A decisive victory: 46 years since the 6-Day War

IDF (Zahal) soldiers during the Six Day War. Photo: Government Press Office

June 5, 1967: The IDF (Zahal) responds to the aggression of Israel’s enemies by launching a preemptive strike, initiating one of history’s shortest, most decisive wars

Date: 06/05/2013, 3:43 PM     Author: Daniel Temkin and Gabriel Freund

On this day 46 years ago, the Israeli government ordered the Israel Air Force to carry out a surprise strike against Egypt’s airfields, effectively crippling the Egyptian Air Force and making history. Six days later, the IDF (Zahal) had won comprehensive land and air victories against the Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian militaries. In the process, Israel tripled in size and earned its reputation as a regional power, prepared and capable of defending itself against seemingly overwhelming existential threats.

Growing tensions

Israel’s Arab neighbours remained hostile to the young state after begrudgingly accepting armistice agreements with it following the 1948 War of Independence. That war secured the existence of an independent Jewish state – a reality that the surrounding countries could not abide. Two decades of protracted tensions and occasional outbreaks of violence culminated in the weeks leading up to the war.

On May 19, Egypt expelled the UN Emergency Force from the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip and began massing troops and heavy weapons on the borders with Israel. They then shut the Straits of Tiran – a vital international shipping channel – to all Israel vessels, isolating the port of Eilat.

Over the following two weeks, Syria, Jordan and Iraq responded to Egypt’s call by mobilizing their militaries and moving troops towards Israel. The IDF (Zahal) called up its reserves to prepare for the second major threat to Israel’s survival in two decades.

One of history’s most decisive victories

On the morning of June 5, the Israel Air Force sent a wave of low-flying Israeli jets to destroy the Egyptian Air Force and airfields, initiating a pre-emptive strike in order to prevent the alliance of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq from carrying out a potentially devastating attack on Israel. The IAF’s opening strike was a dramatic success, paralyzing the air force that had posed the greatest military threat to Israel. A similar strike was initiated against Syria later in the day, destroying two thirds of that country’s air force in one comprehensive offensive.

Jordanian forces began shelling the Jerusalem area, and hostilities were opened along Israel’s borders with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israeli troops engaged the Egyptians in the Sinai and in the Gaza Strip, advancing quickly despite being outnumbered and outgunned. In two days the IDF (Zahal) had secured the entire Sinai Peninsua.

On June 7, IDF (Zahal) paratroopers captured the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jordanian forces stationed there, reuniting the capital of Israel and taking control of the areas that had previously been under Jordanian control, from where enemy snipers had sporadically terrorized the city’s Israeli residents.

On June 9, IDF (Zahal) armored and infantry forces assailed the heavily fortified Syrian-held Golan Heights. The strategic terrain had been routinely used by Syria as a base of operations to shoot at northern Israel and sponsor Palestinian terrorism. The IDF (Zahal) quickly captured the mountainous territory, providing Israel with a significant strategic advantage.

The IDF (Zahal)’s superior training, organization and tactics, as well as the complete aerial dominance achieved on the first day of the war, led to quick comprehensive victories on each of the three major fronts of the war and secured Israel’s position as a force to be reckoned with.

Newfound strategic depth

Over the course of the Six-Day War, Israel gained control of both the historic heartland of the Jewish people and the sites that had been used by hostile forces to launch military campaigns and terror attacks against the State of Israel and its population. The territory that Israel gained during the Six-Day War has given it significant strategic depth and improved its defensive capabilities. 

Although Israel’s initial efforts at conciliation were rebuffed by its neighbors, it later gave up parts of the land gained in June 1967 in pursuit of peace. Israel pulled out of the Sinai Peninsula following the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979. In 2005, IDF (Zahal) soldiers and Israeli civilians withdrew from the Gaza Strip.