Israel — Israeli Operation That Changed Ways Of Warfare

The Israeli armed forces – espe­cial­ly their Air Force are uni­ver­sal­ly admired for their ded­i­ca­tion, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and inno­v­a­tive approach. Some Israeli oper­a­tions — espe­cial­ly the destruc­tion of the Arab Air Forces in the six day Arab-Israeli war in 1967, have become bench­marks of pro­fes­sion­al excel­lence. There is much to learn from the Israeli proac­tive and high­ly offen­sive ori­en­ta­tion which relies heav­i­ly on seiz­ing the ini­tia­tive right from the out­set. In this arti­cle AVM Tiwary exam­ines how the Israeli Air Blitz of 1967 suc­ceed­ed so bril­liant­ly as to become a text­book mod­el for the employ­ment of air­pow­er.

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This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India
Defence and Security Alert (DSA

The bril­liant air cam­paign by Israeli Air Force over the deserts in Mid­dle East in 1967 is the dream stuff of air war plan­ners. This was the most emphat­ic demon­stra­tion of immense capa­bil­i­ties of air pow­er next only to ini­tial light­ning suc­cess of Luft­waffe in World War II. There were mul­ti­ple fac­tors respon­si­ble for suc­cess of Israeli Air Force (IAF). But it is not the wide­ly mis­re­port­ed impres­sion that Arab Air Forces were high­ly infe­ri­or, had infe­ri­or equip­ment etc. The war though fought between main­ly West­ern (Israeli AF) and Sovi­et (Arabs) equip­ment, did not auto­mat­i­cal­ly become one sided due to the equip­ment.

The basic rea­son was the way the senior mil­i­tary lead­er­ship visu­alised air­pow­er and its impact on mod­ern bat­tle­field. The doc­tri­nal thought on the Arab side came far clos­er to the one pre­vail­ing in the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent. The Egyp­tians, Syr­i­ans, Iraqis and Jor­da­ni­ans were all influ­enced by the thought process in RAF, more specif­i­cal­ly the thoughts relat­ing to tac­ti­cal airpower’s employ­ment. Though each of these nations pos­sessed a rea­son­able air arm — the think­ing remained land cen­tric.

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For the state of Israel and Israeli forces — suc­cess in war was key to their sur­vival. This new­ly found nation of Jews, with­out their own moth­er­land for over 2000 years, was born in 1948. The birth itself was marked by open hos­til­i­ty and attacks from all around. Their strug­gle for inde­pen­dence and its suc­cess was a ques­tion mark for quite some time. Though every Israeli fought for free­dom, the lead­ers did not fail to notice the increas­ing­ly effec­tive con­tri­bu­tion of the emerg­ing, (then fledg­ling) Israeli Air Force (IAF). There­fore, post inde­pen­dence, the IAF got pri­ma­cy by way of fund­ing and suit­able struc­tur­ing in com­par­i­son to the oth­er two arms i.e. the Israeli Army and Navy. What of the IAF lead­er­ship as far as clar­i­ty of doc­tri­nal thought and strate­gic approach about the use of air pow­er? Indeed their approach was sound, as the open­ing hours of 1967 war proved.

There is a long road from doc­tri­nal puri­ty to exe­cu­tion effi­cien­cy in the field. For the entire sys­tem to ulti­mate­ly pro­duce the desired result, it is imper­a­tive that the the­o­ry is passed on to field, be assim­i­lat­ed by them and then only it can result in the blue­print of a suc­cess­ful air war plan. The blue­print has to be tried out to dis­cern the flaws in plan­ning — if any; to refine and shape the final con­tours of the plan to ensure it can be exe­cut­ed effec­tive­ly and in the process offers high sur­viv­abil­i­ty of own forces while inflict­ing a par­a­lyt­ic or at least a crip­pling blow on the ene­my. This is the moment that ini­tia­tive must be wrest­ed from the ene­my if one is to keep away from a war of attri­tion; this being even more impor­tant for con­tes­tants with near par­i­ty or fac­ing asym­met­ri­cal sit­u­a­tion. Mod­ern war­fare is a com­plex process and often results in avoid­able hor­ren­dous attri­tion if one fights more from the heart than the brain — so cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly demon­strat­ed along the trench­es in World War I. When metic­u­lous­ly planned, util­is­ing the strength of var­i­ous com­po­nents of war­fare in syn­er­gis­tic man­ner, it leads to light­ning vic­to­ry, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly keep­ing casu­al­ties to unbe­liev­ably low lev­els — as so amply demon­strat­ed by Ger­mans in the ini­tial stages of World War II. That con­trol of air is cen­tral to every­thing else, has been repeat­ed­ly proved since World War II. These were the clear lessons, to be not­ed for suc­cess and to be ignored at own per­il. But as we see, many par­ties will con­tin­ue to pay dear penal­ties when they choose to ignore the wis­dom of past wars.

