No amount of warning, however shrill, ever quite prepares a people for the air-raid siren's scream. The first wail is always difficult to believe. In Cairo, last week, it scarcely disturbed the morning bustle of the bazaar, or the gossip of black-clad women clucking along the banks of the muddy Nile. No matter that only the night before, President Gamal Abdel Nasser had welcomed Iraq to the Egypto-Jordanian alliance against Israel, and proclaimed: "We are so eager for battle in order to force the enemy to awake from his dreams and meet Arab reality face to face." Fixed in their own routine, the residents of Nasser's capital listened to the unfamiliar sound of the siren and continued—for a time—to go about their business.
In Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city, the reaction was much the same—and with better reason. Only days before, new Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the dashing, one-eyed "Hero of Sinai," had said the time was not ripe to strike at the Arab forces ominously gathering around the Jewish homeland. "It is either too early or too late," he said. "Either we should have reacted right away, or we should wait and see what are the results of diplomacy." Since the choice was obviously to wait and see, when the first sirens sounded, most Tel Avi-vians thought it was a drill. A few dutifully ambled to shelters; others merely scanned the cloudless skies and shrugged.
This was no drill. In stunning predawn air strikes across the face of the Arab world, Israeli jets all but eliminated Arab airpower—and with it any chance of an Arab victory. Without air cover, tanks and infantry under the clear skies of the desert offered little more than target practice. In a few astonishing hours of incredibly accurate bombing and strafing, Israel erased an expensive decade of Russian military aid to the Arab world.
Hardly a Crater. Streaking in ahead of the dawn, the first waves of Israeli Mirage3 fighter-bombers simultaneously destroyed four Egyptian airbases in the Sinai Peninsula, site of Nasser's massive buildup against Israel in the past month. Some 200 of Nasser's frontline fighters, mostly Russian-built MIG-21s, were caught and destroyed on the ground. At almost the same time, Israeli jets hit Arab bases in Jordan, Syria and Iraq. They swept in from the sea to hit Egyptian bases deeper inside Egypt; and after landing only long enough to refuel, they hammered away until 25 of the most vital fields in the Arab world lay smoking. So expert were the Israeli pilots that they seldom seemed to waste a bomb, a rocket or a bullet. Their reconnaissance photos showed plane after plane smashed and burning—with hardly a crater in the runways or the level sands surrounding the targets (see pp. 24-25).
By Monday night, the end of the first day's fighting, some 400 warplanes of five Arab nations had been obliterated. Egypt alone lost 300, Syria 60, Jordan 35, Iraq 15, Lebanon at least one. The cost to Israel's 400-fighter air force: 19 planes and pilots, mostly downed by ground fire.
Inevitably, the fact that so many Arab planes were trapped in their parking area—strung out wingtip to wingtip—suggested that Israel must have struck the first blow. The stunned Arabs, of course, said that it had, and Moscow angrily concurred. But, as Israel first told it, the Jewish jets scrambled only after early-warning radar picked up several waves of Arab planes headed straight for Israel. At the same time, a massive Egyptian armored column was reported to be rolling out of its base at El Arish and steering toward the Israeli border.
Historians may argue for years over who actually fired the first shot or dropped the first bomb. But the Realpolitik of Israel's overwhelming triumph has rendered the question largely academic. Ever since Israel was created 19 years ago, the Arabs have been lusting for the day when they could destroy it. And in the past month, Nasser succeeded for the first time in putting together an alliance of Arab armies ringing Israel; he moved some 80,000 Egyptian troops and their armor into Sinai and elbowed out the U.N. buffer force that had separated the antagonists for a decade. With a hostile Arab population of 110,000,000 menacing their own of 2,700,000, the Israelis could be forgiven for feeling a fearful itch in the trigger finger. When Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba, a fight became almost inevitable.
Death in Zagazig. It was radio, rather than air-raid sirens, that delivered the full realization of war to the people on both sides. A full hour after the first sirens and some four hours after the attack, Radio Cairo got around to announcing the Israeli air raids, and then the martial music and martial pep talks began. "Our people have been waiting 20 years for this battle," roared Cairo. "Now they will teach Israel the lesson of death! The Arab armies have a rendezvous in Israel!"
