The 1967 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Six-Day War or June War was fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. As a result, Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. The results of the war affect the geopolitics of the region to this day.
Nasser (Egypt), backed by other Arab states, throws Israel into the sea. Pre-1967 War cartoon. Al-Farida newspaper, Lebanon
The 1956 Suez War had ended in a military defeat, but political victory for Egypt. Heavy diplomatic pressure from both the United States and the Soviet Union forced Israel to withdraw its military from the Sinai Peninsula (hence: Sinai) of Egypt which in exchange had agreed to stop sending guerrillas into Israeli territory. As a result, the border with Egypt quieted for a while.
At that time, no Arab state had recognized Israel's right to exist. The aftermath of the 1956 war saw the region return to an uneasy balance, maintained more by the competition among Egypt, Syria and Jordan than any real resolution of the region's difficulties. Egypt and Syria, who were aligned to the East, and Jordan, which was aligned to the West, maintained a constant pressure of guerilla raids on Israeli civilians. Israeli armed forces were disciplined and enjoyed massive air superiority.
In 1956, when the US withdrew its support of Egypt's Aswan High Dam facility, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez canal, a move which incensed Britain and France. The two former Middle Eastern colonial powers partnered with Israel, which attacked Egypt. Nevertheless the alliance quickly collapsed under the weight of overwhelming world condemnation. The US, USSR and UN were uncharacteristically in agreement on the issue; the USSR even issued veiled threats to use nuclear missiles against Paris or London. Israel was able to obtain the stationing of a UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai, U.N.E.F. (United Nations Emergency Force), to keep that border region demilitarized.
Several years later, in response to Israel's construction of the National Water Carrier, Syria initiated a plan to divert the waters of the Dan/Baniyas stream so that the water would not enter Israel and the Sea of Galilee, but rather flow through Syria to Jordan and into the Jordan river. In addition to sponsoring attacks against Israel (often through Jordanian territory, much to King Hussein's chagrin), Syria also began shelling of Israeli civilian communities in north-eastern Galilee, from positions on the Golan Heights. Although in 1964, Israel destroyed the water-diversion facilities, the border remained a scene of constant conflict.
On April 7, 1967, a minor border incident escalated into a full-scale aerial battle over the Golan Heights, resulting in the loss of 7 Syrian MiG-21s and a flight of Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft over Damascus. Border incidents multiplied in frequency, and numerous Arab leaders, both political and military, called for an end to Israeli reprisals. Egypt (then already trying to seize a central position in the Arab world under Nasser) accompanied these declarations with plans to re-militarize the Sinai. Syria shared these views as well, although it did not prepare for an immediate invasion. The Soviet Union actively backed the military needs of the Arab states. It was later revealed that the Soviet Union had intentionally escalated the situation in the Middle East by sending false messages to the various Arab states that the Israelis were massing their forces at the border with Syria.
On May 17, Nasser demanded that U.N.E.F. evacuate the Sinai, a request which UN Secretary-General U Thant complied with. Thereafter, Israel refused to allow UN peacekeepers to deploy on its territory. Nasser began re-militarization of the Sinai. On May 23, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, blockading the Israeli port of Eilat at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba. The closure of the straits was considered by Israel to be a casus belli. Almost overnight, the tense Middle East had slid from a relatively stable status quo to the brink of regional war.
The few regional forces which might have prevented war quickly crumbled. In spite of the will of Jordan's King Hussein, who felt that Nasser's pan-Arabism was threatening his rule, it had numerous supporters in Jordan, and May 30 saw Egypt and Jordan signing a mutual defense treaty. Several days later, Jordanian forces were given to the command of an Egyptian general. Israel called upon Jordan numerous times to refrain from hostilities. However, King Hussein was caught on the horns of a galling dilemma: Allow Jordan to be dragged into war, and face the brunt of the Israeli response; or remain neutral, and risk full-scale insurrection among his own population.
