Arab hostility towards Israel reached a fever pitch in the days preceding the Six Day War. Egypt’s President Nasser once again closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and expelled U.N. peacekeeping forces from the Sinai. As Moslem leaders called for Jihad (Holy War), the IAF quietly prepared for what would become its finest hour.
The outcome of the war was determined during its first hours, as the result of a devastating attack against Egyptian air bases. Later that morning, as additional Arab states entered the war, the IAF quickly responded by striking Syrian, Jordanian and even Iraqi airfields. By day’s end, IAF Commander Mordechai (Motti) Hod proudly announced that the Arab air forces had been destroyed.
From this point on, the IAF turned its attention to the land battles raging on three fronts. Fighters provided close air support, wreaking havoc on enemy armies which had been stripped of their air cover. The Mitla Pass became a graveyard for Egyptian armor. Helicopters and transports moved troops and equipment in support of the rapidly advancing forces. Helicopters evacuated wounded and rescued downed pilots far behind enemy lines. The daring use of choppers as assault transports enabled paratroopers to conquer the southern half of the Golan Heights in the waning hours of the war. By ruling the skies, the IAF guaranteed Israel’s smashing victory.
A few statistics reveal the extent of Israel’s air superiority: with only 200 fighters, the IAF destroyed 391 enemy planes on the ground and 60 in dogfights. The IAF generated over 3,300 sorties, many times more than the combined Arab air forces. However, the victory was tempered by the loss of 46 Israeli planes and of 24 pilots, who gave their lives in a war that changed the face of the Middle East.