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Operation Focus: Remembering the Final Hours of the Six-Day War

Five years in the making, Operation Focus was an Israeli Air Force strike that destroyed the Egyptian Air Force in just a few hours, ensuring Israel's quick and decisive victory of the Six-Day War. Read Transcript


NARRATOR: In May of 1967, Egypt's President Gamal

Abdel Nasser declared war on the State of Israel,

telling his followers, our path to Palestine

will be covered with blood.

Nasser moved his troops into the Sinai Peninsula,

expelled the UN peacekeepers there,

then blocked the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships.

For Israel, it was time to strike or be struck.

And for the next three weeks, the Israel Defense Forces

were on high alert.


INTERPRETER: The atmosphere in Israel

before the war was very tense.

People thought we were facing total extinction.

40,000 coffins were prepared and no one

was sure that the IDF could really handle the Arab armies.

Two weeks after the birth of my son,

I had to leave him, without knowing

if I would ever see him again.

NARRATOR: Armed by the Soviet Union,

the Egyptians had the largest and best Air

Force in the Arab world.

Israel's only chance of survival was a preemptive strike

and the Air Force had prepared for this moment

for more than a decade.

Their plan was called Operation Moked,

which means "focus" in Hebrew.

Operation Moked was the brainchild of Ezer Weizman.

He was commander of the Israeli Air Force.

He was a pilot himself, he was a pilot in the British Air

Force in World War II, flew Spitfires, later the president

of Israel.

And it was an incredibly daring program.

NARRATOR: The plan was for dozens of squadrons

to strike 11 airfields throughout Egypt and the Sinai



INTERPRETER: The main goal was to strike

when all the airplanes were still

on the ground, fully exposed.

And the idea was to bomb out the runways first

to prevent any aircraft from taking off

and to keep them from flying for a few days.

NARRATOR: In 1966, the plan's creator, Ezer Weizman,

had been promoted to IDF chief of operations.

And his successor, General Motti Hod,

now had the task of executing Weizman's plan.

YALO SHAVIT: Motti was the commander of the Air Force

that kept on flying as a fighter.

He understood what we felt in the cockpit.

So he understood our issues.

Brave man.

The nicest person in the world.

He had nerves from a metal and always thinking forward, ahead,

like he did on the time to attack Egypt.


NARRATOR: For Israeli civilians, the pre-war tension was high.

But for Air Force Squadron Commander Yalo Shavit,

Israel's victory was inevitable.

The Israeli Air Force is like a tight spring,

ready to somebody to cut the cable that prevent it from--.

It will be done in no time because we have been trained

since the last 11 years.

I told my wife, go to Gadara.

Gadara is a small village in the south.

Find a small toferet--

a lady tailor.

And, you know, what do you want to wear

for parties with all those-- and those prime minister and down?

Have three sets.

Why three?

I said, because I'm telling you to do three.

There will be parties.

Says, you're crazy.

I said, listen to me.

Go and do this.

She did it.

She was the best woman dressed in the parties.

NARRATOR: Israeli intelligence had spent years

gathering details about the Egyptian targets.

From the location of each plane to the name, rank, and even

the voice of each pilot.



INTERPRETER: I was one of the youngest pilots in the Air


I had graduated from pilot training

the year before the war.

I wasn't even 21 years old yet.

I was the intelligence officer of the squadron.

For three weeks, we learned the most accurate intelligence

we could learn.

We also prepared the combat doctrine

for attacking airports.

I was a part of that system.

He was so confident that they know exactly what to do.

They trained so many times, they knew it with closed eyes.

To receive an aircraft with empty fuel tanks,

with empty munitions, with empty whatever.

And they got to a record of eight minutes.

Eight minutes to prepare the aircraft

to be ready to take off.


INTERPRETER: Monday morning, the 5th of June, they woke us up

and we went down to the base.

We knew that the big moment had arrived.

The commander of the Air Force came in with the wing commander

and they said, dear friends, Operation Focus

will start today at 7:45 AM sharp.

This is a fateful operation.

Friends of yours will be injured and killed in battle

right next to you.

It is going to be tough, but we will make it.

Then the wing commander told us that the fate

of the Jewish people was on our shoulders.

We were not afraid for ourselves.

The only fear was that we would not

be able to perform our duties in the best way possible.

When I took off, I didn't realize

it would be such a complicated mission.

NARRATOR: Squadron leaders gave their pilots some ground rules,

issued by Commander Motti Hod.

