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The six day war, 52 years on

Most armies are able to pull off a tactical surprise attack but strategic surprise is much harder to achieve. In 1967, Israel pulled off a strategic surprise against a much bigger enemy who was defeated in a week short of a day. The maxim, that surprise acts as a force multiplier, was confirmed yet again.
What happened on the 5th of June decided the entire course of the war. It can best be described as an aerial adaption of the blitzkrieg concept which was pioneered by the Germans during the Second World War. The Israelis followed their aerial blitzkrieg with a blitzkrieg on land, with the latter following the best traditions of General Heinz Guderian. In 1937, two years before the beginning of hostilities in Europe, General Guderian hadwritten a manual on armored warfare, “Achtung Panzer.” It was never properly studied by the British and the French general staff. Five years after the war ended, Guderian wrote his autobiography which presumably was widely studied in Israel but not in the Arab world.
In 1967, Israel was fighting not one adversary but multiple. Three of them were its immediate neighbors, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The fourth was Iraq, a distant neighbor that had been constantly threatening it.
Before the war began, the ratio of forces and weaponry were overwhelming in favor of the Arab countries. Israel’s armed forces totaled 230,000 and the Arab armed force totaled 409,000. The ratio of forces in favor of the Arabs was 1.8.The Israeli armywas equipped with 1,100 tanks and the Arabs had 2,437 tanks for a ratio of 2. The Israeli army had 200 artillery pieces and the Arabs had 1,487 artillery pieces for a ratio of 7.4. The Israel air force had 260 combat aircraft and the Arab air forces had 649 for a ratio of 2.5. Finally, the Israel had 22 naval vessels and the Arabs had 90, for a ratio of 4.1.
Conservative war planning would have argued against an Israeli attack. But the Israelis were certain that the Arabs were going to attack them, based on announcements from Arab leaders and troop movements in the last two weeks of May. So the Israelis decided in favor of carrying out a pre-emptive air strike.
In the wee hours of the morning, Israeli war planes flew westwards onto the Mediterranean and then turned southward into Egypt. In a daring attack carried out at virtually every airfield, they virtually wiped out the entire Egyptian air force in one fell swoop. Later in the day, the Israelis performed a similar operation against the Jordanian and Syrian air forces. They also inflicted considerable damage on Iraqi air units in the Mosul area.
Once the air forces of their adversaries had been neutralized, they launched an armored assault in the Sinai supported by mechanized and infantry units. One of the commanding generals was Major-General Ariel Sharon, years later the prime minister of Israel. By the 6th of June, the Egyptian commander-in-chief, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, had ordered all units of the Egyptian army to vacate the Sinai. But this was not known to the Israelis. They kept on fighting and advancing the Egyptian units that had stayed behind. By the 8th of June, they had achieved total control of the Sinai.
The battle for Jerusalem was intense since the Jordanian army was the best trained of the Arab armies. However, the Old City of Jerusalem fell to the Israelis in just two days as the Jordanian garrison withdrew. Bethlehem was taken early in the afternoon. Hebron soon afterwards.
On the Syrian front, fighting ranged in the Golan Heights for a few days. By the tenth of June, Israel had seized them.
At one point, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, President Gamal Abdel Nasser and King Hussain, sought to accuse Britain and the US for carrying out the air raids that had devastated their ability to wage war. However, the Israelis released a tape of the phone conversation between the two leaders where the conspiracy theory was hatched.
The ability of the small Israeli forces to defeat much bigger Arab forces on three fronts in less than a week remains unmatched in modern warfare. As the Encyclopedia of Military History puts it, “The scope, decisiveness, and speed of victory was undoubtedly enhanced by the orders of the Egyptian commander…for a general Egyptian withdrawal on June 6, which turned an inevitable defeat into a disastrous rout.”
When the war ended, Israel controlled the entire Sinai Peninsula, Old Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The war was an abject failure for the Arab armies. It put an end to their boasting about driving the “illegal Zionist entity” into the sea.
Not only did the Arabs lose their land and their honor. They also lost personnel and weaponry. For every Israeli soldier who died, 18 Arab soldiers died. For every Israeli soldier who was wounded, 9 Arabs who were wounded. Arabs lost 8 times as many tanks as the Israelis and 9 times as many warplanes.
The Egyptian president, Nasser, did not recover from the fallout of the defeat in the Six Day War. His health began to fail and he died in 1970, a sad and broken man. His vice president, Anwar Sadat, succeeded him. He had diligently studied the 1967 war, especially the element of surprise.
In October 1973, Sadat planned a surprise attack on Israel on its holiest day. To disguise the threat, he had made sure that a large number of his troops had gone to perform the lesser pilgrimage in Mecca during Ramadan. Meanwhile, Israel had become delusional about its superiority. When the Israeli air chief was asked if the Egyptian air force posed a threat to Israel, he retorted: “What Egyptian air force?”
Egyptian units caught Israeli units that were guarding the Sinai by surprise and advanced deep into the peninsula. Tactical surprise was achieved. But the initiative was lost when Israeli forces led by Israeli forces led by Maj.-Gen. Ariel Sharon crossed the Canal into Egypt proper on October 15 by exploiting the gap between the Second and Third Egyptian Armies. Within a day, they were endangering the Egyptian Third Army, which would have been forced to surrender if the war had continued much longer. Cairo would have been threatened. Very soon, the Egyptians were caught on the back-foot and began to negotiate for a cease-fire.
These two wars confirm that strategic surprise, if achieved, almost guarantees victory. But tactical surprise, while a good morale booster, does not guarantee victory.



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