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Six Day War

Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary

Six Day War - (In Hebrew - Mil'hement sheshet Hayamim). A war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria that began on June 5, 1967 and ended on June 10 1967. In the war, Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

 

1967 Six Day War Timeline (chronology)    Israel Intelligence Timeline  1961-1967

Background

The Six Day War occurred against the background of continuing Arab world hostility to the State of Israel, which had begun with the War of Independence. In that war, the newly created state of Israel had defeated the Arab armies that had invaded it, and expanded its territory. The war had created about 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees, who fled or were expelled in 1948.

Officially, no Arab country recognized the armistice lines of 1949 as international borders, and no Arab country recognized Israel, diplomatically. Israel, according to Arab rhetoric, had no right to exist, and was referred to as "The Zionist entity." Defeating and destroying Israel and "reversing the results of 1948" became central goals of Arab political rhetoric. Prestige and leadership of the Arab world were based on leadership in confrontation of Israel.

Gamal Abdul Nasser and his fellow officers had taken power in Egypt, in order they claimed, to modernize the country and undo the shame of the lost 1948 war. However, in 1956, after Nasser closed the straits of Tiran and Suez canal to Israeli shipping and moved terror squads into the Sinai peninsula, Israel, Britain and France attacked Egypt. Israel captured the entire Sinai peninsula in 100 hours. Before agreeing to withdraw, Israel got an Aide de Memoire from the US that it would support Israel's right to unrestricted access to the straits of Tiran, in accordance with international law, and the UN agreed to station an emergency force in Sinai (UNEF). 

Nasser claimed a "victory" in that he had gotten Israel, Britain and France to withdraw, but the UNEF and the free access of Israeli shipping  were a constant shameful reminder. Nasser bid to lead the Arab world, but his plans foundered in economic woes and a failed war in Yemen, evoking inter-Arab rivalry. Constant taunts dared Nasser to dismiss the UNEF and close the straits of Tiran.

Tension began developing between Israel and Arab countries in the 1960s. Israel began to implement its National Water Carrier plan, which pumps water from the Sea of Galilee to irrigate south and central Israel. The project was in accordance with a plan proposed by US envoy Eric Johnston in 1955, and agreed to by Arab engineers. Arab governments refused to participate however, because of the implied recognition of Israel. In secret meetings, Israel and Jordan agreed to abide by the water quotas set by the plan.

The newly formed Palestinian Fatah movement seized on the Israeli diversion as an "imperialist event" that would catalyze their revolution, and Yasser Arafat began calling for war to eliminate Israel. In the Fatah newspaper, Filistinunah, ("our Palestine") Arafat ridiculed Egyptian President Nasser and other Arab leaders for their impotence, and called for effective action against Israel. Nasser decided to found the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a "tame" alternative to the Fatah, and placed Ahmed Shukhairy, an ineffective and bombastic diplomat at its head.

The Syrians, who had broken with Nasser's pan-Arabism, countered by supporting Fatah and attempted to take over the Fatah group. Syrian army intelligence  recruited terrorists for actions against Israel, giving credit for the operations to Fatah. The first of these actions was announced on December 31, 1964, an attack on the Israel water carrier at Beit Netopha, but in fact no attack had taken place. A second attempt was made on January 2, 1965, but the explosives charge was disarmed. However, successful attacks soon followed on January 14 and February 28. In the 18 months preceding the war, there ware 120 terror attacks, resulting in 11 fatalities.  These minor terrorist activities received great publicity in the Arab world, and were contrasted with the lack of action and bombastic talk of Gamal Nasser, challenging Nasser's leadership. This ferment is considered the catalyst of the events that brought about the Six day war. It is a moot point whether it is to be attributed to Syrian rivalry with Nasser, or as Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians claim, to the Fatah movement. Faced with the "heroic" deeds of the Palestinians under Syrian tutelage, Nasser was pushed to an increasingly bellicose stance.

In several summit conferences beginning in 1964, Arab leaders ratified the  establishment of the PLO, declared their resolve to destroy Israel, and decided to divert the sources of the Jordan river that feed the Sea of Galilee, to prevent Israel from implementing the water carrier plan. The Syrians and Lebanese began to implement the diversions. Israel responded by firing on the tractors and equipment doing the work in Syria, using increasingly accurate and longer range guns as the Syrians moved the equipment from the border. This was followed by Israeli attempts to cultivate the demilitarized zones (DMZ) as provided in the armistice agreements. Israel was within its rights according to the armistice agreements, but Moshe Dayan claimed many years later that 80% of the incidents were deliberately provoked. In reality, the incidents were provoked in order to draw artillery fire, so that Israel would have an excuse to fire on the equipment being used by the Syrians for diversion of the headwaters of the Jordan. The Syrians responded by firing in the DMZs (Click here for a map of the demilitarized zones). When Israelis responded in force, Syria began shelling Israeli towns in the north, and the conflict escalated into air strikes.  The USSR was intent on protecting the new Ba'athist pro-Soviet government of Syria, and represented to the Syrians and Egyptians that Israel was preparing to attack Syria. As tension rose, Syria appealed to Egypt, believing the claim of the USSR that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border. The claim was false and was denied by the UN.

Prelude

Nasser's Opening Moves

Beginning in May 1967, unprovoked actions by Nasser and other Arab leaders created a feeling of impending disaster in Israel. Actions by the United States and UN, and lack of action, gave every reason to believe that the world intended to abandon Israel to whatever aggressive plans Nasser might have. Nasser, motivated by the need to re-assert leadership in the Arab world, was "pushing the envelope." It was felt that inaction by Israel in the best case would result in dangerous concessions, and in the worst case would goad Nasser and his allies into a devastating first strike attack. Hindsight has shown that the Arabs were no match for Israel. However it is also clear from the record that the feeling that the US would not honor its commitments was probably justified, and that had Israel not acted, it is almost certain that Egypt would have been able to close the Straits of Tiran permanently to Israeli shipping. It is probable, according to several sources,  that the Egyptians were planning to attack Israel, though pressure from USSR forced them to abandon the plan.  

On May 14, Israeli intelligence noted that Nasser had moved considerable forces into the Sinai desert. On the same day, Egypt asked for withdrawal of the UNEF forces. Secretary General U Thant stalled for time.  On May 16, 1967, a Radio Cairo broadcast stated: "The existence of Israel has continued too long. We welcome the Israeli aggression. We welcome the battle we have long awaited. The peak hour has come. The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel." Egypt repeated the request to withdraw UNEF forces on May 16, and UN Secretary General U Thant agreed to remove the troops on May 18. Formally, the troops could only be stationed in Egypt with Egyptian agreement. However, it had been believed believed that Nasser had really hoped U Thant would not remove the troops, and that he could use the presence of the UN troops as an excuse to do nothing.

