Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Anniversary Of A Miracle - Israel's Victory In The Six Day War

Today is the anniversary of a modern miracle, the Israeli victory of the Six Day War, מלחמת ששת הימים, or Milhemet Sheshet Ha Yamim in Hebrew. It saw an outnumbered Israel beat back an attempt at destruction and genocide, reunite Jerusalem, bring the strategic Golan and the historic Jewish homelands of Judea and Samaria back under Israeli sovereignty. It's worth recounting 46 years later, when Israel's mortal enemies once again gather to attempt to destroy her.

Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser had formed a military alliance with Syria, the United Arab Republic (UAR) and with the aid of the Soviet Union, both countries had built up a substantial military force, vastly outnumbering Israel in tanks, planes and manpower.

After the 1956 war,the Israelis had agreed to withdraw from Sinai based on President Eisenhower's guarantees that provided for a UN peacekeeping force to be stationed there to prevent feydayeen terrorist raids on Israel, the main cause (at least from the Israeli standpoint) of the '56 war.

Another part of the ceasefire agreement that ended the 1956 war concerned the Straits of Tiran, a waterway connecting the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea and Israel's sole Red Sea outlet for the port of Eilat.

According to the ceasefire ratified by the UN, the Straits of Tiran were to be considered an international waterway with full access to Israeli shipping.

On May 17th, 1967, after a huge amount of rhetoric about annihilating every Jew in Israel, Nasser demanded an immediate withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping troops from the Sinai. Secretary General U Thant immediately complied in less than 24 hours without informing the Israelis until Egyptian forces had already reentered the Sinai.

Nasser subsequently deployed a huge force of troops,tanks and artillery in the Sinai. The Egyptians massed over 100,000 troops in the Sinai, including all of its seven divisions (four infantry, two armored and one mechanized), four independent infantry brigades and four independent armored brigades. At least one third of them were veterans of Egypt's intervention into the Yemen Civil War, and the Egyptian forces included 950 tanks, 1,100 APCs and more than 1,000 artillery pieces, many of them of the latest Soviet models.

On May 23rd, Nasser announced a blockade of the Straights of Tiran, saying in a speech to his troops in Sinai:

... Yesterday the armed forces [of Egypt] occupied Sharm el-Sheikh. What does this mean? It is an affirmation of our rights, of our sovereignty over the Gulf of Aqaba, which constitutes Egyptian territorial waters. Under no circumstances can we permit the Israeli flag to pass through the Gulf of Aqaba. The Jews threaten war. We say that they are welcome to war, we are ready for war, our armed forces, our people, all of us are ready for war, but under no circumstances shall we abandon our rights. These are our waters ...

At the same time, the Syrians began massing 75,000 troops, artillery and armor on the Golan Height to the north of Israel, where they held the high ground and were dug in.

Jordan, to Israel's east signed a mutual defense pact with the UAR on May 30th and moved 55,000 troops and 300 tanks to the border.

Documents captured by the Israelis from the Jordanians show that contrary to popular belief, the Jordanians always intended to go to war against Israel - it was by no means a last minute decision. The Arab Legion's Hashemite Brigade had orders to capture the Israeli town of Ramot Burj Bir Mai'in in a night raid, codenamed "Operation Khaled". This was to be the base of operations for the capture of Lod and Ramle. The "go" codeword to be was "Sa'ek" and end was "Nasser". The Jordanians also planned for the capture of Motza and Sha'alvim in the strategic Jerusalem Corridor. Motza was the target of Infantry Brigade 27 camped near Ma'ale Adummim: "The reserve brigade will commence a nighttime infiltration onto Motza, will destroy it to the foundation, and won't leave a remnant or refugee from among its 800 residents"

Along with these forces, at Jordan's invitation the Iraqi army sent 100 tanks and an infantry division to join in the fighting along with two squadrons of fighter aircraft.

The Israeli troops even with their available reserves were out numbered by more than two to one, and in tanks and combat aircraft by more than three to one.

Efforts to try and resolve the crisis in the UN came to absolutely nothing as the Soviets and the European nations who found Arab oil far more valuable than Jewish blood combined to torpedo any meaningful settlement as Israel's economy began to falter and the Arabs continued to mass troops and equipment for an obvious coming attack meant to wipe out every Jew in Israel, a goal the Arabs made no secret of.