Israel's own sense of concern regarding Jordan's future role originated in Jordanian control of the West Bank. This put Arab forces just 17 kilometers from Israel's coast, a jump-off point from which a well co-ordinated tank assault could cut Israel in two within half an hour. While the small size of Jordan's army meant that Jordan was probably incapable of executing such a maneuver, the country had a long history of being used by other Arab states as staging grounds for operations against Israel; thus, attack from the West Bank was always viewed by the Israeli leadership as a severe threat to Israel's existence. At the same time several other Arab states not bordering Israel, including Iraq, Sudan, Kuwait and Algeria, began mobilising their armed forces for unstated reasons.
Israel watched these developments with alarm, and tried various diplomatic routes to try settling them. The U.S. and U.K. were asked to open the Tiran straits, as they guaranteed they would in 1957. Jordan was asked through numerous channels to refrain, weeks before the war by the Jewish lobby in the USA. All Israeli requests for peace were left unanswered, creating a feeling of grave concern for the future of the country. Israelis claimed that the closing the Straits met the international criteria for an act of war. On June 3 the American administration gave its acquiescence to an operation against Egypt, and plans for war were finally approved.
Israel's first, and most important move, was to attack the Egyptian Air Force. It was by far the largest and the most modern of all the Arab air forces, sporting about 385 aircraft, all of them Soviet-built and relatively new.
Tu-16 of the Egyptian Air Force
Of particular concern were the 45 TU-16 Badger medium bombers, capable of inflicting heavy damage to Israeli military and civilian centers. On June 5 at 7:45 Israeli time, as air alarms sounded all over Israel, the Israeli Air Force left the skies of Israel, sending all but a handful of its jets in a mass attack against Egypt's airfields. Egyptian defensive infrastructure was extremely poor, and no airfields were yet equipped with armored bunkers capable of protecting Egypt's warplanes in the event of an attack. The Israelis employed a mixed attack strategy; bombing and strafing runs against the planes themselves, and tarmac-shredding penetration bombs for the runways that rendered them unusable, leaving any undamaged planes unable to take off, helpless targets for the next wave. The attack was successful beyond the wildest dreams of its planners, destroying virtually all of the Egyptian Air Force on the ground with few Israeli casualties, and guaranteeing Israeli air superiority during the rest of the war.
Israeli forces concentrated on the border with Egypt included 3 divisions, which consisted of 9 brigades, of which 5 were armored; there were also three reserve brigades. The Egyptian forces consisted of 7 divisions, five of them infantry and two armored. Four infantry divisions were near the Egyptian-Israeli border in the Sinai, an infantry and an armored division in central Sinai, and a second armored division in the west. In addition, a reinforced brigade (with 200 tanks) under Colonel Shazly was deployed in the southern Sinai with orders to encircle Eilat in the case of war. Overall, Egypt had over 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks in the Sinai, backed by appropriate artillery. This arrangement was based on the Soviet doctrine, where mobile armor units at strategic depth provide a dynamic defense while infantry units engage in defensive battles.
The northernmost Israeli division, consisting of three brigades and commanded by Israel Tal, one of Israel's most prominent armor commanders, found itself slowly advancing through the Gaza strip and El-Arish, which were not heavily protected. The central division (Avraham Yoffe) and the southern division (Ariel Sharon), however, entered the heavily defended Abu-Ageila-Kusseima region. Egyptian forces there included one infantry division (the 2nd), a battalion of tank destroyers and a tank regiment.
At that moment, Sharon initiated an attack, precisely planned and carried out. He sent out two of his brigades to the north of Um-Katef, the first one ordered to break through the defenses at Abu-Ageila to the south, and the second to block the road to El-Arish and to encircle Abu-Ageila from the east. At the same time, a paratrooper force was landed that destroyed the artillery, preventing it from engaging Israeli armor. Combined forces of armor, paratroopers, infantry, artillery and engineers attacked the Egyptian disposition from the front flanks and rear, cutting the enemy off. The breakthrough battles which were in sandy areas and minefields, continued for 3 and-a-half days until Abu-Ageila fell.
Many of the Egyptian units remained intact and could be scrambled to prevent Israeli units from reaching the Suez Canal or engage in heavy combat in the attempt to reach the canal. However, when the Egyptian Minister of Defense, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer heard about the fall of Abu-Ageila, he panicked and ordered all units in the Sinai to retreat. This order effectively meant the defeat of Egypt.
