1967- The Six Day War

Overlooking the Old City

As the Arabs massed to attack, Israel successfully preempted their strikes. During six miraculous days in June of 1967, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the eastern segment of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The Egyptians were falsely told that Israel was planning to attack Syria. In a reaction, they moved their forces into the Sinai. Once in Sinai, they asked the UN to remove its forces and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, thus cutting off the port of Eilat. Israel was forced to mobilize its reserve forces that made up the majority of its armed forces. The United States tried to muster an international flotilla to break the blockade. When it became clear that The United States would be unable to break the Egyptian blockade, the Israeli government voted to launch a surprise attack on the Egyptians before they could attack

June 5th
The Israeli Air Force had been preparing for an attack on Egyptian bases for several years. First thing in the morning of June 5th, almost all of Israel's Air Force was airborne 250 planes. The slower Oregon bombers and Mystere's fighters left first, with the faster Mirages going last. .All were heading to Egyptians Airbases and scheduled to arrive at the same time. At 7:30 am while Egyptian pilots were having breakfast, the Israeli planes arrived at their targets. The aircraft first dropped large bombs on both ends, and the middle of the runways of the Egyptian Israeli planes began attacking Egyptian airfields. They started by disabling the runways by creating craters at both ends in the middle of each runway. Then with the planes all trapped, they strafed. By 8:00 am, it was clear that the attack had succeeded beyond the hopes of its planners. The pilots returned to their bases, and in a matter of minutes, the planes were refueled and rearmed for a second strike. After the second wave of attacks, 286 Egyptian planes were destroyed, and all of the Egyptian airfields were out of Commission. It was the most successful air attack in history. When word reached the army headquarters of success, the orders were given to the ground troops to begin the attack.

An Israeli armored brigade in the North smashed through the Egyptian lines in the North of Sinia. After a day of heavy fighting, Israeli troops, By evening, had reached all of their goals well ahead of time. In the South division led by Ariel, Sharon had similar success penetrating Egyptian defenses and thrusting deep into Sinai.

Israel had hoped that Jordan would stay out of the fight. The Jordanians, unaware of Israel's success in the air let they had no choice but to support the Egyptians. They began heavily shelling the outskirts of Tel Aviv, the Israeli Air Force Base at Ramat Aviv in the North. They also began all-out shelling of West Jerusalem, where 6,000 shells landed. Over 1,000 civilians were wounded, and 20 died. The Jordanian Air Force also attacked targets in Israel. Israel had refrained from attacking Jordanian Air Force bases but responded to the Jordanian attack by wiping out the Jordanian Air Force. Israel also attacked the Iraqi and Syrian Air Force. The Jordanians then captured Government House, which commanded the high ground over Jerusalem. This and Jordanian threat to capture Mount Scopus convinced the Israelis that there was no choice but to begin an offensive against The Jordanian Army. By nightfall of June 5th, Israeli troops had advanced to cut off Jerusalem from Ramallah, just foiling an attack on Mt Scopus while other troops were advancing on Jenin.

June 6th
While the Israeli Army had been very successful during the first day of the war in eliminating the first line of Egyptian defenses, the Egyptians still had a large army largely intact in the Sinai. The Israeli Army had anticipated a challenging day of fighting. However, for reasons that are disputed to this day, the order went out to Egyptian forces to retreat toward the canal. That retreat turned the day into a total route as Israeli forces swiftly advanced with limited opposition.

ON the Jordanian front, Israel made one last plea to Hussein to stop shelling, which he ignored. The order then went out to capture Jenin on the West Bank and surround the Old City. A paratroop brigade who was slated to join the fight against the Egyptians moved to Jerusalem overnight. At 2 am the assault began: the goal to reach Mt Scopus. A battle took place first to capture the Police Academy and then Ammunition Hill. The battle for Ammunition Hill went on for three hours and was the bloodiest battle of the war. 71 Jordanians and 35 Israelis died.
By the end of the day, the Old City was almost surrounded.

