1967 – Chief of Staff during the Six-Day War
The Six-Day War in June 1967 broke out during Rabin’s fourth year serving as Chief of Staff. At the start of that same year, no one thought about war, certainly not with Egypt. At the center of the tensions stood the continued aggression on the northern border. The Israeli Air Force was called into action in reaction to hostile Syrian activity. In an aerial battle conducted on April 7, 1967, IAF pilots downed six Syrian MiG 21 jet fighters. In response, Egypt, bound by a defense pact with Syria, began calling up its reserves. The deployment of an Egyptian military force into the Sinai Desert contradicted agreements reached following the 1956 Sinai Crisis. Rabin viewed this as a casus belli and recommended mobilizing the reserves. Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, demanded that the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) leave the Sinai and ordered the Straits of Tiran closed to Israeli shipping. From Israel’s standpoint, this was a declaration of war. The situation continued to deteriorate rapidly, and war became inevitable.
Rabin was fully confident in the strength of the IDF to be victorious, and the army under his command was charged and ready for battle. The cost of the reserve call-up was heavy on the country. The public was anxious. The General Staff was pressuring for a preemptive strike. Despite this, Rabin understood the need to afford the government every opportunity to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. Senior leaders with whom he was consulting undermined his confidence in the IDF’s ability to go to war without the backing of a friendly power. Torn between his recognition of the need to launch a preemptive strike and his awareness of the obligation to obey the directives of the nation’s political echelon while working around the clock and smoking incessantly, fell into a state of exhaustion. He found it difficult to continue his duties. However, after a 24-hour respite, he returned to his post.
The public’s anxiety during the “Waiting Period” led to the establishment of the “National Unity Government.” Prime Minister and Defense Minister Levy Eshkol was forced to resign as Defense Minister, and Moshe Dayan was appointed to the position. On June 4, the government authorized the IDF to launch its offensive.
The next day, June 5, in an operation encompassing nearly all of the air arsenal of the IDF, IAF forces conducted a coordinated attack against the airfields and air forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, with devasting results. Following the surprise attack, the path was now open for armored and infantry forces to break through Egyptian lines in the Sinai Desert. The Egyptian army was defeated within a few days and withdrew back across the Suez Canal. Following several attacks by the Jordanian army around Jerusalem, a second front was opened. After two days of combat, IDF forces occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem and reached the Western Wall. After having defeated the armies of Egypt and Jordan on the fifth day of the war, the IDF attacked Syrian forces on the Golan Heights. After completing the capture of the Heights, a ceasefire entered into effect. It removed the threat faced by the communities of the Galilee region.