Since the reaction to removal of UN troops was tepid, Nasser surmised that neither Israel nor the US would obstruct his ambitions. On May 23, Nasser closed the straits of  Tiran to Israeli shipping. The United States failed to live up to its guarantees of freedom of the waterways to Israel. A torrent of rhetoric issued from Arab capitals and Arab representatives to the UN. In the Arab world, Nasser, previously chided for inaction, was widely hailed as a liberator. Cartoons showed jackbooted Egyptian soldiers crushing caricatures of ghetto Jews.

Six Day war Cartoon Six Day war Cartoon
Six Day War: Al-Farida, Lebanon, showed Nasser kicking the "Jew," Israel, into the sea,  with the armies of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq supporting him. June 5, 1967, Roz El Youseff shows Israeli midget being crushed in the hands of Syria and Egypt.

At the UN, PLO Chairman Ahmed Shukhairy announced that "if it will be our privilege to strike the first blow" the PLO would expel from Palestine all Zionists who had arrived after 1917 and eliminate the state of Israel. In a speech to Arab Trade Unionists on May 26, 1967, Nasser justified the dismissal of the UNEF, and made it clear that Egypt was prepared to fight Israel for Palestinian rights. He also attacked the Jordanians as tools of the imperialists, stepping up the constant pressure on Jordan's King Hussein.

US Policy

The US was caught by surprise by developments in the Middle East, but it may have unwittingly contributed to the crisis. In January of 1967, Senator Symington discussed his recent trip to the Middle East in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Symington noted that US diplomats were disturbed by the big Israeli retaliatory raid on November 13, 1966 in Samu, in the West Bank (then under Jordanian control). The US had apparently developed the theory that Israel was attacking Jordan rather than Syria or Egypt, because Jordan was a US client and would be restrained by the US. The attack had weakened King Hussein. These concerns must have been impressed on the Israelis, who thereafter may have focused more attention on Syria. 

In assessing the situation in the Middle East shortly thereafter, on  January 16, 1967, Secretary State Dean Rusk delivered himself of three pronouncements which indicate that he, and apparently the entire US diplomatic establishment, were either blissfully ignorant of the situation or else they were unwilling to share their knowledge with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He asserted that the tension between Israel and Syria was due to a dispute over the borders in the demilitarized zone.  It was in fact due to Syrian efforts to divert the sources of the Jordan. He asserted that Fatah terrorists were not being supported by Arab governments, whereas in fact they were trained and apparently armed by Syrian military intelligence. Rusk's biggest error was that predicted that there would not be a war. These were not failures of insight or intelligence gathering. The decisions of the Arab summits were a matter of public record. They created the PLO to carry on "armed struggle" against Israel. They decided on the Jordan diversion scheme. They announced their plans to destroy Israel, in a time table that envisioned a war in 1968. All this was known, and yet Rusk claimed he did not have evidence of Syrian involvement and didn't think there would be a war, because neither side wanted one! None of the committee members challenged him.

A major insight into United States policy toward Israel and the Middle East is gained from a singular revelation. In 1967, the United States had a plan to intervene militarily in the Middle East, including an attack on Israel, should the integrity of any nation be threatened. The United States was apparently seriously contemplating military intervention against Israel, as well as against Arab nations in the event of a war. This puts into stark perspective the empty reality behind the proclamations of generations of United States politicians regarding the "special relationship" of Israel with the United States. In reality, the relation to Israel is variable. The State Department tends to favor Arab states, while presidents at least feel they must pay lip-service to the "special relationship" with Israel.  Myths about the "Israel Lobby" to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no reason to assume the United States will stand by commitments it has made to Israel if it decided it was inconvenient to do so, in view of the evasive behavior of the U.S. government in the critical period preceding the Six Day War. This is especially underlined by the fact that Lyndon Johnson was known to be a "special friend" of Israel.  

Israeli diplomats repeatedly implored U.S. President Johnson to make good on the US pledge to allow Israel freedom of navigation in the straits of Tiran, or to support Israeli military action. The US, for its part, publicly insisted that it was working to assemble an international force that would open the straits, a "Regatta." It developed that France and Britain were cool to the idea, and President Johnson found that the US congress was unwilling to back involvement in another military adventure, given the problems the US was facing in Vietnam. From Damascus, U.S. ambassador Smythe telegraphed that U.S. attempts to open the straits of Tiran would meet with opposition of the 'monolithic Arab nation,' that the attempt was "foredoomed," and that Israel was an unviable client state, which did not merit US support.  Oil interests including the Aramco company warned against US support for Israeli navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba:

The Israeli government probably did not want war, and some at least were fearful of war. Ben-Gurion berated Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin for making aggressive statements that had, according to him, escalated the conflict and gotten Israel into trouble.

Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban  was sent to the US on May 25th. His missions were to get from the United States some guarantee against an Egyptian attack and some firm action to break the blockade of the straits of Tiran.  Prime Minister Levi Eshkol needed these in order to fight pressure to launch an immediate attack.

Israel presented an intelligence estimate to the US on May 25th, coinciding with Eban's arrival, according to which an Egyptian attack in Sinai was imminent. Some sources claim that this was a deliberate exaggeration meant to goad the US into supportive action. The CIA dismissed the estimate as unfounded. In Six Days of War, (Oxford, 2002) Michael Oren, relying primarily on Egyptian sources, details an Egyptian plan to attack Israel, operation fajr (Dawn),  that was supposedly detected by Israel and stopped by US and Soviet intervention a few hours before it was to take place in the early morning of May 27, 1967. The same plan is mentioned in other sources (e.g. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims,  1999, page 307). It is unclear if Israel had this information on May 25.  US sources declassified to date do not give give any indication of this purported attack plan. A CIA estimate of May 25, which "scrubbed" the Israeli estimate, claimed that Nasser and Syria were dragged into the conflict by inter-Arab rivalry and did not contemplate a war.

Abba Eban got nothing. He was turned down by Secretary of State Dean Rusk  He was turned down by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and he was turned down, essentially by President Johnson. The US could not commit itself to the defense of Israel for constitutional reasons, according to the administration. The US could not establish any intelligence or military liaison with Israel. The US could not open the straits of Tiran alone without first attempting to do so through a multinational  force or the UN. Israel must not attack the Arabs. These messages were contained in a written statement that President Johnson handed Eban at their meeting on May 26. The same constitutional reasons, one may point out, did not prevent the United States from becoming involved in a war to defend South Vietnam.

It is clear from declassified documents that the US was interested in restraining Israel solely because it was concerned for its own interests in the Middle East and fearful of economic repercussions, and that the US would be unable, in the end, to actually open the straits of Tiran, owing to Arab objections. A memorandum from Dean Rusk to President Johnson on May 26, preparatory to Johnson's meeting with Abba Eban  states:

You have two basic options now:

(1) to let the Israelis decide how best to protect their own national interests, in the light of the advice we have given them: i.e., to "unleash" them. We recommend strongly against this option.

