1969-1970: The War of Attrition

Egypt launched the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal with the idea of inflicting as many Israeli casualties as possible, thereby testing Israel’s ability and determination to hold onto its gains from the Six Day War. The war officially began in March 1969, but hostilities had been common along all three fronts (Egypt, Syria and Jordan) ever since the June 1967 cease-fire. For example, terrorists continuously infiltrated into the Jordan Valley, leading to IDF helicopter-borne search operations.

The real War of Attrition, however, was with Egypt, which pounded Israeli positions along the Canal. Lacking sufficient numbers of cannons, Israel utilized its aircraft as flying artillery. For the first time, modern American-made fighters took part in the action. This development was the direct result of a French arms embargo to the Middle East following the Six Day War. In reality, the embargo applied only to Israel, which had previously relied on French aircraft of all types. Now the A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantom become the workhorses.

The Phantom arrived at the height of the battle and immediately took on Egyptian air defenses along the Canal. The Phantom’s range enabled it to reach strategic targets deep inside Egypt. Before long, Phantoms also began hammering Migs in dogfights. The air-to-air arena took on the look of a Wild West gunfight. Israeli and Egyptian fighters shot it out high above a barren stretch of desert which became known as “Texas”.

The U.S.S.R. took an active role in Egypt’s air defense, providing the latest equipment along with thousands of “advisors”. In fact, Soviet participation went far beyond a training role. Russians operated the sophisticated radars and surface-to-air missiles and succeeded in downing several Israeli planes. They even flew Egyptian Migs until Israeli Phantoms and Mirages shot down five Russian pilots, without loss, in a massive dogfight.

IAF helicopters, such as the newly arrived Sikorsky CH-53, took part in many daring missions. They stole a brand new Soviet radar and flew it back to Israel. Helicopters inserted troops on many missions in Egypt’s heartland. Together with the strategic bombing missions these deep penetrations provided the answer to Egypt’s numerical supremacy along the Canal. By revealing Egypt’s vulnerability, the IAF forced the enemy to reconsider and put an end to the costly War of Attrition.