The Six-Day War, also known as the June War or the Third Arab-Israeli War or Naksah, was a brief conflict on June 5–10, 1967, and was the third of the Arab-Israeli wars. Israel’s strategic victory included the conquest of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights; the future of these areas became a major sticking point in the Arab-Israeli conflict afterward.

Since Israel won the 1948 and 1956 war, the Arab coalition led by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan have been eager to change the situation in the region by defeating the nascent country. Both sides realised that the conflict was not over and that they were preparing for the next stage of confrontation. International intervention and the inability of the parties to reach a settlement made one of the most famous conflicts of the modern era – the Six-Day War inevitable.

Origins of the Six-Day War

On May 13, 1967, the Soviet Union falsely informed Egypt about the concentration of the 11-13 Brigade Israeli Defence Forces with the intent to strike Syria. In response, Egypt began to focus its forces along the border with Israel in the Sinai, and on May 16 it called for UN peacekeepers to leave the peninsula. 

Meanwhile, Israel refused a request from the United Nations to deploy its national forces on their side of the border as well.

The Battle of Golan Heights, 9–10 June.
The Battle of Golan Heights, 9–10 June, 1967/Public Domain.

In the next few days, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Sudan started to move their forces, and Iraq sent a mission of forces to Jordan. Saudi Arabia expressed its readiness to participate in the military actions. But the turning point, which made the full-scale confrontation an imperative, was Egypt’s decision to intercept Israeli ships entering the Strait of Tiran on May 22 and 23. 

On June 1, Israel established the National Unity Government, which on June 4 decided to go to war. The Arab coalition consisting of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had an advantage over Israel in the deployed forces by 240,000 against 100,000, in tanks from 2504 against 800, and in aircraft from 957 to 300.

Israel draw the First Blood

Israel began the Six-Day War with a planned air-strike on June 5 with Operation Focus, which aims to destroy the Egyptian Air Force and the Israeli media published false reports claiming that the Israeli soldiers were on vacation, while their pilots were conducting training operations as usual and their intelligence services helped make these training operations as realistic as possible. They also damaged the tracking antenna of the United States embassy to prevent the Americans from knowing something about the operation prior to the raid.

The Israeli pilots were informed about the operation only five hours in advance. At the same time, the Egyptian air defense system was suspended on June 5. 

Almost 200 Israeli aircraft attacked 14 Egyptian airfields and caught them unawares. Egypt lost 338 destroyed and 100 pilots were killed within 3 hours.  The Jordanian and Syrian air forces attacked Israel in retaliation at 11 am on June 5, but the Israeli air force responded with an attack on their airfields, which led to the destruction of all 28 Jordanian aircraft, 53 Syrian aircraft, and 10 Iraqi aircraft. 

Operation Focus was a decisive success: Israel lost only 19 aircraft in the process and ensured its overall air dominance for the remainder of the Six-Day War.

The Confrontation with Egypt

At the beginning of the Six-Day War, the ground war was taking place on three fronts: the Sinai front, the Jordanian front, and the Syrian front. On the Sinai front, Egyptian forces consisted of seven sections: four armoured vehicles, two infantrymen, and one mechanised infantry. 

Egypt had 100,000 soldiers and 900-950 tanks in the Sinai, so Israel focused three teams consisting of six armoured vehicles, one infantry, one mechanised infantry and three paratrooper brigades totaling 70,000 men and 700 tanks along this front.

Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser waves to the crowds in Mansoura, Egypt, May 7, 1960/The Daily Telegaph.

Israel’s plan was to capture the Egyptians off-guard by simultaneously attacking with air strikes, and attacking through the north and central roads of the Sinai Peninsula instead of the central and southern roads used in the Sinai War. 

On June 5, 1967, at 7:50 am, in the northernmost part of the Israeli division which consisted of three battalions led by Major General Israel Tal, began advancing towards Al-Arish via Gaza with the aim of surrounding Khan Yunis, while the paratroopers were ordered to take the Rafah crossing. 

