Printer Friendly

Part IV: the Egyptian armed forces collapse before his eyes the 1967 Six-Day War.

Egypt's defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War was characterized on the battlefield by an inundation of disorganization and a lack of communication between the leadership and units in the field. Adding to the confusion was Field Marshal Abdel-Hakem Amer's deteriorating mental state, which caused him to make questionable decisions, the most notable being the decision to rapidly withdraw from battle. The order to withdraw was given without clear parameters or instruction, causing scenes of chaos and uncertainty. However, what really stands out in reading General Mohamed Fawzi's memoirs is the clash of two different types of military doctrine.

From the Egyptian perspective, the armed forces was designed primarily to preserve the 1952 Revolution, which meant that it focused more on internal dissension within the ranks and less on projecting military power. Since President Gamal Abdel Nasser attained power through a bloodless military coup, the Revolutionary Command Council would obsess about threats coming from within the military. The Israelis did not worry about military coups, and could therefore focus more clearly on defending Israel and projecting Israelis military power.

General Fawzi's memoirs also reveal how a command structure collapses amidst an effective, modern, and rapid military onslaught. Readers of this segment will learn about Amer's reaction and the crumbling of the Sinai front through lack of initiative and the inability to improvise without approval from higher authority. General Fawzi would carefully study the Six-Day War and use it as means to reconstruct the Egyptian armed forces for the next phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict the War of Attrition and the 1973 Yom-Kippur War.

The Baffles

Fawzi's memoirs divulge conspiratorial narratives which need to be examined since he rose to command all of the Egyptian forces. His views should not be viewed as uncommon among Egypt's officer corps. He writes that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informed Israel that Egypt had no offensive plans, or even counterstrike plans, which emboldened the Israelis to attack in 1967. Egyptian Vice President Zakariyah Moheiddine'S planned visit to Washington, D.C., on 3 June 1967-at the invitation of President Johnson was a ruse that lulled Nasser into a false sense of security that the Israelis would not initiate hostilities.

At 1100 on 5 June 1967, five hours into the war, Fawzi was directed to call Syrian Chief of Staff Ahmed Suweidan to execute Plan Rasheed, an attack on Israel from Syria should Egypt be attacked first. The plan also reciprocated in case Syria was attacked first. The Syrian general ignored Fawzi's entreaties and placated him by saying, "We shall try, sir!" In Jordan, Egyptian General Abdel-Moneim Riad also requested Syrian intervention as part of the newly formed Arab Command, but he was ignored by Damascus as well.


One of the more descriptive aspects of Fawzi's memoirs is the gradual decline in communications from the front. Field Marshal Amer and his war minister, Shams Badran, received panicked reports at their headquarters that steadily declined as Israeli air forces tore into Egyptian formations. Tuning into foreign broadcasts, Amer learned of the magnitude of losses, which triggered his nervous breakdown.

The battle began at 1450 on 5 June and ended at 2230 on 6 June. Although typically called the Six-Day War, the conflict was decided with the achievement of air dominance. First reports of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) mechanized advance was at Khan Youths at 0900, with armor duels against the Egyptian 7th Infantry Division. At 1840 the IDF, using only 20 tanks and air support, isolated the 7th Division at Rafah. Umm Qatef was subdued by the Israelis in two days. The Egyptian 2nd Infantry Group repelled two Israeli attempts to take Quseimah. Fawzi wrote that Quseimah was only taken after Egyptians retreated from the town. He cited this and the Battle of Kunteila as examples of Egyptian arms holding their own despite a lack of air dominance. The Battle of Kunteila began at 0100 on 5 June with heavy Israeli saturation fire from mechanized artillery. The First Egyptian Artillery Division responded in kind and, according to Fawzi, the Egyptians gave chase to the Israeli harassing units. Fawzi admitted that this attack was a feint designed to occupy the First Egyptian Artillery Division while the main Israeli ground thrust attacked the math city of Arish. The Battle of Arish began at 1.500 on 5 June and was met by the Egyptian 14th Armored Division reinforced with an infantry battalion. General Nasr al-Deeb was in command, and he attempted to close with the Israelis by using the Soviet-style tactic of hugging an enemy to negate superior air or artillery firepower. Al-Deeb radioed for Egyptian air support, which, unknown to him, was already wiped out. Fawzi noted that al-Deeb had briefed his sector prior to the start of the war and made an uncannily accurate prediction of how the Israelis would take Arish and Umm Qatef.