Due to the Egyptians' retreat, the Israeli Command decided not to pursue the Egyptian units but rather to bypass the Egyptian units and destroy them in the mountainous passes of West Sinai. Therefore, in the following two days (June 6 and 7) all three Israeli divisions (Sharon and Tal were joined by an armored brigade each) rushed westwards and reached the passes. Sharon's division first went southward then westward to Mitla Pass. It was joined there by parts of Yoffe's division, while its other units blocked the Gidi Pass. Tal's units stopped at various points to the length of the Suez Canal.
Israel's blocking action was only partially successful. Only the Gidi pass was captured before the Egyptians approached it, but at other places Egyptian units did manage to pass through and cross the Canal to safety. Nevertheless the Israeli victories were impressive, in four days of operations, Israel defeated the largest and most heavily equipped Arab army leaving numerous points in the Sinai filled with hundreds of burning or abandoned Egyptian vehicles.
On June 8th, Israel had captured the Sinai by sending infantry units to Ras-Sudar on the western coast of the peninsula. Sharm El-Sheikh, at its southern tip, had already been captured a day earlier by units of the Israeli Navy.
Several tactical elements made the swift Israeli advance possible: first, the complete air superiority the IAF had achieved over its Egyptian counterpart; second, the determined implementation of an innovative battle plan; and third, the lack of coordination among Egyptian troops. These would prove to be decisive elements on Israel's other fronts as well.
Jordan was reluctant to enter the war. Some claim that President Nasser used the obscurity of the first hours of the conflict to convince King Hussein that he was victorious; he claimed as evidence a radar sighting of a squadron of Israeli aircraft returning from bombing raids in Egypt which he claimed to be Egyptian aircraft enroute to attacking Israel. One of the Jordanian brigades stationed in the West Bank was sent to the Hebron area in order to link with the Egyptians. King Hussein decided to attack.
Prior to the war, Jordanian forces included 11 brigades (total of 60,000 troops), equipped by some 300 modern Western tanks. Of them, 9 brigades were deployed in the West Bank and 2 in the Jordan valley. The Jordanian ground army was relatively well-equipped and well-trained. Furthermore, Israeli post-war briefings claimed that the Jordanian staff acted professionally as well, but was always left "half a turn" behind by the Israeli moves. The Royal Jordanian Air Force, however, consisted of only about 20 Hawker Hunter fighters, obsolete by all standards.
Israeli Central Command forces consisted of five brigades. The first two were permanently stationed near Jerusalem and were called the "Jerusalem" brigade and the mechanized "Harel" brigade. A paratrooper brigade was summoned from the Sinai front, Mordechai Gur's 35th. An armored brigade was allocated from the General Staff reserve and brought to the Latrun area. The 10th armored brigade was stationed north of Samaria. The Northern Command provided a division (3 brigades) which was stationed to the north of Samaria and led by Elad Peled.
On the morning of June 5, Jordanian forces made thrusts in the area of Jerusalem, occupying Government House used as the headquarters for the UN observers and shelled the city. Units in Qalqiliya fired in the direction of Tel-Aviv. The Royal Jordanian Air Force attacked Israeli airfields. Both air and artillery attacks caused little damage. Israeli units were scrambled to attack Jordanian forces in the West Bank. In the afternoon of that same day, Israeli Air Force (IAF) strikes destroyed the Royal Jordanian Air Force. By the evening of June 5, the infantry Jerusalem brigade moved south of Jerusalem, while the mechanized Harel encircled it from the north.
On June 6, the Israeli units attacked: The reserve paratroop brigade completed the Jerusalem encirclement in the area called "The Ammunition Hill" (which was the site of a bloody battle). The infantry brigade attacked the fortress at Latrun capturing it at daybreak, and advanced through Beit Horon towards Ramallah. The Harel brigade continued its push to the mountainous area of north-west Jerusalem, linking the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University with the city of Jerusalem. By the evening, the brigade arrived in Ramallah.
