Hanukkah Miracle Series: The Three Hour Miracle of Wings During the Six Day War

Israeli Air Force Mirage IIICJ 158 at the Israeli Air Force Museum in Hatzerim. Bears 13 kills markings and the colors of 101 Squadron. (Photo: Oren Rozen / Wiki Commons)

Hanukkah is a time to celebrate miracles. The holiday commemorates two major miracles which took place in the time of the Maccabees: the miraculous victory of the tiny Jewish army over the vast Syrian-Greek one and the miracle of the small vial of oil which burned for eight days when it should have lasted only one. However, miracles did not happen only in history. Over the course of the week of Hanukkah, we will be featuring different miracles which occurred in modern Israel.

The Six Day War was transformative for Israel. At first, it appeared that the war would signal the demise of the tiny country, not even 20 years old, surrounded by enemies. In the north, Syria was firing artillery at Israeli settlements incessantly. In the south, Egypt’s dynamic and popular president, Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, was filling the airwaves with electrifying calls for war. In the east was Jordan, ready to join in, and to the West was nothing but the sea, with Europe and America chillingly apathetic to Israel’s plight.

The Arab coalition had a combined force of 465,000 troops, 2,880 tanks and 900 aircraft compared to Israel’s 264,000 soldiers (of which 200,000 were reservists), 800 tanks, and 200 aircraft. The outlook was so grim that all of Jerusalem’s parks were prepared to become mass graveyards. By all logic, Israel should not have won.

Quickly, it became clear that Israel had no choice but to fight when Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and expelled the UN peacekeeping forces from the Sinai, bringing in heavy artillery to take their place.

On June 5th, IAF Commander Major General Motti Hod initiated Operation Focus, sending off 196 planes on a preemptive strike against Egypt,  including retrofitted trainers not intended for combat. This daring plan left a meager 12 planes to patrol and defend Israel. They were sent off in waves of four, so that while one group struck, another was preparing for the attack, and yet another was heading back to base to be refueled and loaded with fresh ammunition.  It was a daring, all-or-nothing gamble in the first hours of the war. The first aerial volley struck at 7:45 am instead of dawn, when an attack is usually anticipated, and continuous waves of Israeli warplanes bombarded Egyptian airbases for almost three hours.

Israel also had another surprise up its sleeve. One of the major factors contributing to the astounding Israeli success was an innovation from the French: a rocket-assisted anti-runway warhead that grounded the enemy aircraft, making them easy prey for the next wave of Israeli jets.

Give IDF Soldiers a Happy Hanukkah!

The gamble paid off, and in the first few minutes, 197 Egyptian airplanes and 18 military airfields were destroyed. But disaster had come much closer than anyone realized, and it was only an astonishing set of circumstances that brought about the ultimate victory.

Three hours before the Israeli airstrike, when there was still plenty of time to organize a response, Egyptian intelligence issued a warning that an Israeli air attack was about to begin. The message arrived at the command bunker in Cairo, where a junior officer signed on it. For some unexplained reason, no one ever forwarded it to the Commander in Chief.

In Northern Jordan, Egyptian radar operators picked up signals of the large Israeli force flying low over the Mediterranean and sent a red-alert message to Cairo. The codes had been changed the previous day, but nobody had apprised the sergeant in the decoding room of the command post. He tried to decipher the message using the previous day’s code and failed.

Just a few days before the outbreak of war, the Commander of Egyptian forces in the Sinai was ordered to change commanders in most of his brigades, replacing them with officers who didn’t know the terrain or their forces, leaving them unprepared for the Israeli attack.

The glaring lack of high command certainly opened the door for the Israeli victory. The night before the Israeli attack, the Egyptian commander, Abdel Hakem Amer, had spent the evening with many of his top officers at a nightclub, far from his command center. The next day, they flew to the Sinai for a meeting with high-level Iraqis. The Egyptian soldiers manning the anti-air defense systems effectively shut down their systems for fear of shooting down their commander.

Israel, with 196 airplanes, had faced an Arab coalition with over 600 aircraft. By the end of the war, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian air-forces, totaling about 452 aircraft, were gone in clouds of smoke rising up in the desert air. Seventy-nine Arab pilots were killed in aerial dogfights. The cost to the IAF was 46 planes and 24 pilots.

However, the greatest miracle in a war that equaled the days of creation in length was that for the first time in 2,000 years, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount had returned to the Jewish people.

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Source: Israel in the News