The Egyptian field headquarters in Sinai developed a plan involving the creation of a defensive line between Jebel Lebni and Bir Tamada, enabling the reinforcement of the defense of Kunteila. Simultaneously, a plan was developed to defend the Canal Zone by General Sadek Sharaf. The headquarters lacked reliable communications to transmit orders to the 1st Armored Division, the 113th Infantry Division, the 4th Armored Group, and the 6th Infantry Group. The 4th Armored Division received orders at 0740 on 7 June to defend the Giddi and Mitla Passes until an order to withdraw was issued. In the mind of General Salah Mohsen, the order meant there was no need to plan for a counterstrike and to limit his options to only defend or withdraw. As a result, the 2nd Armored Division fought Israeli units at the Giddi Pass, the 3rd Armored Division fought along the Ismailiyah Road, and the 6th Mechanized Division fought at the entrance to the Mitla Pass. Jordan and Syria finally began an air attack on Israel on 7 June, to which the Israelis responded with punishing attacks that decimated 80 percent of Jordan's air force and 50 percent of Syria's air force.

The Withdrawal

No issue is as controversial in modern Egyptian military history as to the details of how, when, and who gave the order to withdraw from the Sinai during the Six-Day War. Fawzi wrote that the first inkling to withdraw occurred at 0550 on 6 June. Amer sent a message from his command center in Cairo to the commander of combat forces in Sharm el-Sheikh to withdraw east of the Suez Canal. At noon on 6 June, he requested that Fawzi plan for a withdrawal and to do so in 20 minutes. Fawzi attempted to reason with Amer, but Amer's mental state was not conducive to discussion or debate. Fawzi then summoned General Anwar al-Qadi, the operations chief, and General Tilhami, deputy of operations, to plan this impromptu order. They discussed the incredulity of the order; from their perspective, all forces--except for the Egyptian 7th Infantry Group--were holding their ground Generals Fawzi, al-Qadi, and Tilhami attempted to brief Amer that a phased retreat to salvage as much men and equipment as possible would take four days. Amer cut off the briefer and in a raised voice said, "I've given the order already, four days and three nights, Fawzi!?" Amer then went into his sleeping quarters and suffered a nervous breakdown in front of Fawzi and the two generals. After a few hours, Fawzi learned that Amer had ordered a withdrawal directly though Canal Command via Ismailiyah, ordering a retreat of forces from Arish with personal weapons only that was to be completed overnight. Fawzi and the general staff were stunned and silent, outraged at being cut out of such a significant order. More importantly, the order meant that the retreat would be a rout. The cascade effect of Amer's order had only begun, and more Egyptians would die as a result of this uncoordinated and chaotic withdrawal.

The Arish commander abandoned his position based on Amer's order without informing higher command in the Sinai. Fawzi wrote that Amer's order defied every military convention and compromised the safety of soldiers in the field. Without orders, even in a withdrawal, pandemonium can set in and, in this case, thousands of tons of equipment were lost. Fawzi was concerned about friendly fire incidents with units stumbling on each other in retreat and firing on each other, or others thinking those retreating units were cowards and deserved to be shot, as not all units in the Sinai received Amer's withdrawal order at the same time.

General Murtaji, Sinai front commander, was informed verbally of the order by a military policeman (MP). When Murtaji asked from where did such an order originate, the MP replied that it was from the field marshal. Astonishingly, Murtaji took this verbal order at face value and withdrew with his staff to Ismailiyah, instead of remaining at his post to command an orderly retreat. Murtaji did not bother to inform higher headquarters in Cairo, the general staff, or his field commanders in the Sinai of his withdrawal. General Salah Mohsen's desire to create a shielding force for the retreating units was undermined by Amer's order and the cascading effect that led to chaos on the battlefield. Fawzi detailed Amer's erratic orders with this timeline:

* 1130--Amer issues order to withdraw to a second defensive line in the Sinai.

* 1530--Amer orders 4th Armored Division to counterstrike to lift the siege of Kuseimah.

* 1600--Amer orders all forces to the west of the Suez Canal.

* 1630--Amer orders Fawzi to layout a withdrawal plan in 20 minutes.