The final push towards war came when Israel chief arms supplier, President DeGaulle of France abruptly informed the Israelis on June 1st that he would no longer sell them arms or spare parts for French-made equipment like Israel's Dassault Mirage and Super Mystère jets or even fill existing orders.


Surrounded and outnumbered, the Israelis now also had to contend with the problem of resupply in a combat situation. They literally had no choice but to throw the dice and gamble on a quick and decisive victory before their equipment broke down for lack of spare parts and components.

So the decision was made to launch Operation Focus ( in Hebrew, Moked), a massive attack on the Egyptian Air Force.

The Egyptians had by far the largest and best air force among the Arab armies. They had 420 combat aircraft, all of them Soviet-built and many of them the latest MiG-21s capable of attaining Mach 2 speed. The Egyptians also had 30 Soviet Tu-16 "Badger" bombers,which were a particular target of Operation Focus because of the danger to Israeli civilian areas.

The IAF had been training for this mission for quite some time. In particular, they had become adept in training their ground crews to rapidly refit planes returning from combat so that multiple sorties per day could be flown. The IAF had things wired to the point that their combat aircraft were capable of flying four sorties per day while the Arab pilots were only able to fly one or two at most.

The Israelis also had excellent intel on their targets and trained their pilots to memorize them until they were second nature, and every contingency that could be taken into account was planned for.

But in the end,it still came down to a roll of the dice, with the Israelis sending all but 12 of their 200 combat aircraft into the skies and gambling their lives on the outcome.

On the morning of June 5th, 1967, the Israeli planes attacked their targets. Most of them evaded the Egyptian radar by flying in low over the Mediterranean, well below the point where the Egyptian SA-2 surface-to-air missile batteries could hit them and then hooking left to hit the Egyptian air bases, while the rest flew in over the Red Sea.

They caught the Egyptians completely by surprise with most of their planes on the ground. The Israelis attacked in successive waves. Some 338 of the Egyptian aircraft were destroyed and over 100 pilots killed, while the runways were made unusable by bombing runs utilizing special explosives designed to penetrate and fragment tarmac. The Egyptians lost all 30 the Tu-16 bombers, 27 out of 40 Il-28 bombers, 12 Su-7 fighter-bombers, over 90 brand new MiG-21s, 20 MiG-19s, 25 MiG-17 fighters, and around 32 assorted transport planes and helicopters, plus the Egyptian radar and SAM missile bases. The only Egyptian planes that survived were the handful that were in hangers being serviced and a small contingent based at El Arish in Sinai, which the IAF decided not to attack because they wanted it as a strategic base.The Israelis lost just 19 planes, including two destroyed in air-to-air combat and 13 hit by anti-aircraft fire.

The victory in the air was so devastating that at first no one in the western press, particularly in Europe believed it. They continued to cite the Egyptian propaganda reports of 70 Israeli planes downed. It only became apparent that Egypt's Soviet supplied air force had been destroyed when Egyptian planes failed to make any appearance during the rest of the war.

Retaking Sinai

The Egyptian forces in Sinai were deployed based on Soviet tactics of massed depth. In addition they were tied to dugouts and fortresses, a mistake the IDF themselves would make 6 years later in the Yom Kippur War with the Bar-Lev line.

The Israelis had deployed to the border the night before the war,  camouflaged themselves and remained hidden until they advanced. Rather than attack the fortified Egyptian positions head on, the IDF attacked the Egyptian positions from the flanks


The Israelis understood that if the Egyptians suffered a military defeat that the UN would move quickly to implement a cease fire to protect Nasser's armies. Therefore, a primary objective was to make as many strategic gains as possible in the shortest time period, especially when it came to Sharm al-Sheikh, the choke point for shutting down Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran.

Because of the need for speed,  the initial battles involved attacking entrenched positions in Sinai without air support, because the IAF was still involved in dealing with Egypt's air armada.

