The Six Day War: When Israel Changed the World

With their dominating victory over three powerful Arab States in the Six-Day-War which began on June 5, 1967, Israel changed the world. It moved the Arab world from pan-Arab nationalism to “every country for its-self,” it established that Israel was no longer the underdog, and she was going to be around for a long time.

In the weeks leading up to the war, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, preventing ships to reach the port of Eilat. If the vessels wanted to enter Israel from the east, they would have to circumnavigate the entire continent of Africa. Additionally, Egypt tossed the UN peacekeepers out of the Sinai and, along with Jordan and Syria began to mass troops and tanks on its border with Israel.

Finally, facing the threat of being over-run by the Arab armies, with an attack by the Egyptian Army imminent, on June 5th, the Israeli Air Force launched a preemptive strike on the Egyptian Air Force destroying their airplanes and guaranteeing Israeli control of the skies. Egypt had by far the largest and the most modern of all the Arab air forces, consisting of about 420 combat aircraft, all of them Soviet-built. A large number of those warplanes were the top-of-the-line MiG-21 capable of attaining Mach 2 speed.  That was the start of what is now called the Six-Day-War.

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Of particular concern to the Israelis were the 30 Tu-16 “Badger” medium bombers, capable of inflicting massive damage on Israeli military and civilian centers.

On June 5 at 7:45AM  Israeli time, as civil defense sirens sounded all over Israel, the IAF launched Operation Focus (Moked). All but 12 of its nearly 200 operational jets left the skies of Israel in a mass attack against Egypt’s airfields. At the time the Egyptian defensive infrastructure was abysmal, and no airfields were yet equipped with hardened aircraft shelters capable of protecting Egypt’s warplanes. Most of the Israeli warplanes headed out over the Mediterranean Sea, flying low to avoid radar detection, before turning toward Egypt. Others flew over the Red Sea.

Reading reports about the war from a half-century ago vs. today reminds me of one of those Star Trek episodes where Kirk and the boys go back in history and change the past—it seems like two different wars.

Fifty years ago the media reports spoke of the underdog Israel and her need to defend herself against the warlike acts of the big bullies led by Egypt. They wrote about how Egypt was committing many actions that could be interpreted as acts of war. These included:

  • Conspiring with other belligerent countries (in this case, Syria and Jordan) for a coordinated attack
  • Closing Israel’s access to international waterways (the straits of Tiran),
  • Violating the terms of the 1956 armistice by re-militarizing the Sinai, expelling the UN and USA peace-keeping troops from the Sinai,
  • Sending illegal spy-plane flyovers to reconnoiter Israeli sensitive areas and massing troops and tanks on Israel’s borders.

But that was 1967.  Israel isn’t viewed as favorably today because she had the nerve to WIN!  After the Six Day War, Israel was no longer seen as the underdog, and everything changed…

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