The Jordanian forces in Samaria amounted to 4 divisions, one of them being the elite armored 40th. The IAF caught the 60th Jordanian Brigade on the road from Jericho to reinforce Jerusalem and destroyed it. One battalion from Peled's division was sent to check Jordanian defenses in the Jordan Valley. A brigade belonging to Peled's division captured Western Samaria, another captured Jenin and the third (equipped with light French AMX-13s) engaged Jordanian Pattons main battle tanks to the east.
On June 7 heavy fighting ensued. Gur's paratroopers entered the Old City of Jerusalem via the Lion's Gate. The Jerusalem brigade then reinforced them, and continued to the south, capturing Judea, Gush Etzion and Hebron. The Harel brigade proceeded eastward, descending to the Jordan river. In Samaria, one of Peled's brigades seized Nablus; then it joined one of Central Command's armored brigades to fight the Jordanian forces which held the advantage of superior equipment and were equal in numbers to the Israelis.
Again, the air superiority of the IAF proved paramount as it immobilized the enemy, leading to its defeat. One of Peled's brigades joined with its Central Command counterparts coming from Ramallah, and the remaining two blocked the Jordan river together with the Central Command's 10th (the latter crossed the Jordan river into the East Bank to provide cover for Israeli engineers while they blew the bridges, but was quickly pulled back because of American pressure).
During the evening of June 5th, Israeli air strikes destroyed two thirds of the Syrian Air Force, and forced the remaining third to retreat to distant bases, without playing any further role in the ensuing warfare. A minor Syrian force tried to capture the water plant at Tel Dan (the subject of a fierce escalation two years earlier). Several Syrian tanks are reported to have sunk in the Jordan river. In any case, the Syrian command abandoned hopes of a ground attack, and began a massive shelling of Israeli towns in the Hula Valley instead.
June 7th and 8th passed in this way. At that time, a debate had been going on in the Israeli leadership whether the Golan Heights should be assailed as well. Military wisdom, however, suggested that the attack would be extremely costly, as it would be an uphill battle against a strongly fortified enemy. The western side of the Golan Heights consists of a rock escarpment that rises 1700 feet from the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River to a more gently sloping plateau. Moshe Dayan believed such an operation would yield losses of 30,000, and opposed it bitterly. Levi Eshkol, on the other hand, was more open to the possibility of an operation in the Golan Heights, as was the head of the Northern Command, David Elazar, whose unbridled enthusiasm for and confidence in the operation may have eroded Dayan's reluctance. Eventually, as the situation on the Southern and Central fronts cleared up, Moshe Dayan became more enthusiastic about the idea, and he authorized the operation.
The Syrian army consisted of about 50,000 men grouped in 9 brigades, supported by an adequate amount of artillery and armor. Israeli forces used in combat consisted of two brigades (one armored led by Albert Mandler and the Golani Brigade) in the northern part of the front, and another two (infantry and one of Peled's brigades summoned from Jenin) in the center. The Golan Heights' unique terrain (mountainous slopes crossed by parallel streams every several miles running east to west), and the general lack of roads in the area channeled both forces along east-west axes of movement and restricting the ability of units to support those on either flank. Thus the Syrians could move north-south on the plateau itself, and the Israelis could move north-south at the base of the Golan escarpment. An advantage Israel possessed was the excellent intelligence collected by Mossad operative Eli Cohen (who was later captured and executed) regarding the Syrian battle positions.
The I.A.F., which had been attacking Syrian artillery for four days prior to the attack, was ordered to attack Syrian positions with all its force. While the well-protected artillery was mostly undamaged, the ground forces staying on the Golan plateau (6 of the 9 brigades) became unable to organize a defense. By the evening of June 9th, the four Israeli brigades had broken through to the plateau, where they could be reinforced and replaced.
On the next day, June 10, the central and northern groups joined in a pincer movement on the plateau, but that fell mainly on empty territory as the Syrian forces fled. Several units joined by Elad Peled climbed to the Golan from the south, only to find the positions mostly empty as well. During the day, the Israeli units stopped after obtaining maneuveur room between their positions and a line of volcanic hills to the west. To the east the ground terrain is an open gently sloping plain. This position later became the cease-fire line known as the "Purple Line".
