Middle East: The Quickest War

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No part of the city was spared. Shells hit near Premier Eshkol's home and in the garden of the King David Hotel. The glass panes in the Israel Museum were blasted out, and the Isaiah Scroll, most complete of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, was hastily moved into its underground vault. Most of the famed Chagall stained-glass windows in the Hadassah Medical Center's synagogue were taken down in time, but a hole was blasted in one. Wrote Chagall from France: "I am not worried about the windows, only about the safety of Israel. Let Israel be safe and I will make you lovelier windows."

As darkness descended on the Judean hills, the Israelis moved to the attack. Swept-wing French jets, the Star of David gleaming in blue and white on their wings, swooped down on Jordanian positions around the city in a spectacular exhibition of night bombing that left the skies red with flames. Two armored columns snaked out and around the Old City of Jerusalem. Within its ancient walls are nestled the holy sites of three world religions, and Israeli gunners and bombers had carefully spared it. The northern column fought its way to the commanding height of Mount Scopus. The southern column swept south, moving inexorably from hill to hill despite stubborn Jordanian Arab League resistance, until the Old City was encircled.

Next night Israeli commandos prepared a dawn attack into the Old City itself. But most of the Jordanian troops defending it had slipped away, leaving only sniper resistance as one Israeli unit entered through St. Stephen's Gate and a second drove through the Damascus Gate. By 10 a.m., the conquerors stood before the great boulders of the Wailing Wall, the only remnant of the Second Temple, that for 1,897 years has been the symbol of Jewish national hope —and despair. For all the sensational —and far more important military victories won in Sinai, nothing so elated the Israelis as the capture of the Biblical city of Jerusalem. Said the tough commando leader who took the Wall: "None of us alive has ever seen or done anything so great as he has done today." And there by the Wall, he broke down and wept.

Curious Footnote. One by one, other Biblical towns fell to the advancing Israelis—Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem—until they had seized all of Hussein's kingdom west of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Unlike their Egyptian brethren in Sinai, King Hussein's legionnaires fought stubbornly and with discipline. But as in Sinai, the Israelis' absolute mastery of the air meant ultimate Arab defeat. All day the jets wheeled into steep dives to drop bombs and napalm canisters on stubborn pockets of Jordanian resistance. Unaware of the extent of Egypt's air losses, Hussein could not believe that the Israeli air force alone could so blacken the sky on his own Jordanian front. Thus it was partially understandable that for a while, at least, he backed up Nasser's claim that the U.S. and British planes had joined in Israel's attack.

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