In perhaps one of the most effective air strikes in history, the IAF annihilated the Egyptian Air Force in a preemptive attack and paved the way for the IDF’s advance into the Sinai Peninsula.
By Seth Marshall
In the months leading up to the Six Day War of June 1967, tensions among Israel and the neighboring countries of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were extremely high. With the surrounding Arab nations, particularly Egypt, equipped with Soviet vehicles and weaponry and increasingly hostile to the existence of Israel, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) increased its preparations for offensive actions. One of the key components of this planning was Operation Moked (Focus), an Israeli Air Force (IAF) operation designed to completely destroy the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. Initially planned during the years following the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, the operation was refined further by air force commanders prior to the war.
Moked was the product of planning by IAF chief Brigadier General Mordechai Hod and other senior air force officers. The plan called for a pre-emptive strike against the military forces of neighboring Arab countries and the maintaining of aerial supremacy during IDF operations. The success of IDF operations would depend on the effectiveness of the IAF strike. Given the combined weight of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, this would be no easy task. The three countries combined could bring to bear some 328,000 men, 2300 tanks, 1800 APCs, 2200 anti-aircraft emplacements (including SAM batteries), and nearly 700 aircraft.  The bulk of the aircraft were operated by the Egyptian Air Force, and were all Soviet-supplied: MiG-17 fighters, MiG-19 supersonic fighters, MiG-21 supersonic fighters, Tu-16 strategic bombers, and Il-28 medium bombers. To counter this impressive array of forces, the IAF had 196 front-line combat aircraft. Nearly all of these were upgraded French aircraft: Sud Aviation light bombers, Dassault Ouragon fighter-bombers, Dassault Super Mystere fighters, and 76 of the excellent Dassault Mirage IIICJ fighters.
Despite the difference in numbers, the Israelis were well-prepared for Moked. They had designed a runway-penetrating bomb, which used a parachute to activate a rocket, propelling the warhead through concrete surfaces. While there was only 196 combat aircraft in the IAF’s inventory, there were three pilots for every aircraft, ensuring that rested pilots would be available to replace tired or wounded flyers. The IAF had also built several bases in the desert which were modeled after Egyptian air bases, allowing pilots to practice attack runs prior to operations. Pilots were not the only personnel who trained- ground crews trained to be able to re-arm and re-fuel an aircraft quickly, allowing them to fly multiple missions every day. The practice paid off-the IAF had an aircraft availability rate of 90%, which would allow nearly all of its combat aircraft to get airborne on the 5th, while the Egyptians could only manage 30%.
The IAF’s plan was intricate. The primary objectives of Moked was the destruction of Egypt’s Tu-16and Il-28 bombers, which had the range to hit Israel, and MiG-21 fighters, which was the most capable fighter aircraft fielded by the Arab Air Forces. Secondary objectives included the destruction of the airfields and anti-aircraft defenses, which would prevent the Egyptians from scrambling fighters to intercept Israeli aircraft and allow them to continue strikes with less risk from ground fire. In fact, the IAF planned to send its aircraft at extreme low level (less than 18 meters)and at high-speed to avoid anti-aircraft defenses. While this would still mean that the aircraft would still be vulnerable to light flak, it eliminated danger from the most lethal form of anti-aircraft defenses available to the Egyptians: the SA-2 surface-to-air missile (SAM). The SA-2 was a deadly efficient weapon, but it was only effective above 4,000 feet. Additionally, the IAF had found gaps in the Egyptian radar screen and arranged for its planes to fly through these gaps. Finally, the IAF chose not to time their strike with dawn but rather at 0845 Egyptian time. The IAF reasoned that at this time, the morning alert MiGs would have stood down, many Egyptian pilots and air force officers would be eating breakfast, and still others would be making their way to work through rush hour traffic.