The erratic nature of his orders and his subversion of the chain of command in issuing his orders led field commanders to rely on MPs and military intelligence officers for orders. Rumor and confusion were the order of the day. Since commanders were not given a withdrawal point to muster, they relied on rumors, and thousands descended on barracks in Cairo, to Deservior on the canal, and even to the city of Ismailiyah. In one instance, an MP corporal was directing whole brigades and battalions along a road to Ismailiyah. A major arranged a flight for his unit's administrative personnel from the Sinai to Cairo West Airbase, while the remainder of his unit scurried on the ground from the Sinai back towards the Suez Canal. A rumor to destroy airbases and equipment circulated, which Fawzi had to stop. In one evening, an estimated 120,000 troops stampeded towards the Suez Canal. Fawzi commented that it took one week--7 14 June--for 100,000 Egyptian soldiers to make their way out of the Sinai, with thousands showing up at their homes and villages before reporting to their base.

While all of this pandemonium was taking place, Amer was in a state of nervous collapse. lie was locked in his bedroom with his minister of war acting as his door guard, when these two men should have been giving orders. Shams Badran alternated between Amer's bedroom and phone calls to Nasser, the Soviet ambassador, and the Soviet foreign minister. Amazingly, at this late stage and after issuing his chaotic order, he asked General al-Qadi, the operations chief, to take command of the 4th Armored Division and defend the Giddi and Mitla Passes. The Soviet military attache was beside himself at Cairo headquarters because Egyptian units were ordered to retreat instead of standing and fighting. He finally yelled, "Why didn't you just let the Egyptian combat units fight and demonstrate their valor!" Moscow could have replenished the air losses, and on 10 June, the fifth day of the war, 40 MiG fighters arrived via Algeria. They had been ready to be delivered to Cairo as early as 7 June.

Fawzi recounted how Nasser and Amer had an exchange early during the war, in which Nasser said, "you could've asked my opinion about a withdrawal, and now you ask my opinion about defending the passes?!" Amer issued the withdrawal order on 6 June, which was followed by a formal message. On the morning of 7 June, Amer sent Fawzi on a fool's errand to stop the withdrawal of the 4th Armored Division. He traveled from Cairo and arrived at the al-Gala'a military base in Ismailiyah only to find the entire Sinai field command there. Fawzi informed General Murtaji about Amer's new orders regarding the 4th Armored Division, but Murtaji did not take these orders seriously and angrily said that with no air cover the entire Sinai would be lost. The war was lost in Murtaji's mind even before it ended on 11 June. On his return back to Cairo, Fawzi wrote of seeing hundreds of new T-55 tanks being abandoned and their crews walking towards the canal. Fawzi came across General Emad Thabit, chief of armor administration, and pleaded with him to rescue the new tanks, but he was unsuccessful. Fawzi then attempted to get Egyptian artillery units to fire on and around the new tanks to keep them from falling intact into Israeli hands, but Egyptian crews were too afraid, telling Fawzi this would only attract Israeli air strikes.

To make matters worse, Egyptian combat engineers were given orders to destroy all canal crossings except one by 1300 hours on 7 June. When Fawzi returned to the operations center at Nasr City in Cairo, he found officers in a state of resignation, shock, and defeat. Amer's order to withdraw all forces from the Sinai in one night deprived the Egyptian army of a chance to fight and defend the homeland. It also led to chaos and the abandonment of thousands of tons of equipment. Under the watchful eye of Egyptian MPs and intelligence officers, engineers from Ismailiyah blew the last bridge over the canal on 8 June. They began to close the canal for international shipping by scuttling a dozen ships along the canal. It would not reopen for international shipping for another eight years. The closure of the canal would ultimately be devastating to Egypt's economy and to global shipping in general, for ships now had to traverse around South Africa to reach European markets. Out of hundreds of tanks, Fawzi wrote that 47 reached the canal by diligent and disciplined crews but were left on the Sinai side of the canal because the bridges were being destroyed. Some tank crews bravely turned around and went back to use their tanks as transports for more troops. General Ahmed Ismail was assigned commander of the Eastern Zone on 11 June 1967, and, along with Fawzi, would have to pick up the pieces of the shattered Egyptian armed forces. Fawzi would now have to learn what went wrong and use these lessons to craft the rudiments of a massive offensive campaign that would become the seeds of the 1973 Yom-Kippur War.

