Great History The Six Day War

Table of Content

Starting from May 15, 1967, the Six Day War commenced on June 5, 1967, after three weeks of increased tension. The cause of this tension was the accumulation of significant forces by Egypt in the Sinai peninsula.

Egypt increased its military presence in the Sinai region through several significant actions. Initially, at the request of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the United Nations Emergency Force was evacuated on May 19. This force had previously served as a physical barrier between Egypt and Israel at the border and Sharm el-Sheikh since 1957.

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On the night of May 22-23, 1967, the Egyptian navy blocked access to the Straits of Tiran, effectively preventing Israeli ships from passing through.

Jordan joined forces with Egypt and Syria on May 30, 1967, aligning themselves through their established military alliance dating back to 1966. Under Egyptian command, Jordan positioned its army on both sides of the Jordan river.

Iraq also sent reinforcement troops and issued a warning order to two brigades while receiving contingents from other Arab nations like Algeria and Kuwait.

As a result of these series of actions taken by Arab nations against Israel’s interests in late May/early June of 1967, Israel faced an Arab force consisting of approximately 465,000 soldiers armed with over 2,880 tanks and supported by 810 aircraft.

In this manner, a direct threat on the entire length of Israeli territory was formed, as the Egyptian Army was deployed in the Sinai and the straits were closed. This closure indicated the failure of Israeli deterrence, while Jordan’s participation in the military alliance completed the encircling of Israel’s borders. In response to the worsening situation, Israel expanded its call-up of reserve forces, which was already in progress, and established a National Unity government encompassing representatives from opposition parties. Notably, Moshe Dayan was appointed as Minister of Defense. Despite considering the straits’ closure as an aggressive act and a warning sign, the Israeli government attempted to resolve the crisis diplomatically. Consequently, they approached the Great Powers who had previously guaranteed Israeli navigation freedom.

Britain and France reneged on their commitment, causing the President of the United States to propose a plan for breaking the blockade through an international fleet. Israel agreed to wait and give the plan a chance, as announced by Prime Minister Eshkol in a radio broadcast on May 28th. Despite recognizing that the main danger lay in Egypt’s deployment in Sinai rather than the straits’ closure, Israel opted for patience. However, when diplomatic efforts proved futile, on May 4th, the government granted authorization to the Israel Defense Forces to launch a military offensive with the aim of eliminating the threat to Israel’s survival.

The peak of the deterioration in relations between Israel and its neighbors was marked by a dramatic development. The war that had been ongoing since 1948 escalated further from 1964 to 1967, with several dangerous incidents happening along the Syrian border after Israel activated the National Water Carrier in 1964. These tensions arose due to Syrian attacks on Israeli farmers working in the demilitarized zone and on Israeli fishing boats and crafts in the Sea of Galilee. The Arab nations opposed the National Water Carrier project and attempted to sabotage it by diverting the Jordan river subsidiaries in the territories.

At the beginning of 1965, Palestinian terrorist organizations started operating against Israeli settlements with the support of Syria and Egypt. This led to Israeli military reprisals against their bases in neighboring countries. The USSR consistently supported the Arabs through weapons supply, military advisers, and political support during the cold war between East and West. In 1967, the Soviets spread a false report claiming that Israel had amassed large forces on the Syrian border for an attack, after Syria had already escalated tensions in the border area. This fraudulent report justified Egypt’s concentration of forces in Sinai as part of their military alliance with Syria.

The Arabs saw an opportunity to fulfill their 19-year goal of destroying Israel due to the concentration of forces. In response, Israel had to preemptively strike. Named Moked, the Six-Day War began with a comprehensive air attack aimed at destroying the Arab air forces while they were still on the ground. The attack was planned before General Mordechai (Moti) Hod was appointed as Air Force Commander. The plan focused on a massive simultaneous attack by Israeli first-line aircraft on all Egyptian air force bases, which were the main Arab air force. This required detailed planning of departure times and approaches for each attacking force to ensure surprise on every target.

