T he surprise air strike at the beginning of the Six Day War that destroyed the Egyptian air force was no spontaneous mission — the IDF had been planning such a move for years already. Yet even the commanders of the attack had to admit there was an Upper Hand running the show — how else could all those “coincidences” converge to guarantee Israeli success against the odds?

It took just 80 minutes for the Israelis to knock out Egypt’s entire air force and lay waste to its air fields, leaving the Egyptian ground forces stripped of their cover and forcing them into a hasty retreat in the very first hours of the Six Day War.

But it was only recently that the marvel of those 80 minutes of odds-defying success exactly 50 years ago was fully explained. For half a century, strategists have been analyzing that first strike on June 5, 1967, when hundreds of Egyptian warplanes were destroyed and the air bases, radar sites, and anti-aircraft missile batteries were disabled — those studies being on the curricula of war colleges around the world. Was it the incompetence of the Egyptians? The military prowess of the Israelis? Now, newly revealed declassified data has proven to researchers what we believed all along: It was surely the Hand of G-d.

In an article that appeared some weeks ago, Dr. Uri Milstein, a respected military historian, revealed details about that defensive aerial operation — after Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to the Israelis and had massed its troops on the border in preparation for an imminent offensive. While a comprehensive treatment of Dr. Milstein’s analysis isn’t relevant here, several points are worth highlighting, including the fact that the operation was so ambitious that a majority of military experts thought it had little chance of succeeding. The risk level was high, because early discovery of the Israeli planes would have led to disastrous losses, leaving the Israeli army without air cover. Even those in command who supported the plan were well aware that they were taking a dangerous gamble upon their shoulders. The air raid wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, though. In fact, as early as 1962, the air force had been preparing for such an eventuality, practicing and training for an operation like this, and constantly improving the parameters. Nevertheless, it was still fraught with great risk.

It’s not possible in this short space to describe the stages of the plan’s development and all the precautions that were taken. But what occurred in those 80 minutes that surprised even the officers who supported the operation and those in command? They had assumed that even if everything went perfectly, it would take a full day and night to accomplish all the goals of the mission. But 80 minutes? That was outside the scope of reality.

The Israeli planes were prepared to take off around 7:30 in the morning. According to intelligence reports, at that hour most of the Egyptian pilots would be eating breakfast, and the surprise attack would catch them without enough time even to run to their planes and take off for battle. That was a correct calculation. But according to recently declassified information, there was supposed to be a squadron of airborne Egyptian planes on patrol at that time to alert headquarters of any signs of an Israeli attack. The Israeli planes did not detect them, and it turned out that the patrol was not in fact in the air at that time — leaving the way clear for the strike. We now know that the officer in command of the Egyptian patrol woke up late that morning, and hadn’t yet given the order to take off. Why was that? The night before, a wild party was given for the pilots in order to boost their morale. Early the next morning they were still sleeping it off, and the Israelis flew in with no outside interference.

“Chance occurrence” number one

The Israeli planes were flying very low, a mere 30 meters above ground in order to stay under the Egyptian radar and to avoid anti-aircraft fire. But incredibly, not a shot was fired at them. It turns out that Egypt’s defense minister, Abdul Hakim Amer, who was also supreme commander of the armed forces as well as vice president of the country, decided to go out to the Sinai Desert that morning, bringing with him the top command, accompanied by two planes carrying various VIPs. To ensure that his planes would not catch any anti-aircraft fire, he gave strict orders to the aerial defense forces that under no circumstances were they to open fire except by his personal command. And as the Israeli planes zeroed in on their targets, not a shot was fired at them.

“Chance occurrence” number two

On a hilltop across the Jordan River called Har Gilad, there was (and still is) an advanced radar detection station covering all of Israel’s air space. Israel’s air force command was concerned about that radar, and they were even considering flying to Jordan to bomb that installation before heading south to carry out their mission in Egypt. In the end it was decided to drop that idea and risk early detection by Jordan.

The fleet took off, and indeed it was quickly detected by the Jordanian radar. A warning promptly went out to the Egyptian forces that Israeli planes were on their way. But for some reason there was no reply from Egypt. The Jordanians repeated their warning several times and got no response. Later it was learned that the Egyptians had changed the code on their devices that very morning, and the Jordanians had sent out their message using the old code, which had been deleted.

“Chance occurrence” number three.

If even one of the circumstances mentioned above had not “chanced” to occur, the Israeli mission would have failed, the air force suffering heavy losses.

Suppose the Egyptian fleet had been patrolling the air over the Sinai region as it was meant to…

Suppose the anti-aircraft gunners had not been put on strict orders to hold their fire on that particular day…

Suppose the Jordanians on Har Gilad had been notified by Egypt that they’d just changed the code that same day…

The Israeli air force command and the pilots taking their orders had no control over any of those circumstances. They couldn’t even take them into account as they planned their daring mission with the utmost precision.

We know all too well that many people adore coincidence too much to admit that the Hand of Hashem was clearly at work here. But really, however much belief we put in the wisdom of blind chance, can we really give it credit for putting all three of those vital circumstances in place during those crucial 80 minutes? Surely that is asking too much. From a statistical point of view, it is virtually impossible. If the worshippers of “chance” cannot bring themselves to utter the Name of Heaven, at least they might follow the example of the Israeli daily Maariv, which published Dr. Milstein’s article under the title “Koach Elyon” (a Higher Power).

In a previous column about the Hand of Hashem that became evident in the aftermath of the Entebbe airport rescue mission, I quoted one of the pilots who told the world in a televised interview, “G-d was working overtime.” Although I don’t quite agree that the concept of “overtime” is applicable to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, still it faithfully expresses the feeling of a person who was never inculcated with emunah, when he has a clear face-to-face encounter with Divine intervention. And 50 years later, the same can be said of the Six Day War.(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 660)