(2) To take a positive position, but not a final commitment, on the British proposal. The British Cabinet meets on the plan tomorrow.

We recommend this policy, as our best hope of preventing a war which could gravely damage many American national interests.

In the same document, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg is quoted as advising a "compromise" that would give Nasser a victory: "Non-Strategic" Israeli cargos would be allowed through the straits of Tiran bound for the port of Eilat in ships flying foreign flags. "Strategic" cargos presumably included oil tankers.

On May 29, 1967, Nasser gave a bellicose speech to the Egyptian National Assemblyly,  stating, "God will surely help and urge us to restore the situation to what it was in 1948." Intelligence reports to the contrary notwithstanding, rhetoric and actions in the Arab world were making it clear that the Arab leaders were serious about destroying Israel.

On May 30, a letter sent by Levi Eshkol  again asked for some sign that the US was going to make good on its commitments, or release Israel from its commitment to restraint. On the same day, Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt, readying itself for war. King Hussein stated: "The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel...to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations."

Israel 1967 Six Day War- Nasser and Hussein sign Arab Defense Pact

Arab Defense Pact

In the few days since Eban's mission, the UN debate had finished without result, the "Regatta" was showing itself to be impractical, the Arabs had signed a defense pact, and the US had come to understand quite well that Israel was losing ground and taking risks.

A fair appreciation of the situation was given by Harold Saunders on May 31. Saunders made the following points:

Israel had suffered from the restraint:  "It seems that the UAR has won all the chips to date."

Restraining Israel was a mistakeke: "By not stopping an Israeli strike as early as 21 May when Egyptian positions were still fluid, we would probably have witnessed a limited Arab defeat and then had to move the international machinery in to restore peace....{A]ssuming she held her own, we would not have been linked with Israel and she would have brought to bear the only counter that the US or anyone else has yet found to the war of national liberation-force. Nasser as a dominating force would have been physically weakened, and the moderate governments might have been freed to ignore him and concentrate on their own development in association with us.

Now US was linked with Israel, and would be even more committed:

 For twenty years Israel has sought a special relationship-even a private security guarantee-with us. We have steadfastly refused in order to preserve our other interests in the Middle East. We argued that our policy worked to Israel's best interest too. Now we are committed to side with Israel and, in opening the Straits of Tiran, even to wage war on the Arabs. In short, we have chosen sides-not with the constructive Arabs and Israel but with Israel alone against all the Arabs.

Whoever is the bigger winner, we are the sure loser. If we follow our present course, we stand to lose economically (see the Task Force's rundown of the "economic vulnerabilities") and to suffer substantial Soviet gains. If we back away from Israel, we're a paper tiger. In building a new Middle East along the regional lines in your vision, the closer we get to Israel, the longer we delay our constructive contribution to make that vision a reality.

U.S. should let Israel "go it alone" Eshkol himself says he'll have to go this route within a week or two if we can't produce. He's correct that we don't have any right to hold him back longer while his enemy gets stronger unless we're willing to take on the Arabs ourselves. Pretty soon we'll have Soviet warships in the Red Sea. We ought to consider admitting that we have failed and allow fighting to ensue.

Nonetheless, President Johnson did not change his policy. He finally replied to Levy Eshkol's letter on June 3.  He said nothing. He reiterated the same points he had made to Abba Eban earlier. In fact, he included the same written document.  When war broke out on June 5, State Department Spokesman Robert McCloskey said, in an infamous communique, was to say that "the U.S. position is neutral in word, thought and deed."

US and Israeli assessments were that Israel would win any war handily, despite the huge superiority in armor, aircraft, and troops favoring the combined forces of the Arab countries. US officials publicly told Israeli officials that by waiting and not attacking that they had gained and not lost, but US intelligence estimates and secret documents reveal that the US was well aware that Israel faced risks and also understood quite well that Nasser had won the first round. Israel estimated they might lose 4,000 dead, and had dug 10,000 graves and prepared some 14,000 hospital beds. The US had several estimates. . One CIA estimate insisted that Israel would beat the Arabs handily, predicated on the notion that Israel would lose half its air force in a surprise attack and still be in a condition to be resupplied. The National board of estimates was a bit more realistic and frank. It noted:

The Israelis face dismaying choices. Surprised and shaken by Nasser's action, they failed to take the instant military counteraction which might have been most effective. If they attack now they will face far more formidable opposition than in the rapid campaign of 1956. We believe that they would still be able to drive the Egyptians away from the entrance to the Strait of Tiran, but it would certainly cost them heavy losses of men and materiel. We are not sure that they have sufficient stockpiles of ammunition and equipment for a war lasting more than three or four weeks, and it is possible that they would not embark upon a major campaign without prior assurances from the US of adequate resupply.

Israel opts for war

Against this background, pressure grew in Israel. When Hussein signed the pact with Nasser on May 30, it astounded the world indeed. Most especially, it astounded and alarmed Israeli military intelligence and the IDF General Staff. The Nasser - Hussein pact made war inevitable. Mobilization was expensive, diplomatic efforts were producing no results. In Israel, mobilization paralyzes the economy, since every able-bodied is removed from the work force. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol appeared hesitant, and supposedly stuttered in a dramatic radio speech to the nation on May 28. (see Levi Eshkol radio address, 1967).  IDF officers began pressuring the civilian establishment to declare war, because it was considered that an Arab attack might be imminent, and because Israel's ability to maintain its army fully mobilized is limited, but Prime Minister Eshkol was reluctant to take action, and Foreign Minister Abba Eban  opposed unilateral action, which he believed would be against the wishes of the United States. However, with virtually nothing in hand from the United States, Eban's voice carried little weight. Ariel Sharon  admitted later that he and others, including Yitzhak Rabin, had discussed the possibility of a sort of coup, in which government officials were to be locked in a room, while the army started the war, but the idea never got past the stage of thinking out loud. Some claim that this was only a joke.  

The government of Levi Eshkol, under severe pressure, had been expanded June 1 to include Moshe Dayan as Defense Minister and the right wing Herut party of Mr. Begin.  Johnson had taken four or five days to reply to P.M. Eshkol's earlier urgent plea for help sent May 30, the reply was not a cause for optimism.

On June 4, Iraq likewise joined a military alliance with Egypt and committed itself to war. On May 31, the Iraqi President Rahman Aref announced, "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."

Mossad chief Meir Amit had been dispatched to Washington and returned, either with an assessment that the US would not stand in the way, or more likely with an assessment that the US would not do anything for Israel, and therefore there was not point in waiting in any case. When the Israel cabinet met on the morning of Sunday June 4, it had Amit's assessment, it also had Johnson's letter before it, indicating the intransigence of the United States. Moshe Dayan, who had become Defense Minister June 1, had been feverishly preparing for war.