On June 5, the IAF carried out an airstrike on Egyptian air force bases in Sinai and Egypt. The operation focused on eleven fields, some of which had already been attacked before. In a quick two-hour mission, approximately 300 Egyptian aircraft were destroyed, including bombers, combat planes, and helicopters. This attack effectively eliminated the primary air threat to Israel and allowed the Israel Defense Forces to achieve air superiority. Despite other countries targeting Israeli targets with their own aircraft, this action ensured Israeli dominance in the skies. In response to King Hussein’s decision to engage in a military campaign on the Jerusalem front, the Israel Air Force proceeded to target Jordanian airfields in Amman and Mafrak. As a result, significant damage was inflicted upon the Jordanian Air Force.

Israeli military operations were carried out in both Syria and Iraq simultaneously. They effectively destroyed aircraft in both countries and targeted airfields in Damascus, Damir, Seikel (located in Syria), and H-3 (near the Jordanian border in Iraq). As a result, the participating Arab states lost their air forces by the end of the day. This had a decisive impact on the outcome of the war. Consequently, Israeli armored forces were able to engage in combat without fear of enemy aircraft attacking from behind, while air force pilots provided support to IDF ground forces across all sectors and axes under clear skies. The Israel Air Force suffered a total loss of 20 aircraft during this significant battle.

During the battle, there were casualties among the pilots with 12 dead, 5 injured, and 4 captured. The primary objective of the Israeli forces was to attack Egyptian troops who were situated in fortifications in the eastern parts of the Sinai and Gaza Strip. These Egyptian forces consisted of seven divisions totaling around 100,000 soldiers, approximately 1,000 tanks, and various artillery units. In response to this threat, the Israel Defense Forces deployed three divisions which included armored units, infantry units, and paratrooper brigades. They also had an independent mechanized brigade and an independent infantry brigade that received reinforcement from paratroopers and armor units. The intense conflict lasted for four days as they relentlessly pushed forward.

The IDF realized that the war might not last long and a quick victory was crucial. To achieve this, they concentrated all their armored forces to break through the Egyptian position. This involved a swift attack without securing the flanks and transportation routes. Despite initial strong resistance, the Egyptian position was quickly breached. General Yishayahu Gavish, commander of the Southern Command, led the battle on the Egyptian front and achieved breakthroughs along three main axes.

General Israel Tal’s division was responsible for the northern axis and the Rafah-El Arish axis. On the first day of the war, difficult breakthrough battles took place in the Khan-Yunis and Rafah areas. Despite the enemy quickly regrouping in the fortified El-Jiradi positions, the combat units pushed forward past Sheikh-Zuwayd towards El-Arish. After bitter combat, the road to El-Arish was finally opened that day. The division, led by General Ariel Sharon, had the task of conquering the large Egyptian fortified disposition in the Umm-Kateif Abu Awegeila-Quseima area. Despite facing a larger and well-organized army, the division displayed excellent maneuverability. The combined forces of armor, paratroopers, infantry, artillery, and engineers attacked the Egyptian disposition from multiple directions to cut off the enemy.

The breakthrough battles, which took place in sandy areas and minefields, lasted for 3 and-a-half days. General Avraham Yoffe led a division that successfully penetrated the sectors covered by these two divisions, using Wadi Haroudin, an area with sand dunes known to be impassable for mechanized units. The main objective was to reach the Egyptian forces’ rear. On the first night of the war, the division seized control of the Bir-Lahfan junction, cutting off the Egyptian army forces between the other two combat sectors and preventing reinforcements from reaching Sinai’s heart. On the second day of the war, June 6, 1967, General Tal’s division advanced through northern Sinai in two axes (El-Arish Qantara axis and El-Arish Bir-Lahfan-Ismailiya axis), engaging in fierce combat with Egyptian forces. The Egyptian disposition at Bir-Lahfan was defeated, and a coordinated attack with General Yoffe’s division blocked the Egyptian army’s western retreat lines in that sector.

