The Six Day War Sparked Forty Years of Strife

This innovative attack began at 10:30 p.m. with an artillery barrage of about 100 guns. Sharon’s infantry attacked out of the dunes, while the paratroops silenced enemy artillery, and Nir’s tanks barreled into the surprised defenders. Muzzle blasts of tanks, flashes of artillery, and the flames of demolished armor lit up the black desert night. Seemingly attacked from all sides simultaneously, the Egyptians nevertheless fought for 12 hours. When it was over, though, the 2nd Infantry Division had been destroyed.

After things had clearly disintegrated for the Egyptians, soldiers of all ranks began, in the words of military historian Kenneth Pollack, “dissembling, obfuscating, exaggerating and outright lying” instead of admitting their losses and errors. Reflecting the regime’s lack of open communication, Field Marshal Amer and his men joined in, telling Nasser and army officers that Egypt’s air force had destroyed its Israeli counterpart.

Only later in the day of June 5 did Amer tell Nasser the truth. With disastrous effect, some army commanders were not informed until the next day. Amer and most of the general staff appear to have been paralyzed with shock for much of this first day; orders were given and contradicted at a heated pace, spreading inertia and confusion throughout the ranks.

As in previous wars, the Egyptians fought with tenacity and bravery but lacked innovation, tactics, and maneuver. When two T-55 brigades of the 4th Armored Division, for example, tried to halt Tal’s advance to al-Arish, they ran smack into IDF Centurions from General Yoffe’s unit: as evening fell, nine Egyptian tanks had been reduced to blazing steel hulks while the Israelis lost only one Centurion. Renewing the assault in the morning, the Egyptians charged straight at the Israelis and were picked off by accurate gunnery and air strikes. The Egyptians retreated, leaving 30 of 80 T-55s behind, smashed. The Israelis suffered no losses.

After this catastrophic defeat, Amer ordered a general retreat from the Sinai on June 6. Bypassing normal communication channels, the field marshal called his commanders personally, ordering them to pull out. The retreat rapidly degenerated into a rout as officers fled pell-mell, leaving their men leaderless. Hundreds of soldiers simply dumped their equipment and headed homeward, many suffering agonizing deaths in the rocky wastes of the Sinai.

After disabling the USS Liberty, Israel was free to pursue its final objective, the Golan Heights, without fear of U.S. eavesdropping

Soon realizing his mistake, Amer tried to have some units stand against the onrushing Israelis. The Egyptian 3rd Infantry Division fought hard at Jebel Libni but was completely wiped out by the IDF. Similarly, the 4th Armored Division confronted and delayed Tal’s forces on June 7, but the price was huge losses in tanks, personnel, and equipment. Even so, those Egyptians at least managed to limp across the canal in an orderly fashion.

These, however, were isolated, uncoordinated engagements that could not stem the mayhem, and the Israelis captured about 5,000 Egyptian soldiers. According to Israeli historians such as Aryeh Yitzhaki, hundreds of other Arabs, including Palestinian civilians, were executed and dumped into graves, some of which they had to dig themselves, at al-Arish, Gaza, and elsewhere.

Over the battlefield, the remnants of the Egyptian air force flew ground attack sorties and engaged the much superior IAF. Some Egyptians, most notably the MiG-21 pilots of No. 40 Squadron, downed six Israeli jets in dogfights, but Israel shot down 42 UARAF aircraft.

In the confusion, relying on reports by Amer and others, Nasser and his generals informed the Jordanians that the IAF had been destroyed and that Egypt had invaded Israel. This bogus “news” emboldened King Hussein and his Egyptian general, Abdul Munim al-Riyad. Dismissing an Israeli message sent via the United Nations that Israel would not attack if Jordan remained a nonbelligerent, Hussein ordered his army to open fire. He even sent the 60th Armored Brigade to join the Egyptian “attack” in the Sinai.

Hussein and Riyad then ordered the RJAF to hit targets inside Israel. But working from abysmal intelligence, the Jordanian pilots became lost and bombed a beach resort. It was when their Hawker Hunters landed to refuel that Israeli Mirages suddenly screamed out of the sky and destroyed or badly damaged all of them.