Armaments and Battle Array

Estimates of armaments and troops vary.

Summary:

Israel: 275,000 troops (of which about 200,000 were reserves) 200 aircraft, 1,100 tanks, (According to Oren, 2002, page 168, but on page 171 he states that there were 250 aircraft). or 250,000 troops, 192 combat aircraft, 40 trainers, 1100 tanks, 400 guns and heavy mortars (Morris, Righteous Victims, 1999 page 311).

Total Arab forces: About 250,000 troops (not counting 50,000 in Yemen) 530 aircraft, 1,500 tanks (some sources claim 2,800 tanks), broken down as follows:

Egypt: 180,000 troops (of which 50,000 were deployed in Yemen - some of these were returned to Sinai), About 420 aircraft, of which 242 were MiG fighters, and the rest were apparently Ilyushin and Topolev bombers and Sukhoi fighter-bombers,  900 tanks, 800 artillery pieces (Morris, page 312,318);

Jordan: 56,000 troops, 24 Hawker-Hunter jet fighters,  294 tanks (including 30 Iraqi), 194 artillery pieces (including 34 Iraqi) (Morris, 1999, page 312). Jordanian troops were reinforced with several Iraqi brigades.

Syria: 70,000 troops, 92 fighter aircraft and two bombers, 300 tanks,  265 artillery pieces and heavy mortars (Morris, 1999, page 313).

The table shows all combat aircraft types of each country. Syria and Egypt alone had over 500 aircraft vs 343 for Israel, and they outclassed Israeli aircraft. The Iraqi air force did not not commit most of its air craft to the battle. 

Six Day War: Detailed Air Battle Array*

Type Israel Egypt Syria Jordan

Iraq

Lebanon
Fighter 228 242 92 24 130 31
Bomber 19 57 2   21  
Transport 51 83 5 7 23 2
Helicopter 45 37 10 4 50 5
Total 343 419 109 35 224 38

*Approximate numbers of all craft, including those not in service. Israeli "fighter" air craft total includes 45 Fouga Magister (Zukit) trainers that were actually not suitable as fighters. It is not clear if trainer aircraft of other countries are included.  Source

At the time, it was believed that the Arab states had a decisive superiority in the number and quality of weapons, and a potential superiority in manpower, if all reserves were fielded. Prior to 1967, Israel had gotten almost no military aid from the United States. Egypt and Syria were equipped with large quantities of the latest Soviet military equipment. Israel's main arms supplier was France.  Israel had about half as many aircraft as the Egyptians, and the Israeli aircraft were mostly old or of limited capacity. They included 45 Fouga Magister trainer jets that were used as decoys according to most accounts, 50 Ouragan bombers, 20 Vautour light bombers, and 35 Mystere Mark IV fighters, 35 Super Mystere and 65 Mirage IIIc fighters: 250 aircraft in all according to the estimate of Michael Oren (Six Days of War, page 171). A more detailed listing of the capabilities of these aircraft is given here: Operation Focus.  Even the Mirages were no match in a dog fight for the Mig-21 fighters acquired by Egypt from the USSR, which had a rate of climb of about 120 m/s, versus 83 m/s for for the Mirage, of which Israel had 65. The Arab states had over 300 MiG aircraft, of which about half were MiG-21. The Mysteres in Israel's possession had a top speed of Mach 1.1, about half that of the MiG-21 or Mirage IIIc. 

Six Day War: Comparative Air Craft Specifications*

  MiG-21FL Fishbed C  (Egyptian, Syrian) Dassault Mirage IIIC (Israel)
Number over 150 65
Engine 5740 kg Tumansky R11F-300 w. afterburner SNECMA Atar 9C 6080 Kg afterburning turbojet.
Thrust/Weight 0.67 0.46
Range 1160 km /2030KM (600 KG loaded) Various sources: 1,750 km, 1666 km 2,400 KM
Speed 2229 km/h 2350 km/h
Ceiling 15,250 m 17,000 m
Rate of Climb 120 m/s 83 m/s
Armament NR-30 cannon and 2 AA-2 Atoll IR missiles 2 * 30mm DEEFA cannons
Payload ? Small 2,000  - 4400 kg (according to different sources)l
  MiG-17 Fresco  (Egyptian, Syrian) Dassault Super Mystere B2
Number Over 100 35
Engine 3380 kg Klimov VK-1F afterburning turbojet 4460kg SNECMA atar 101G-2 turbojet (w. afterburner)
Thrust/weight: 0.63 0.50
Range 1080-1470 km depending on mission 870 km
Speed 1145 km/h 1200 km/h
Ceiling 15100 m 17000 m
Rate of Climb 65 m/s 89 m/s
Armament 1X Nudelman N-37 cannon (37mm);2*g 23mm (80 rounds per gun, 160 rounds total) 2 X 30mm DEFA cannon
Payload 500 kg external under wing 908 kg external under wing

* Nominal specifications from various sources, especially Fighter Planes and The Israel Air Force  The payload of the MiG-21 is not given in any available sources, but described as "Small"  Egypt probably had 100 or more of these aircraft, as 90 were destroyed in the first wave of attacks, along with 20 MiG 19 and 75 MiG 17.  Rate of climb depends on the fuel load of the craft, initial speed and altitude. Maneuverability and similar issues are not addressed in formal specifications, but may be crucial in combat: Turn radius, stability, maximum dive angle, max. climb angle, efficiency of the armament (the last can only be determined in combat).   

On paper, the IDF had a large number of "tanks" matching or almost matching the arms of the Arab countries. However, while Syrians and Egyptians were equipped with late model Soviet heavy tanks, many of the Israeli "tanks" were in fact tiny French AMX anti-tank vehicles, and most of the heavy tanks were either British Centurions or refurbished WWII Sherman tanks fitted with diesel engines and with 105 mm guns. Israel had also been allowed to purchase an unknown number of M-48 Patton tanks from Germany or the US in 1965. It is known that the Germans had sold Israel at least 60 such tanks. In 1967 however, many of these tanks were being converted from gasoline to diesel engines. The Israeli government asked the Americans for 100 replacement tanks in May of 1967.  However, these and all other arms requests were refused. 

Several factors dominated Israeli strategy and concerns. The first was that the war had to be over quickly. It was understood that as soon as Arab states had suffered significant losses, they would sue for a cease fire in the UN, backed by their Soviet allies. The second was that Israel did not have the troops or equipment to fight on three fronts at the same time. Israel would have to gamble that the Jordanian and Syrian fronts would remain relatively quiet until the Egyptians were no longer a threat. The third was that Israel would be using up war materiel rapidly, and with no immediate prospect of replacements. Israeli roads were poor by international standards, Jordanian and Syrian roads were poorer, and Egyptian roads were virtually nonexistent. Israel did not have sufficient numbers of vehicles for troop transport. Therefore, civilian vehicles of all sorts, including busses, sedans and trucks, were "drafted" for the duration. Some of these vehicles were in poor repair and were overcome by the heat and long lines of vehicles, adding to the confusion. That meant that the rapid Israeli advance caused incredible traffic jams, with troop transports and armor and guns snarled at critical junctions for hours, limiting the possibility for rapid initial deployment.

