“This mission was so successful that, within only five hours, both Egyptian and Syrian air forces had been destroyed and the war effectively won. Because the Israeli Air Force had been planning and rehearsing it for over eight years.”
It is about one and a half hours of fascinating, breath-taking contemporary military history. Most of the major players during that conflict can be seen in colour or black and white, telling their tales in their own voices.
American President Lyndon Johnson, Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, Soviet Prime Minister Elexei Kosygin, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Hussein of Jordan and then the three top Israeli leaders: Prime MInister Levi Eshkol, Army Chief of Staff Yitshak Rabin and the towering and defining figure of the entire conflict, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan.
This documentary “Six Days of War”, produced by Michael Oren, and which can be obtained on the streets of Nairobi for only 200 shillings, is, for those familiar with the subject matter, almost priceless.
As it says on the sleeve, it tells the story of how the Six Day War between Israel, on the one hand, and Egypt, Syria and Jordan, on the other, broke out on June 5, 1967 and of the shocking ways in which it unfolded. It is, without doubt, an enthralling human narrative.
If there are documentaries in this genre, this is, indeed, the documentary of choice.
The basic storyline of the Arab-Israeli War of June, 1967 is well known. After weeks of mounting tension and uncertainty on both sides, the war finally broke out in the morning of June 5th, when almost the entire Israeli Air Force took to the skies in a pre-emptive strike to disable or destroy all Egyptian military airfields simultaneously and then destroy or demobilise all Egyptian air force planes.
Within only three hours, the mission ended with all Egyptian military airfields destroyed and the entire Egyptian air force of 280 modern planes disabled or burnt to ashes. Within the next two hours, the entire Syrian air force had also been destroyed. With no air cover to support the Arab armies on the ground, there was no way those armies could stand up to the Israelis whose air force was virtually intact.
Within only six days, the war was effectively over. Nasser, the Egyptian President and the de facto leader of the entire Arab World, had, in less than one week, lost his grandiose political dreams, his army, his air force and loads of his legendary prestige.
It was, indeed, a biblical war, fought in the Holy Land, pitting the descendants of King David, who numbered only two and-a-half million, against the whole Arab world of almost 100 million people. When the guns finally fell silent, military experts and students around the world instantly recognised that history had been made. The Israeli Air Force had secured victory in a manner so dramatic and clinical that the whole world had to sit up and take notice.
Watching and listening carefully as this extraordinary video rolls to its epilogue, there are at least four messages which stick in the mind of the viewer. They are messages, not just for those who lived through that conflict, but for all peoples and all times. There are messages from what we would now loosely classify as the spheres of propaganda, political and military leadership and communication.
Propaganda, or in this case pure lies, lay at the core of this conflict. The initial reports which indicated that Israel was planning to attack Syria within one week, were completely untrue. Yet, on the basis of those lies, Egypt mobilised and sent more than 40,000 of its soldiers into the Sinai Desert next to the Israeli border, thus beginning a process that would later be virtually impossible to reverse.
Therein lies the first message: Major wars or conflicts can erupt on the basis of lies or misunderstandings, not necessarily on what the actual facts of the situation are.