The IDF attacked with three divisions. The first, under General Israel Tal had the mission of attacking the fortified Rafah/El Arish sector, near the Mediterranean coast. The Egyptians had large minefields in place in front of well dug in infantry, anti-tank weapons in reinforced bunkers and over 100 tanks and supporting artillery at the ready.

Tal's solution was to avoid the mine fields entirely,  and swing around and attack from the rear through Khan Unis. After Khan Unis was taken, General Tal launched a pincer attack on Rafah from the rear, commanding one arm personally while the other was commanded by the brilliant then-Colonel Rafael Eitan, later the IDF's Chief of Staff. The Egyptians, with most of their defensive positions facing the wrong way, were taken by surprise and routed. By June 6th, El Arish was in Israeli hands and the race to the Canal along the Mediterranean coast was on.

The second division under General Arik Sharon had the job of breaking through the center and assaulting the heavily fortified Kusseima/Abu Agheila strongholds.This was a particularly difficult mission because the Egyptians expected the IDF to concentrate on attacking this area head on, as they had in 1956. However, General Sharon's modus operandi, as usual,  was to do the unexpected, Here's what he did, in his own words:

Since 1956 the Egyptians had completely rebuilt the Abu Agheila fortifications according to the latest Soviet concepts of linear defense. About fifteen miles from the Israeli border the Ismalia road crossed a long swell of sand known as Um Cataf. There the Egyptians had constructed three parallel trench systems intersecting the road. Anchored in the north by high soft dunes and in the south by jagged ridges and broken foothills, each line was several miles long and each encompassed an array of gun positions, storage depots, and lateral communications trenches. In the front of the first line was a thickly laid mine field. With the trench system manned by a full infantry brigade and with its flanks secured on either end by the terrain, this position itself constituted a major defensive obstacle.

A mile or so behind the trenches the Egyptians kept a mobile reserve of over eighty tanks ready to move in any direction, the sword that complemented their defensive shield. Just to the south of the tanks was their artillery deployment – eighty 122- and 130-mm guns whose range far outmatched my own guns. Perimeter outposts screened this concentration of forces on the approaches to the east and especially in the north, where the flank was guarded by an infantry battalion supported by tanks and artillery in a fortified position which we code-named Oakland.

To destroy Abu Agheila it would be necessary to identify and exploit the position’s inherent vulnerability. Here we would be up against good defensive fighters whose numerical strength was not much less than ours, and whose firepower was in some ways greater than ours – a far cry from the offensive-defensive ratio of three to one usually considered minimal for an attack against prepared positions. So the plan of battle would have to emphasize concentration of forces, surprise, and maneuver. And the action would have to take place at night, our traditional method of reducing the odds and negating the advantages of prepared fortifications …

What I had in mind was a closely coordinated attack by separate elements of our forces on the Egyptian trench lines, tanks and artillery … [with the attacks developing] from the north, from the west (at the rear of Abu Agheila), and from the east (at the front of the position) in a continuous unfolding of surprises, each force securing the flank of its neighbor …

In my overall approach the first order of business would be to create a deception against Kusseima with a brigade under Uri Baidatz. Then I would isolate the battlefield. In the south a screening force of tanks, half-tracks and mortars under Arie Amit would block any reinforcements from Kusseima. This force would also give us a lodgement once we were ready to move in that direction. In the north I would launch a reinforced armored battalion, including my best tanks, the British Centurions under Natke Nir, against Oakland, the position that guarded Abu Agheila’s northern flank. Once Natke took Oakland, he would then circle around to the rear of Abu Agheila, setting up blocking forces as he went on the road to Jebel Libni, where the Egyptian reserves were. The Centurions would then be in a position to assault the base from behind.