Detailed timing of battles: 1967 Six Day War Timeline (chronology)  

Six Day War cease-fire lines 1967Operation Focus - (For detailed account see - Operation Focus) Israel attacked the Egyptians beginning on June 5, 1967 at about 07:45 hours. Israeli radio announced that Egyptians had opened fire and Israeli forces were returning fire. A terse battle announcement was repeated all through the morning of June 5, in which Moshe Dayan said, "We are a small but brave nation, and we shall overcome them." In the first hours of the war (operation Moked or  Operation Focus), two waves of Israel Air Force attacks destroyed about 286 enemy aircraft, mostly on the ground, to achieve total air superiority. Almost every combat aircraft in the IAF participated in each wave. The attack was made possible in part by the excellent training and organization of ground crews, which could turn around returning aircraft, fully armed and refueled, in a few minutes.

By about 08:30 hours it was understood that the attack was a total and almost unbelievable success, but most Israelis did not know that until the following day. By 10:35 hours, Israeli Air Force Commander Moti Hod could say, "The Egyptian Air Force has ceased to exist." The Egyptian air force announced, however, that it had downed about 160 Israeli aircraft and was winning the war. Egyptian radio broadcasts continued to insist they were winning throughout the first day.

Egyptian response was minimal. Marshall Amer  was in the air that morning and had ordered anti-aircraft defenses not to fire at anything, for fear of hitting his plane.  The Egyptians were left with 35 operational aircraft. 

Six Day War: Israeli Mirage figher jets returning from Egypt

Israel Mirage Jets returning from Egyptt

Egyptian Aircraft destroyed
on the runway - Six Day War

Egyptian Aircraft destroyed on the runway - Six Day War

Land War in Sinai - Israeli armor executed a three pronged strike against Egypt. In the north the three brigades of General Israel Tal's division (ugdah - a reinforced division), crossed the border at Nahal Oz and south of Khan Yunis. They proceeded swiftly to the Rafah Gap, held by four Egyptian divisions. Tal's division had 250 tanks, 50 guns, a paratrooper brigade and a reconnaissance unit.  Following fierce battles led by Col. Shmuel Gonen, Israeli armor broke through to the outskirts of El-Arish. Israel lost 28 tanks, 93 men were wounded and 66 killed.

The central division led by Avraham Yoffe, and the southern prong consisting of Ariel Sharon's division, converged on the heavily defended and fortified Umm Qatef (Abu-Ageila-Kusseima) region. Egyptian forces there included one infantry division (the 2nd), a battalion of tank destroyers and a tank regiment.

Sharon sent two of his brigades to the north of Um- Qatef, one to break through the defenses at Abu-Ageila to the south, and the other to block the road to El-Arish and to encircle Abu-Ageila from the east. At the same time, a paratrooper force was landed there and destroyed the artillery, preventing it from engaging Israeli armor. Combined forces of armor, paratroopers, infantry, artillery and combat engineers attacked the Egyptian disposition from the front flanks and rear, cutting the enemy off. The breakthrough battles which were in sandy areas, three three thousand yard trenches, and minefields, continued until June 8.

The Egyptians retreated in panic and amidst numerous contradictory orders. The Israelis decided to bypass the Egyptian units and destroy them in the mountainous passes of West Sinai. By the evening of June 6, General Amer had ordered the Egyptians to retreat. The Israelis hastened to cut off their retreat. On June 6 and 7 all three Israeli divisions, reinforced by two armored brigades,  rushed westwards to the passes. Sharon's division first went southward then westward to Mitla Pass. It was joined there by parts of Yoffe's division, while its other units blocked the Gidi Pass. Tal's units stopped at various points along the length of the Suez Canal.

Israel's blocking action was only partially successful. The Gidi pass was captured before the Egyptians approached it, but elsewhere some Egyptian units did manage to pass through and cross the Canal to safety.

Abba Eban had predicted Israel would have 72 hours before a cease fire was enforced, and his predictions were approximately correct. However, the cease fire efforts were held up initially, because, incredibly, Nasser refused a cease fire offer on the evening of June 7, unless Israel withdrew to the border. The line was also taken by the Soviets. By the evening of June 8, Nasser had accepted the cease fire, but Israeli troops were in control of all of Sinai.  Israel had completed the conquest of the Sinai peninsula, sending infantry units to Ras-Sudar on the western coast. Sharm El-Sheikh was captured a day earlier by units of the Israeli Navy. In four days, Israel defeated the largest and most heavily equipped Arab army, leaving Sinai filled with hundreds of burning or abandoned Egyptian vehicles.

Six Day war 1967 - Heliborne landing of IDF troops at Suez

Heliborne troops at the Suez Canal,

In order to excuse the loss, Egyptian President Nasser fabricated the story that the United States had given Israel air support from the sixth fleet, and the British had collaborated as well. This story spread rapidly throughout the Middle East. Mobs attacked US and British embassies, oil shipments were embargoed, and several countries broke off diplomatic relations with the United States.

Israel intercepted a telephone call from Nasser to Jordan's King Hussein, in which Nasser explained how the story would be fabricated, and coordinated the versions to be told. (For transcript and background: Transcript of Nasser-Hussein telephone conversation, June 6, 1967  )  At great political cost at home, the US had refrained from giving Israel any material support, in order to keep the friendship of moderate Arab states. Nasser's fabrication set the Arab states against the United States nonetheless, and in turn,  helped set the Americans against the Egyptians.

See maps:  Map of Egyptian Front Israel 6 Day War - June 5-6  Map of Egyptian Front Israel 6 Day War - June 6-7

The Liberty - On June 8, 1967, Israelis attacked and crippled a US CIA intelligence ship, the Liberty, that had been stationed off the coast of Gaza. Apparently, it was a case of mistaken identity, though Liberty survivors insist that it was deliberate. The Liberty had been ordered to move 100 miles off shore, but it never received the order. Israelis claim they were unable to identify the ship, and lacking the close liaison they had repeatedly requested from the Americans, they were unaware of the ship's position. They had correctly identified the ship on the morning of June 8 as American, but had lost contact by the afternoon. Americans claim the ship was flying an American flag, but Israeli pilots and a torpedo boat were unable to see any flag.

Jordan - Jordanian artillery began firing at Jerusalem on the first day of the war, despite a warning by Israeli PM Levi Eshkol to stay out of the war, and then the Jordan Legion advanced and took over the headquarters of the UN (Governor's house - Armon Hanatziv ) in Jerusalem. Jordanian artillery (155 mm US Howitzers) fired on the suburbs of Tel Aviv, and at Ramat David in the north. Jordanian Hawker-Hunters bombed Netanya, Kfar Sirkin and Kfar Saba. The Soviet ambassador to Jordan remarked to US Ambassador Burns, "Our estimate is that if the Israelis do not receive arms, we think the Arabs will win the war if they are allowed to fight it to the finish." 

After warning King Hussein repeatedly to cease fire and withdraw, through the UN and through the US, and after accepting a cease fire proposed by the UN but rejected by Jordan, Israel attacked. Israel destroyed the Jordanian air force on June 5, and then proceeded to conquer the West Bank and East Jerusalem. on June 6-8. The Jordan Legion put up stiff resistance in a few battles, but they were no match for Israel, especially after Israel had wiped out the Jordanian air force. The Jordanian Patton tanks outranged the Israeli Shermans. However, if the Sherman tanks could get in close enough, they found that the weak point of the Jordanian Patton tanks was their external auxiliary gas tanks, which caught fire easily, and a fair number of tanks were destroyed in this way.

Six day war: Israeli troops overlooking Jerusalem in 1967

Israeli troops overlooking Jerusalem, 19677

The conquest of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount was undertaken hesitantly. It was perceived to be politically dangerous abroad and at home. Everyone wanted to be able to return to the areas that that  had been forbidden to Jews, in violation of the armistice agreement, since 1949: the Western wall of the ancient temple in particular. Almost every Israeli Jew believed that Jerusalem, the ancient capital of the Jews, which had had a Jewish majority in modern time for over half a century, until 1948, was Jewish by right. Since 1948 Israelis had gazed bitterly over the barbed wire that had divided their capital city.  Six Day War: Paratroopers at the Western Wall
 

Six Day War: Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall

Uzi Narkiss, Yigal Allon, Itzhak Rabin and others certainly wanted to "finish" unfinished business of 1948, conquer the old city and East Jerusalem, avenge the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem by the Jordan Legion, restore the Jewish quarter and return to the Hebrew University campus, that had been isolated on Mt. Scopus. Jerusalem is an important national and religious symbol for Zionism and for the Jewish people. On the other hand, it was understood that because of Jerusalem's never-implemented international status, and because of its importance to Islam and Christianity, conquest of Jerusalem could evoke serious opposition from West as well as the Arab world, and would have diplomatic repercussions. Once it was conquered, in Israel there would be tremendous opposition to giving up any part of it, and particularly the Temple Mount and wailing wall (Western Wall) on religious and national grounds. 

See maps: Map of Israel - Jerusalem front details in the 6 Day War   Map of Jordanian Front in Israel 6-Day War 1967

Syria  During the first days of the war, Syrian artillery based in the Golan Heights pounded civilian targets in northern Israel. After dealing with Egypt, Israel decided to conquer the Golan heights, despite opposition and doubts of some in the government, including Moshe Dayan, who had been appointed defense minister.  On June 8, fear of Soviet intervention caused the government to cancel a planned strike on the Golan, due chiefly to the opposition of Moshe Dayan. Both Chief of Staff Rabin and head of the Northern Command David (Dado) Elazar were frustrated by the decision. Dayan  changed his mind, apparently when intercepted communications  made it apparent that the Egyptian army had collapsed and that the Syrian army was not in a position to offer serious resistance. On June 9 Dayan authorized a limited attack, operation Hammer. Syria claimed it was observing the cease fire, and that Israel was violating it. Israel claimed that Syrians were continuing to shell Israel. Israeli credibility was aided by the fact that Syria invented Israeli air attacks on Cairo and Damascus, and announced the fall of Quneitra in the Golan prematurely.  It was clearly only a matter of hours before pressure would mount to stop any Israeli offensive. Because of the need for haste, bulldozers were sent to storm the heights in exposed positions, suffering high casualties. Syrian troops were well dug in in cement pillboxes, and fought stubbornly in places like Tel al Fakhr. However, the initial Syrian resistance soon crumbled and Syrian troops began fleeing. At the same time, pressure from the United States and USSR for a halt to the advance mounted.  Israel agreed to a cease fire on June 10, 1967 after conquering Quneitra and completed the conquest of the Golan Heights. UN Resolution 242 called for negotiations of a permanent peace between the parties, and for Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967.

See Map:  Map of Golan Front - Israel 6-Day War 

Military Results

Israel captured 42,000 square miles of territory. Israeli fatalities in the war were officially given as 679 dead and 2,563 wounded, but may have been as high as 800 dead eventually. Estimates of Arab casualties vary from about 5,000 to as high as 21,000 dead1  and 45,000 wounded. Israel lost 15 prisoners of war. Israel destroyed between 452 and 469 aircraft in all and lost 36.  Israel captured almost 6,000 prisoners of war. 320 tanks, two SAM missile batteries 480 guns and 10,000 vehicles were captured from Egypt. Most of the rest of the Egyptian hardware was destroyed.  Jordan lost 179 tanks, and Syria lost 118 tanks.2 The Arab countries lost thousands of vehicles and artillery pieces.  Between 175,000 and 250,000 Palestinians fled the West Bank for Jordan or were expelled.  France had declared an arms embargo on Israel before the war, and the US did not accede to Israeli requests for rearmament. Syria and Egypt rearmed rapidly.

Six Day War - Estimated Aircraft losses

(see Note 2)

 
Country Number
Egypt  338
Syria 61
Jordan 29
Iraq 23
Lebanon 1
Approx Total Arab 452
Israel   46

 

Six Day War - Approximate Number of aircraft destroyed by aircraft type

Fighter and interceptor

No.
MiG-21 'Fishbed' 148

MiG-19 'Farmer'     

29

MiG-17 'Fresco'  

112

Su-7 'Fitter'             

14

Hawker Hunter      

27

Bomber

 

Tu-16 'Badger '      

31

Il-28 'Beagle'         

31

Transport

 

Il-14 'Crate'             

32

An-12 'Cub'        

8

Miscellaneous       

4

Transport helicopters

 

Mi-6 'Hook'          

10

Mi-4 'Hound'        

6

 

The war and its immediate consequences

Israel: An honored dictum of the ancient Chinese work, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, states, "When you are strong, act weak." Israeli hesitancy and American vacillation inadvertently created a military and diplomatic strategic opportunity. In the face of the seeming Israeli and American collapse, Nasser and his allies were drawn into the attack in much the same way as the Romans were drawn into the Carthaginian center at the battle of Cannae. Had Israel attacked as soon as UNEF was removed, or when the Straits of Tiran were closed, there is no doubt that the attack would have met with severe condemnation, and Israel would have been forced into precipitate withdrawal. Neither the Syrians nor the Jordanians would have been involved. Each day that the war was postponed, and each bellicose act, gave Israel a better diplomatic case. It also ensured that the IDF was fully mobilized and trained.