Initially, the Egyptians offered little resistance, because Egyptian intelligence had concluded that this was a diversion rather than a major attack. However, resistance soon rose against the 60th Armoured Brigade. This did not prevent the Israeli forces from reaching the Khan Yunis railroad junction within four hours. After that, the Israel Defense Forces overran Sheikh Zuweid and defeated the fierce Egyptian resistance thanks to air dominance.

The road to Al-Arish was open and by 8:00 am on June 6, elements of the Armoured Battalion 79 and the 7th Brigade entered the questionable, quiet city. Suddenly, the Egyptians began firing from balconies and windows, and there was an ongoing fierce battle to control the city, and the Israeli Defence Force was not able to take full control of the city until after the reinforcements sent. 

After this, the North Division was divided into two parts. One of them continued to advance on the Suez Canal, while the second group turned south. 

In the far south, on June 6, 14,000 men and 150 tanks, an Israeli armoured division “38” under the command of Ariel Sharon’s brigade, were confronted by the Egyptian 2nd Infantry Division led by Major General Sa’adi Naguib, which consisted of 16,000 soldiers and 90 tanks. 

Israel successfully advanced towards Abu Ageila. The paratroopers landed behind the Egyptian positions, and they confused enough to weaken the Egyptian defense artillery, which led to the opening of the road for the Israeli Defense Forces to occupy Umm-Qatef. 

It was followed by a fierce close battle between the tanks, which ended in an Israeli victory with the destruction of 40 Egyptian tanks and 19 Israeli tanks.

How Sinai was captured

The Egyptian forces in Sinai were still largely intact, but their mentor Abdel Hakim Amer panicked and ordered the retreat of all units from Sinai after hearing about the fall Abu Ageila. 

These orders did not explain the sequence and method of withdrawal, which only reduced the defensive capabilities of the Egyptian army. During the following days, the Israeli Defence Forces continued to advance westward and caused great losses to the Egyptians. 

Despite the strong occasional resistance by the Egyptians as in Bir Gifgafa, the napalm bombing by the Israeli aviation and the uncontrolled retreat weakened the morale of the Egyptian forces. Instead of catching up with the Egyptian retreating soldiers, the Israeli army decided to occupy three crossings from Sinai to the Egyptian mainland and confront the Egyptian forces there, although the Israeli Defence Forces were not able to stop all Egyptian forces from crossing. These passages became a killing ground for the Egyptian forces, where 10,000 soldiers were killed in one day.

The capture of Sinai was completed by the fall of Sharm El Sheikh on June 7 and Ras Sudar on June 8. On June 9, at the twilight of the Six-Day War, the United Nations Security Council achieved a truce between the two sides. 

The Confrontation with Jordan

Before the Six-Day War began, Israel wanted to avoid confrontation with Jordan and Syria before defeating Egypt, but offers of neutrality to Jordan were rejected, as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser persuaded King Hussein of Jordan that Egypt had an advantage against Israel. 

On the morning of June 5, the two sides began shooting, but Israel attempted a last-minute attempt to avoid the conflict with Jordan by passing its message to seek peace through the United Nations representative, General Odd Bull.

King Hussein of Jordan at London Airport, May 4th 1964/The Times of Israel.

However, King Hussein replied that it was too late and that Jordanian aviation was already in the air. Jordanian and Iraqi aviation began bombing Israel-controlled West Jerusalem, which caused 16 military casualties and 20 civilians, with damage to 900 buildings. 

Israel responded with its air attack within Operation Focus (the start of the Six-Day War) which damaged Jordan’s military aviation infrastructure and asserted Israeli air control. East Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan at the time and the Jordanian army took a position at the United Nations Residency – the Government House, to fire on the Israeli sector. 