Once the field was isolated, we would attack the entire depth of the Egyptian positions simultaneously. That would be the “taboulah,” the shock that would unbalance the defenders. Kuti Adam’s infantry brigade would come down on the northern end of the trench lines through the ostensibly secure dunes. At the same time my artillery commander, Yakov Aknin, would concentrate all the division’s artillery fire on the trenches just in front of Kuti’s attack, making life hell for the defenders as they tried to respond to the unexpected assault. To the right of Kuti’s brigade, helicopters would land Danny Mat’s paratroop brigade, which would strike into the artillery positions, preventing the Egyptian long-range guns from hitting our own forces. Once the infantry had disrupted the trenches, our tank brigade under Mordechai Zippori would move through the mine fields in a narrow frontal assault. At the same time, Natke’s Centurions would hit the Egyptian tanks from behind and come in on the rear of the trenches. And all of this would happen at night, compounding the Egyptians’ confusion as they struggled to piece together what was happening to them. (Warrior, Ariel Sharon, p. 188-190)

That's pretty much exactly what happened. Many of the Egyptian troops were so anxious to retreat that they actually took their shoes off to be able to run more effectively in the desert sand.The Israelis even captured a number of Soviet tanks in perfect condition with the keys still in the ignitions. Sharon's losses were limited to 40 killed and 140 wounded, and by June 6th the way forward for Sharon's forces to the Canal was wide open.


The third IDF division was under Brigadier-General Avraham Yoffe. Their target was Egyptian forces near Bir Lahfan junction, who were attempting to aid the Egyptian forces at Rafah and Abu Agheila.

There was a point between Rafah and Abu Agheila called Wadi Haridin, large sand dunes that were supposedly impassible to vehicles. Because of that, Wadi Haridin was left completely undefended by the Egyptians.

But the Israelis had scouted the area during the 1956 war and discovered that the Wadi was a rough slog, but it was passable. General Sharon had remembered an old report on this during the run up to war that had been filed away and decided to make use of it.

Yoffe's division split into two, each with 100 tanks. The first half trekked over the Wadi and took the Egyptian forces by surprise who were attempting to come to the aid of the Egyptians at Rafah and Abu Agheila. After making short work of them, Yoffe's troops linked up with General Tal's forces to attack the Egyptian Third Division, who were attempting to hold the Egyptian line near Bir Lahfan.

The other half of Yoffe’s division went through Sharon’s lines while fighting was still going on at perimeter of Abu Agheila, and attacked the rest of  Third Egyptian Division who were dug in at high ground of Jebel Libni, southwest of Bir Lahfan. This was another pincer attack that caught the Egyptians between the hammer blows of Tal and Yoffe. The Third division collapsed and by sundown on June 6 all of the Jebel Libni bases and the surrounding areas had fallen.

The Egyptian state media at this point was still broadcasting that Egyptian forces were advancing into Israel and that Tel-Aviv had been bombed, In fact, Nasser had already given King Hussein this same information,pressing him to bring his forces into the war.

However, Egypt's military chief, Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer had seen first hand what was happening to his army. According to eyewitness accounts, after the fall of Abu Agheila he issued immediate orders for a wholesale retreat across the Suez Canal to Egypt rather than trying to get his army to regroup and shore up a new line of defense.

What was left of the Egyptian forces engaged in what was essentially a race for the Mitla and Gidi passes through the the mountainous area of West Sinai and the retreat turned into a rout.

By this time, the Israeli air force had finished with decimating Egypt's Soviet supplied air force, had total control of the skies and were able to devote attention to the Egyptian ground forces as they fled for the passes.

The Egyptian tanks and fleeing infantry units were caught between massive bombardment from the air and ground attacks from Sharon's forces and those belonging to the 8th Armored Brigade under Colonel Albert Mandler, fresh from taking out the fortified areas of Kuntilla. The entire Egyptian Sixth Division was trapped what amounted to a box and soon ceased to exist as a cohesive unit.

At the same time, Yoffe and Tal's forces were racing towards the Sinai passes in an attempt to cut off the Egyptian units fleeing for the Canal. Sharon's division advanced southward then westward via An-Nakhl to Mitla Pass, where it hooked up with parts of Yoffe's division, while other units under Yoffe's command blocked the Gidi Pass. These passes became killing grounds for the Egyptians, who ran right into the waiting Israeli positions and suffered heavy losses.

While Egyptian casualties were heavy, the blocking of the passes was only partially successful and many got through to the Canal, (especially through the the Khatmia pass) although they abandoned literally tons of armaments and equipment along the way. Many died in the desert from hunger, thirst and raids by hostile Bedouins.

Others surrendered to the victorious Israelis, but about four days into the Sinai offensive Israel's capacity for holding prisoners was exceeded and the Israelis concentrated on high ranking officers, disarming the other, giving them aome food and water and and pointing them in the direction of the Canal.

At the same time, an Israeli naval force launched an attack on Sharm el-Sheik, the Egyptian base used to enforce the blockade on the Straits of Tiran. When they landed, the base was deserted,because its garrison had fled. Sharm el-Sheik fell without a shot being fired, the Israeli flag once more flew over ships in the Straits of Tiran and after 96 hours the war in Sinai was over.

The Fight For Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria


The battle for Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria was very different from the war in Sinai.Instead of open country suitable for mobility and tank battles, the area of Judea and Samaria that abuts what was then the 1948 ceasefire lines between Israel and Jordan are mountainous and densely populated, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the large cities of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron. And the Jordanian Arab Legion held the high ground.Aside from fortifying the area, they had an army of 11 brigades on Israel's borders, plus an Iraqi infantry division, 100 Iraqi tanks and Iraqi Soviet supplied aircraft at their disposal.The Israelis opposite them had only three infantry brigades and an armored brigade.

Jordan's Arab Legion were the most competent soldiers among the Arab armies.They were a professional force armed and trained by the British, equipped with over 300 modern Western tanks and a force of 24 British-made Hawker Hunter fighters, six transports, and two helicopters.

The Israelis, who were concentrating on the Egyptians and Syrians made a concerted effort to avoid a war with Jordan. They had signaled previously to King Hussein via the UN and Norwegian General Odd Bull, commander of the UN observer force that Israel had no hostile intentions towards Jordan. As King Hussein himself related in his book Hussein of Jordan: My War with Israel:

It was now 9 A.M. on Monday, June 5, and we were at war.

Riad [the Egyptian general who commanded Jordanian forces] increased our fire power against the Israeli air bases by directing our heavy artillery – long-range 155's – on the Israeli air force installations within our line of fire. Our field artillery also went into action, and our Hawker Hunters [British-supplied fighter jets] were ready to take part in the combined operation with the Iraqi and Syrians.

At this point the Jordanians were actually shelling civilian and military targets within Israel. But the Israeli government was still hopeful that the Jordanian attacks were just a demonstration of solidarity and held off any retaliation. In the King’s own words:

... we received a telephone call at Air Force Headquarters from U.N. General Odd Bull. It was a little after 11 A.M.

The Norwegian General informed me that the Israeli Prime Minister had addressed an appeal to Jordan. Mr. Eshkol had summarily announced that the Israeli offensive had started that morning, Monday June 5, with operations directed against the United Arab Republic, and then he added: “If you don’t intervene, you will suffer no consequences.”

By that time we were already fighting in Jerusalem and our planes had just taken off to bomb Israeli airbases. So I answered Odd Bull:

“They started the battle. Well they are receiving our reply by air.”

Three times our Hawker Hunters attacked the bases at Natanya in Israel without a loss. And our pilots reported that they destroyed four enemy planes on the ground, the only ones they had seen.

On their side, the Iraqis bombed the airport at Lydda. And a little later, the Syrians finally headed for the base at Ramad David and the refineries in Haifa.

At 11:15 am, Jordanian howitzers began a 6,000-shell barrage at the Israeli half of Jerusalem. The Jordanians initially targeted kibbutz Ramat Rachel in the south and Mount Scopus in the north, then began firing into the city center and outlying neighborhoods. The Prime Minister's Residence, and the Knesset compound were also targeted. Israeli civilian casualties totaled 20 dead and about 1,000 wounded.Among the many buildings fired on by Jordan was Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.The Jordanian Arab leagion also launched an offensive on the ground and occupied Government House, the UN headquarters on the Biblical “Hill of Evil Counsel” in the no-man’s land between the two countries, a direct threat to threatening Israeli positions in southern Jerusalem.

Finally, realizing that Jordan had no intention of merely sitting out hostilities the Israelis struck back. It is one of the ironies of history that those Arabs whom identify themselves as Palestinians have never blamed King Hussein for what followed. If not for him, East Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria would have remained Jew free and under Arab control, just the way they liked it.

The Israelis quickly moved to deploy additional forces into the area. They took a division under Major General Elad Peled from the Northern front and a paratroop brigade under Colonel Motta Gur from Sinai, and moved them to the new front in Jerusalem.

But first, the Israeli air force went into action.They caught all of King Hussein's Hawker Hunters on the ground at their bases in Amman and Mafraq refueling for another raid on Israel and destroyed all of them, including the helicopters and transport aircraft as well as taking out the runways. Jordan effectively no longer had an air force.

Jordan's radar facility at Ajloun was also destroyed.

The IAF also flew sorties against H-3, the Iraqi Air Force base in western Iraq where raids had been flown against Israel. During the attack, 12 MiG-21s, 2 MiG-17s, 5 Hunter F6s, and 3 Il-28 bombers were destroyed on the ground or shot out of the air.

In the meantime, the Arab Legion had attacked Ramat Rachel, where  four civilians including the wife of the director defended their homes,  armed with old Czech-made weapons from WWII, remnants from the 1948 War.

The Israelis immediate objective was to retake Government House and its strategic ridge.

Lieutenant-Colonel Asher Dreizin and the Jerusalem Brigade's Reserve Battalion 161were given the task. Dreizin had two infantry companies and eight tanks under his command, five of which broke down or became stuck in the mud at Ramat Rachel, leaving three for the attack. The entrenched Arab Legion troops knocked out two more.

Nevertheless, the Israeli reservists somehow broke through. They continued to advance, taking out Jordanian trenches held by the Hittin Brigade. At the evening's end, the Arab Legion had retreated to Bethlehem, all but ten of Dreizin's soldiers were killed or wounded and Dreizin himself was wounded three times.

During that same day, the armored Harel Division under Col. Uri Ben-Ari together with Gur's paratroppers moved down from Latrun and headed for Jerusalem from the north.

The Harel Division fought for control of the Ramallah Ridge, a strategic area known throughout history as a key point for control of Jerusalem. The Arab Legion had done a professional job of fortifying the ridge, including laying a minefield in front of their positions.

Because a tank couldn't be spared, Israeli sappers cleared a path through that minefield by hand while they were under fire. The cost was high, but somehow they managed it. Ben-Ari's tanks rumbled up the ridge, taking the Jordanian strong points of Radar Hill, Sheikh Abed El-Aziz, and Beit Iksa, then taking the fortified village of Biddu and Nehi Samuel to the east.

The next morning, the village of Sur Baher fell, giving the IDF control of the main road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Hebron. The Jordanian forces to the south near Hebron were now cut off.

A combined force of tanks and paratroopers entered Jerusalem near the Mandelbaum Gate. One of Gur's paratroop battalions attacked the Arab Legion troops in the heavily fortified Police Academy, using explosives to blast their way through barbed wire while exposed and under heavy fire. With the aid of two tanks borrowed from the Jerusalem Brigade, they captured the Police Academy. They then received reinforcements and fresh ammunition and mounted a fierce assault up Ammunition Hill.


It was a bloody fight.The Jordanians were heavily dug in and had the advantage of high ground. The battle lasted 4 hours, and was mainly fought at close quarters in trenches and bunkers.During the battle, 36 Israeli and 71 Jordanian soldiers were killed, including all of the Israeli officers except for two company commanders.

To this day in Israel, Ammunition Hill is one of the focal points of the ceremonies on Yom Yerushalyim, the day Israel celebrates the re-unification of Jerusalem and remembers what it cost.

By mid morning on June 6th, the battle for Ammunition Hill was over, and Gur's paratroopers linked up with another force that had taken the Jordanian positions around the American Colony near the northern edge of the Old City. But Gur’s paratroopers were not yet able to enter the Old City because the Arab Legion still held the Augusta Victoria Hill, a position on high ground that overlooked  the city from the east.

General Moshe Dayan had originally ordered the IDF not to enter the Old City. While of course there had been no 'international reaction' to Jordan illegally occupying East Jerusalem nineteen years before and ethnically cleansing it of Jews, Dayan was fearful of the reaction both at the UN and in Israel if Israelis had captured the Old City and then were faced with demands to turn it back over to the Jordanians.

However, sometime on the night of June 6th, he reversed himself and gave the order to take the Old City back.

Gur's paratroopers attacked 8:30 in the morning on June 7 – one battalion attacked August Victoria Hill from Israeli-held Mount Scopus, another battalion attacked August Victoria by climbing up the valley between it and the Old City, and a third battalion, led by General Gur himself,  broke into the Old City proper via the Lion's Gate. Arriving at the gate, Gur’s halftrack plowed through and into the Old City. The Jordanians were defeated, and Gur made for the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount. When he got there he famously radioed to his commanders, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

Afterwards, the paratroopers proceeded to the Western Wall, the Kotel...where the Shofar was blown for the first time in years.

The Jerusalem Brigade continued on, capturing Judea and Gush Etzion and Hebron. In Hebron , where the Arabs were afraid that the IDF would behave the way their own soldiers would have and take revenge for the horrific 1929 massacre of the city's Jews, Hebron's Arab residents flew white sheets from their windows and rooftops, and voluntarily surrendered. The Harel Brigade proceeded eastward, continuing to the Jordan River. The Arab Legion attempted to regroup with battles in Jenin and Nablus, but facing Jewish armor and air power rather than unarmed civilians they crumpled and fled across the river. Israeli sappers blew up the Abdullah and Hussein bridges on the river with captured Jordanian mortar shells while elements of the Harel Brigade crossed the river and occupied positions along the east bank to cover them, but the Israelis quickly pulled back afterwards to the other side of the Jordan, reportedly due to pressure from Dean Rusk and the Johnson Administration.

As of 8 PM on June 7th both sides accepted a ceasefire, leaving Israel in complete control of Judea and Samaria.And Jerusalem was united again.

The Syrian Front

Like the Jordanians, the Syrians believed Nasser's propaganda about a crushing Egyptian victory. From their positions in the Golan Heights, the Syrians began shelling Northern Israel and sent a dozen of their Soviet Mig fighters to attack Israeli towns in the Galilee.

The Israeli Air Force scrambled and went after the Migs, shooting down three of them and driving off the rest. Later that day, June 5th, the IAF launched a major raid on Syria' air bases, destroying 32 MiG 21s, and 23 MiG-15 and MiG-17 fighters, and two Ilyushin Il-28 bombers. The few Syrian planes that were left retreated to bases far from the border and were not seen again during the war.

The Syrians also attempted an offensive aimed at Kibbutz Tel Dan, which was repulsed with heavy losses. The Syrians stayed put after that, counting on the larger Egyptian forces to do heavy work of defeating Israel's forces and reckoning that their built up defensive positions on the Golkan Heights would be enough to deter any Israeli attack.

The Syrians accepted a UN ceasefire on June 8th. It lasted all of 5 hours, after which the shelling of Israel began again and Hafez Assad's state radio announced that Syria was no longer bound by the cease fire.

On the morning of June 9 the Israeli air force began an intensive bombing of the Syrian positions in the Golan, and Israeli forces under the command of Major General David Elazar crossed the cease fire line into Syrian territory.

The Syrians held the Golan with around 75,000 men grouped in nine brigades, They were  supported by artillery and armor.

The Israeli forces were led by Colonel Albert Mandler's 8th Armored Brigade and the Golani Brigade who were to attack from one point near Givat HaEm in the north, and another two infantry brigades and and one of General Peled's brigades summoned up from Jenin to the central Golan.

Elazer decided to launch a number of coordinated attacks, starting with an armor assault on the town of Q’ala, where the terrain most favored the Syrians, the Israelis were not expected to attempt an attack and where the defenses were least fortified.Another advantage is that if Q'asla could be taken, it was a mere two and a half miles from there to  the strategic Quneitra Road, which would allow the Israelis to attack the Syrian defensive positions from the rear. Not only that, but Quneitra was the regional HQ of Syria's army and  a depot through which all roads passed, including the one to Damascus.

First, the IAF launched waves of attacks on the Syrian positions, which caused heavy casualties and some desertions, but still left much of the defenses in place.Then the Israeli offensive began.

It is still chilling to read of how the attacks were made and imagine what it was like to participate.

The Q’ala attack was led by sappers under fire to clear the mine fields by hand, followed by armored bulldozers to create a road up the mountain, because there wasn't one. Immediately following were tanks and infantry. The Israeli armored brigade moved up in single file, which meant that the Syrian guns took a horrible toll. But foot by foot, the Israeli armor continued to attack, and moved up the mountain. When they were about half way up, the brigade split its forces, half moving to flank the Syrian defenders, the rest continuing directly upwards towards the target. After five and a half hours of bloody fighting the brigade had covered the three miles to the Syrian positions  and assaulted the actual bunkers and trenches, with the tanks firing at what amounted to point blank range.

At the same time as the armored assault, the Israeli infantry brigade with some supporting tanks attacked about a mile to the north, aiming to protect the flanks of the armored attack by taking Syrian positions on and around the fortified  hill position of Tel Fakhir.

That fight raged for more than seven hours In the end, the Israelis won through sheer guts and determination, taking Tel Fakhir.The first Israelis to reach the perimeter of laid their bodies down on the barbed wire to allow their fellow soldiers to vault over them. Much of the fighting at that point was hand to hand and at close quarters. The Syrian positions in Dardara and Tel Hilal also fell after hard fighting and the entire Syrian position became untenable, causing entire units to abandon their positions and simply disappear.

The Israelis continued to advance, and on June 10th fresh IDF brigades approached Quneitra. To their surprise, Syrian government radio announced that the city had fallen while the IDF was still en route. There's some speculation that this was designed to provoke Soviet intervention to protect their client, but it backfired. Hearing from their own radio that Quneitra had fallen, the remaining Syrian defenders panicked and fled, afraid they would be cut off and unable to escape.

That was the end of both the Syrian campaign and the war.

The Aftermath

The Six Day War was unique in that it was one of the few wars fought since WWII that had definite goals and a definite conclusion. Democracies are noted for not seeking out war,and Israel was no exception in 1967. It was a war they did not want that was forced upon them, and a war they had to win if they were going to continue as a nation.

Israel's victory over such overwhelming odds without a major power 'sponsor' meant that they were there to stay, that they would prevail. Less than three years after the victory of the Six Day War, President Richard Nixon dropped the American stance of neutrality and formally embraced Israel as an ally, defying the Europeans and bringing them into the camp of free nations.

Israel's Labor government made what many would consider a foolish gesture after Israel's victory. They openly offered the Arab nations back the territory taken in the war...and all they wanted in exchange was recognition of Israel's right to exist as a nation and a real peace.

The Arab response was the famous Three No's of Khartoum, the site of the next Arab League conference - no peace, no recognition and no negotiation.

In spite of all the concessions by the Israelis in the ensuing years, the Arab position remains essentially the same, even in the two countries that supposedly have a peace treaty with Israel. Israel's relations with the Arab world are clandestine and tinged with hostility where they exist at all.

This proves something that I've had occasion to say many times...that real, lasting peace comes from victory.

After the Six Day War, The Israeli government's willingness to cede some of the fruits of that victory sent a signal to the Arab world that it was worth trying aggression again. In the Arab mentality, only losers cede territory after a war. To this day, the Egyptian government continues to tell its people that Egypt defeated Israel in 1973, because Israel yielded to pressure from the US and the UN  to allow the trapped Egyptian Third Army to go free with its weapons intact and survive to march through Cairo to a hero's welcome. The subsequent ceding of Sinai by Israel to Egypt in exchange for what amounted to a temporary armistice underlined that lesson for the Egyptians and the Arab world, and it is probably only Egypt's current economic turmoil prevents even further hostility and aggression.

But there is this. In 1967, a besieged, outnumbered free people only a generation removed from the reeking ovens of Auschwitz drew a line in the sand and said 'no further'. They prevailed against huge odds over totalitarian barbarism and provided an example to the world of what heroism is made of.

It was indeed a modern miracle, just as Israel itself is.

And that is no small thing to reflect on in these times.


Tantric Logic said...

Thanks so much for putting this up. I never realized what Israel was up against in the 1967 war.

Ze'ev said...

Kol Tov, Rob.

I think the Syrians know better to fight us again, but if they do we're ready for them.