Middle East: The Quickest War

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There, as in the air, the Israeli tactics were based on surprise and speed. They were the same tactics Dayan had employed in his 1956 Sinai campaign that sent the Arabs scrambling barefoot for home within 100 hours. "The enemy will be given no time to reorganize after the assault, and there will be no pause in the fighting," he wrote in his reconstruction of that war, Diary of the Sinai Campaign. "We shall organize separate forces for each of the main objectives, and it will be the task of each force to get there in one continuous battle, one long breath to fight and push on, fight and push on, until the objective is gained."

Israel's main objectives in the Sinai last week were much the same as they were in 1956: to break the back of the massed Arab armor on its borders, then to sprint south to seize Sharm el Sheikh on the heights that control the Strait of Tiran, then west to the edge of the Suez Canal, trapping the remnants of Egypt's forces. To be sure, no one expected the fight to move so swiftly this time. The word was that with Russian help, Nasser had vastly improved his armies. In addition, he had the advantage of Dayan's Diary, which not only recapitulated in precise detail every element of Israeli tactics and strategy, it even provided a critique of what the Israelis and Egyptians had done wrong last time.

But Nasser had apparently not read Dayan; nor had he studied Santayana, who observed that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Thundering down the same roads, blasting and overrunning the same Egyptian positions, the Israelis repeated almost exactly what they had done in 1956—the only difference was that this time the job took only half as long.

From Kerem Shalom in the north to El Kuntilla in the south, Israeli Centurion tanks, halftracks and field guns, plus convoys of infantrymen in sand-colored fatigues, pounded across from the Negev into Sinai in the blazing morning sunlight. In some places, the Egyptians had built their fortifications smack against the Israeli border; there, in hand-to-hand fighting, the Israelis drove them out. While the pushing Israeli ground troops forced the Egyptians back, Israeli jets roamed the skies virtually unchallenged, bombing and strafing at will. Within two days, the Israelis had knocked out or captured 200 of Nasser's tanks, and were deep in Sinai. One prong of their attack curled northward and occupied the Gaza Strip, site of Egyptian artillery and mortars and the vast unkempt barracks that housed the rabid, ragtag refugee Palestinian Liberation Army. Israelis wasted little time weeding out the toughest of the Arab commandos and terrorists, carting them off to prisoner-of-war stockades erected deep inside the Negev Desert.

Hathaway Patch. Amid the swirl of battle orders, Moshe Dayan took a few minutes off to be officially installed as Israel's Defense Minister. He had been on the job for six eventful days before Premier Levi Eshkol actually administered the oath of office. And even then, neither he nor Israel really thought the ceremony was necessary. His country was fighting for its life, and the tough general in the black eyepatch was clearly Israel's first and only choice.

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