The Third Lebanon War: Not A Matter Of ‘If,’ But ‘When’
Israel reflects on history and weighs its options.
In the weeks preceding the Six-Day War, Israel was faced with ever increasing existential challenges which warranted resolute action. Israel’s generals correctly argued to the political echelon that with each passing day, Israel’s strategic position became more compromised. The situation was particularly acute on Israel’s southern border with Egypt where the Egyptian army deployed seven divisions including three armored divisions. Official Arab government pronouncements, with ever increasing shrill and belligerence, made clear that the intention was to wipe Israel off the map.
On June 5th 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike aimed at destroying the Arab armies before they could launch their own attack (some historians have argued that the Arabs fired the first salvo by closing the Tiran Straits). Codenamed Operation Focus, the Israeli Air Force implemented its well-rehearsed plan of action and struck first, catching most of the Arab air forces on the ground and destroying the bulk of them. Contemporaneous with the air assault, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sprang into action, quickly routing the Arab armies in a matter of days.
It was a complete and decisive Israeli victory with few parallels in military history. Israel’s success in the Six Day War was attributed to many factors but chief among them was the fact that Israel had robbed the enemy of the initiative. Had the Arab’s attacked first, Israel would have still emerged triumphant but at a much higher cost in terms of men and material.
The doctrine of preemption is one that is ingrained in Israel’s military thinking. Israel is a small country with little strategic depth and a vulnerable civilian population. Preemption, the concept of striking the enemy first when there is a clear, present and imminent danger coupled with intent to injure, is a strategically sound doctrine and this is especially true in Israel’s case given its unique vulnerabilities, regional challenges and genocidal enemies.