War in the air and at sea
During the Six-Day War, the IAF demonstrated the crucial importance of air superiority during the course of a modern conflict. It was able to thwart and harass the Arab forces and to grant itself air superiority over all fronts; it then complemented the strategic effect of their initial strike by carrying out tactical support operations. Of particular interest was the destruction of the Jordanian 60th armored brigade near Jericho and the attack on the Iraqi armored brigade which was sent to attack Israel through Jordan.
In contrast, the Arab air forces never managed to mount an effective attack: Attacks of Jordanian fighters and Egyptian TU-16 bombers into the Israeli rear during the first two days of the war were not successful and led to the destruction of the aircraft (Egyptian bombers were shot down while Jordan's fighters were destroyed during the attack on the airfield).
War at sea was also extremely limited. Movements of both Israeli and Egyptian vessels are known to have been used to intimidate the other side, but neither side has ever engaged the other at sea. The only moves that yielded any result were the unleashing of 6 Israeli frogmen in Alexandria harbor (they were captured, having sunk a minesweeper), and the Israeli light boat crews capturing the abandoned Sharm El-Sheikh.
On the second day of the war (June 6), King Hussein and Nasser declared that American and British aircraft took part in the Israeli attacks. This announcement was intercepted by the Israeli’s and turned into a media frenzy. This became known as "The Big Lie" in American and British circles (see Arab Revisionism below).
On the fourth day of the war (June 8), USS Liberty, an American electronic intelligence vessel sailing 13 miles off al-Arish, was attacked by Israeli air and sea forces, nearly sinking the ship and causing heavy casualties. Israel said the attack to be a case of mistaken identity, a claim subsequently supported by independent Israeli and U.S. inquiries and other investigations. Members of the former crew of the Liberty and others disagree, believing that Israel knew the vessel was American, and speculated that Israel attacked the ship in order to draw the United States into the war, or for various other reasons. See USS Liberty incident.
Conclusion of conflict and situation after war
Left to right, Israeli generals Uzi Narkiss, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin entering Jerusalem in June 1967
By June 10, Israel had completed its last offensive, the one in the Golan Heights. On the following day, a cease-fire was signed. Israel had seized the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River(including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights. Overall, Israel's territory grew by a factor of 4, including about one million Arabs placed under Israel's direct control in the newly captured territories. Israel's strategic depth grew to at least 300 kilometers in the south, 60 kilometers in the east and 20 kilometers of extremely rugged terrain in the north, a security asset that would prove useful in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War six years later.
The political importance of the 1967 War was immense; Israel demonstrated that it was not only able, but willing to initiate strategic strikes that could change the regional balance. Egypt and Syria learned tactical lessons, but perhaps not the strategic ones, and would launch an attack in 1973 in an attempt to reclaim their lost territory.
Yet another aspect of the war touches on the population of the captured territories: of about one million Palestinians in the West Bank, 300,000 (according to the US State Department) were forced to flee to Jordan, where they contributed to the growing unrest. The other 600,000http://www.palestinecenter.org/cpap/stats/dist_pop_67.html remained. Only the inhabitants of East Jerusalem and Golan Heights were allowed to receive Israeli citizenship, as Israel annexed these territories in the early 1980s. See also Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both Jordan and Egypt eventually withdrew their claims to West Bank and Gaza (the Sinai was returned on the basis of Camp David accords of 1977 and the question of the Golan heights is still being negotiated with Syria). By the late 1970s, Israel sponsored the building of numerous settlements on the territories designed to improve the Israeli foothold in the region.
The 1967 War also laid the foundation for future discord in the region--as on November 22, 1967, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, the "land for peace" formula, which called for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 in return for the end of all states of belligerency.