General Yoffe’s division, made up of reserve soldiers, seized the Jebel-Libneh camps and demolished the Egyptian reinforcements sent to the Umm-Kateif Abu Awegerila camp. Meanwhile, General Sharon’s division finished the clean-up operation and proceeded south towards Quseima. Additionally, control of the Gaza Strip was fully established on that same day, and Khan Yunis was seized on the following afternoon. Continuing the advance towards the Suez Canal, General Tal’s division, on the third day of the war (7 June 1967), engaged in intense armored battles with Egyptian forces along the El-Arish-Qantara and El-Arish-Bir-Lahfan-Ismailiya axes. Notably, the crucial Bir-Gafgafa junction was captured, effectively suppressing the Egyptian army’s attempts to cross over the Canal in this area.

General Yoffe’s division moved towards Bir-Hassneh and Bir El-Thamada, intercepting the retreating Egyptian armored columns heading west from the Sinai towards the Mitla Pass. The mountain passes proved to be a deadly zone for Egyptian vehicles, with air support provided by the air force. A series of barriers blocked the path for Egyptian personnel and vehicles attempting to cross the Canal and gather at the approaches. General Sharon’s division successfully took over Quseima and continued its advancement southwest, towards Nakhl. Under Colonel Albert’s command, the independent tank brigade overcame the Kuntila outpost situated north of Eilat, remaining in confrontation with the Egyptian force in the sector and preventing the town from being cut-off. Additionally, another force gained control over the Ras E-Nakeb Egyptian border post near Eilat.

Sharm El-Sheikh was easily captured on the same day without any resistance. The Egyptians withdrew after being attacked from the air, and the Israel Navy deployed troops. Paratroopers were also dropped in Sharm El-Sheikh and E-Tur, commencing their northward advance along the coast of the Gulf of Suez. This capture allowed for the Straits of Tiran to be opened, permitting Israeli and other ships to pass to and from Eilat. The Egyptian forces were defeated on the fourth day of the war, June 8, 1967. General Tal’s division seized Qantara on the banks of the Suez Canal and proceeded southward along the canal to link up with the main division force advancing from Bir-Gafgafa to the Suez Canal in the Ismailiya sector.

South of them, General Yaffe’s division advanced in two directions towards the canal in the Suez sector. Another force from Yaffe’s division took a different route to Ras-Sudar on the Gulf of Suez, south of the Canal. This force then continued along the Gulf of Suez and reached Abu-Zenima, where it joined up with the paratroopers from E-Tur. General Sharon’s division moved southwest and captured Nakhl in the heart of Sinai. In a southern area, Colonel Albert’s independent tank brigade successfully fought and defeated the Egyptian armored force that posed a threat to Eilat’s connection. The Central Command, led by General Uzi Narkiss, was on high alert due to the escalating tension and potential armed conflict in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem. Despite being prepared for defense rather than offense, the radio broadcast announced the start of the battle on the Egyptian front during the morning hours.

Immediately after, there was gunfire in Jerusalem. It started with light weapons but quickly escalated to heavy Jordanian artillery shelling across the entire cease-fire line with Israel. The Central Command requested permission from the General Staff to retaliate when the Jordanians began firing. However, the request was denied by the General Staff because they didn’t want to open another front while the main focus of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was on Egypt. Israel sent a message to Jordan, assuring them that they had no hostile intentions and even indicating understanding if Jordan decided to show support for Egypt with a “salvo of honor.” This salvo would demonstrate their solidarity with Egypt and their commitment to the Arab world. Despite this, the continuous barrage showed that the Jordanians had chosen to start their own military action. As a result, Jordanian army forces infiltrated and took control of Government House, which served as UN observers’ headquarters.

The Israeli response was swift, as at 3:35 p.m. on 5 June, 1967, the Jerusalem Brigade’s task force took control of Government House and expelled the Jordanian soldiers from the rooms. After this short battle, the Jerusalem brigade, led by Colonel Eliezer Amitai, proceeded to capture several nearby Jordanian posts including Tsur Bakdar and the Bell position, thereby gaining control of eastern Jerusalem from the South. Concurrently, the armored forces of the Harel Division, commanded by Colonel Uri Ben-Ari, launched their offensive on the Jordanian posts located in Radar Hill, Sheikh Abed El-Aziz, and Bet-Ihse in the north-west of the city and enemy deployments along the Jerusalem-Ramallah highway.

