300 has nothing on this war.

For those of you that saw the movie 300 which was a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans fought till death against incredible odds you may like this non-fictionalized story even better.

While I am not a great story teller let me try to set the scene. You are tasked with defending a brand new nation that is about the size of New Jersey (8,019 square miles vs. Jersey which is 7800). The battle will be on three fronts as your 4th front is water. You have little to no control of supply routes and your enemy has available to it almost indefinite reinforcements and resources especially fuel.

In terms of actual military might. You have approximately 275,000 troops of which 75% are reserves. You also have 200 aircrafts and 1,100 tanks. Your enemy has 250,000 full time professional troops with pretty much unlimited reserves, 530 aircrafts and 1,500 tanks. To make things a bit worse, your aircraft are a much older model then your enemies as your enemy has basically up to date Soviet planes. Your planes are severely under gunned, about half as fast and some are actually only useful as decoys. Similar to your planes, your tanks are outdated, mainly small tanks or refurbished old British heavy tanks while your opponent has the latest Soviet weaponry, mainly heavy tanks.

So far, I know which side I rather be on and it’s not the side that I have told you to envision yourself leading. So what do you do? I am not sure what you picked as your option but I would have picked run away and run away fast.

Obviously since I am the Middle East columnist for the Observer this is the description of an actual war that took place in the Middle East. It is a description of the Six Day War fought in 1967 between Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and pretty much the rest of the Arab world. By now you pretty much guessed that the New Jersey like undermanned, out gunned country is Israel. If your interest is not piqued yet as to how they got out of this jam then check your pulse. So what did Israel do?

First they dug 10,000 graves and prepared 14,000 hospital beds, crossed their fingers and loaded their rifles. The strategy was simple and driven out of necessity. The war had to be very quick as they could not outlast the Arabs, it had to be on Arab soil as they could not afford to rebuild Israel, and Israeli casualties had to be limited as they could not re-arm to do this dance again if the army was wiped out. After that, it was simple – the best defense is a good offense. Israel, without the public blessing of the US (its main ally) struck first and destroyed a majority of the Arab air force before it ever got off the ground. Then it hit the Arab forces hard on the ground to the point where most of the Arab forces retreated without seeing any real prolonged combat. The strategy worked as Israel had the upper hand by around day 3 (even though Arab radio claiming victory at every turn) and as hinted by the title of this war had won a decisive victory by day 6. At that point the UN and the world negotiated a cease fire.

The aftermath was the Arabs lost about 450 planes and 18,000 troops while Israel lost 36 planes and 700 troops. Outside of being a great story that I recommend you read a book on or at least a few web pages it had an important outcome for today. Many of the areas that now Arabs claim are “occupied” by Israel were taken during this war. These areas were the very spots that the Arabs picked as strategic places to launch their attacks. Most of these spots such as the Golan Heights create a great military advantage and I believe have been retained by Israel and should be for military defense. It was also the beginning of a huge number of Palestinians being displaced due to the war. In my opinion, understanding such history is very critical when discussing issues of today. To have an informed opinion on what is happening today it is critical to understand how the Palestinians ended up where they are and the motivation of Israel for “occupying” certain territories. I hope you enjoyed this story but in a blog I can’t do it justice as the story of this war to me is the most amazing military story of the last 50 years and I hope you have time to do some more detailed reading on it.

*Note: The statistics came from a number of sources but obviously different sources have slightly different numbers.