Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin was a great man. Apart from being the 7th IDF Chief of Staff, he later served as the Israeli Minister of Defense, as well as two terms as Prime Minister of the State of Israel. 17 years ago today, he was brutally murdered. Today, we remember his term as the 7th Chief of Staff of the IDF, during which among other things he commanded over the Six Day War.
Lt. Gen. Rabin started his term as the IDF Chief of Staff in 1963, a time during which Arab nations were arming themselves with Soviet weapons. Rabin foresaw possible outcomes, and worked in order to prepare the IDF for an upcoming war. He purchased American weapons and new technologies, preparing the military for large-scale operations. Meanwhile, he also worked on creating operational programs for future use. All of these later contributed to the IDF’s quick victory during the Six Day War.
Northern Israel was one of the most volatile borders during that time, partially due to Syria and Lebanon’s attempts to divert Israeli water sources. Lt. Gen. Rabin opposed any operation that included occupation of parts of Syria, and instead lead incursions that would harm the water-diverting mechanism, and not Syrian soldiers.
Another challenge at the time was posed by Fatah, the military wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Originally established in 1964, Fatah fought against the Israeli government and was deemed a major security threat. As a result of the fact that Fatah’s headquarters were based in Syria, Rabin decided an attack on Syria was justified. An interview with Rabin about the Syrian government led to a strong response, and was later considered a major factor for the speedy war preparation in Israel. In response to Syrian attacks against Israeli civilians, Rabin attacked civilian facilities in Syria.
At the end of 1966, Levi Eshkol, who was the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, decided to extend Lt. Gen. Rabin’s term as the IDF Chief of Staff to an extra year.
The Six Day War
In 1967, Lt. Gen. Rabin’s 4th year as the Chief of Staff, the Six Day War broke out. At the time, armed conflict was considered a far-fetched option, especially with Egypt. Tensions in the north were still the focus of attention in public opinion. Syrian aggressions prompted the Israeli Air Force into action — in an aerial battle that took place on April 7th, six Syrian planes were shot down.
In response, Egypt, an ally of Syria, started recruiting its reserves forces. As the movement of Egyptian forces in Sinai went against its truce with Israel, Rabin saw this act as intimidation and suggested recruiting IDF reservist units as well. Gamal Abdel Nasser, then the Egyptian president, called for UN representatives in the Sinai peninsula to evacuate the area and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels. For Rabin, this was tantamount a declaration of war. Diplomatic relations began to deteriorate, and war was shortly declared inevitable by all sides.
Lt. Gen. Rabin was optimistic about Israel’s ability to win, and that the IDF itself was well-prepared. Recruiting the reservist units was a difficult move, as it caused uneasiness among the people and placed public pressure on the government to go to war.
This tense time of waiting brought about the establishment of the Grand Coalition Government. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had to give up his role as the Minister of Defense and transferred the job to Moshe Dayan. On June 4th, 1967, the government decided to go into war.
On June 5th, in an operation which included most of the Israeli Air Force, the Israeli Air Force attacked the airports and air forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan – an attack which resulted in severe harm. The war on the Egyptian front was over in a few days, and the Egyptian forces withdrew to the Suez Canal. As a result of Jordanian attacks around Jerusalem, another front was opened. After two days, the IDF entered Judea and Samaria, as well as east Jerusalem.
During the last stages of the battle with the Egyptian an Jordanian militaries, the IDF went on the offensive against the Syrians in the Golan Heights. After an arduous military operation the region was won over, the ceasefire agreements enforced, and relative quiet reigned once again.
Due to his major part in winning the war, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem awarded Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin with a honorary doctorate degree.
In his concluding speech at the university, Rabin spoke about the high price that both Israel and its opponents had paid, without gloating or underestimating the enemy.
“The men in the front lines saw with their own eyes not only the glory of victory, but also its cost, their comrades fallen beside them soaked in blood. And I know that the terrible price the enemy paid has also deeply moved many of our men.”
For more photos of Lt. Col. Yitzhak Rabin, check out our Flicker album, Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, 7th Cheif of Staff.
Source: The Yitzhak Rabin Center