One hundred and thirty-one hours and fifty minutes. That’s all it took for the tiny nation of Israel to devastate the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria between June 5 and June 10, 1967. In just six days, Israel changed the course of Middle East history and politics.
At the end of one of the shortest wars in history, more than 10,000 Egyptians, 700 Jordanians and 400 Syrians had died; in addition, more than 20,000 from the three nations were wounded. Israel, on the other hand, claimed fewer than 800 dead, 2,563 wounded. That amounts to Israel killing 25 enemy troops for every one Israeli lost.
The prisoner-of-war rate proved even more lopsided in Israel’s favor. Israel captured more than 5,000 Egyptians (of whom 21 were generals), 365 Syrians and 550 Jordanians. Israel’s pow number totaled just 15.
The magnitude of Israel’s victory is even clearer in view of the disparity in material destruction. Israel destroyed 85 percent of Egypt’s military hardware and plundered vast stores of ammunition and tanks. It captured hundreds of both Jordan’s and Syria’s tanks and thousands of their military vehicles and guns.
Israel’s attacks on its enemies’ air forces were even more thorough. Egypt lost all of its bombers and 85 percent of its combat aircraft, most on the first day of war. All of Jordan’s airfields and fighters were destroyed in the first day of battle, and Syria’s air force was also severely crippled. In all, Israel destroyed more than 400 aircraft while losing only 36 of its 180 planes.
Finally, consider how much territory Israel conquered. By the war’s end, Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and all of Jerusalem. Israel conquered 42,000 square miles, making the nation 3 _ times its original size in one week.
Amazed by Israel’s accomplishments, the Western world heaped praise on the Israel Defense Forces (idf) for their audacity and success.
“From the podium of the UN, I proclaimed the glorious triumph of the idf and the redemption of Jerusalem,” said Abba Eban, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. “Never before has Israel stood more honored and revered by the nations of the world.”
Forty years ago, Israel’s tenacious military victory astounded the world. How did it happen?
It can only be explained as a miracle.
Israel’s Dire Circumstances
The fledgling nation of Israel was facing extinction. Egypt and Syria, upon signing a defense pact in November 1966, stepped up what had been their ongoing aggression toward Israel. Syria had been increasing its shelling of Israeli villages from the Golan Heights throughout 1965 and 1966, forcing Israelis into bomb shelters. Israel finally responded on April 7, 1966, with a retaliatory attack that destroyed six fighters in Syria’s air force. A vengeful Syria, falsely claiming that Israel was amassing forces on its borders, called on Egypt to honor their military pact. On May 15, Egyptian tanks and troops began rolling into the Sinai Peninsula, a demilitarized buffer zone patrolled by UN forces. On May 16, Egypt ordered the UN troops to leave, and within a few days the Egyptian military was deployed near Israel’s border. On the north and south, Israel faced hostile nations whose leaders were routinely calling for its destruction.
On May 22, Egypt moved to strangle Israel economically by closing the Straits of Tiran—Israel’s only trade route to Asia and its access to oil. This illegal blockade, combined with the Arab nations closing off their borders with Israel, could have quickly strangled the tiny nation’s economy and therefore its means of existence.
Eight days later, Jordan joined the military pact with Egypt and Syria; Israel was now completely surrounded by hostile nations ready to pounce. Iraq was next in line, joining the military alliance on June 4. Iraq’s president, Abdur Rahman Aref, proceeded to sum up months of hate-filled rhetoric from the Arab nations by saying, “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear: to wipe Israel off the map.”
The Arabs mobilized more than 400,000 troops, 2,000 tanks and 800 aircraft with the intent to crush Israel. Israel was left with one choice: to go on the offensive. On June 5, the Israeli prime minister gave orders to attack.
The war started at 7:10 in the morning with Operation Focus. Close to 200 Israeli planes were to bomb Egyptian air bases and runways to cripple the Egyptian Air Force. Half an hour later, the first wave reached its targets and caught the Egyptians by complete surprise. In little more than 30 minutes, half the Egyptian Air Force and six airfields were destroyed. The second wave reached its targets, destroying another 107 planes while losing only nine, all within 100 minutes of the initial strike.
That morning, 286 of the 420 combat aircraft in Egypt’s air force and 13 of its air bases were destroyed, with a third of its pilots being killed. “The Egyptian Air Force has ceased to exist,” a report to the idf Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin stated at 10:35 that morning.