Unable to resist taking what they regarded as the prize of prizes, the Israelis now decided to capture the West Bank and Jerusalem, although neither posed an existential threat. Brig. Gen. Elad Peled’s force, consisting of one armored, one mechanized, and one paratroop brigade, was ordered to attack the towns of Janin and Nablus. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Uzi Narkiss planned to overrun Jerusalem in a double envelopment, sending paratroops to strike north of the city, with the 16th Brigade sweeping in to capture the southern section of the Old City as the 10th Mechanized Brigade struck north. Other units were to advance through Latrun against Ramallah, northwest of Jerusalem.

In all these attacks, the Israelis tactically surpassed the Jordanians. The Israeli air force pummeled Jordan’s fortified positions and then thwarted Jordanian attempts to move their forces. Although individual Jordanian units fought ferociously, sometimes to the death, their shooting was generally inaccurate and their communication poor. In part this was because their officers simply fled once they realized all was lost. Although Jordanians were well-entrenched in fortified positions along the many ridges that characterize the terrain, Israelis had overrun all their positions on the outskirts of Jerusalem by June 6, in battles lasting from 20 minutes to several hours.

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26 Responses

  1. Tamahome Jenkins

    Wow, talk about the price of greatness. Excellent article, more people would do themselves a great service by learning more about the recent history of Israel before jumping to conclusions about who started what, or “good guys vs. bad guys.”

  2. Earl Lee

    Another poor attempt to label Israel as the aggressor and the poor Arabs as defenseless victims. This article is rife with inaccuracies and bias. Unfotunately no-where near the high quality articles usually found on this website.

  3. Tamahome Jenkins

    Earl, how is Israel not the aggressor in this war? Have you ever actually done any research on the Six-Day War, or do you just assume that Israel is blessed by God and can do what it pleases?

  4. Ricardo

    It’s out of discusions that Israel did the first strike, but it was absolute self defense, without any doubt too. In other case surely the state of Israel doesn’t would exist today. I think it was clearly a self defense war (and one very well executed too)

  5. Jim Faletti

    I am VERY disappointed with this article. You can not take a FEW facts, add your bias and write them off as facts. Taking one sentence to explain the Jordanian attack on a resort with the excuse of stupidity, then take three paragraphs to explain an opinion that the Israel’s attacked the American’s on purpose. If the American’s could see all that you mention, they would have been inside the international mark. And stating that they would have seen prisoners killed is ludicrous – not fact.

    What is clear is the “bad” attemp to make Israel the bad guy. In your own statement, that it was a “setback’ for the Egyptians, explains why when Israel offered to give back most if not all of the land, the offer was refused. They don’t want the land back, they want Israel gone. Factually, that is not going to happen and any propoganda is just that – propoganda.

  6. dsm

    As a subscriber since the founding issue of MHQ I would label this as one of the most biased articles I have ever read.

  7. Fred Wolfe

    This is a really biased article. Congratulations to the proud IDF and their excellent military campaign.

  8. Steve

    The second paragraph of this article is so factually wrong. Immediately after the war, Israel offered to give back the land it had won in exchange for peace . The Arab leaders met in Khartoum after the war and issued the famous three no’s. No recognition, no peace, no negotiations with Israel. How did the writer of this article not know about this?

    Also, the land was not taken from the Palestinians. The West Bank was ruled by Jordan, Gaza by Egypt and Golan Heights by Syria. The author has an exciting writing style but has done no research to make sure he got his facts straight.

  9. Ctos

    “Immediately after the war, Israel offered to give back the land it had won in exchange for peace .” – notice the poster does not say “all” of the land; Israel was attempting to legitimize some of its gains by giving back land (which it was mandated by the UN to do).

    Also notice the language “land it had won” which is in direct violation of the UN concept of the inadmissability of acquiring land by war.

    The truth is Israel started the war and it was not a defensive one (Israel’s territory was greater after the war and it attacked the Arabs in their own countries).

    Zionists and uninformed historians may take umbrage at this article but what they really take umbrage at is the truth of the FACTS around the ’67 war.