Fawzi Assesses the Cost

Fawzi's memoirs offer the first real calculus from an Egyptian perspective of the 1967 Six-Day War, and it is best to let his numbers speak for themselves:


* Air Force: 4 percent

* Navy: No loss

* Army: 17 percent


* Air Force: 85 percent

* Navy: No loss

* Army: 85 percent

Breakdown of warplanes lost

* Heavy bombers: 100 percent

* Light bombers: 100 percent

* Heavy and light jet fighters: 85 percent

Fawzi wrote that determining who was lost in the Sinai in 1967 was not easy, and some individuals designated missing were not determined as killed in action until 1971. Egypt worked via the Red Cross to attain Israeli cooperation in accounting for Egyptian war dead and missing. Fawzi estimated that 13,600 were killed and 3,799 taken prisoner, with 9,800 classified as missing in action until 1971 when they were designated killed in action. An armored group with 200 tanks had 12 tanks destroyed and 188 abandoned; only 6 percent stayed with their equipment and refused to give them up. Overall, the losses were devastating for Egyptian forces.


When assessing the causes leading up to Egypt's defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War, there are several regional, external, and internal issues, such as Field Marshal Amer's erratic personality and quest for power. However, within the actual war itself it is safe to say that a lack of communication and Amer's sudden decision to withdraw troops within one day were significant factors in Egypt's loss. Although Egypt was gravely unprepared to fight against Israel, the chance to defend itself was ultimately stripped by Amer's abrupt withdrawal order, which led to even more destruction and chaos than the war itself With all of the aforementioned factors leading up to the war and within the war, Egypt's defeat seemed ordained.


At the National Intelligence University, we conduct a one-year, graduate-level study program that develops expertise and in-depth knowledge in understanding and countering adversary denial and deception tactics, techniques, and procedures directed towards the U.S. Nothing is more important to countering foreign denial and deception than understanding the mind of our adversaries and even allies, who conduct deliberate attempts at deception. To penetrate the mind, one must cultivate empathy. To do this, one must read what our adversaries are reading and writing for their consumption. This requires careful examination of their narratives, histories, and perspectives from a non-Western point of view.

To this end, we are glad to count CDR Aboul-Enein as one of our speakers during the phase of our program that explores the Arab mind. He has been instrumental in teaching, speaking, and writing about the Middle East for years. His current project brings to life the memoirs of General Mohamed Fawzi to America's military readers for the first time and is exactly what is needed to illicit thoughtful examination of non-Western viewpoints in order to cultivate the future generation of leaders. While this segment may not involve deliberate deception directly, it does explore General Fawzi's mindset as he, and other senior Egyptian military leaders, dealt with the seemingly irrational decisions made by Field Marshal Abdel-Hakem Amer at a most critical point during the 1967 Six-Day War. However, beyond the devastating operational impacts the decisions had on the battlefield for the Egyptians, these events add perspective to how and foreshadow why the deep friendship between the president and strongman Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Field Marshal Amer would lead others to betrayal, an attempted military coup, and ultimately, suicide. Infantry Magazine is to be commended for providing CDR Aboul-Enein a forum for his long-term project of bringing Arabic works of military significance to America's military readership. I look forward to the discussion this series will generate, and more importantly, the learning that will take place in America's military classrooms that choose to use this series to educate students on the Middle East generally and the Arab-Israeli Wars specifically.

--George Mitroka

Director of the Denial and Deception Advanced Studies Program, National Intelligence University


CDR Youssef Aboul-Enein is author of Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat and Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr. Ali al-Wardi, from the Ottoman Empire to King Feisal, both with Naval Institute Press. CDR Aboul-Enein is adjunct Islamic studies chair at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and adjunct faculty for Middle East counter-terrorism analysis at the National Intelligence University. He wishes to thank the following libraries for assisting him and providing a quiet place to write this series: The National Defense University Library as well as the Army and Navy Club Library both in Washington, D.C., and the Blackwell Library at Salisbury University, Md. Finally, CDR Aboul-Enein thanks Dorothy Corley, who recently graduated with her bachelor's degree in international relations from Boston University, for her edits and discussion that enhanced this work.
COPYRIGHT 2012 U.S. Army Infantry School
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Aboul-Enein, Youssef
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Previous Article:Vietnam, Iraq, and the loss of institutional knowledge.
Next Article:A tribute to CSM Basil L. Plumley.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters