6 Day War: Past not Prelude

The overwhelming victory of the 1967 Six Day War is sometimes used by proponents of an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, as proof that Israel can defend itself from behind the ‘green line.’

In many ways, the 1967 war was a ‘secondary tremor’ of the tectonic earthquake of the Second World War. It used many of the same doctrines, tactics, and the same, or similar, military platforms. The prime exception was that fighter jets had replaced propeller, air force planes.

Many of the ground platforms were the same in both wars, including Sherman, US-made tanks used by Israel, and Soviet-made T-34 tanks used by Syria and Egypt. The artillery guns were quite similar in both wars. And so were the fighting techniques.

In 1964, three years before the outbreak of hostilities, Soviet, military weapons systems and doctrines were being imported into Egypt and Syria in large quantities.

Senior Israeli generals – the head of the IDF Doctrine Department, Maj.-Gen. Zvi Zamir (who would become the next head of the Mossad), and Maj.-Gen. Yisrael Tal, commander of the Armored Corps – flew to Germany to learn about World War Two doctrines, and spoke to German commanders, in order to learn how to attack Soviet-style defensive lines.

They took off-the-shelf doctrines, like Germany’s World War Two Blitzkrieg doctrine, and adopted them to the needs of the Israel Defense Force (IDF).

In the 1960s, wars in the Middle East occurred mainly in open areas, with military machines moving across such battle zones. The IDF actually employed the dynamics of a surprise attack, and the move-and-fire tactic, borrowing these from the Blitzkrieg doctrine.

The Israel Air Force’s (IAF) surprise attacks on the air forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and later, Iraq, was the result of deep and comprehensive planning, which began shortly after the end of the 1956 Suez Campaign. To a degree, it was inspired by Luftwaffe strategies. The IAF brought this doctrine to optimal usage in the Six Day War.

On the Arab side, the Syrians and Egyptians modeled their force on the fronts on Soviet defensive doctrines during the Six Day War, following them very closely, while the Jordanians were operating according to the British doctrine.

THE GROUND CAMPAIGN, BORN OF THE SKIES

The successful Israeli air campaign set the scene for events on land. Looking at the southern front with Egypt, the IDF entered Sinai on the morning of the first day of the war, on June 5, and Egypt quickly began withdrawing, on the morning of June 6, as it lacked air cover, which was the main defense for ground forces. The order from Cairo was to retreat as quickly as possible. From day 2, the IDF went from attack mode, to advance and pursuit operations.

On the northern front, Syria too lacked air power after the Israeli air campaign knocked out its air force, and realized, after four days, that it remained alone, with Egypt and Jordan losing their combat capabilities. Syria’s defensive positions were placed too far forward, and it did not place sufficient back-up, armored units to carry out the Soviet counter-strike doctrine.

Had Syria placed more armored units on the second echelon line, as a force ready to be used at the right moment in the service of counter-strikes, the IDF would not have been able hold the Golan Heights.

The collapse of the Syrian defensive lines in the northern Golan forced the Syrians in the southern Golan to withdraw, and this success was immediately exploited by IDF airborne troops, who captured the south of the Golan.

On the eastern front, the battle for Jerusalem lasted 27 hours. When it ended, IDF paratroopers and armored units were in control of the city.

The Jordanian defensive system was hastily created, relying on the Infantry Brigade 3 that defended Jerusalem, which was defeated on the ground by the IDF’s Paratrooper Brigade and the lightening assault by the IDF’s Armored Brigade 10. Jordan’s Brigade 2 defended northern Jerusalem – it too was defeated by the advancing IDF assault.

Jordan’s armored Brigade 60 set out from Jericho towards Jerusalem, but was struck from the air by Israel on the road between the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.

In northern Samaria, upon realizing the situation, Jordan’s King Hussein ordered his ‘crown jewel’ unit, Brigade 40, to withdraw, in order to remain with a military force to defend Jordan.

WHAT HAPPENS IN ’67 STAYS IN ’67

None of these events can be repeated. Warfare has shifted from open areas to urban settings. Even in Jerusalem, in 1967, Jordanian military positions were positioned mainly out in the open, for example, like the Jordanian company stationed on Ammunition Hill, separated from civilian zones.