At 0710 Israeli time on June 5th, sixteen Magister Fouga training aircraft took off using patrol patterns that were identical to Mirage fighters, indicating the normal daily routine to the surrounding Arab countries. Just five minutes later, the first of 183 combat aircraft began to take off for the strike on Egypt- this represented 95% of the IAF. Just 12 fighters remained behind to provide air defense.  As the aircraft took off, they formed up into groups of four aircraft and headed off in intervals, in order to ensure that a flight of Israeli aircraft would constantly be flying over Egyptian air bases. Once airborne, the aircraft headed west for 18 minutes before turning south. Just before arriving over their respective targets (ten separate airfields for the first wave), the formations abruptly climbed to nine thousand feet to begin their attack runs.
The IAF’s aerial assault caught the Egyptians completely off guard. Jordanian radar sites had detected the departing armada and had attempted to warn the Egyptians, but the latter had changed their radio codes the previous day and didn’t understand the messages. Even better for the Israelis was the fact that Field Marshal Abd el Hakim Amer and air force commander General Mohammad Sidqi Mahmoud were inspecting their forces in the Sinai peninsula and had ordered their men not to fire on any passing aircraft for fear of having themselves shot down.  In the span of 20 minutes, all targeted airfields were hit three times. The first wave of Israeli attacks lasted 80 minutes, which was followed by a 10 minute lull, and which in turn was followed by another 80 minutes of attacks by the second wave. Every aircraft had enough fuel for three or four bombing and strafing passes on targets. By 0900 Egyptian time, two bases in Egypt and four in the Sinai Peninsula had been completely destroyed.  At the end of the second wave, the Egyptian Air Force had lost 293 aircraft which included: all 30 of the Tu-16 bombers, 27 Il-28 medium bombers, 12 Su-7 fighter-bombers, 90 MiG-21 fighters, 20 MiG-19 fighters, and 75 MiG-17 fighters. Against this, the Israelis had lost ten aircraft in the first wave, with six pilots killed.
After spending the morning focusing on Egyptian bases, at 1245 the IAF sent its planes to attack Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi bases. The raids destroyed all 28 of the Jordanian Air Force’s Hawker Hunters, completely eliminating it as a fighting force, while the Syrians lost 57 planes, a full two-thirds of its force and the Iraqis had lost ten planes. In addition, the IAF was highly successful against its opponents which managed to get into the air; the Mirages shot down 50 MiGs on June 5th without any loss to themselves. Overall, during the course of the war, the Israelis destroyed 452 Arab aircraft while losing only 46. To be fair, 46 aircraft represented roughly a quarter of the IAF’s combat strength, but with the entire Jordanian Air Force, the entire Syrian Air Force and most of the Egyptian Air Force eliminated, this seemed to be a fair trade off. After the first two days of fighting, Arab airpower essentially ceased to exist, and the IAF was free to provide tactical air support to the advancing IDF ground forces, inflicting catastrophic losses in men and materiel on Egyptian columns which became trapped in narrow passes. IAF domination of the skies and effective tactical support helped the IDF quickly defeat several Arab armies and take the entire Sinai peninsula within a matter of days.
Operation Moked remains one of the most successful air strikes in military history, perhaps only exceeded in scale and magnitude by the Luftwaffe’s opening raids on the Soviet Union at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. While being grossly outnumbered, the IAF had completely annihilated the Arab air forces through a combination of careful planning and excellent training. Despite the devastating blow, the Arab air forces, particularly the Egyptians quickly recovered thanks to the influx of Soviet equipment, and the Egyptians would continue to harass the Israelis during the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Still, Moked definitively proved that the IAF was one of the most elite air forces in the world and demonstrated the potential of a highly-coordinated and well-planned aerial strike.
1. Dunstan, Simon, and Peter Dennis. The Six Day War, 1967: Sinai. Oxford, UK: Osprey Pub., 2009. Print.
2. Churchill, Randolph S., and Winston S. Churchill. The Six Day War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967. Print.
3. Citino, Robert Michael. Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational Warfare. Lawrence, Kan.: U of Kansas, 2004. Print.
4. "Egyptian Front." Egyptian Front. Six Day War.org, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
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