The strike air­craft flew at low and ultra low lev­els to delay radar detec­tion. They ensured total R/T silence, from pre-start to pull up for attack, using hand sig­nals and rock­ing of the wings to con­vey instruc­tion. Pilots iden­ti­fied each oth­er by remem­ber­ing the tail num­bers, paint­ed on each aircraft’s fin. They pulled up / eased up at pre­de­ter­mined points, so cal­cu­lat­ed as to per­mit Egyptian’s radar detec­tion, time enough for Egypt­ian pilots to strap IN, start and taxi out, but not take-off

OP ‘Moked’ was the code name for Israeli air plan in the open­ing hours of 1967 war. The 1967 war was a six day war with extreme­ly pos­i­tive results for Israelis. IAF chose to pre-empt when it’s intel­li­gence assess­ment indi­cat­ed immi­nent attacks by Arab states all around. And, there­fore, it is at once obvi­ous that the air plan could not have been con­ceived in days or weeks pre­ced­ing the out­break of hos­til­i­ties. In fact this was a plan which had evolved more than a decade ear­li­er and was to have been used in 1956 dur­ing “Suez Cri­sis”. Why it was not used then, is not per­ti­nent to our study here, but the fact remains that OP ‘Moked’ prob­a­bly was con­ceived in ear­ly 50s.

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The prob­lem fac­ing the Israelis was, that once a war starts, how quick­ly to neu­tralise Arab nations’ air­pow­er? Unless this was done and done with immac­u­late effi­cien­cy, the ini­tia­tive would slip on to the Arab side. In a war of pure attri­tion (clas­si­cal dog fights), there was no way for Israel to come out win­ner, since they were out­num­bered 1:3.25 times. The solu­tion was to strike at Arab air­bas­es, with a view to mak­ing the run­ways unus­able by bomb craters and there­after, to destroy the air­craft on ground, parked most harm­less­ly. But to be able to strike at all the air­bas­es in Egypt, Syr­ia and Jor­dan, before these air forces launched counter attacks would require con­sid­er­able num­ber of sor­ties. So the Israeli solu­tion was to be able to turn­around strike air­craft as soon as pos­si­ble after refu­elling and rearm­ing. This is what they pre­cise­ly achieved — a record-break­ing turn­around time of sev­en min­utes. This per­mit­ted them 960 sor­ties as part of Day One plan, a phe­nom­e­nal util­i­sa­tion rate. They used only about a dozen air­craft for air defence of Israel dur­ing this peri­od. Or in oth­er words, such excel­lent time sav­ing per­mit­ted them to effec­tive­ly present a much larg­er Air Force, when it mat­tered.

Time Over Tar­get (TOT) was cho­sen as 0745 Israeli time. In Egypt it meant 0845 local time. The prime con­sid­er­a­tion being that most of the Egypt­ian AF (EAF) per­son­nel would be dri­ving for work in the busy Cairo Traf­fic at 0845. The ones already at air­bas­es would be in the process of hav­ing morn­ing refresh­ments or break­fast. Thus, first their alert sta­tus would like­ly to be low and the reac­tion after the sud­den Israeli strikes — slow. They planned a simul­ta­ne­ous attack on ten Egypt­ian air­bas­es. Each tar­get was struck by four strike air­craft. That means the first wave com­prised of 40 strike air­craft. Eight such waves were direct­ed at the ten Egypt­ian air­bas­es in Phase I. Each wave had an inter­val of about ten min­utes from the pre­ced­ing wave. Thus with­in 1 hour and 30 min­utes, the ten Egypt­ian air­bas­es were struck repeat­ed­ly. The repeat­ed attacks in quick suc­ces­sion ensured a near knock­out vol­ley of punch­es for EAF.