June 7th
In the early hours of the morning on June 7th, the Israeli government faced a critical decision regarding the capture of the Old City. On one hand, the government received advice from the Americans against moving forward, as it would result in the collapse of Hashemite rule in Jordan. On the other hand, the historic opportunity was too great to ignore. The Army was given the order to capture the holy places as swiftly as possible. General Narkiss, Commander of the Central Command, ordered the Commander of the Paratroopers, Motta Gur, to move from the Rockefeller Museum to take the Augusta Victoria Ridge opposite the Temple Mount and also to move the men he had near the Herod Gate to near the Lions Gate, the closest point to the Western Wall.

The paratroopers then went on to conquer the Augusta Victoria Hospital, followed by the InterContinental Hotel located on the Mount of Olives. The Old City was surrounded. Gur then sent a message to his troops:

We are occupying the heights overlooking the Old City. In a little while, we will enter it. The ancient city of Jerusalem, for which we have dreamt of and striven for generations, will be the first to enter it. The Jewish nation is awaiting our victory. Israel awaits this historic hour. Be proud. Good luck.

At 9:45, Israeli tanks fired at the Lions Gate, opening the way for troops to move in. They quickly fanned out, capturing the Temple Mount. Commander of the Israeli Paratroopers, Motta Gur, radioed the Commander of the Central Front, General Uzi Narkiss: “Har Habayit Beydaeni—The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

Shortly after, the first Israeli troops led by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren reached the Western Wall, Judaism's most sacred site. This marked the first time in 19 years that Jews had been able to access this holy place. Defense Minister Dayan, IDF Chief of Staff Rabin, and Commander of the Central Front Uzi Narkiss proceeded to the Kotel, the Western Wall. Dayan placed a slip of paper on the Kotel and stated, “We have returned to the city, the capital of Israel, never to part again. To our Arab neighbors, we offer even now our hand in peace.”

At the Kotel, Rabin stated:

The sacrifices of our comrades have not been in vain. The countless generations of Jews, murdered, mourned, and massacred for the sake of Jerusalem, say to you, comfort our people, and console the mothers and the fathers who sacrificed abroad for redemption.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops continued to advance in the Sinai. In the North, they came close to the Suez Canal, and in the South, they reached the Mitla Pass. Another force captured Sharm el Sheik and thus opened up the Straits of Tiran.

June 8th
June 8th began with the sounds of explosions along the Jordan River as Israeli troops blew up the bridges. To accomplish this, a small number of troops temporarily crossed the Jordan River. This crossing caused panic in Amman, where King Hussein feared that the Israelis were heading for the city. At this point, there was little of the Jordanian Army left to stop them. However, Israel had no intention of pursuing the retreating Jordanian army to Amman or elsewhere. Upon reaching the Jordan, the Israeli army focused on establishing defensive lines. As General Uzi Narkiss, the commander of the Central Command, stated in a postwar briefing: "Central Command fulfilled its natural aspirations and established Israel’s border on the Jordan.”

The one city that had not been captured was Hebron. When Israeli troops arrived, the city's population, possibly fearing retribution for the 1929 massacre of Jews, hung white sheets outside their houses and surrendered their weapons.

In the South, thousands of Egyptian troops were streaming towards and through the Mitla and Giddi passes. Israeli tanks positioned at the entrances and Israeli planes, which dominated the skies over Sinai, attacked from the air. Over 100 Egyptian tanks were destroyed in their failed attempts to pass through, and over 10,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed. By mid-morning, the Israeli Air Force was ordered to cease destroying Egyptian equipment so it could be captured.

The Army also decided to focus on capturing rather than killing Egyptian soldiers, letting them go under the assumption that they would surrender if they knew they would not be killed. All but the officers were immediately released and directed towards the Suez Canal. Along the northern axis, Israeli forces pursued the retreating Egyptian forces. Although they had been ordered not to approach the canal, these orders were ignored, and soon Israeli forces were spread out along the East Bank of the Suez Canal. The war in the South was over.

One terrible and disputed incident occurred on this day. The Israeli Air Force attacked the USS Liberty, an American spy ship operating off the Sinai coast. The Israelis mistook the ship for an Egyptian vessel they believed had shelled Sinai. The IAF claim it was not until the attack was well underway that they realized the mistake. Israel conducted three internal investigations, all concluding that the horrific mistake was the result of a series of errors. Some Americans dispute this claim and have proposed various conspiracy theories about what they believe happened. Thirty-four American sailors were killed and 171 were wounded as a result. Israel paid $12 million in compensation to the victims of the attack.

