In May 1967, Egyptian President Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser expelled the United Nations forces which had been stationed in the Gaza Strip since 1957, stationed large concentrations of the Egyptian Army in Sinai along the border with Israel, and once again blockaded the Israeli port of Eilat. Egypt’s moves were coordinated with and supported by Jordan and Syria. By the beginning of June, it became apparent to Israel that the international community would not act to lift the blockade or restore the UN forces. Accordingly, Israel resolved to defend itself with a pre-emptive strike against the Arab armies.
When the Israel Air Force estimated that it could destroy the large Egyptian Air Force within six hours, the claim was considered exaggerated. However, the air strike which opened the direct hostilities of the Six Day War had been simulated repeatedly, and was aided by excellent intelligence. The entire IAF was engaged in the operation, except for twelve Mirage fighters assigned to defend Israel’s air space. The strike was timed for 7:45, when the Egyptian pilots who flew the early morning patrols would be back at their bases for breakfast. At 7:14 the first wave of Israeli planes took off; 183 in all. Thirty-one minutes later they were over their targets. Eleven airports were attacked and 197 planes destroyed (eight in aerial combat), together with radar stations and other supporting facilities. The second wave took off at 9:34, and attacked sixteen airports and radar installations. At 12:45, the third wave began, targeting the Jordanian Air Force, which was totally destroyed, and the Syrian Air Force, half of which was destroyed, with the rest making for distant air bases. One airfield in Iraq was also attacked. In the evening the southern Egyptian air base at Ras Banas was hit.
At the conclusion of the first day of fighting, the IAF had destroyed 70 percent of the enemy’s air power. About 10 percent of the attacking planes had been hit by ground fire. On the second day of the war, the IAF again struck at Iraq, destroying eleven planes, while another eleven Egyptian planes were downed in aerial combat. The following day an Iraqi air base was again attacked, with each side losing three planes in the ensuing air battle. On the fourth day of the war, nine more Egyptian planes were downed.
Half an hour after the first IAF wave attacked Egypt on June 5, ground forces crossed the border into Sinai. Within twenty-eight hours, they had destroyed the Egyptian Army’s 7th Division and the northern half of its 2nd Division. The second phase of the land war began the following day, when the remaining Egyptian forces in Sinai were defeated or surrounded within a further twenty-four hour period. The Gaza Strip was occupied, and the Straits of Tiran, whose closure had been one of the causes of the war, were opened in an operation commanded directly by the General Staff. On the night of June 8-9, the IDF had taken up positions along the eastern bank of the Suez Canal when a cease-fire came into effect. Some 15,000 Egyptians died in the fighting, and almost 4,500 were taken prisoner. More than 625 Egyptian tanks were left in Sinai, 200 of them usable, as well as 750 artillery pieces and more than 2,500 trucks and personnel carriers. The IDF Southern Command lost 338 soldiers, sixty-three tanks were destroyed, and a further sixty-nine were damaged.
Fighting on the eastern front began when Jordanian forces opened sporadic artillery fire at various points, and seized UN headquarters in southeast Jerusalem. On the morning of June 6, the IDF Northern Command occupied areas around Jenin, the Dotan Valley and the eastern slopes of Mt. Gilboa. East Jerusalem and Nablus were taken within twenty-five hours. The third stage of fighting on this front, the descent to the Jordan Valley and the conquest of the Hebron Hills, began in the afternoon of June 7 and took another twenty-four hours. In the course of the fighting, the Jordanian Army lost most of its heavy equipment. Eight hundred Jordanian soldiers fell in action, and 636 were taken prisoner. Thousands of Jordanian sol- diers deserted to their home villages in Judea and Samaria.
War Against Syria
On the morning of June 9, two brigades of the IDF Northern Command broke through Syrian defenses on the Golan Heights. After seven hours of fighting, they had established two strongholds in the northern and central sectors. These were expanded during the night. The main fighting resumed on the morning of June 10, when two Israeli motorized brigades joined the battle. Within a few hours, Syrian defenses collapsed and the bulk of the Syrian forces withdrew eastward without engaging the IDF. The collapse of the Golan defenses was aided when Radio Damascus announced the fall of Kuneitra, the largest town on the Heights, six hours before the IDF arrived there. The Syrians put up a better defense in the southern sector of the Golan, but finally withdrew in the course of June 10. Syrian units took up defensive positions along the southern approaches to Damascus, but the Israeli government ordered the IDF to stop its advance. At 18:00 on June 10, a cease-fire came into effect.