Within an hour of the Israeli planes taking off, the ground assault started with Israeli tanks storming toward Egyptian defenses in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. The idf planned to surprise Egypt’s forces not only in timing but also in location, attacking the Sinai from northern and central routes rather than southern and central routes as Egypt expected. The surprise worked, though Israel suffered high casualties. By the next morning, Egypt’s first line of defense was overrun. Egyptian Minister of Defense Abdel Hakim Amer was so panicked by Israel’s attack, he ordered a wholesale retreat.
The success of the preemptive strike, especially Operation Focus, gave Israel a tremendous advantage and momentum in the war.
Ironically, the Egyptians also had their own plan for a preemptive strike, Operation Dawn, on the earlier date of May 30, but called it off 45 minutes before it was due to be launched. The Israelis learned of the plan through intercepted communications, and the Egyptian president aborted the mission against the advice of his staff.
Defense Minister Amer told the president, “By waiting, Egypt loses even before the war starts.”
When told to abort, the commander of the strike force asked Amer, “Why? Don’t we trust that Allah will aid us?”
“That’s not the point,” Amer responded.
But that was exactly the point. God was not with the Islamists, He was with Israel.
Momentum Carried Forward
The success of Israel’s preemptive attack vindicated a speech that Moshe Dayan, the newly appointed minister of defense at the time, had given to Israel’s government on June 2: “Israel’s one chance of winning this war is in taking the initiative and fighting according to our own designs,” he had stressed. “If we open with an attack and break through with our tanks to Sinai, they have to fight our war. What’s more, we have the chance of maintaining our other fronts with limited forces.”
That is exactly how it worked for Israel, facing the daunting challenge of fighting a three-front war. After receiving false reports of Egyptian victories from Egypt, Jordan opened up the second front and attacked Israel later that same morning, June 5. Israel’s early success freed the Israeli Air Force to wipe out both of Jordan’s air bases and its air force, as well as an air base in Iraq being used by Jordan to wage the war.
When Syria opened the third front by starting to bomb Jewish settlements, the Israeli Air Force was able to cripple Syria’s air force as well, destroying 60 of its 90 combat aircraft by the afternoon of the first day. This gave Israel command of the skies as its forces on the ground rolled forward.
The momentum of Israel’s attack, stemming from the surprise preemptive strikes, appeared unstoppable. By the end of the third day, June 7, Israel had captured Jericho and all of Jerusalem and reduced the strength of Jordan’s military by 80 percent. That day, Jordan, with its capital at risk of capture, signed a cease-fire resolution with Israel.
On the western front, Egypt continued its retreat in chaos. Egyptian soldiers were ordered to destroy their bases and retreat even before seeing a single Israeli soldier. The troops fled to the Suez Canal. “I cannot describe to you what we felt during the retreat from Sharm al-Sheikh,” said Abd al-Hafiz, an officer of an Egyptian garrison. “We nearly cried, for we could not believe what was happening. We never saw one Israeli soldier.”
“Everyone lost their heads,” said Dr. Abd al-Fattah al Tarki, a reserve officer of an Egyptian armored brigade. “The army on the roads was in a state of complete collapse. It was a massacre, a disaster. Israel never would have achieved a quarter of its victory if not for the confusion and chaos.”
So great was Israel’s momentum that its offensive plans were slowed by retreating Egyptian vehicles that were blocking the road.
The idf’s assault was so quick and successful that it stopped taking prisoners, except for officers, and encouraged the Arab soldiers to run to the Canal or, shoeless, into the desert!
Though initially the Israeli generals wanted to restrict the idf advance to those objectives they had defined from the start of the war, the quick success, coupled with the need to prevent any possibility of Egyptian armies regrouping, convinced the idf to continue steamrolling across the Sinai.
By the end of the fourth day, June 8, Israeli troops had reached the Suez Canal and were in striking range of Cairo. At that point, Egypt gave in and signed a cease-fire with Israel.
By the fifth day, Israel had turned its attention to the north and started its offensive against Syria in order to stop the bombardment from the Golan Heights for good.
By the morning of the sixth day, after all-night fighting, the Syrian Army was in full retreat, the Golan Heights were in Israeli control, and Damascus was wide open for attack. By nightfall, after six days of war, Syria signed a cease-fire.
The war was over.