A reserve brigade of paratroopers, led by Colonel Mordechai (Motta) Gur, was deployed to Jerusalem with the mission of conducting a nighttime breakthrough of the Jordanian lines at the Police School posts and Ammunition Hill in the northern part of the city. This was done to establish a connection with the defenders of Mount Scopus enclave. One battalion successfully breached the perimeter around the Police School, seizing control of both the school and Ammunition Hill. The second battalion accomplished their breakthrough in the Nahalat Shimon sector, where they captured Wadi Juz and the American Colony.

Following the second battalion, the third battalion advanced towards the walls of the Old City and the Rockefeller Museum. The intense battle took place during the night, starting at 2.00 a.m., resulting in significant casualties. Despite the resistance from the Jordanian outpost on Ammunition Hill, who refused to surrender, the paratroopers eventually gained control. Additionally, other members of their unit moved through the city’s alleyways towards the old city walls and the Rockefeller Museum, while simultaneously connecting with the besieged Israeli enclave on Mount Scopus. Meanwhile, General Elad Peled’s division, assigned to combat in the Samaria area, was also active at this time.

The division, which consisted of two armored brigades and infantry forces, focused on gaining control of the Dotan valley and nearby junctions. Jenin was surrounded and the hills surrounding the town came under Israeli control. Most of the time, infantry forces from the Central Command engaged in combat with Jordanians in the Tulkarm and Qalqilya areas. On the second day of the 6-Day War, 6 June, 1967, the fighting continued. Latrun was captured at daybreak as a form of revenge for the fighters lost there during the War of Independence. The conquering force, an infantry brigade led by Moshe Yotvat, advanced towards Beit Horon and joined forces with the tanks of the Harel brigade at the southern entrances to Ramallah.

During the morning, the Harel brigade had to advance twice on Mivtar Hill, which is the key to the northern entrance of Jerusalem, until they were able to overcome the enemy resistance. They managed to conquer French Hill, Givat Shaul (Tel El-Ful), and Shuafat, effectively opening up the Israeli approach to Mount Scopus and cutting off the city from the north. By evening, Harel brigade tanks entered Ramallah and gained control of the city. Meanwhile, in the Qalqilya area, the Givati infantry brigade under the leadership of Zeev Shacham, along with tanks for reinforcement, started advancing eastwards towards the back of the mountain. Their objective was to capture it the next day.

At the Kabatiya junction, a fierce battle occurred between Peled’s division and a Jordanian armored brigade that had arrived from the Damya bridge. IDF troops successfully defeated Jenin not far north from there. The Northern Command also joined the fight by deploying an extra tank division, engaging in battles with Jordanian tanks until Tubas. The Jordanian army, in an effort to provide reinforcements with additional tanks, became trapped by the air force on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and were subsequently destroyed.

The paratroop brigade, continued to gain control of east Jerusalem up to the walls of the old city. Despite facing resistance from Jordanian army soldiers, the Jerusalem Brigade managed to capture the Abu-Tor district in the south of the city after engaging in prolonged house to house combat. On 7 June, 1967, at sunrise, the eagerly awaited command to take the old city was given. The paratroopers were assigned this task and began their attack on the Augusta-Victoria hills and the Mount of Olives, which overlooked the old city. After firing towards the Lions Gate, the force from the east swiftly advanced and successfully broke through into the old city.

Paratroopers rushed towards the Dome of the Rock, adjacent to the Western Wall, the remaining fragment of the Temple. In the presence of high-ranking officials, including General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief chaplain of the IDF, a prolonged blast on the rams horn signaled the liberation of the Western Wall and Jerusalem’s old city. Thus, Jerusalem, previously divided and fragmented, was reunited. Meanwhile, in the Samaria mountains, the Harel brigade successfully completed the capture of a mountain situated between Ramallah and Nablus. Furthermore, two battalions of this brigade advanced into the Jordan valley from different directions. They successfully seized Jericho and cooperated with a Golani infantry brigade to gain control over Nablus. Peled’s division, equipped with tank forces, secured the routes to Jordan by capturing the Damya (Adam) bridge and established control over the northern part of the Jordan valley. Additionally, during the morning hours, the Jerusalem Brigade advanced towards Bethlehem, the Etzion block, and Hebron.