YALO SHAVIT: There is no communication whatsoever.

No radio, no nothing.

So we were prepared with all kinds of signs and flags,

colors of the flags, when you're ready to start the engine.

Where you have to take off, no radio--


You fly at zero altitude, the lowest you can.

If something happened, you do not

report back that you crashed or that you jump.

The Air Force will find you.

You do whatever it takes to reach to the target.

We have to destroy the aircraft on the ground.


INTERPRETER: We were also told that the mission was

more important than anything and that even in an emergency,

even if a friend of ours is about to be killed,

we were not allowed to warn him.

We had to just let him crash.

As cruel as that may sound, this was also

that we will not disrupt the operation.

If someone is attacked, you have to go on and fight.

NARRATOR: Nearly all of Israel's 196 combat planes

were committed to the air strike.

Only 12 were left behind to defend the State of Israel.

The planes flew low over the Mediterranean

to avoid being detected by radar.

YALO SHAVIT: We took off and stayed between 35 feet

to 50 feet.

Impossible below that.

We smelled the smell of the salt over the sea.


INTERPRETER: I was assigned to the foursome that

was under Yalo's leadership.

I was number two in the squadron and our mission

was to attack the [INAUDIBLE] field near Cairo.

NARRATOR: Egypt's radar didn't pick them up,

but someone else did.

At 8:15 Egyptian time, Jordanian radar screens

lit up with an unusual concentration of planes

heading over the Mediterranean.

And from there, a series of mistakes

gave the Israelis an overwhelming advantage.

The top general in Jordan radioed the word

"grape," the pre-arranged code for war,

to Egypt's defense minister in Cairo.

But the Egyptians had changed the code word the day

before without updating Jordan.

So the Jordanians' messages were tossed aside

and the warning never reached Cairo.

But even if the message had been deciphered,

there was no one around to read it.

Egypt's Air Force commander was at his daughter's wedding,

the Ground Force commander was on vacation,

and the defense minister had gone

to bed a few hours earlier, leaving orders that he was not

to be disturbed.

Egypt's chief of staff, Field Marshall Amer,

was flying in that morning from an all-night party.

So at the first sign of trouble, the Egyptians

shut down their entire air defense system,

worried that Amer's plane might be shot down by mistake.

Assuming that any Israeli attack would begin at sunrise,

the Egyptians had already flown their dawn patrols

and returned to base for breakfast.

YALO SHAVIT: Motti, who was the man that planned it,

calls the soldiers and officers to be creative.

He hit them exactly in the middle

of landing or fueling, eating, ready to go here--


We reached the target, but from a distance, for 24 minutes,

I saw that there was a fog.

So I started circling, finding a hole in this fog

that I see the runway.

I dive, I bomb the runway, everything was OK.

Two is OK.

Three-- I don't hear anything.

Four is OK.

Something happened to this excellent officer and pilot

that he tried to aim and meantime, he lost altitude.

And when he tried to recover, [SLAP] he hit the runway.

But as we were told in the briefing before the take-off,

there is no mercy, there is no--

there is only one thing.

Keep on doing the job.


INTERPRETER: We turned around 360 degrees

and performed the second attack.

The planes were already burning.

There was a lot of smoke.

Those bombers went up in giant flames.

First I attacked the bomber that seemed to be less damaged.

Then the second time, I attacked an anti-aircraft battery,

and then finally the control tower.

The Egyptians fired some anti-aircraft missiles

at my plane but they did not hit me.

YALO SHAVIT: In the last second I

saw from the left anti-aircraft position.

And before I know what happened, I

got hit by three, four bullets.

The front wheel, I saw it disappear.

The aircraft stop, my airbags went out, and from 500 knots

it went down to 220 in no time.

The two other, number two and four--

ffhht-- flew forward.

I gave them an order--

go by yourself to the base.

Get as soon as possible to the sea

so nobody will shoot at you.

And I found myself after I was hit

at 3,000 foot looking forward.

And what do I see?

MiG-21 in front of me, maybe 500 meters, shooting.


My instinct immediately is to shoot at him.

He broke to the right, I broke to the left.

And then close to Israel, I went up to 7,000 in case I bail out.

I came to the area of the base.

[INAUDIBLE], the commander of the base in the control tower.


You have a problem.

I understand.

Go to the sea, next rush [INAUDIBLE] and bail out.

I says, no.