The first day's battle bulletins teemed with false reports of victory, including the claim of 86 Israeli planes shot down. At each fresh bit of wishful reporting, the Cairo mobs that were gathered around transistor radios on every street corner erupted in excited yells and jubilant dances. They chanted such ditties as "We shall fight, we shall fight, our beloved Nasser; we are behind you to Tel Aviv!"
Whenever black puffs of antiaircraft fire blossomed above the horizon, crowds clinging precariously to trucks careened off towards the action, hoping to see a captured Israeli pilot. Radio Cairo reported that one downed pilot had pulled his pistol to threaten a band of fellahin in the delta town of Zagazig; the fellahin chopped him to pieces with their field axes. As night fell, thousands of youth volunteers, self-consciously aware of their new authority, poured into the streets to enforce a complete blackout on the capital.
Much the same mixture of exhilaration and invective marked the first flush of war in the other Arab capitals. "Kill the Jews!" screamed Radio Baghdad. A Syrian commander offered the rash prediction to radio listeners that "we will destroy Israel in four days." In Damascus, schools were closed, more in celebration than precaution against air raids, and schoolchildren, singing rhythmically, filled sandbags and placed them around public buildings. Having no prepared shelters, the Syrians hastily converted two discothčques. In Beirut, supplies of laundry bluing, vegetable dye and blue paint quickly ran out as drivers rushed to darken their headlights. The nouveau-modern Phoenicia Hotel painted all its windows on the first five floors in blue so that some of its guests could have light during the blackout.
Ice-Cream Trucks. Tel Aviv's residents got the news only 30 minutes after the first air-raid siren, as Radio Kol Israel interrupted its regular broadcast to announce that heavy fighting had begun against "Egyptian armored and aerial forces which moved against Israel." Lively Jewish folk tunes, rousing Israeli pioneer songs and stirring military marches, including the theme song from The Bridge on the River Kwai, filled the air waves until Defense Minister Dayan came on. His message, like the man, was economical and blunt, concluding with: "Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, on this day our hopes and security are with you."
Only three-fourths of Israel's reserves were mobilized when war began. Now the radio read out the code names of the remaining units: Love of Zion, Close Shave, Men of Work, Alternating Current, Open Window, Good Friends. Throughout the tiny nation, youths and middle-aged men scrambled into the streets, half in uniform, half in mufti, bundles and knapsacks thrown over their shoulders as they headed for their prearranged secret rendezvous with buses.
The buses used to deliver the reservists to their units in the field were often reserves too: laundry trucks, ice-cream trucks, even taxis and private cars drafted along with Israel's men and women. All were elements of a superbly organized and functioning system that Major General Dayan helped to create between 1953 and 1956 when he was Israeli Chief-of-Staff. Israeli tanks, each manned by a single regular of Israel's 50,000-man standing army, waited in convenient tank parks for the two or three reservists required to complete each crew. The tanks were ready to move out, complete with helmets, razors and toothbrushes. Each crew had been assigned battle sectors, rendezvous points and objectives. Israeli Intelligence had tracked the Arab enemy to the last desert dune. The system worked so well that Israel was able to field a fighting force of 235,000 men within 48 hours.
Trapping the Remnant. Modern desert warfare is essentially tank warfare, supported by infantry and aided by air. At the start of the war, both Israel and Egypt had some 1,000 tanks each. The Israelis' were largely American and British; Nasser's were Russian, like most of his other equipment. Some 800 on each side squared off to battle for the Sinai Peninsula, a hell's amphitheater of ankle-deep, choking velvet sand broken by the ocher slag heaps of hills and occasional grey-green scrub.
There, as in the air, the Israeli tactics were based on surprise and speed. They were the same tactics Dayan had employed in his 1956 Sinai campaign that sent the Arabs scrambling barefoot for home within 100 hours. "The enemy will be given no time to reorganize after the assault, and there will be no pause in the fighting," he wrote in his reconstruction of that war, Diary of the Sinai Campaign. "We shall organize separate forces for each of the main objectives, and it will be the task of each force to get there in one continuous battle, one long breath to fight and push on, fight and push on, until the objective is gained."
Israel's main objectives in the Sinai last week were much the same as they were in 1956: to break the back of the massed Arab armor on its borders, then to sprint south to seize Sharm el Sheikh on the heights that control the Strait of Tiran, then west to the edge of the Suez Canal, trapping the remnants of Egypt's forces. To be sure, no one expected the fight to move so swiftly this time. The word was that with Russian help, Nasser had vastly improved his armies. In addition, he had the advantage of Dayan's Diary, which not only recapitulated in precise detail every element of Israeli tactics and strategy, it even provided a critique of what the Israelis and Egyptians had done wrong last time.
But Nasser had apparently not read Dayan; nor had he studied Santayana, who observed that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Thundering down the same roads, blasting and overrunning the same Egyptian positions, the Israelis repeated almost exactly what they had done in 1956—the only difference was that this time the job took only half as long.
From Kerem Shalom in the north to El Kuntilla in the south, Israeli Centurion tanks, halftracks and field guns, plus convoys of infantrymen in sand-colored fatigues, pounded across from the Negev into Sinai in the blazing morning sunlight. In some places, the Egyptians had built their fortifications smack against the Israeli border; there, in hand-to-hand fighting, the Israelis drove them out. While the pushing Israeli ground troops forced the Egyptians back, Israeli jets roamed the skies virtually unchallenged, bombing and strafing at will. Within two days, the Israelis had knocked out or captured 200 of Nasser's tanks, and were deep in Sinai. One prong of their attack curled northward and occupied the Gaza Strip, site of Egyptian artillery and mortars and the vast unkempt barracks that housed the rabid, ragtag refugee Palestinian Liberation Army. Israelis wasted little time weeding out the toughest of the Arab commandos and terrorists, carting them off to prisoner-of-war stockades erected deep inside the Negev Desert.
Hathaway Patch. Amid the swirl of battle orders, Moshe Dayan took a few minutes off to be officially installed as Israel's Defense Minister. He had been on the job for six eventful days before Premier Levi Eshkol actually administered the oath of office. And even then, neither he nor Israel really thought the ceremony was necessary. His country was fighting for its life, and the tough general in the black eyepatch was clearly Israel's first and only choice.
Dayan is as much a sabra as an Israeli can be. He was born on May 20, 1915, in the first Jewish kibbutz established in Palestine. When he was seven, his Russian émigré parents moved the family to a moshav, a cooperative farm where, unlike a kibbutz, the members own their land. Moshe liked both farming and books, but he soon found himself learning the arts of war as well. The British sent him to prison in 1939 for belonging to a unit of the Haganah, the Jewish underground.
He was released two years later to work as a scout for the Australians against the Vichy French in Syria. During a fire fight, a bullet drove his binoculars into the left side of his face, destroying an eye, which he has kept covered ever since with a Hathaway-style black patch. Despite his wound, Dayan was eventually back in action, leading the Haganah commandos in 1948. Soon after, he took command of the Jerusalem front in Israel's first war with the Arabs. In 1953, he was made Chief of Staff, and he taught the Israeli army his uncompromising philosophy of battle—speed, emphasis on surprise and night assaults—the attributes that led to victory in 1956, and again last week.
Only a year later, he retired to study politics. He joined Ben-Gurion's Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture, where he proved every bit as tough a professional as he had been in the army. Against determined opposition, he broke up the large dairy cooperatives, which he felt were not operating in the nation's best economic interest. He seemed on the way to eventual premiership. Then, when Ben-Gurion resigned and left the ruling Mapai party, Dayan followed; he became a Knesset member of B-G's splinter Rafi party.