While the victory seems to some to have been assured in retrospect, there was certainly no way of anticipating it. The first and most critical factor was the air attack on Egypt. Israel had no way of knowing that an order from Marshal Amer would ground all the Egyptian air craft and silence all the anti-aircraft installations. It had no way to be certain that the first wave of attack would not be detected. In fact it was detected by Jordanian radar, but the Egyptians, having changed radio frequencies, were unable to receive the Jordanian warning. Israel could not know that in advance. There was no way to predict that Egyptian armor would simply collapse. Even a minimal Egyptian resistance would have cost significant casualties and possibly finished Israeli reserves of ammunition, forcing an early end to the war. One or two Syrian or Iraqi airplanes penetrating to the Haifa chemical works could have cause immense damage. Finally, Israel had no way of knowing that Jordan and Syria would content themselves with artillery bombardments and not advance their armor or troops at all. During the first days of the war, Syria and Jordan had superior ground forces, as Israeli forces were engaged in Sinai. Israel might perhaps have won in any case, but it would have paid an enormous price. 

Israelis were certainly unwilling to go to war, and had a disproportionate fear of the possible consequences. Talk of a second Holocaust was fairly widespread, in part perhaps because of the consciousness of the Holocaust induced by the Eichmann trial. The fear of war motivated both the prolonged requests for US intervention and the opposition of many in the government to preemption. Eventually, the attack became inevitable because of

  • the fear of surprise attack
  • the economic impossibility of prolonged mobilization
  • the certain knowledge that without a military response, any solution would be a "compromise" that would gravely Israel's standing and encourage further aggression.

Israel was unprepared for the swift victory and for its extent. Decisions to conquer the Suez Canal, Jerusalem the West Bank, the Northern Golan and Southern Golan were taken on the spur of the moment. Lack of planning, lack of diplomatic support and lack of military capability prevented Israel from winning a decisive victory that would force the Arab states to treat for peace. Behind it all, the big powers watched carefully over their clients. The Soviets would never have tolerated an Israeli advance on Damascus, a specter they were frantically raising on June 10. The US would not have given Israel the backing to do it either.

The swift victory produced a tremendous feeling of relief and exhilaration that was felt throughout the nation, as well as a quiet but certain belief in the justice of the Israeli cause, and a somewhat dangerous belief in the infallibility of the IDF. The conquest of Jerusalem, "unfinished business" since 1948, added drama and meaning. All these feelings were summed up, in many ways, by the speech given by Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, in accepting an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree conferred on him by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The speech was delivered in a dramatic and symbolic setting - the amphitheater of the newly liberated Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University, with its breathtaking vista of the Judean desert (See Yitzhak Rabin: Acceptance Speech for Honorary Doctorate, Mount Scopus, 1967).

Having conquered all this territory, Israel was unsure what to do with it. Some wanted to annex at least part of the territory. The entire government understood that having conquered Jerusalem, it would politically impossible to give it up. For reasons that cannot be understood today, the government also thought to annex Gaza, ignoring the presence of a large number of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. One plan called for resettling these refugees in the West Bank, which would be returned to Jordan. Diplomatically, Israel was in an unenviable position, since it had lost the support of its previous major ally, France, and had not gained the unequivocal support of the United States. Israel vastly underestimated the obduracy of the Arab states, as well as their ability to recover from the military catastrophe, and naively believed that it would now be able to make peace on its own terms.

Image of Israel and the Jews: The Six Day War transformed the historic image of the Jewish people, of Zionism and the Israeli state. The stereotypes of sly tradesmen, crafty lawyers and cowering refugees were replaced overnight by determined soldiers in battle gear, determined looking girl soldiers riding on the back of APCs and the ubiquitous image of Moshe Dayan with his eye patch. Israel's image as a haven for unfortunate refugees carrying their rags in shapeless bags as they alighted from refugee ships in Haifa,  was replaced by the image of a proud state that had defied and overcome three Arab armies in a lightning war.

Zionism: The Six Day War generated a revival of Jewish identification with Zionism and an extension of it more profound than the creation of the state. The conquest of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and other symbols of Jewish identification and history fired the imagination of many, and convinced non-Zionist Orthodox Jews that there might be something to this alien ideology after all. Many of those who had ignored Israel or treated it as a poor relation were suddenly anxious to be identified with it, and to have a share in its success. In the Soviet Union, the Six Day War sparked a revolution in Jewish consciousness, intensified by the Soviet campaign against Israel.

Soviet Union: The Soviet Union had encouraged war and brought disaster on the Arabs. The war also seemed to demonstrate that Soviet arms were inferior. However, inasmuch as the Arab states were now dependent on the USSR for resupply and diplomatic support, the position of the USSR was paradoxically strengthened. At the same time, the USSR, together with the Arab states, now launched a propaganda war to convince the world that Israel had been the aggressor in the war, despite the closure of the Straits of Tiran, the planned Arab attack on May 27 and the bellicose threats of the Arab states. (see Six Day War: The Victory and the Lie )

United States: The US, on the other hand, had hesitated and restrained Israel, a country which the diplomatic corps considered a liability and an "unviable client state."

Toward the end of the war, it was evident to the US that they, from their point of view, would want to pressure Israel, but that because Israel had won the victory on its own, without US military supplies, Israel was relatively independent. This caused some acrimony in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senators Hickenlooper and Fulbright believed that the Israeli purchases of French armaments were financed by US Jewish charitable contributions to the UJA. On June 9, 1967, they discussed the idea of terminating the tax deductible status of Jewish charities in the US, in order to deprive Israel of its independence of action. However, the Senators concluded that they could never get such a bill through the Senate, because "they" [the Jews] controlled the Senate.

The "client state" had hitherto attracted only pro-forma support from the US, but this had caused the US to be perceived as a friend of Israel by Arab states. Nasser had caused universal hate for the US in the Arab world by inventing the myth of US military support for Israel. Israel, the "unviable client state," had demonstrated an unsettling capacity for independent military action that went well beyond the prewar intelligence estimates. The US now prepared to recoup their losses by trading on their influence with Israel to put themselves in a position to recover the land of the Arabs. The professional diplomats of the U.S. diplomatic service and State Department had been anti-Israel since before the inception of the state. They had told Truman that a Zionist state would support the USSR and be a communist state. They had dominated US foreign policy until 1967, and their influence had essentially caused the US to renege on its solemn commitments, as well as imperiling Israel. The results of the Six Day war created a new reality for Israel, in that the US slowly and reluctantly came to view Israel as a strategic asset. It traded on Israeli strength to gain a foothold in the Middle East, used Israeli intelligence to make up for its woeful shortcomings in that area in the Middle East, and used Israel as a silent but vital ally in the 1991 Desert Storm war against Iraq. That story still cannot be told in full in order not to upset Arab sensitivities. The lesson of the Six Day War in this regard should not be forgotten.

