Israel Table of Contents
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 heros.
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
Israel Table of Contents