Fiercely independent, and an outspoken iconoclast, Dayan was a success at every job he tried. But the profession of arms is his first love. He went back into uniform last week with calm confidence. If he had any complaint, it was that the desk-bound duties of a Defense Minister kept him from spending as much time as he would have liked with his troops; there was too much paper work waiting in his command bunker in Jerusalem. Even so, at least once a day he motored, flew or helicoptered to inspect some military field position. He wanted to see for himself that every aspect of the war was being handled properly. For this time Israel was involved in far more than a Sinai campaign.
Lovelier Windows. At 11 a.m. on the first day of battle in response to a plea from Nasser, Jordan opened a second front. Mortar and artillery shells rumbled down from the heights of Arab Jerusalem to splatter the Israeli sector of the divided city. Longer-range guns reached across Israel's narrow waist to hit the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and Syrian guns opened up on northern Israeli towns from the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee. But it was Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, that took the worst damage the Arabs inflicted on the Jews in the whole war. Most of the city's residents spent the next two days of constant bombardment in underground shelters. Even with only essential civilians venturing above ground, more than 500 were killed and wounded in the massive Jordanian shelling.
No part of the city was spared. Shells hit near Premier Eshkol's home and in the garden of the King David Hotel. The glass panes in the Israel Museum were blasted out, and the Isaiah Scroll, most complete of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, was hastily moved into its underground vault. Most of the famed Chagall stained-glass windows in the Hadassah Medical Center's synagogue were taken down in time, but a hole was blasted in one. Wrote Chagall from France: "I am not worried about the windows, only about the safety of Israel. Let Israel be safe and I will make you lovelier windows."
As darkness descended on the Judean hills, the Israelis moved to the attack. Swept-wing French jets, the Star of David gleaming in blue and white on their wings, swooped down on Jordanian positions around the city in a spectacular exhibition of night bombing that left the skies red with flames. Two armored columns snaked out and around the Old City of Jerusalem. Within its ancient walls are nestled the holy sites of three world religions, and Israeli gunners and bombers had carefully spared it. The northern column fought its way to the commanding height of Mount Scopus. The southern column swept south, moving inexorably from hill to hill despite stubborn Jordanian Arab League resistance, until the Old City was encircled.
Next night Israeli commandos prepared a dawn attack into the Old City itself. But most of the Jordanian troops defending it had slipped away, leaving only sniper resistance as one Israeli unit entered through St. Stephen's Gate and a second drove through the Damascus Gate. By 10 a.m., the conquerors stood before the great boulders of the Wailing Wall, the only remnant of the Second Temple, that for 1,897 years has been the symbol of Jewish national hope —and despair. For all the sensational —and far more important military victories won in Sinai, nothing so elated the Israelis as the capture of the Biblical city of Jerusalem. Said the tough commando leader who took the Wall: "None of us alive has ever seen or done anything so great as he has done today." And there by the Wall, he broke down and wept.
Curious Footnote. One by one, other Biblical towns fell to the advancing Israelis—Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem—until they had seized all of Hussein's kingdom west of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Unlike their Egyptian brethren in Sinai, King Hussein's legionnaires fought stubbornly and with discipline. But as in Sinai, the Israelis' absolute mastery of the air meant ultimate Arab defeat. All day the jets wheeled into steep dives to drop bombs and napalm canisters on stubborn pockets of Jordanian resistance. Unaware of the extent of Egypt's air losses, Hussein could not believe that the Israeli air force alone could so blacken the sky on his own Jordanian front. Thus it was partially understandable that for a while, at least, he backed up Nasser's claim that the U.S. and British planes had joined in Israel's attack.
Nasser almost surely knew better. But he was desperate to find an excuse for the Arab debacle, and he probably hoped that by implicating the U.S. and Britain he might persuade Moscow to come to his rescue. He never had a chance. Russian ships monitoring the U.S. air movements in the Mediterranean knew from their own radar that no U.S. or British planes had been involved. The Russian ambassador in Cairo went to Nasser and bluntly told him so. With nothing more to lose, Nasser continued his big lie, triggering the breaking off of diplomatic relations by seven Arab nations with the U.S. and touching off demonstrations against U.S. and British embassies all over the Arab world.