  10. Lee Vann

    Another great article! Very informative and though, although I feel that it should have gone into more detail on the USS Liberty.

    Of corse the Pro-Zionist lobby would be upset with this, as it does not show their cause in the best possible light.

  11. Kaiser

    So let me get this straight…Egypt kicks the UN out of the demilitarized zone two weeks prior, places all but 10,000 of its remaining forces (seven divisions and numerous independent brigades totalling 100K) in the Sinai, and closes the Straits of Tiran; Egypt flies artillery and battalions of commandoes to Jordan on June 3rd after signing a mutual defense treaty; Jordanian reserves are called up on June 2nd and orders subsequently captured from Jordanian command posts dated at the end of May detail operations for the capture of objectives inside Israeli territory; Iraqi forces are repositioned closer to the Iraq/Jordanian border; Syrian mobilization; etc, etc. And Israel was to believe this all just defensive “posturing”?

  12. Jay White

    I was very disappointed that this poorly written propaganda piece was accepted by what I always considered the best military history magazine . I was so upset that MHQ would publish such garbage, that for the first time in 15 years I didn’t purchase MHQ. I sincerely hope this is not a trend . The history channel no longer has any history shows. Let’s hope MHQ doesn’t deteriorate into garbage that attracts the Jew haters who always bring up the Liberty which was in an active war zone.

  13. Elliot

    I’m surprised at how some posters chose to read this article so selectively.

    Because of his own personal agenda, Kaiser omits facts clearly stated in the article that according to three US “separate intelligence groups” “Egyptian deployments…were defensive,” of which Israelis were informed on May 26 by U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara. This, of course, was nothing new to the Israelis who knew from their own superb intelligence organizations all the precise information about their enemies.

    Similarly, Kaiser chooses not to mention the following two passages from the article where IDF chief of operations Gen. Ezer Weizman and Menachem Begin both honestly admitted that the surprise air strike against Egypt had been planned for a long time:

    (1) “For five years,” IDF chief of operations Gen. Ezer Weizman recalled, referring to the surprise air strike against Egypt, “I had been talking of this operation, explaining it, hatching it, dreaming of it, manufacturing it link by link, training men to carry it out.”

    (2) “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches,” Menachem Begin told the New York Times, “do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

    Why can’t one mention certain facts about Israel, facts confirmed by prominent Israeli historians themselves, without being attacked as being biased and writing propaganda?

  14. Randy

    This article was a great addition to this issue. It is sad that today people are still looking at wars from only one side. Mankind needs to FINALLY learn that there are always two sides to every story and the only way to find truth is looking at both sides. The author stated the faults of both sides very well. I particularly appreciate the credit given to soldiers of both sides. As for the other comments, how can someone say this is bias? The paragraphs concerning the USS Liberty say in their first statement controversial which by definition means debatable. So how can you call the author a propagandist? His obvious respect for the Israeli military machine is clear throughout the article. The statements about the political motives of both sides are again, “debatable”, as are all political agendas. The comments on the colonial structure of the region being a serious cause were very interesting. To call someone a “Jew hater” for an article with historical facts and speaking on a subject rarely talked about today is juvenile, and obviously made by someone who has not studied the conflict. Readers need to focus on the real tragedies of such events for example, 1.4 million and now 4.7 million refugees. This is the real issue. The war happened no matter the cause , it should be time now to clean up the mess it caused by mending fences and helping those who are still affected by it.

  15. Garbage

    Alright, so honestly I rarely try to make sense of anything that happens in the Middle East because everything seems to just boil down to a bunch of religious fanatics who hate each other. And no, for the record, I am not blaming this war on religion.

    This article, however, is the most biased piece of trash on earth. So lets say a guy comes near you with a knife, in a stance of aggression, are you going to stand and wait, or are you going to pull out your handgun and put a round through him?

    I mean for God’s sake, why is it that so many people support America in the Iraq war (when they are in the wrong, without any doubt whatsoever) but so many others support Gaza in the war with Israel? It makes absolutely no sense. At least Israel is actually TRYING to fight terrorism and ensure minimal casualties.

