Key point: Israel launched a surprise attack and kept the initiative. It would go down as a region-changing conflict.
The Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF’s, or Zahal’s) strategic invasion of the West Bank region of Jordan began at 5 pm on June 5, 1967. The assault was launched by one of two armored brigades attached to the Peled Armored Divisional Task Force (Ugdah Peled), part of Zahal’s Northern Command. Initially, the attack was aimed merely at neutralizing Royal Jordanian Army 155mm artillery fire that was striking the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF’s) strategically vital Ramat David Air Base and numerous Israeli villages and towns within range of Jordanian Samaria.
Ugdah Peled’s planning started from scratch. Absorbed for days with preparing to counter an expected all-out Arab invasion of northern Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights, the bulk of Ugdah Peled was given somewhat under five hours to figure out how to invade Samaria, and then to do it. It was not until noon on June 5 that the division commander, Brig. Gen. Elad Peled, was himself called in from a patrol along the Syrian frontier to oversee the planning.
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The Junction at Jenin
Ugdah Peled’s immediate objective was obvious to anyone who could read a map: the regional center of Jenin. Although the city stood on the Jordanian side of the line, it was geographically at the southern terminus of Israel’s Jezreel Valley. The Jordanian 155mm artillery that was endangering so many Israelis was based nearby, and that certainly was Ugdah Peled’s chief objective.
At the outset, General Peled and his small staff faced two problems. The chief one was reorienting and moving the bulk of the task force a significant distance, and the other was figuring out how and where to break into Samaria. The latter concern was driven by the topography around Jenin. The city arose from a major road junction in a little valley dominated by hills to the north, west, and south. The best way into the valley was from the southeast, but that would entail a wide encirclement from the northeast that might in turn be cut off by a counterattack from either the city itself or a Jordanian infantry brigade based farther to the east.
Plans Set In Motion
To assist in offsetting a potential counterattack, Zahal’s motorized Gavish Infantry Brigade, which was screening the Israeli town of Beit Shean opposite the Jordan River, was set in motion at 4 pm on June 5. Its mission was to tie down the Jordanian El Yarmouk Infantry Brigade in the northeastern corner of Samaria. Under the direct control of Zahal General Headquarters, the Gavish Infantry Brigade crossed into the West Bank hard against the Jordan River and advanced about 16 kilometers before digging in for the night. In the first hour of this diversionary advance, only a few shots were exchanged at long range because the El Yarmouk Infantry Brigade opted to protect the strategic Damiya Bridge across the Jordan River by remaining in its static defensive positions—exactly what the Israelis hoped it would do.
This article by Eric Hammel originally appeared on Warfare History Network.