Just how Nasser pressured Hussein into backing his phony air-attack ploy will surely become one of history's more curious footnotes. Israel monitored and tape-recorded a radio conversation between Nasser and Hussein on the second day of the war, and released the dialogue two days later. The voices were unmistakably those of Nasser and the King; neither bothered to deny it. A sampling of their talk:
Nasser: Hello—will we say the U.S. and England or just the U.S.?
Hussein: The U.S. and England.
Nasser: Does Britain have aircraft carriers?
Hussein: (Answer unintelligible.)
Nasser: By God, I say that I will make an announcement and you will make an announcement and we will see to it that the Syrians will make an announcement that American and British airplanes are taking part against us from aircraft carriers. We will stress the matter, and we will drive the point home.
Later, Hussein admitted that the "vast umbrella" over Jordan had been entirely Israeli. Nasser, however, stuck to his story to the end, insisting that "three times as many" planes as Israel possessed had engaged the Arab forces.
Disappointed Troopers. To the south of Israel, Nasser's soldiers were having considerably more trouble sticking to their guns. By Wednesday night, the third day of war, all Israel brimmed with the sense of victory. As Dayan's chief of staff, Major General Yitzhak Rabin, summed it up succinctly: "We have inflicted almost total destruction on the Egyptian army, delivered a crushing blow to the Jordanian army, captured most of the relevant parts of the Sinai Peninsula and the west bank of the Jordan, and we have destroyed almost totally the air forces of four countries." Eager young Israeli paratroopers prepared for a jump assault on Sharm el Sheikh, only to be advised that the Israeli navy had arrived first—and the Egyptians had fled. The disappointed troopers disembarked like tourists from planes that landed unopposed on the Egyptian airstrip.
Next day, as Israeli troops captured the west bank of the Suez Canal, Jordan broke ranks and accepted the U.N. cease-fire that Moscow had been desperately trying to arrange for three days to save the Arabs from total disaster. The Egyptians fought one final tank battle at Suez in a frantic attempt to open a retreat path for what was left of their 80,000-man ground force in Sinai; then they, too, agreed to the ceasefire. Syria joined the chorus only a few hours later.
But Syria was not to be let off quite that easily. With each side claiming that the cease-fire had been violated by the other, Israel turned its full and angry attention to the nation that, by provoking terrorist raids and egging Nasser on, had probably done the most to create the crisis. Despite the natural advantage of the terrain they occupied, the Syrians were driven off the heights of Galilee as Israel extended its conquests 15 miles from the border. Israeli tanks and planes fought all the way to the outskirts of Damascus.
The Hebrew Version. Cairo received the news of the cease-fire in stunned and sullen silence. Extra police turned out at key points where demonstrators normally rally, but no one in the city seemed in the mood for demonstrating. Police moved swiftly through the empty streets taking down the anti-Israel slogans and banners that had festooned the city since Nasser's buildup began last month. Of the Arab alliance, only Algeria, which sent 36 MIGs too late to aid Nasser, vowed to fight on—presumably because the Algerians had not fought at all and were safely out of Israel's deadly reach.
Tel Aviv, however, was a different world. Suddenly it became a city of blue and white flags, fluttering from tall poles, flying from auto aerials, draped from terraces overlooking the sparkling sea. The beaches filled up with bathers and paddle-ball players; occasional soldiers, the dust of the desert still clinging to their boots, thumbed rides homeward on brief furloughs; concerts, chorales and cruises all resumed their schedules.
Jerusalem's Mandelbaum Gate, once a grim passageway into no-man's land, became just another street intersection, save for bands of religious Jews in their black hats and long coats who gathered to cheer every Israeli vehicle rolling out of the Old City. The sentimental Israeli city bus cooperative put its No. 9 bus to Mount Scopus back into operation; it had been saving the number for that particular route ever since the last run was made in 1948. Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolleck called his municipal council into session to approve a $50 million fund "to rebuild the Eternal City of Jerusalem." Like Dayan and Eshkol and every other Israeli who could possibly manage it, Ben-Gurion visited the Wailing Wall. "This is the greatest moment of my life," he said, then frowned as he noticed that the Jordanian sign on the wall was in English and Arabic. He asked the soldiers to take it down and replace it with a Hebrew version, fussing at them all the while not to damage the stones.
