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“Our soldiers fought like heroes, but yours fought like suicide bombers”

A brief history of the Six-Day War – a conflict in which, it is believed, was at stake the complete destruction of Israel.

Israeli soldiers on the Mount of Olives. Photo from the archive of the IDF
Israeli soldiers on the Mount of Olives. Photo from the archive of the IDF

June 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Six Day War, one of the most famous military clashes in the history of the modern Middle East. This war returned Israel its capital. It also turned into accusations of annexation, which continue to sound today.

TJ gathered the main historical moments of the fleeting Middle East conflict, the role played by Moscow. It was because of the Six Day War that the USSR broke diplomatic relations with Israel – they were restored only in 1991.

“It all started because of Russian lies”

On May 13, 1967, Egypt’s vice-president Anwar El-Sadat was on an official visit to the USSR capital. His program included a meeting with the leadership of the KGB, which very much wanted to make Egypt dependent on Moscow’s will. It saw in Israel the second most endangered enemy after the United States.

At a meeting with Al-Sadat, representatives of the Soviet secret services conveyed to him information that the IDF is concentrating its forces in the north of the country and is preparing to strike at the ally of Egypt and the USSR-Syria. The leaders of the KGB called on El-Sadat to protect the Arab Republic from Jewish aggression.

At the same time, there was really no concentration of Israeli troops. The intelligence of Israel was also well aware of the internal problems of Syria and the Egyptian military campaign in Yemen, and did not see the need to prepare for a new war.

The KGB knew very well that it was not just false information, but a blatant lie.

Shlomo Gazit, Major General of the IDF

British politician Randolph Churchill later wrote in his memoirs that “it all started with lies, Russian lies.” According to him, on the border between Israel and Syria was one force of soldiers, which was occupied with the protection of the border territories. None of the eleven brigades, according to Churchill, was out of the question.

Nevertheless, El-Sadat had reason to believe such statements of his Soviet interlocutors. In the spring of 1967, the situation on the Israeli-Syrian border was aggravated by large-scale sabotage in the demilitarized zones, which Israel considered legally suitable for agricultural work.

Syria’s information minister then promised that the clashes would be “continued with more serious battles” that would not stop until “Palestine was released and the Zionist presence [in it] was over.” Even more serious statement was made by the Syrian defense minister and her future president Hafez Assad.

I, as a military man, are sure that the time has come to enter the war of annihilation.

Hafez Assad, in 1967 – Minister of Defense of Syria

Disturbed by the statement of the Soviet special services, El-Sadat returned to Cairo to discover the dissemination of information he had received through the local cell of the KGB. He reported this to the President of Egypt, Gamal Nasser, who in a hurry gathered an emergency meeting of the top of the country. Doubting information from Soviet intelligence, Nasser expressed an opinion on the possible benefits of the clash between Egypt and Israel.

Within a few days, Egyptian troops began to move toward the Israeli border in the Sinai Peninsula. On May 16, the Egyptian authorities sent the UN a demand to withdraw peacekeeping forces from the ceasefire line, which was repeated in more severe form two days later.

The border of Israel remained unguarded by international forces. Observing the flight of the UN troops, Israel began a general mobilization. The fears of the Israeli leadership intensified even more when Egypt and Jordan signed a military pact, and the kingdom, following its allies, began bringing troops into combat readiness.

“The Soviet Union Against Aggression”

On May 25, the Egyptian Defense Minister Shams al-Din Badran flew to Moscow to coordinate information from military departments and get permission to start a war. But everything turned out unexpected for the Egyptian commander: the Soviet leadership did not agree on a preventive attack against Israel. The Soviet leadership wanted to set the aggressor the opposite side of the conflict.

On the same day, this information was received by the President of Egypt Nasser. The head of state gave the order to withstand the blow and the next day warned the leadership of local trade unions about the imminent beginning of an all-out war. Against this decision, the leadership of the Egyptian aviation, who called Nasser’s tactics pernicious, rose up.

The concentration of troops of the Arab countries continued, despite the containment of the situation. Egypt sent one of the generals to Jordan to command the potential front, having received reinforcements from the new side of the conflict – Iraq. Egypt itself received reinforcements from Algeria, which sent its troops to the east.

Israeli intelligence knew about all the movements of the troops of the Arab Union in such detail that it had information even about the names of the pilots and the location of the aircraft they controlled. She also understood the possible nature of the war: the Egyptian President had by then returned to the slogans about the need to “throw Jews into the sea, destroying them as a nation”.

By the beginning of June 1967 the situation was tense to the limit. Egyptian aviation was in high alert and every morning arranged reconnaissance flights, which stopped about eight hours. The Israeli Air Force did not know about the lack of expectancy in Egypt, and therefore decided to strike a preemptive strike.

