The speed and totality of the Israeli victory of the Six Day War earned Israel respect around the globe from both its friends and enemies. For many Jews around the world, the Israeli liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem is remembered as one of the milestones of their lifetime. The battle for Jerusalem was on the third day and the Golan Heights were conquered on the sixth and final day. The outcome of the war however, was actually decided in the first three hours of the war. How was this done?
In 1962, the commander of the Israeli air force, Ezer Weitzman, asked the head of air force operations to come up with operational plans to disable the Arab air capabilities. After studying the issues, it was decided that the only way to do this was to first disable the runways so no planes could take off or land, thereby making the planes into sitting ducks. This was not as simple as it sounds. There existed no artillery that would do the job properly. Regular bombs would not do enough damage on the thick cement runways. Special heavy bombs for cement would roll before exploding and were not exact enough to do the job effectively. The Israelis did not give up. Instead, they developed a special bomb that was on the one hand able to make large deep holes in the cement, and on the other could be dropped on an exact spot. To complete the plans, many hours were spent figuring out the exact amounts of fuel needed to reach each of the 11 different airfields while carrying these special "heavy" bombs. Army intelligence collected data about the schedule and routine of these airfields, response time, air defense and many other details. In 1964, after 2 years of work, the plans were complete. The plans were shelved and could be made operational within 24 hours. They were called Operation Moked . In English moked means focus.
On the morning of June 5, 1967, Operation Moked was put into effect. However, there were a few weak points in the plan. First of all, absolute surprise was crucial. If the Egyptians knew they were coming, it would not be effective. Secondly, 530 planes were required to do the job. At the time, the entire Israeli air force consisted of only 212 planes. The Israelis had no choice but to attack in three waves with the understanding that only the first wave would have the element of surprise. Two hundred planes took off from Israel in the first wave. The flights were timed so that each plane would reach its target at exactly 7:45am. Only 12 planes were left to defend an attack on Israel. This was an "all or nothing" gamble. Israel was left almost defenseless. If the Arabs had launched an airstrike on Israel at the same time, it would have been devastating.
The first wave was a success. 197 Egyptian planes and 6 airfields were completely destroyed. There were Israeli losses as well. Seven Israeli pilots were killed, three were injured and two were taken prisoner. This was much less than expected. All of the other planes made it back, and after a turnaround time of just 7 minutes, they were on the way back for the second wave of attacks. The second and third waves were also a complete success, and by 10:30am, the Egyptian air force was destroyed and the Syrian and Jordanian air force had taken serious hits as well. For the remainder of the war, Israel had complete control of the air and could bomb enemy land forces at will.
It is easy to think that the attack was such a complete success because of the years of planning and training and the bravery and skill of the Israeli pilots. This of course is true. However, when we look at some of the details it is also easy to see the guiding hand of the Divine in the events of that day. I want to focus on three things. Firstly, that day before the air strike, the Defense Minister of Egypt Abd alHakim Amar decided to inspect the Egyptian troops in the Sinai Desert. This was to be done from the air, and he invited the top brass of the Egyptian Army to join the fly over. In addition, a delegation of Iraqi officers including the Prime Minister of Iraq, was also to be flying over the Sinai to inspect the Egyptian Army in a separate flight. These flights were to take off from Cairo at 7:00am. Because of these flights with VIPs aboard, Amar ordered all antiaircraft batteries to be shut down for 1 hour from 7:00-8:00 am in the morning. He was worried about these flights being shot at by mistake. In addition, he made it clear that if anyone wants to shoot at an aircraft at this time, they would need his personal authorization. Even when the Israeli airplanes could be seen, the Egyptian air defense was crippled.
Besides the ground to air batteries, there were also fighter planes on patrol in the air from 4:30 am till 8:30 am. These were the hours most favorable for an Israeli attack so air patrols were done during these hours. On this particular morning, the commander of the 7:30 patrol was late. They waited for him before the patrol took flight, but by then it was already too late. Had they been in the air, they would have been able to sound the alarm and possibly interfere with the attack. In the Egyptian investigation after the war, the reason that the flight commander was late that day came to light. He had been at a party the night before given by Sidki Mahmud, the commander of the Egyptian air force. This party, with plenty of food, drink and belly dancers, ran into the wee hours of the morning. The officer simply did not get up on time for work that day.
No less amazing is the final story. The Jordanian army was fully coordinated with the Egyptians. That morning the Jordanian radar clearly showed hundreds of Israeli planes headed for Egypt. The Jordanian officer on duty immediately sent out the code for an Israeli air attack. He got no response from the Egyptians. He sent it out again and again received no response. The code had been changed the night before at 12:00am. He continued to send out the old code and the Egyptians did not understand what he wanted. By the time they figured it out, it was too late.
Happy Jerusalem Day
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