In phase II, sev­en new air­bas­es in Egypt were tar­get­ed by waves of about four strike air­craft each, repeat­ed­ly again in quick suc­ces­sion. That is around 10:30 Israeli time, bare­ly 2 hours 40 min­utes of the first TOT, 17 EAF bases had been dev­as­tat­ed by repeat­ed attack and in each attack itself mul­ti­ple pass­es were made. Phase III was devot­ed to air­bas­es in about eight waves of 30 air­craft each. By noon of 05 June 1967, a mere mat­ter of four hours, a total of 24 air­bas­es were struck, most of them 3–4 times each. In addi­tion 16 radar sites were also attacked. Such inten­si­ty of air attacks had sel­dom been seen in any air war. It must have been total­ly mind-bog­gling at the receiv­ing end and the very basis for destruc­tion of Egypt­ian, Syr­i­an and Jor­dan­ian air forces as a fight­ing force.

The Israeli solu­tion was to be able to turn­around strike air­craft as soon as pos­si­ble after refu­elling and rearm­ing. This is what they pre­cise­ly achieved — a record-break­ing turn­around time of sev­en min­utes. This per­mit­ted them 960 sor­ties as part of Day One plan, a phe­nom­e­nal util­i­sa­tion rate. They used only about a dozen air­craft for air defence of Israel dur­ing this peri­od

To ensure that Israeli air effort is not imped­ed, the brief­ing to Israeli pilots was to clear off the run­way def­i­nite­ly in case of abort­ed take-offs and to ensure at any cost that the run­way is not blocked. For any emer­gency enroute to the tar­get, the affect­ed air­craft was to return all by him­self still main­tain­ing R/T silence.

The strike air­craft flew at low and ultra low lev­els to delay radar detec­tion. They ensured total R/T silence, from pre-start to pull up for attack, using hand sig­nals and rock­ing of the wings to con­vey instruc­tion. Pilots iden­ti­fied each oth­er by remem­ber­ing the tail num­bers, paint­ed on each aircraft’s fin. They pulled up / eased up at pre­de­ter­mined points, so cal­cu­lat­ed as to per­mit Egyptian’s radar detec­tion, time enough for Egypt­ian pilots to strap IN, start and taxi out, but not take-off, there­by, catch­ing them as sit­ting ducks, total­ly exposed to Israeli strike pilots.

The strike for­ma­tions were sup­port­ed by Mirage III air­craft, act­ing as an air defence escort, to take care of air­borne ene­my inter­cep­tors. This they sure­ly did shoot­ing down 79 air­craft in air to air com­bat.

The strike air­craft car­ried run­way pen­e­tra­tion bombs, some with delayed fuse of three-four hours to delay and dis­rupt run­way repairs. This was fol­lowed by two-three straf­ing pass­es on parked air­craft and oth­er tar­gets. It is report­ed that for next three-four days hard­ly any effec­tive run­way repair was achieved.

Time Over Tar­get (TOT) was cho­sen as 0745 Israeli time. In Egypt it meant 0845 local time. The prime con­sid­er­a­tion being that most of the Egypt­ian AF (EAF) per­son­nel would be dri­ving for work in the busy Cairo Traf­fic at 0845

In over 1,000 sor­ties on Day one, IAF lost 50 air­craft, an attri­tion rate of 5 per cent. Not a small or insignif­i­cant amount for sus­tained air oper­a­tions, but total­ly jus­ti­fied in this con­text. Israelis destroyed around 271 Arab air­craft on ground.

Anoth­er nov­el­ty employed was in con­vey­ing of air sit­u­a­tion pic­ture, par­tic­u­lar­ly infor­ma­tion on ene­my CAP to Israeli strikes, speed­ing away towards tar­gets at ultra low lev­el, thus out­side the R/T range. An Israel air­craft was made to fly at height with­in friend­ly air­space. If Israeli radars detect­ed ene­my CAP, this air­borne relay would pass the rel­e­vant info for strikes’ ben­e­fit or for that mat­ter any oth­er intel­li­gence update.