  16. David All

    An extremely biased article. Its anti-Israeli slant makes this article a travesty of history. I hope this is an exception to the usual fine level of articles at MHQ and not an indication of articles to come.

  17. Sheila Kalivas

    Finally, an unbiased account of the Palestinian/Israeli situation. Those who have commented otherwise appear to have a rigidly pro Zionist view. The objective of this scholarly and masterfully written piece is not to cast blame on one side or another, rather it is to articulate the breakdown of how peace has eluded the Middle East thus far. This is not only a fairly presented chronology of past events but it points to a future roadmap for achieving peace by rebuilding nations which were artificially created. Palestinians and Israelis are equally important thus both peoples must be represented by “satisfying Israel’s need for security ;and recognizing and fulfilling Palestinian struggles to create a viable nation-state. ” To label this author a Jew-hater, to my mind is unconscionable.

    It is said that “history repeats”. History does not have to repeat if we learn from past errors. Of concern to this writer is the right-wing or “populist” movement in the U.S. which holds extremist views about biblical prophecy to which this author has referred. This group has generated significant influence through purchased media blitz. The movement encourages and condones Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land including Jerusalem and joyously awaits the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem to usher in the end times.

    This scenario seems eerily similar to a historical misconstruing of prophecy from ancient Greece. King Croesus consulted the Oracle at Dephi to find out if he should go to war with Persia, the Oracle stated “If you go to war, you will cause the destruction of a great Empire”. Croesus went to war, was defeated and captured. He sent word to the Oracle asking why he was mislead. The Oracle said he was not mislead, a great empire was destroyed, his own. Because an event is prophesized does not indicate it is a desirable path to take. This piece by O’Brien Browne, if heeded, can avert a potential disatrous course of action.

  18. Proud American

    A very amateurish, biased and naive perspective on the war. The author neglects to mention that but for the Six Day War, peace with Egypt and Jordan would never have been possible. He also fails to mention that Syria plays host to at least ½ dozen terrorist organizations including Hamas, Hezbollah and the PFLP. No mention is made of the fact that Israel’s overtures to the PLO unleashed a wave of terror not seen since 1947. No mention is made of the Khartoum agreement where the Arabs declared their infamous “Three Nos.” No peace with Israel, no recognition of her and no negotiation with her. If the author wants to play the blame game, there’s plenty to go around. Focusing on Israel exclusively exposes the author’s bias. Just as an aside, it was the Arabs who put the ball in play and Israel just finished the game. To the victor go the spoils. I say “bravo Israel” for standing up to gangsters, thugs and scoundrels of the Middle East and sending them back crawling to their little holes.

  19. Dave

    I stumbled across this website recently, and had been having an excellent time reading a host of well thought out articles on various eras of military history. Then I stumbled across this “article” (if you can call a bundle of selectively cherry picked facts devoid of any relevant background information/context, assembled by a.. ‘person’ who is clearly attempting to rewrite history as part of an effort to support his hatred of Israel at least, and more likely Jews in general, an article). What a dissapointment. For what little it’s worth, I won’t be returning to this otherwise stellar community/website, but I sincerely hope that Mr. Browne’s racism and deliberate intellectual dishonesty would be sufficient reason for historynet to terminate it’s relationship with him.

  20. jewz rulez

    everyone is saying this is biased and we get this. very poor article and not very accurate

  21. Chris Montegue

    Very poorly written and researched article with very superficial analysis. The writer doesn’t go to great lengths to conceal his bias against Israel and has allowed his personal bias to skew the article to the point of being painful to read.

  22. Richard

    The title of the article is itself completely misleading. Does the author mean to imply that that the attempt by the Arab states to destroy Israel in 1948 and the persistent attacks on Israelis by state forces and by terrorists as well as the utterly pervasive anti-semitic propaganda were just normal relations? My word, this is a new low in anti-Israeli propaganda.

  23. An Unbiased Richard

    Great article. I especially love the comments. \This is biased trash\, etc, ironically written by biased trash.

    \In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.\
    – George Orwell


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