the Sinai War) without having signed a peace agreement. It was clear that the liberated territories would be an important factor in peace negotiations. The debates in the UN on this topic continued for a number of months, until November 20, 1967, when the Security Council adopted Resolution 242 which served as the basis for political activity for a decade after the war.

The Arab states were humbled, especially the Egyptian regime and Nasser himself who lost much of his prestige as the leader of the Arab people. Immediately after the war, representatives of the Arab states met at Khartoum where they announced their “three Noes”: “no” peace with Israel, “no” negotiations with Israel, and “no” recognition of Israel.

From a national standpoint, the war removed the threat to Israel’s survival and provided an incentive for economic development after many years of economic recession. The establishment of settlements, military bases and airfields, the development of tourism and the exploitation of the Sinai oilfields encouraged Israeli economic growth to an unprecedented degree, resulting in unprecedented prosperity in Israel. The national morale rocketed skyward.