Focus of Israeli Aviation

On June 5, the IDF launched an operation code-named “Mokead” (“Focus”). Patrolled space of the Mediterranean Sea, the aircraft moved along their familiar route, avoiding the attention of Egyptian air defense. Only this time, for the first time in two years, the Israeli air force fell sharply and almost at the very ground approached the Egyptian military bases, keeping the utter silence in the radio air.

The attack caught the air forces of the Arab Republic by surprise. The pilots, who were at the breakfast, saw how their airfields had been completely put out of action within seven minutes by aiming strikes against the take-off strips. Under the attack, and hit the aircraft, most of which remained to stand on the ground.

Similarly, preventive attacks occurred on Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi airfields. For one day, Israeli aircraft destroyed more than four hundred Soviet-made combat vehicles, of which only two dozen had time to go into the air. Israel lost only 26 cars, of which six were educational.

The actual destruction of the aviation of the Arab coalition shocked its leaders. Nasser did not believe in the high efficiency of the Israeli Air Force and hastened to accuse Great Britain and the United States of supporting Israel’s air interventions. According to Churchill, these charges were absolutely baseless.

Egyptian troops were demoralized in the same way as their commander-in-chief. This allowed Israel to launch a preemptive strike against the positions of the Egyptian army that it occupied in the Sinai Peninsula. The Israelis quickly crossed the unguarded border and on June 6 they forced the Egyptians to begin a full-scale retreat. It ended only two days later, when the Israeli army completely occupied Sinai.

“One and undivided capital”

Initially, Israel did not want to get involved in the war with Jordan: the kingdom’s position allowed him to easily seize the western part of Jerusalem, following the eastern part, annexed in violation of international treaties. The Israeli government even sent a letter to the King of Jordan with a proposal of neutrality, but the Jordanian aircraft were already sent to the sweep of the territory.

Within an hour, mortar shelling of the western part of the city began in Jerusalem. Israeli troops could not respond with artillery fire, as in the East Jerusalem there were world shrines. Their destruction would not only cause a great blow to the Jewish heritage, but would lead to a gigantic world conflict.

The Israeli Defense Forces decided to take East Jerusalem by ground forces. For this, tank brigades made their way to the city with fights. The main difficulty was infantry fighting, which were conducted on the mountains around Jerusalem.

The most fierce of these battles was the battle for the Arsenal Hill (Givat ha-Takhmoshet), in which Israeli troops lost more than two-thirds of the personnel. According to the soldier’s song, which was folded two months after the end of the war, only seven people descended from two mouths alive and unscathed from the Arsenalnaya Hill.

Cover of the American Life magazine from June 23, 1967. In the photo, an Israeli soldier is cooled in the Suez Canal, located in the western part of the Sinai Peninsula
Cover of the American Life magazine from June 23, 1967. In the photo, an Israeli soldier is cooled in the Suez Canal, located in the western part of the Sinai Peninsula

Military correspondent Moshe Nathan, who later spoke with one of the captured Jordan soldiers on the Arsenal Hill, noted the admiration with which the opponents remembered this fighting clash.

Our soldiers fought like heroes, but your fought like suicide bombers.

an excerpt from the book by Moshe Nathan “Battle for Jerusalem”

Capturing strategically important heights, the Israelis were able to enter East Jerusalem, but for a whole day they got bogged down in fierce position battles, which for several hours were conducted in each block and for every house in a small historical district.

Only by the evening of June 7 the Old City was liberated, and the soldiers of the IDF were able to touch the main value of the now united Jerusalem – the Western wall of the Temple (also known as the Wailing Wall).

Epilogue

The six-day war ended on 10 June 1967, when a ceasefire was reached on all fronts. The losses of the Arab coalition for one week amounted to about 15 thousand people killed and about 30 thousand people injured. Israel lost about a thousand people.

Within one week, Israel several times increased its territory by annexing the Sinai Peninsula, the border areas of Syria and parts of the west coast of the Jordan River. In 1982, Israel voluntarily returned Sinai and withdrew its troops from there.

In 1980, Israel recognized Jerusalem as its “single and indivisible capital”. The international community still considers the territory of East Jerusalem illegally annexed. The modern Palestinian movement claims its rights to it, considering its capital, despite the gratuitous provision by the Israeli government of the capital’s territories in the suburb of Abu Dis.

When writing the material used materials from The New York Times, The National Interest and Around the World, as well as books by Randolph Churchill “The Six Day War” and Moshe Nathan “Battle for Jerusalem.”

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