Arabs: In the Arab world, Nasser's Pan-Arabism ideology collapsed. The replacement unfortunately was not a rational and progressive movement, but rather the rise of Islamism. In the Middle East, the bad regimes are too often the preventatives for the much worse. In Syria, Hafez Asad perpetrated a coup and installed himself as President. Nasser died in 1970. The war had aged him considerably. After Nasser's death, his successor, Anwar Sadat, opted for a more rational and perceptive strategy that would end in peace with Israel. He paid for his vision with his life, however. The results of the Six Day War also, apparently, instilled in many Arabs the silent understanding that Israel was here to stay, and that ultimately they would have to come to terms with the existence of the Jewish state in a part of "Dar al Islam" - the abode of Islam. The Six Day War came to be known as the "Naksa" - setback. At first this term was used to minimize the defeat, but later, like the Nakba (1948 defeat), it came to symbolize shame and the desire for vengeance. On the fortieth anniversary of the war, the Arab newspaper "As Sharq al-Awsat" published a cartoon showing an Arab calendar with every day marked June 5, 1967.

Palestinians: The Palestinians were at first almost unnoticed in the great doings of the super powers. Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement had been essentially creations of the Egyptians, who boosted Arafat's status as student leader, and of the Syrians, whose military intelligence had recruited and trained the Fatah fighters. The PLO was a creature of the Egyptians as well, and under their control. Now however, Egypt and Syria were virtually powerless. Arafat would soon take over the PLO, and the Fatah would give the Arabs their first "victory" in the battle of Karameh.

Ami Isseroff

Notes

1. Casualty figures - Mustafa Latif-Aramesh of Horses and Definitions pointed out that there are a number of differing casualty estimates given in different sources. Together, we have compiled the following survey:

According to Michael Oren, "Six Days of War," page 305, Egyptian dead were10,000 - 15,000 and 5,000 MIA.  The fate of those missing in action of course affect the casualty estimates. The 10,000 figure is evidently based on the Egyptian figures, and the 15,000 estimate is probably that of Zeev Schiff, Haaretz security affairs correspondent at that time. Jordanian losses were about 700 according to Oren, and  Syrian dead were estimated at 450. The IDF suffered 679 casualties  officially, but the actual number, including those who died in accidents while mobilized or died of wounds later is possibly as high as 800. Oren cites various sources.

Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, page 327 likewise gives 10,000 to 15,000 Egyptian dead, the Syrians lost 500 dead according to Israeli estimates and the Jordanians "about 800," according to Morris.

While the above two sources are in reasonable agreement, there are other widely discrepant claims.

In, "The Iron Wall," (2001) page 250, Avi Shlaim wrote:

The victors as well as the vanquished in the Six Day War sustained losses. On the Israeli side, 983 soldiers were killed and 4,517 were wounded... Egypt, Jordan and Syria had 4,296 soldiers killed and 6,121 wounded."

Shlaim's source for these figures is Trevor N Dupui, "Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars," 1947-1974 (New York, 1978) p.333.  It is not clear how Dupui might have arrived at these figures, or why Shlaim used them. Mohamed Abdel Ghani el Gamasy wrote in The October War: Memoirs of Field Marshal al Gamasy of Egypt, 1993, that there were 9,800 Egyptian dead or missing in action. If Egypt alone had 9,800 dead or MIA by their own estimates, it is unlikely that all the Arabs together had less than half that number.

The 'Special National Intelligence Estimate' compiled by the U.S. State Department and the CIA, dated August 10, 1967, states: "As compared with the Arabs' personnel losses of more than 7,000, the Israelis lost about 700 killed, though this included a high proportion of officers."

A table at On War lists a total of 21,000 Arab dead in the Six Day War, including 5,000 Jordanians and 2,000 Iraqis. They do not give sources. All other sources we found estimate about 700- 800 Jordanian dead and negligible Iraqi casualties, if they are mentioned at all.  As the Iraqi ground troops were not involved in the fighting, it is hard to see how 2,000 could have been killed. Iraqi aircraft were shot down after they tried to bomb targets in northern Israel, and Israel bombed Iraqi air bases. It is not likely that more than a few dozen Iraqis were killed. Wikipedia claims 10 Iraqis were killed, but gives no source. 

Benny Morris, in Righteous Victims, 1999, states in footnote 107 on page 689 that there were "probably no more than" 500 Arab civilian casualties.

None of the sources discusses losses among Palestinian troops in the "Palestine Liberation Army" who fought in Gaza.

The sources of the discrepancies cannot be ascertained and may be variously due to

Misquotes - For example, "at least 7,000" could be cited as 7,000 elsewhere.

MIA and subsequent fatalities - An unknown number of wounded died after the war, and an unknown number of troops missing in action must in fact be considered dead.

Misclassification - Subsuming of Palestinian or other dead under "Egyptian" or other forces.

Systematic error in estimates - Estimates of enemy casualties are often too high in every war. 

Deliberate distortion - For example, Avi Shlaim was trying to make the point that Israel's victory was costly, which might lead him to choose deliberately high figures for Israeli casualties, and low ones for Arab casualties. Iraqi casualty figures may be the product of Iraqi propaganda intended to show that they had sacrificed for the common Arab good.

2. Losses - These figures are from various sources. Benny Morris, in Righteous Victims, 1999,  gives these figures in footnote 107 on page 689:

Aircraft losses: Egypt 318, Syria 61, Jordan 29, Lebanon 11, Israel 46. Total Arab losses 452 aircraft.

Tank losses: Egypt 629, Syria 85, Jordan over 100.

The Egyptians also lost 750 "guns" according to Morris, a category that probably includes artillery of all sizes.

Major Sources:

Morris, Benny, Righteous Victims, Alfred Knopf, 1999.

Oren, Michael, Six Days of War, Oxford University Press, 2002.

Segev, Tom 1967: And the land changed its visage (1967: veha'aretz shinta et paneiha), Keter Publishing Co. Jerusalem, 2005 (in Hebrew)

http://www.mideastweb.org/briefhistory.htm A brief history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at MidEastWeb

Copyright

Portions of this material are copyright by MidEastWeb for Coexistence and used by permission Additions are copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not be reproduced in any form without permission, except for printouts to be used for educational purposes and forwarding by e-mail. Do not copy materials from this Web site to forums or to any other Web site. The copies will become out of date. We reserve the right to update content without notice.


Synonyms and alternate spellings:  6 Day War, June War.

Further Information: The Six Day War: Forty years after  A Six Day War Diary Six Day War: The Victory and the Lie  Six Day War (UK) - A U.K. site devoted to the Six Day war. De Zesdaagse Oorlog  Six Day War at www.zionismontheweb.org


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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