In post modern warfare, military units must conduct street-to-street fighting, often without knowing where the enemy is located.

This means that tactics that were so successful in 1967, such as encircling and besieging an area, while knocking out the enemy’s centers of gravity; are longer relevant in the modern theatre.

HEZBOLLAH AS A TEST CASE

Today, the systems of our enemies are decentralized. One needs look no further than Hezbollah in Lebanon to see this. Hezbollah possesses a deep understanding of the IDF’s advantages, and seeks to negate those. It lacks F-35 jets, submarines, and tanks, and yet, it seeks to equalize the playing field with its own, unique concepts.

It does so by amassing rockets with a variety of ranges. Quantity is what counts in this type of approach. Hezbollah has over 100,000 projectiles. Even if 80 percent of those miss their targets or are destroyed, an enemy attack of 20,000 rockets constitutes a very substantial threat.

Hezbollah has also set up bases of operations in hilly Lebanese areas, dubbed ‘nature reserves.’ These tactics cancel out Israel’s ability to conduct a rapid, lightening, ground assault. Every village under enemy control forms a new battlefield.

The latest tactic being used by Hezbollah, and Hamas as well, is to set establish elite forces, designed to take the fight into Israeli territory. Hamas has the Nuhba force to this end, and Hezbollah’s Redwan unit was set up for this very objective.

These types of threats mean Israel has to allocate more resources to defense. Israel’s aerial supremacy still goes a long way, but it cannot be described as decisive in modern warfare.

Twenty first century enemies operate underground, in tunnels and bunkers. Their zones are interlinked with those of civilians, meaning that even with the best intelligence, Israel cannot always act accordingly, for fear of creating enormous collateral damage. Killing thousands of civilians in a few strikes would immediately lead to Israel’s delegitimization.

In 1967, Israel’s enemies made every mistake it was possible to make. Israel’s modern day enemies will not do so.

Contemporary warfare is based upon local fighters, even civilians, as seen in Syrian and Ukrainian battlegrounds.

Hamas has built up localized divisions and brigades, whose commanders live in the area within which they operate.

In the Six Day War, the Egyptian soldiers mobilized to Gaza and Sinai were expeditionary forces. When the battles ended, they went home, to Egyptian cities far from the conflict zones. In Gaza, when battles end, commanders hide their weapons at home and act like local civilian residents. They live among the people.

When one fights locals, the dynamics of post-conflict situations change. Occupying territory and hoisting a flag mean very different things in 1967 and 2017.

In the Six Day War, Israel had the ability to get to Nablus and to stay there. Today though, if Israel withdraws from the central regions, located in Area C, of the West Bank, and Palestinian terrorists begin firing rockets at Israel, the IDF could return to the areas vacated, but it would take years, not six days, to reestablish effective access to Palestinian urban centers in Judea and Samaria. Such access is what allows Israel today to keep terrorism in check.

Today, when the IDF wishes to target a bomb making lab in Nablus, it can launch the raid from a nearby location, without the necessity to receive air support or armored units. This can be done with light forces traveling in a few armored jeeps. In the event of an Israeli withdrawal from Area C, a division-wide operation would be needed to achieve the same objective.

GAZA AS CONFIRMATION

One needs to look no further than Gaza, which Israel left in 2005, to see that today, an entire, large scale operation,accompanied by major fire power, would enable the IDF to reenter territory.

If Israel leaves Judea and Samaria, it will turn into Gaza, and the viability of nightly security raids – essential for Israel’s security – disappears.

These are some of the fundamental changes that mean defending Israel from the pre-1967 borders is no longer possible.

In addition, the character of the enemy and its motivation have been transformed. Israel has placed its faith in technological advantages. The enemies have become religious.

All of these changes mean that the lessons of the 1967 War are not applicable to 2017, and should not be seen as such.

Edited by: Yaakov Lappin

Co-Edited by: Benjamin Anthony

Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author. Visit www.oursoldiersspeak.org .

About the Author
Gershon HaCohen (Res.) concluded his service in the IDF at the rank of Major-General. His military experience includes commanding troops on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts, commanding an IDF corps and serving as commander of the IDF military college. He is an advisor to Our Soldiers Speak (www.oursoldiersspeak.org).
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