In 1967, during the days leading up to the Six Day War, Israel faced a threat to her very existence but miraculously dealt a devastating blow to her enemies.
On May 15, 1967, Israel Independence Day, Egyptian forces began to amass along the border. The next day, then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the withdrawal of UN forces from the Israeli-Egyptian border, so that no international observers could impede his assault on the Jewish State.
On May 18, 1967, Nasser declared on Voice of the Arabs radio, “The sole method we should apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of the Zionist existence.”
Other Arab leaders made similar statements. PLO leader Ahmed Al Shuqayri proclaimed, “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants. As for the survivors, if there are any, the boats are ready to deport them.” Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Assad asserted, “Our forces are now entirely ready to […] explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united. I as a military man believe that the time has come for the battle of annihilation.”
As leaders across the Arab world called for the destruction of the world’s Jewish state and the slaughter of her inhabitants, the Straits of Tiran were closed to Israeli shipping, Egypt violated Israeli air space by engaging in aerial spying over the city of Dimona and hostile forces prepared to attack Israel on three different fronts.
It was a very scary time in Israel. According to Israeli historian Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, “Many Israelis feverishly dug trenches and filled sandbags, while others secretly dug 10,000 graves for the presumed victims.Some 14,000 hospital beds were arranged and gas masks distributed to the civilian population. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike to neutralize Egypt, the most powerful Arab state, but the threat of invasion by other Arab armies remained.”
Egypt engaged in six different actions, which according to international law granted Israel the legal right to respond to the Arab aggression by declaring war. These included: conspiring with Syria and Jordan to attack Israel; barring Israeli access to international waterways; violating the 1956 armistice agreements by mobilizing its forces in the Sinai; expelling UN peacekeepers from the Israeli-Egyptian border; flying an illegal spy place over militarily sensitive sites within Israel and amassing Arab troops and tanks along Israel’s borders.
Thus Israel engaged in a preemptive strike. As Oren related, “The Arabs readied to strike — but Israel did not wait. ‘We will suffer many losses, but we have no other choice,’ explained IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. The next morning, on June 5, Israeli jets and tanks launched a surprise attack against Egypt, destroying 204 of its planes in the first half-hour. By the end of the first morning of fighting, the Israeli Air Force had destroyed 286 of Egypt’s 420 combat aircraft, 13 air bases, and 23 radar stations and anti-aircraft sites. It was the most successful single operation in aerial military history.
“But, as feared, other Arab forces attacked,” Oren continued. “Enemy planes struck Israeli cities along the narrow waist, including Hadera, Netanya, Kfar Saba, and the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv; and thousands of artillery shells fired from the West Bank pummeled greater Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem. Ground forces, meanwhile, moved to encircle Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods as they did in 1948.”
As journalist-historian Abraham Rabinovich wrote, “Jerusalem was spread out below in the throes of apocalypse. Every quarter on the Jewish side of the city was being pounded by shellfire. Tracers from machine guns raced toward each other across no-man’s-land, and flares hung suspended on the horizon like Chinese lanterns.”
Six Day War: Israel Defied Her Enemies
However, despite extensive Arab efforts to destroy the Jewish state, Israel emerged victorious after only six days of fighting. While 776 Israelis lost their lives the carnage was not as great as expected. Furthermore, Israel managed to reclaim the Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria as well as to re-unite the Holy City of Jerusalem, thus fulfilling the Zionist dream to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. Upon regaining control of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, Israel immediately issued a declaration to the Christian and Muslim residents of the Old City of Jerusalem guaranteeing to protect their right to religious expression, a promise which Israel has kept to this day.
Additional gains in the Six Day War were the acquisition of Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai desert. The territory under Israeli control tripled in size. Israel miraculously defied those who thought the Jewish State would succumb to her enemies’ plans.
On Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror – we remember the heroism of all our fighters.
By Rachel Avraham