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Considering Israel fought several Arab countries, which had troops largely outnumbering the Israeli, how did they manage to win the war decisively, with much fewer casualties than the Arab countries?

The Wikipedia page also lists Israel is the the only belligerent on their side (ie: they had no allies), is this true? Did Israel fight the war with no American support?

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At sea the Israelis mounted cardboard guns on their unarmed ships. The Egyptian navy saw the guns and turned around without engaging the defenseless Israeli ships. –  JoeHobbit Oct 16 '11 at 19:08
I wonder what the egyptians could have done differently? Are the israelites jets live underground? –  Jim Thio Dec 12 '11 at 6:31
@JimThio, Regarding 'What egyptians could have have differently' ... They could choose not to pursue their "throw Sionists into sea" intentions. Which is a root of all their problems. –  Andrei Jun 9 '12 at 19:57
@JoeHobbit: Is there a reference for this story? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 5 '12 at 16:47
@HermannIngjaldsson: yes, but not very much for theperiod under discussion. Israel's best weapons in the 60s came from France. –  Felix Goldberg Apr 7 '13 at 15:34
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2 Answers

up vote 31 down vote accepted

If you look only at the numbers, then Israel was bound to lose the war of course. The Arab countries had far more soldiers and they also had better/more equipment (the Soviet Union supplied them well). This view leaves out a number of important factors however:

  • Surprise: By launching a preemptive attack Israel took the Arab countries by surprise which allowed taking out their air forces on the ground. Even the most powerful air force isn't worth anything if it doesn't leave the ground. This certainly helped even though Israel managed to win other wars without having any such advantage (see 1948 Arab–Israeli War and Yom Kippur War).
  • Motivation: The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) was highly motivated - a failure would inevitably mean that Israel would cease to exist. Arab countries on the other hand had to take measures to keep their soldiers from defecting (Syrian forces even had to chain their soldiers to machine guns it seems).
  • Skill: The Israeli soldiers were highly skilled, with one of the reasons being the overall high education level in the population. This was probably the main disadvantage of the Arab armies - while they got all the advanced weapons from the Soviets, their soldiers were unable to use them effectively.
  • Organization: The Arab countries didn't coordinate their actions, each of their armies was acting on their own. In fact, Egypt even failed to coordinate its own troops.

As to whether Israel had allies in this war: no. While the USA always supported Israel they did it mostly by diplomatic means. And they supplied Israel with weapons (it was Cold War - if the Soviets supply the Arabs then USA has to supply Israel). But nothing beyond that. The newspaper I linked to above says that this result "would have been unthinkable but not for gross Arab incompetence" - and I think that this is correct.

In fact, Egypt claimed that Israel received military help from USA and Great Britain. As Wikipedia notes, these claims haven't been taken too seriously outside the Arab world. The death blow to the accusation was an intercepted phone conversation between Nasser and King Husein that Israel released to the press:

Nasser: ...Shall we include also the United States? Do you know of this, shall we announce that the U.S. is cooperating with Israel?
Nasser: Hello, will we say the U.S. and England or just the U.S.?
Hussein: The U.S. and England.

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The Egyptians, along with Syria and Jordan, had worked up a plan to attack Israel a couple of weeks prior to the actual war. Apparently some recently declassified documents confirm that the Egyptians had planned to launch bombers against Israel to take out their airfields and other strategic military positions. They had also deployed a number of tank units that were prepared to slice through the country.

The Israelis were trying to convince Lyndon Johnson to provide support, but the US was already involved with VietNam and wasn't prepared to provide any type of military assistance in defending Israel. However. the Israelis did convince him that an attack was imminent. As a result, Johnson warned Egypt not to attack and informed the Soviet Union that if Egypt did attack, the US would hold the Russians accountable. The combined pressure from the US and Russia proved to be enough to convince Egypt to postpone their attack.

About a week later, Israel decided that the Arab countries were not going to delay much longer, so they chose to take the offensive. The Israeli air force wiped out the Egyptian and Syrian air forces while they were still on the ground, and therefore had no resistance at all in the air. Two days later the Israelis destroyed almost all of the Egyptian tanks, thereby eliminating the last opportunity the Arab countries had to mount any form of attack.

Basically, the Israelis took the initiative away from Egypt and then turned it around and did exactly what the Egyptians were planning to do to Israel. The only form of assistance that Israel received was the political intervention leading up to the actual event, and that proved to be enough.

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If you are going to downvote an answer, at least be kind enough to provide a justification for doing so. –  Steven Drennon Jul 17 '12 at 14:42
You mean a military general in Egypt could not think of a possibility that their jets will be bombarded while in the ground? –  Jim Thio Jan 2 '13 at 21:39
I'm sure that the Egyptians and the Syrians were under the impression that the Israelis were getting the same political pressure and as a result wouldn't attack. From what I remember of that period, I also don't think the Egyptians or Syrians had much respect for or fear of the Israeli military at that time. –  Steven Drennon Jan 3 '13 at 0:09
The Egyptians were massively overconfident that their new Soviet supplied radar and SAM sites would be as if not more effective against the Israeli as had been the same equipment in Vietnam against the US. What they failed to realise was that in Vietnam that equipment was manned by highly trained Soviet "advisers" and the US hampered by restrictive ROE, while in Egypt and Syria it was manned by poorly trained Arabs and the Israeli had no restrictions on attacking anything of military value. –  jwenting Apr 3 '13 at 7:06
Sources for the first two paragraphs? –  Felix Goldberg Apr 7 '13 at 15:35
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