Pinnacle Moment Proves God’s Blessing
None of Israel’s accomplishments was as important to the Jews as the capture of East Jerusalem. This most significant event gave them access to their holiest site. When the idf captured Jerusalem and took control of the remains of Herod’s temple, soldiers broke out in songs and prayers.
At that time, the troops and generals knew God had directed the battle and weren’t afraid to admit it.
“Apparently someone in heaven was watching over us,” said Commander Rafael Eytan, who led the paratroopers of the 35th Brigade. “Every unintended action they took and every unintended action we took always turned to our advantage.”
The victory, however, did more than redeem the sacrifices of the people; it proved God blessed Israel in battle because it was His will and purpose for the Jews to take control of Jerusalem.
In a prophecy to occur shortly before Christ’s return, God says, “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle … and half of the city shall go forth into captivity” (Zechariah 14:2). This prophecy could not be fulfilled unless Israel first controlled the entire city. God had to give the Jews the city for this end-time prophecy to unfold as God said it would.
What makes this conquest all the more remarkable is that Israel didn’t even plan to take Jerusalem at the beginning of the war. In fact, most of Israel’s achievements weren’t planned. Its goal was only to eliminate the Egyptian threat by destroying Egypt’s army and air force. The Israeli government and military generals did not plan to conquer the whole Sinai Peninsula, or take control of the West Bank, or seize the Golan Heights. Even the most celebrated event in the war, the taking of Jerusalem, was achieved based on the decisions of the enemy nations.
If Egypt had not lied to the public and the world about overcoming Israel in the first day of the war, Jordan wouldn’t have been inspired to attack Israel, and the map of Israeli-controlled territory would not have changed so drastically.
God tells us in Isaiah 48:9 that He intervenes in nations’ affairs not because of their inherent righteousness but for His “name’s sake.” By giving the victory to the Jews, God made His name great and His prophecies concerning Jerusalem could now be fulfilled. However, God works through men, and He was able to work the miracle because the Jews truly believed that the land was theirs to take and protect.
This magazine has often pointed out that modern-day Israel is actually the biblical tribe of Judah, one of the 12 tribes of Israel (our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy provides thorough proof of this). The Jews, drawing from their rich history of “David and Goliath”-type battles where God repeatedly delivered outnumbered Israelites from a multitude of enemies, acted with a certain amount of faith and determination, and God backed that up with a miraculous victory.
The victory and the conviction the Jews had in possessing the territory they gained in the Six Day War was short-lived. Israel gave the Sinai Peninsula—91 percent of the territory it had conquered in the Six Day War—back to Egypt in 1977. Since then, it has gone even further, giving the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in 2005 and thus putting itself within rocket-fire range, with not even a promise of peace. Now Israeli politicians are considering giving up the West Bank, the Golan Heights and half of Jerusalem. This is territory that Israel’s Arab enemies once used to threaten its existence—territory the Jews paid with blood to capture.
Not only are many Israelis willing to give up their once-precious land, the nation’s military no longer fights with the same conviction and strength it once did. What’s more, any semblance of strong, decisive national leadership has disappeared.
Last year’s Lebanon-Israel conflict is a prime example. The better-armed and -trained idf was unable to eliminate the threat of a few thousand terrorists in 34 days. This failure—what amounted to a defeat at the hands of a severely outgunned enemy—demonstrates the difference between a nation blessed by God and one cursed by God.
Israel now faces the consequences of becoming a society totally faithless and unbelieving of its history. Not only does God give victory for His name’s sake, but Jeremiah 14:7 reveals that He also punishes for His name’s sake. Because of the Jews’ disobedience and faithlessness, God is no longer giving them the miraculous victories in battle. The Jews’ hands were once “in the neck of their enemies” as God prophesied in Genesis 49:8, but now, once again, Israel’s enemies are closing in. Once again, the leading Islamic nation, this time Iran, is calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.
If only the Jews would remember their history with God and believe it! God can deliver His people from their enemies if they turn to Him for protection rather than relying on empty promises and pieces of paper. As with the ancient nation of Israel, God says He is going to allow the Jews to go into captivity in order to bring them to repentance.
Once they look to God, the Jews will once again enjoy the blessings of peace and prosperity that God is eager to bestow upon them—just as He is upon Egypt, Iran, the Arabic nations, and upon every other people that forsakes its own ways and follows God’s ways. Very soon, as the Prophet Isaiah wrote, the day will dawn when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”