The Jerusalem Brigade’s Reserves Battalion 161 of Israel took the Government House, despite the heavy losses and forced the Jordanians to retreat to Bethlehem. Later on that day, Israel besieged East Jerusalem with the Jerusalem Brigade from the south, the Mechanised Harel Brigade and the 55th Paratroopers Brigade from the north. 

A fierce battle during the Six-Day War took place at Ammunition Hill. The Jordanian resistance was so strong that the Israeli Defence Forces lost all of its attacking officers except two and achieved the target only after four hours. The 55th Paratroopers brigade then drove eastward, linked with Mount Scopus, defeating other Jordanian sites around the American colony. 

On the evening of June 5, the Mechanised Harel Brigade succeeded in taking Latrun and Ramallah. Also, the 163rd Infantry Battalion secured Abu Tor and cut the Old City from Bethlehem and Hebron. 

On June 7, the Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, instructed the Israeli Defence Forces to enter the Old City despite the reservations and concerns of the Israeli government. Only the paratroopers were fighting for fear of destroying the holy sites. The Israeli Defence Forces took control of the Old City after a little resistance. Judea, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus were also seized on June 7. Remnants of the Jordanian army returned to Jordan. Israel won on this front as well. 

The Confrontation with Syria

Syria also believed Nasser of Egypt’s early success in the conflict and sent flights to attack Galilee. This attack was intercepted by Israeli aircraft. The Syrians also attempted a slight ground assault in an attempt to control water stations in Tel Dan, Dan, and She’ar Yashuv. This was repulsed by the Israeli Defence Forces as well.

Jubilant Israeli Troops-Six-Day-War
Jubilant Israeli troops in Sinai, Egypt, during the Six-Day War, June 10,1967/The Times of Israel.

Israeli air control, the absence of contacts by the Syrian units and the very large tanks and bridges were among the reasons for the failure of the attack from the Syrians. This is why they abandoned any attempts of a ground assault on Israel, and air strikes were chosen as a method instead. 

However, on the evening of June 5, Israel hit Syrian airports within the same Operation Focus, resulting in their destruction of two-thirds of the Syrian Air Force and forcing the rest to exit from the conflict. The Israeli leadership was not sure whether or not to attack Syria. 

On the one hand, Syria was using the Golan Heights to bomb Israel, on the other hand, it would literally have been an uphill battle against a fortified enemy. But intelligence has learned of weak places in Syria in general and the Golan Heights in particular, which led Dayan to issue an order to attack the Golan without permission from the government. 

The Israeli offensive began with air strikes that severely destroyed the defence infrastructure and morale of the Syrian army. The eighth armored brigade, led by Colonel Albert Mandler, advanced to the Golan Heights from Givat HaEm. The violent fighting in the unfavourable territory caused many casualties on both sides. But with the help of flight, the Israeli Defence Forces eventually seized the fortifications of Zaura, Qala, and Ein Fit.

Israel Celebrates Victory

In the central sector, Israeli battalion 181 captured the strongholds of Dardara and Tel Hillal after heavy fighting. By the evening of June 9, Israel had reached the plateau, allowing the incoming reinforcements. Israel had eight battalions at dawn, preparing for an attack on the second line of defences.

Soon, a ceasefire was negotiated around the so-called Purple Line. By June 11, all hostilities had ceased. About 983 Israelis, 15,000 Egyptians, 700 Jordanians, and 2,500 Syrians were killed in the Six-Day War. Israel gained a tremendous victory. It captured the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights. 

About a million Arabs were placed under direct Israeli control in the newly captured territories. The Israeli victory was as a result of a more efficient military leadership, better preparation of forces and intelligence. 

However, the Six-Day War was by no means the last of the conflict with the Arab nations. After six years, the confrontation escalated and it would result into another Arab-Israeli war in October 1973.

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Encyclopaedia Britannica (2020). Six-Day War Middle East [1967]. Editors (2018). Six-Day War.

Jeremy Bowen (2017). 1967 war: Six days that changed the Middle East.

Kings and Generals (2018). Six-Day War (1967) – Third Arab–Israeli War.

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