No Clearance. Though at the outset of the fighting Eshkol had asserted that his country had no territorial ambitions, the magnitude of Israel's victory began to temper that resolution. Dayan himself said of the Old City on its capture: "We have returned to our holiest of holy places, never to depart again." Nor did he have to add that Israel was not likely to let Sharm el Sheikh fall back into Arab hands to renew the possibility of another blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba. It was equally clear to all concerned that taking the heights of Galilee permanently from the Syrians would remove the longstanding Arab threat to Israel's Jordan water supply. Holding fast to the west bank of the Suez would guarantee the right of passage to Israeli shipping, denied by Nasser since 1956.
In the flush of a victory that surprised even Dayan and his officers ("I thought it would take a day or two longer," Chief-of-Staff Rabin said laconically), the Israelis are clearly not yet sure what to do with their spoils. Indeed, they hardly had time to count the full cost of their victory—or of the Arab defeat. Casualty figures, as yet, are fragmentary, but the few days of desert warfare may well have accounted for more dead than a whole year's fighting in Viet Nam. And historians will be a long time calculating the price in Arab morale, to say nothing of Russia's tremendous loss of face as it stood helplessly by, watching its expensive Middle Eastern adventure being ground to dust by the advancing Israelis. Among the major Israeli spoils were several captured Russian SAM missiles.
What seems certain now is that, for the moment at least, Israel is the absolute master of the Middle East; it need take orders from no one, and can dictate its own terms in the vacuum of big-power inaction, U.N. fecklessness, and Arab impotence.
How did Israel manage to win so big so quickly? Much of the answer can be found in the almost incredible lack of Arab planning, coordination and communications. Despite their swift defeat in 1956, this time the Arabs seemed to expect a long, leisurely war of attrition. Though two squadrons of Algerian MIG-21s arrived, they were a fatal 24 hours too late because Egyptian commanders had failed to instruct them which airbase to head for. In retrospect, it might have been even worse if they had arrived in time for the Israeli raids. Five planeloads of Moroccan troops actually got to Cairo, but five others were grounded in Libya because Egypt had not given them clearance to enter Egyptian airspace. More than 100 truckloads of Algerian troops crossed southern Tunisia on the way to the Sinai front, which crumbled long before they arrived. Tunisian troops ready to move for Nasser were never asked for by Cairo.
The Third Temple. Though the destruction of Arab airpower played the largest part in turning the battle, the Arabs' field performance was nothing to write home about. Their Russian-trained officer corps was a disaster; it fought far better with words than with weapons. Of all the Arab troops, only the Jordanians handled themselves ably and well—and paid for it with what Hussein called "tremendous losses" that included as many as 15,000 dead. Lebanon fired not a shot at Israeli ground forces during the entire war; as they manned their border positions, its soldiers played a backgammon-like game called tricktrack and watched the Syrians and Israelis trade shellfire. Breastbeating to the contrary, Syrian ground forces made no significant move to relieve the pressure on Jordan and Egypt. Few Arab pilots had a chance to show their skills; and those that did came out second best. The Israelis shot down 50 Arab fighters while losing only three. Arab field communications were so bad that Egypt was soon reduced to sending messages to its men in Sinai via Radio Cairo. Arab commanders lost two-way contact with whole units.
In the last analysis, though, it was the Israeli military virtues of superb tactics and timing, its professionalism in the martial arts, that turned an Arab defeat into a classic rout likely to be studied with admiration at war colleges the world over. Beyond those tangibles there looms the dedication of the Jews, forged in thousands of years of dispersions and persecutions, their inviolable determination to ensure modern Israel's survival as a nation. "Everybody fought for something that is a combination of love, belief and country," said Moshe Dayan at week's end. "If I may say so, we felt we were fighting to prevent the fall of the Third Temple."
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