A jet fighter or bomber is among the deadliest weapons ever invented, but on the ground, it is utterly defenseless. Mivtza Moked, or Operation Focus, was the code name given the preemptive airstrikes launched by Israel to destroy the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces on the ground and disable their airbases at the start of the Six-Day War, on June 5, 1967. Israel’s quick victory in that war largely stemmed from the success of Operation Focus in the opening hours of the conflict.
Operation Focus was an all out attack by nearly all of Israel’s 196 warplanes. Maintaining radio silence and flying low beneath the enemy radar, the Israelis headed out westward over the Mediterranean, before turning south towards Egypt, whose air force was surprised by the sudden and simultaneous appearance of Israeli combat aircraft over 11 airfields at 7:45 AM that morning – a time chosen because the Egyptians had fallen into the habit of going on high alert at dawn to guard against surprise attack, but by 7:45 AM the alert was usually over, the airplanes had returned to their airfields, and the pilots disembarked to eat breakfast.
In addition to surprise, success was due to the first wave of attackers concentrating on the runways with a new prototype of penetration bombs that used accelerator rockets to drive the warheads through the pavement before detonation, resulting in a crater atop a sinkhole. Unlike damage caused by normal bombs striking runways, which simply required filling in the bomb crater and paving it over, the sinkhole caused by the prototype bombs necessitated the complete removal of the damaged pavement segment in order to get at and fill in the sinkhole – a far more laborious and time-consuming process. With the runways destroyed, the airplanes on the ground were stranded, sitting ducks for follow-up airstrikes. 197 Egyptian airplanes were destroyed in that first wave, with only 8 planes managing to take to the air.
After striking an initial 11 Egyptian airbases, the Israeli planes returned to base, quickly refueled and rearmed in under 8 minutes, then headed back to strike an additional 14 Egyptian airbases. They returned to Israel for yet another speedy refueling and rearming, and flew out in a third wave, divided between attacking what was left of the Egyptian air force, and striking at the Syrian and Jordanian air forces.
By noon on June 5th, the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian air forces were largely destroyed, having lost about 450 airplanes, while nearly 20 Egyptian airbases and airfields were seriously damaged, which crippled what was left of the Egyptian Air Force and prevented it from intervening for the remainder of the conflict. It was one of the most successful preemptive strikes in history, and left the Israeli air force in complete control of the skies for the remainder of the war.