The cen­tral belief — the core idea ema­nat­ing from Israeli air doc­trine remained un-altered. And, the core belief was to use air­pow­er in offen­sive man­ner, exer­cis­ing ini­tia­tive when pushed to the wall. To neu­tralise numer­i­cal­ly supe­ri­or air forces of Egypt, Syr­ia, Jor­dan and Iraq, before they could play a spoil­sport role over Israeli home­land required an all out attack, with all assets avail­able. Quite akin to a box­er on offen­sive land­ing left, right punch­es in quick suc­ces­sion — and in the process being with­out own defen­sive guard. Faced with enor­mous odds, Israeli AF had no oth­er alter­na­tive but to risk it all in an auda­cious offen­sive. Jor­dan­ian AF and Syr­i­an AF did respond with their attacks on Israeli cities, air­fields and over Haifa oil refin­ery respec­tive­ly, but these attacks came at 11:40 and did not have any sig­nif­i­cant impact. In air war espe­cial­ly, it is sui­ci­dal to let the ene­my wrest the ini­tia­tive. War is about risks and lead­ers suc­ceed only when they take risk. All risks need not be fool­hardy or quixot­ic. In fact war­fare his­to­ry is full of instances when numer­i­cal­ly infe­ri­or forces, but supe­ri­or in train­ing, equip­ment and tac­tics and under excel­lent lead­er­ship have always turned the tables on larg­er forces. Air war­fare can­not be any excep­tion to this fun­da­men­tal truth.

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This was, then, the plan which had evolved over the years after extreme­ly care­ful con­sid­er­a­tions. It had been prac­ticed by all the par­tic­i­pants, nat­u­ral­ly in inge­nious ways which pre­served the plan’s secu­ri­ty. Israelis’ made up for their infe­ri­or num­bers by gen­er­at­ing up to 5 sor­ties on each strike air­craft in one day. They turnedaround the strike air­craft in unbe­liev­ably low time of 7 min­utes. Patch repair of minor bat­tle dam­age due to bul­let hits was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly attempt­ed and com­plet­ed in ten to fif­teen min­utes. Amaz­ing. How many air forces even today can boast of such a feat? Such things can­not hap­pen pure­ly out of patri­o­tism, zeal or sud­den­ly emerg­ing demands for air­pow­er, rather these demand pre­cise plan­ning of com­plex activ­i­ties and ever insuf­fi­cient resources includ­ing man­pow­er. The false pre­tence of secu­ri­ty behind the veil of detailed elab­o­rate tech­ni­cal checks might not harm the oper­a­tions dur­ing peace, but dur­ing wartime these can rob the nation itself of larg­er secu­ri­ty due to under­util­i­sa­tion of air­pow­er. Sta­tis­tics can be twist­ed to suit desired result — but not always. Table 3 above gives a com­par­a­tive pic­ture of Peak Sor­tie Rates.

About the Author
Air Vice Mar­shal A K Tiwary VSM (retd) — The writer com­mand­ed a MiG-29 Squadron in late 80s. His var­i­ous com­mand and staff appoint­ments like Chief Oper­a­tions Offi­cer at a major Wing, oper­a­tional plan­ning at Com­mand lev­el, Direc­tor Con­cept Stud­ies at Air HQ, Com­mand of a major fly­ing base, Head of the Train­ing Team (Air) at Defence Ser­vices Staff Col­lege and Senior Direct­ing Staff (Air) at Nation­al Defence Col­lege have con­ferred a rich prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence. The air staff course at DSSC Welling­ton (TN), Com­mand and Air War Course at the Air Uni­ver­si­ty, Maxwell Air­base, Mont­gomery (USA), all induct­ed and accel­er­at­ed his inter­est in air war stud­ies. After pre­ma­ture retire­ment he now flies as Com­man­der on Boe­ing 737–800 NG.

Note by the Author:
They planned a simul­ta­ne­ous attack on ten Egypt­ian air­bas­es. Each tar­get was struck by four strike air­craft. That means the first wave com­prised of 40 strike air­craft. Eight such waves were direct­ed at the ten Egypt­ian air­bas­es in Phase I. Each wave had an inter­val of about ten min­utes from the pre­ced­ing wave. Thus with­in 1 hour and 30 min­utes, the ten Egypt­ian air­bas­es were struck repeat­ed­ly

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