In May, 1967, Egyptian and Syrian troops massed on Israel's borders, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and Egyptian President Gamel Abdal Nasser filled the airwaves with calls to drive the Jews into the sea. The mood in the 19-year-old-country of Israel was bleak. Facing five well-equipped, Soviet trained Arab armies, Israel's defeat was virtually a foregone conclusion. The black humor on everyone's lips that Spring was: "The last one out, don't forget to turn off the lights."
Everyone knows that instead of defeat, Israel achieved a stunning victory. On June 5 at 7:46 AM, Israeli planes destroyed the entire Egyptian air force on the ground. In six days, Israel tripled its territory, gaining the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and -- most precious of all -- the Old City and the Temple Mount.
The crucial strategy of destroying the Egyptian air force while their planes were still on the ground opened the way for the Israeli victory. The success of the maneuver is generally attributed to the Israeli planes flying below the tracking altitude of Egyptian radar. Many other factors, however, contributed to the success of the air strike and the subsequent battles. In fact, the coincidences and unlikely happenings at precisely the right time were so plentiful that, as we learn the details of the victory, the bulge in the curtain almost knocks us over.
For example, a few days before the war, the Commander of Egyptian forces in the Sinai was ordered to change commanders in most of his brigades, putting in charge officers who didn't know the terrain or their forces.
On the very morning of June 5th, three hours before the Israeli air strike, Egyptian intelligence did in fact issue a warning that an Israeli air attack would begin "within minutes." At that point, Egypt still had time to get its planes off the ground and save them. The message reached the command bunker in Cairo. An aide-de-camp signed a copy, but no one bothered to look for the Commander in Chief.
On the same morning of the attack, Egyptian officers stationed at the radar station in northern Jordan picked up the scrambling Israeli aircraft, and sent a red alert message to Cairo. The sergeant in the decoding room of the supreme command tried to decipher the message using the previous day's code and failed.
And where was Egypt's Commander in Chief? The night before, he and most of his top officers attended a party at an air force base in the northern delta area, at which a renowned belly dancer performed. Early the next morning, he took off for the Sinai, where he had ordered all his top commanders to assemble in order to meet a high-level Iraqi delegation. When the Israeli strike happened, not one senior officer was at his post.