Resistance was weak and occasionally the sound of sharpshooters could be heard and then silenced. Soon after, the entire Hebron mountain region was under control of the IDF. Despite heavy bombing by Syria, which was Israel’s most bitter enemy, the battle persisted for five days into the Six-Day War. Concerns arose that the Syrians, who instigated the tension and ignited the conflict in the first place, would not be impacted by the IDF’s control of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria or the defeat of the Egyptian army in Sinai. The primary reason for the delay in attacking Syria was that General David Elazar’s Northern Command forces were tied up on the Samarian front, where they were loaned out to help combat unexpected fighting. Nonetheless, this delay allowed for a greater concentration of forces, including reinforcements from both the Egyptian and Samarian fronts, once those battles were concluded.

The operational plans faced the risk of being impaired due to international political pressure. To address this, a delegation from the northern settlements visited Tel Aviv with the aim of convincing Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan and the government to free them from the Syrian threat. Eventually, the command to launch an attack on the Syrian post on the Golan Heights was given. However, the attacking force had to overcome challenging topographical conditions, including scaling steep, rugged, and rocky heights while being constantly fired upon from above. Meanwhile, the Syrian army remained secure in its well-fortified positions on the Golan Heights. It consisted of six infantry brigades, five National Guard battalions, and approximately 200 tanks.

The breakthrough occurred at 10:00 AM on the morning of 9 June, 1967, following a two-day air force bombardment. Led by Colonel Albert’s tank brigade, which came from Givat Ha’em north of Kfar Szold, the Syrian posts to the north on the Heights were targeted. To pave a path for the tanks, soldiers from the Engineering Corps undertook a challenging engineering operation to remove mines. Bulldozers then leveled a route on the rocky face. Despite heavy artillery fire, the force successfully captured the Zaura and Kala positions.

Colonel Yona Efrat led the Golani infantry brigade in a fierce battle to capture various targets in the southern sector of the Golan Heights. This included the Tel El-Fahar post, which was the most difficult to conquer. The combined forces of infantry, Nahal, and paratroopers successfully defeated a series of other posts that overlooked the Hula valley. This allowed tanks to penetrate deep into enemy territory. On the night of June 9-10, an attack was launched on Jalabina and enemy positions along the border region. They were successfully captured. The next morning, on June 10, 1967, the forces continued their advance in the north and central regions of the Golan Heights. The infantry and paratrooper units successfully completed their missions in the area. Additionally, tank units advanced on multiple fronts, ultimately capturing the town of Quneitra without encountering any resistance at 3:30 p.m.

From there, the Southern Golan brigade captured Butmiye and a tank force entered the area at the foot of Mount Hermon, between Banyas and the Lebanese border, along with a Golani brigade and scout units. They then proceeded to advance onto the Golan Heights and defeat Masada, causing the Syrian deployment to collapse and their forces to retreat. On the same day, Elad Peled’s division sent a tank and paratroop force to the Tuafik posts southeast of the Sea of Galilee, which then moved in a northeast direction towards Butmiye. Additionally, paratroop forces were deployed in the southern Golan Heights to clear out scattered posts in the sector.

Infantry forces were simultaneously working to clear the area northeast of the Sea of Galilee. By nightfall, the IDF had gained control over the entire Golan Heights and had established positions along a continuous line from Mount Hermon in the south, passing through Masada, Quneitra, and Butmiye junction, and extending to the Yarmuk river bed. A unit from the Golani brigade later arrived at Mount Hermon and confirmed its seizure by the IDF. On June 12, UN observers set the cease-fire line based on these landmarks. Bibliography:

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