Some Arabs believe the US and Britain provided more support for the Israelis than the American and British governments admit. Claims of American and British combat support for Israel began on the second day of the war. Radio Cairo and the government newspaper Al-Ahram made a number of claims, among them: that US and British aircraft carriers based aircraft flew sorties against the Egyptians; that US aircraft based in Libya attacked Egypt; that US spy satellites provided imagery to Israel. Both Syria and Jordan broadcast similar reports on Radio Damascus and Radio Amman. Michael Oren claims that the purpose of these claims was to secure Soviet support. If this were true, it would in many ways mirror claims Israel made during this time in attempts to get US support. In reaction to these claims, Arab oil-producing countries announced either an oil embargo on the United States and Britain or suspended oil exports altogether.
Some things that contributed to this belief, other than general US support for Israel, were the intelligence gathering that the US was doing during this time period. That the US was gathering intelligence during this period is not disputed, the question is whether or not this intelligence was handed over to the Israelis, perhaps to help them coordinate attacks. The US government has denied doing this.
High school and lower grade textbooks in Egypt claim that American and British troops fought on behalf of Israel during the Six-Day War. The following example comes from ‘Abdallah Ahmad Hamid al-Qusi, Al-Wisam fi at-Ta'rikh (Cairo: Al-Mu'asasa al-‘Arabiya al-Haditha, 1999), p. 284.
The United States' role: Israel was not (fighting) on its own in the (1967) war. Hundreds of volunteers, pilots, and military officers with American scientific spying equipment of the most advanced type photographed the Egyptian posts for it (Israel), jammed the Egyptian defense equipment, and transmitted to it the orders of the Egyptian command.
On 9 June 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser stated in his resignation speech (his resignation was not accepted):
What is now established is that American and British aircraft carriers were off the shores of the enemy helping his war effort. Also, British aircraft raided, in broad daylight, positions of the Syrian and Egyptian fronts, in addition to operations by a number of American aircraft reconnoitering some of our positions … Indeed, it can be said without exaggeration that the enemy was operating with an air force three times stronger than his normal force.
After the war ended, the Egyptian government and its newspapers continued to make claims of collusion between Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States. These included a series of weekly articles in Al-Ahram, simulaneously broadcast on Radio Cairo, by Muhammad Heikal in Al-Ahram. Heikal attempted to uncover the "secrets" of the war. He presented a blend of facts, documents, and interpretations. Heikal's conclusion was clear-cut: there was a secret U.S.-Israeli collusion against Syria and Egypt.
Both London and Washington issued strenuous denials of these claims.
Her Majesty's Government are shocked by reports emanating from the Middle East … that planes from a British aircraft carrier have been involved in the fighting. This is a malicious fabrication. There is not a grain of truth in it. It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to avoid taking sides in this conflict and to do everything they can to bring about a cease-fire as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, these claims, that the Arabs were fighting the Americans and British rather than Israel alone, took hold in the Arab world. As reported by the British Representative in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a country at odds with Egypt as a result of the Yemen war:
President Abdel Nasser's allegation … is firmly believed by almost the whole Arab population here who listen to the radio or read the press … Our broadcast denials are little heard and just not believed. The denials we have issued to the broadcasting service and press have not been published. Even highly educated persons basically friendly to us seem convinced that the allegations are true. Senior foreign ministry officials who received my formal written and oral denials profess to believe them but nevertheless appear skeptical. I consider that this allegation has seriously damaged our reputation in the Arab world more than anything else and has caused a wave of suspicion or feeling against us which will persist in some underlying form for the foreseeable future … Further denials or attempts at local publicity by us will not dispel this belief and may now only exacerbate local feeling since the Arabs are understandably sensitive to their defeat with a sense of humiliation and resent self-justification by us who in their eyes helped their enemy to bring this about. A British guidance telegram to Middle East posts concluded: "The Arabs' reluctance to disbelieve all versions of the big lie springs in part from a need to believe that the Israelis could not have defeated them so thoroughly without outside assistance."
In early 1969, fighting broke out between Egypt and Israel along the Suez Canal. The Egyptian forces, relying upon the Soviet model of military operations, made heavy use of artillery. By contrast, Israeli planes made deep strikes into Egypt. The United States helped end these hostilities in August 1970. Subsequent U.S. efforts to negotiate an interim agreement to open the Suez Canal and achieve disengagement of forces were not successful.
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