The June War of 1967
The hostilities started after the rhetoric had been heating up for months, culminating in May in the expulsion by the Egypt’s president Nasser of the peace keeping force of United Nations’ ‘blue-helmets‘ from the Sinai. He also closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces were mobilized. The Israeli military leadership saw a long awaited chance to change the balance of forces in Israel’s advantage. They had become convinced they could defeat the opposing Arab armed forces, provided they started hostilities with a surprise attack on the Egyptian air force.
On 5 June the Israeli air force of some 230 mainly French combat aircraft displayed what one would nowadays call tactical ‘disruptive innovation’. Thorough intelligence had revealed the alert procedures of the opposing Arab air forces. When Arab, Soviet-made, early warning radars observed approaching aircraft, their MiGs and Sukhois on alert status left their hangars and started take-off procedures. These aircraft stayed on the tarmac for some time, warming up the engines and checking avionics and other systems.
The Israeli aircraft, practically the whole inventory, flew under the radar and had timed their appearance on the radar screens so that they would be on top of the taxiing Arab fighters before they could take off. The trick worked. Israeli heat seeking missiles and guns destroyed hundreds of aircraft, ranging from top-of-the-line MiG 21 air-superiority fighters to heavy Badger bombers, helicopters and transport planes – at a cost of only 19 aircraft on the Israeli side. The Arab air forces were numerically superior, and the Soviet equipment could also be considered more modern than the relatively old French equipment the Israeli air force had in its inventory.
The subsequent defeat of the Arab armies had as much to do with Israeli training, tactics and doctrine as with military incompetence. The Egyptian army, for example, was organized like in the same manner as the French army in 1940: small armoured detachments were linked to infantry divisions that were positioned on the border with Israel, thus lacking depth. The ‘masse de manoeuvre’ consisted of a meagre armoured force.
In the night of the first day of the war Israeli formations, with the deployment of paratroopers to provide deep penetration, attacked the Egyptian fortifications in the desert. A counter-attack came to nothing. Retreating Egyptian troops were surprised by Israeli armour that had overtaken them. After the Egyptian army had been defeated, Israeli troops fanned out over the Sinai Peninsula and dug in.
The Syrian front started to heat up later on 5 June. Here too, Israeli aircraft destroyed the bulk of the Syrian aircraft on the ground. The Syrian tactics were not effective: a few tanks rumbled into Israeli territory and artillery shells rained down from the Golan Heights on villages and farms below. After two days of debate the Israeli generals decided that the chaos within the ranks of their Arab counterparts resulting from the battering they had received, presented a window of opportunity to take the fortified heights. In the end, the poorly trained Syrian defenders proved inadequate to resist the Israeli formations. They fled in chaos.
The scenes on the West Bank, on which the bulk of the Jordan armed forces were positioned, were no different from those in the Sinai and on the Golan Heights. Although much better trained and disciplined than the Syrian and Egyptian forces, the Jordanian army proved no match for Israeli armoured tactics and the rapid operations by paratroopers. On 10 June, a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations. With the crushing defeat of the armed forces of three neighbouring countries, the June War drastically changed the balance of power, to Israel’s advantage.
The military results of the June War may indeed have been spectacular, but they did not lower the tensions in the region. At the Arab Summit that followed the defeat it was decided that there would be no recognition of Israel, no peace and no negotiations. During a protracted period of raids and commando attacks, the odd dogfight over the Suez Canal zone and maritime skirmishes, these proved no idle words.