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The Secret Military Unit Behind Israel’s Stunning Six Day War Victory

Today Israel marked the 46 anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War.

The war formally began with preemptive air strikes against the air forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The armies of all three countries had mobilized and were positioned to attack Israel or suffocate it economically. The air campaign lasted only three hours and resulted in the nearly complete destruction of the Arab warplanes, which were caught off guard at unprotected air bases.

One of the key factors which led to the success of the military operation in general, and the air strikes in particular, was the collection of data and information by Israel’s intelligence units in the years which preceded the war. One of the most intriguing episodes revealed here for the first time is related to unit 504 (then 154) of the Military Intelligence. The unit was and still is responsible for detecting, recruiting, and running agents – a tradecraft known as “humint”.

The unit’s case officers penetrated the Sinai Peninsula, then under Egyptian rule, and recruited local agents.

“We provided them cameras with long lenses which were considered then to be state of the art and nowadays are just junk” said a former officer in the unit. “We taught them how to conceal the cameras, how to position them, and how to take the photos and from which angles”.

The agents proved to be very good pupils and from time to time sent back rolls of films about Egyptian military bases and troop movements. But the real gems were the photographs of air fields, which later were bombed with excellent precision.

The war lasted six days and ended with the capture of the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Gaza Strip from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Israel had expanded beyond what Abba Eban, then Foreign Minister, had described as indefensible “Auschwitz borders.” Yet after the war the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, declared Israel’s readiness to return most of the occupied territories in return for peace. He demanded only minor territorial modifications.

Instead in August 1967 the Arab League held a summit in Khartoum and rejected the Israeli proposal. The organization issued its “Three No’s” regarding Israel: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations.

Israel subsequently fought another war, in 1973, with Egypt and Syria, which ended with another round of cease fires. Eventually the notion of “land for peace” took hold. Israel withdrew from the Sinai in return for a 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, and gave the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 after the Oslo accords were signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Government of Israel in 1993.

The West Bank nowadays, of course, is under partial Palestinian control and Israeli military presence. It continues to be the focal point of domestic and international controversies, Israelis continue to be divided about its future disposition.

[Photo: רפי רוגל / Wiki Commons]