June 9

Israel hesitated about what to do with Syria as Syrians continued to shell settlements in the North. The IDF was exhausted; its tanks were battle-worn, and crews were weary. Initially, the inclination was not to attack, despite pressure from the Commander of the Northern Front, General Elazar. However, Dayan changed his mind overnight. He had been the one who had blocked the move, but after receiving information that the Egyptians were upholding the ceasefire and the Syrian Army was in disarray, he changed his mind. At 6 AM, Elazar received a call from Dayan: “Can you attack?” Elazar replied, “I can and right now.” Dayan then gave the order to attack.

The Air Force was now free to use all its aircraft to support an attack in the North. Munitions were in short supply, and the air force was even forced to use some captured Egyptian rockets. However, at 9:40 AM, the Air Force began a ferocious attack on Syrian positions. The plan called for a direct attack up to 2,000 meters to target Syrian positions. It was almost a suicide attack. The Israeli forces moved toward the fortified village of Sir al-Dib and the fortress of Qala. They reached the locations after intense fighting and cleared both. Two other locations, Tel Fakhr and Tel Azzaziat, were also taken, but the fighting was intense.

A Golani soldier later reported:

I ran to the left with Kalman, my NCO. We ran through the trenches, clearing out bunkers, until suddenly, we saw an alcove with beds and boxes in it. Kalman told me “I’ll go in and you wait outside.” But no sooner had he entered when he was hit by a burst of fire from a wounded Syrian inside. Kalman managed to stumble out. He fell and died. Then the Syrian came out. He saw me and immediately started pleading with me for his life. He stood there with his gun, still smoking from the bullets that killed Kalman.

The first day of fighting on the Golan had ended. The cost was high, but the first line of Syrian defenses had been breached.

As the war entered its sixth day, Israel was preoccupied with the question of how much time they had before a ceasefire. Israel wanted to consolidate its gains on the Golan Heights and expand beyond the first line of defense they had conquered the night before. The Soviets were in a state of panic; although they had done nothing to assist the Egyptians, they threatened to intervene on behalf of the Syrians. Soviet Prime Minister Kosygin sent the following message on the hotline to the US:

A very crucial moment has now arrived, which forces us, if military actions are not stopped in the next few hours, to adopt an independent position. We are ready to do this. However, these actions may bring us into a clash, which will lead to a grave catastrophe. We propose that you demand from Israel that it unconditionally cease military action. We propose to warn Israel that if this is not fulfilled, necessary actions will be taken, including military.

President Johnson decided to respond cordially, stating that the US was working with Israel to bring about a ceasefire. At the same time, Johnson ordered the US Sixth Fleet to turn around and head in the direction of Israel.

In Israel, they knew time was of the essence. General Elazar, Commander of the Northern Front, ordered his men to move forward quickly to secure their objectives. At first, the troops continued to face strong opposition. Still, in an attempt to prompt the Soviets and other international intervention, the Syrian government prematurely announced the fall of Quneitra to the Israelis. This event had not yet occurred. Nevertheless, when Syrian troops heard the false declaration, they panicked, resulting in a headlong retreat.

Throughout the Golan Heights, Syrian soldiers abandoned their fortifications, often leaving their equipment in a rush to get to Damascus. Israeli troops took Quneitra at 12:30 PM. Israel managed to squeeze a little more time until the ceasefire, which went into effect at 6 PM. By then, all of the Golan and part of Mt. Hermon was in Israeli hands. The war, which lasted one hundred and thirty-two hours, was over.

The Six-Day War was over. It had lasted 132 hours. The Egyptians lost between 10,000 and 15,000 men, with an additional 5,000 Egyptians missing. The Jordanians lost 700 men, and 6,000 were either wounded or missing. Israel reported 679 killed. At the end of the war, Israel held 5,000 Egyptian prisoners, 365 Syrians, and 550 Jordanians. Fifteen Israelis were held prisoners. Israel had destroyed or captured 85% of the equipment of the Egyptian Army. Israel captured 320 tanks, 480 guns, 2 SAM batteries, and 10,000 vehicles.