Giulio Douhet the great Italian postulated that in modern war victory will come to the side with the dominant air power. In other words control of the air was paramount to the success of a campaign. A classic vindication of this concept is forthcoming when we analyze the Arab – Israeli conflict of 1967. This is a classical case of potency of air power and the element of surprise which is one of the Principles of War.
The situation in 1967 was volatile. Gamel Nasser the President of Egypt had thrown his lot with the Russians and they had pumped in billions of dollars of weapons for the Egyptian and Syrian army and air force. The Soviets had supplied the state of art MIG 21 fighters and T 55 and 54 tanks for the Egyptian army. Nasser felt smug at this vast weaponry in the hands of his army and he adopted a belligerent pose. He followed up by closing the Suez Canal to Israel shipping and also declared a blockade of Israel by sealing the Gulf of Aqaba.
Nasser was a megalomaniac. Apart from being a dictator he was man who lived in a dream world like Nehru. He envisaged lightening victory over Israel and the complete destruction of the Jewish state. He banked on his weaponry and vast army whose morale was upped with tidbits of information like the promise of Jewish girls as war booty for them after the destruction of Israel. But Nasser forgot a cardinal principle of war and that is that air power should be conserved and kept ready for a conflict. Thus the Egyptian air force had all their planes lined on the airfields and had made no attempt to disperse the aircraft or camouflage them.
The Air Strike
The Israeli war cabinet decided to launch a preemptive air strike and at the rise of the sun, the IAF struck the Egyptian airfield. In a lightening strike 90% of the EAF was destroyed and no Egyptian aircraft took of to intercept the IAF fighters. Never before in history or after that, such a telling blow has ever been struck by any air force. Nasser was bewildered as reports trickled in that his much vaunted air force was destroyed. In another pincer attack the Israeli army advanced in the Sinai desert. Bereft of air cover the Egyptian army gave up without a fight. It is on record that tanks dug in the desert in a defensive position were just abandoned by their crew who just wanted to escape the onslaught. In 6 days it was all over and the Sinai was taken over by Israeli.
A shocked Nasser went into hiding as it was apparent the Israeli’s would cross the Suez and threaten Cairo. He secretly appealed for help to the USA. The USA put pressure on Israel and the invasion was halted on the edge of the Suez Canal. Nasser could never understand what happened. Like Nehru after the 1962 border war with China, Nasser was shell shocked. He never understood the mechanics of air power. The defeat rankled him and he was not the same man after that and died a little late. The IAF proved that air power is the decisive factor in war and the destruction of the EAF will remain a telling reminder of the potency of air power and the theory of Douhet.