He says, I'm telling you.

I says, I hear you but no, I'm not going to bail out.

I said, don't worry, I will land on 1/3

of the runway toward their defense.

So I came there, I hold the aircraft in the lowest speed I

can, and I cross the runway.

I touched full brakes.

I saw a lot of pieces of fire, ch-ch,

missed from the both sides.

I crossed the runway.

I went to the overrun.

A lot of stones and all these [CHIRR] and he stopped.

And I went out and I was standing,

and I saw the security and the emergency cars.

And they were so excited.

Where's the pilot?

Because they thought that something

happened because of the dust and all this.

There was no fire because there was no fuel.

I came with zero fuel.

Zero fuel.

Nothing in the aircraft, in the tanks-- nothing,

nothing, nothing.

NARRATOR: Gradually the rest of the first wave

returned to Israel.

In less than eight minutes, the planes

were refueled, rearmed, and ready for a second wave

of bombing.

In just over half an hour, the Egyptians had lost 204 planes--

half of their Air Force.

The Israelis had lost only 19.

The kill ratio of Operation Focus

had exceeded expectations by almost 100%.

At 10:30, General Motti Hod turned

to the Army's chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin,

and announced the Egyptian Air Force has ceased to exist.

The Jordanian and Syrian air forces had also been decimated.

After less than five hours, the Israelis

had complete air superiority over the Middle East.

MICHAEL OREN: It is truly a Hail Mary operation.

But for the Egyptians, it was the ultimate humiliation.

And very shortly after the Israeli aerial strike,

Israeli ground forces began moving into Sinai.

The goals were very limited, very limited.

The Egyptians had three defense lines in Sinai.

The goal was to take out the first of the three defense

lines, not beyond that.

But the Egyptian Army collapsed so fast

and began running away, that the other the fence lines crashed.

And then, as I said earlier, Israeli forces

reached the Suez Canal without even intending

to reach the Suez Canal.

They got sucked into Sinai.

So for Egyptians, this was the ultimate humiliation.

It cannot be that the people who just yesterday you had pledged

to throw into the sea are now driving you across the Suez


NARRATOR: All day long, the Egyptian propaganda machine

ran in overdrive.

Radio Cairo falsely reported that Egypt

had shot down 85 Israeli planes, while only

losing two of their own.

And Field Marshall Amer told the Jordanians

that Israel had lost 75% of its air power--

a lie that encouraged Jordan's King Hussein to enter the war.

MICHAEL OREN: So you have developed a big lie.

And the lie is that just the opposite

has happened, that the Egyptian Air Force has surprised

the Israeli Air Force on the ground

and destroyed the Israeli Air Force,

that the Egyptian Army has crossed the border into Israel

and is on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

That's the big lie.

And this big lie is believed by 200 million Arabs.

No one questions the credibility, no one questions

the veracity of these claims.

And now there is a certain debate

about the degree to which Nasser himself

understood or was informed of the direness of the situation.

How would you like to be the officer who walked in and said,

President Nasser, I got some bad news for you?

How would you like to be that person?

So, maybe people were feeding him strange information.

There was one document I saw in Egypt

was that the person who reported the Egyptian victory

over the Israeli Air Force was a young Air Force captain

by the name of Hosni Mubarak.

NARRATOR: Operation Focus remains

one of the most successful air campaigns in military history.

During the Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force

destroyed 452 enemy planes, while losing just 46

of their own.

After their stunning performance in Egypt,

Yalo Shavit and his crew finished the day in Jerusalem,

bombing the Jordanian tanks that raced towards the city,

and providing air cover for Israeli ground forces.

INTERPRETER: It was a long day.

That night I came back to the room

alone, because my roommate got killed that day.

It was an exhausting day, both physically and mentally.

Not all was taken for granted.

Even with the feeling of victory we had,

no one was free to celebrate.


INTERPRETER: When I think about it now,

after years of experience I still

think that this was a very successful mission.

If one will ask me, what was the thing which

made it possible so successful, I would answer it in one word--


I know there's a lot of stories about secret weapons

which we used.

But we didn't, actually.

We used the spirit, we used the standard of flying,

and we used another thing which maybe

doesn't exist in any other air forces in the world.

And we call it the "no alternative."

And when you don't have alternatives,

you can achieve such achievements

as we did in this war.

They don't know what a group of dedicated people,

professionals trained, willing to invest their soul

and everything they have, can do for a country.


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