June 1967 War
On May 30, mounting public opinion led to the appointment of
Dayan as minister of defense. Levi Eshkol, who had been both prime
minister and minister of defense since Ben-Gurion's resignation
in 1963, retained the prime minister's position. Dayan immediately
made a series of public declarations that war could be avoided,
while secretly planning a massive preemptive strike against the
Arab enemy. On the morning of June 5, Israel launched a devastating
attack on Arab air power, destroying about 300 Egyptian, 50 Syrian,
and 20 Jordanian aircraft, mostly on the ground. This action,
which virtually eliminated the Arab air forces, was immediately
followed by ground invasions into Sinai and the Gaza Strip, Jordan,
and finally Syria. Arab ground forces, lacking air support, were
routed on all three fronts; by the time the UN-imposed cease-fire
took effect in the evening of June 11, the IDF had seized the
entire Sinai Peninsula to the east bank of the Suez Canal; the
West Bank of Jordan, including East Jerusalem; and the Golan Heights
of Syria. Unlike the aftermath of the 1956 War, however, the IDF
did not withdraw from the areas it occupied in 1967.
Israel was ecstatic about its swift and stunning victory, which
had been achieved at the relatively low cost of about 700 lives.
The IDF had proven itself superior to the far larger forces of
the combined Arab armies. More important, it now occupied the
territory that had harbored immediate security threats to Israel
since 1948. For the first time since independence, the Israeli
heartland along the Mediterranean Sea was out of enemy artillery
range. The exploits of what was known in Israel as the Six-Day
War soon became legend, and the commanders who led it became national
Although control of the occupied territories greatly improved
Israel's security from a geographical standpoint, it also created
new problems. The roughly 1 million Arabs within the territories
provided potential cover and support for infiltration and sabotage
by Arab guerrillas. From shortly after the June 1967 War until
1970, a steady stream of men and weapons were sent into the West
Bank by a number of guerrilla groups, in particular Al Fatah (see
Palestinian Terrorist Groups , this ch.). Incidents of sabotage
and clashes with Israeli security forces were commonplace. In
the spring of 1970, the guerrilla strategy reverted to shelling
Israeli towns from across the Jordanian and Lebanese borders.
International terrorism, aimed at focusing world attention on
the grievances of Palestinian Arabs against Israel, also appeared
after the June 1967 War.
Hostilities on the Egyptian front were far more serious. The
decimated Egyptian army was rapidly resupplied with advanced Soviet
weapons, and the Soviet presence at the Suez Canal increased dramatically.
In October 1967, the Israeli destroyer and flagship Elat
was sunk by a missile fired from an Egyptian ship docked in Port
Said; Israel retaliated with the destruction of Egyptian oil refineries
at Suez. A year later, shelling began along the canal, and a new
round of fighting, commonly known as the War of Attrition, commenced.
For nearly two years, until a new cease-fire was imposed on August
7, 1970, Egypt (with growing and direct support from the Soviet
Union) threw an increasingly heavy barrage of artillery and missiles
at fortified Israeli positions along the east bank of the canal,
while Israel stood its ground and launched a series of fighter-bomber
raids deep into the Egyptian heartland. This deadly but inconclusive
conflict culminated on July 30, 1970, when Israeli and Soviet-piloted
fighters clashed in a dogfight near the Suez Canal. Israeli pilots
reportedly shot down four MiGs and lost none of their own, but
this direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower was a frightening
development and helped bring about the cease-fire.
Although activity aimed against Israel by Palestinian guerrillas
continued throughout the early 1970s, Israel felt relatively secure
vis-à-vis its Arab neighbors after the War of Attrition. Israel's
military intelligence was convinced that Syria would launch a
war only in concert with Egypt and that Egypt would go to war
only if it were convinced that its air power was superior to Israel's.
This theory, which became so institutionalized in Israeli military
thinking as to be dubbed "the concept," contributed to the country's
general sense of security. Defense expenditures declined markedly
from 1970 levels, the annual reserve call-up was reduced from
sixty to thirty days, and in 1973 the length of conscription was
reduced from thirty-six to thirty-three months.
Data as of December 1988