Preemption Needed to Stop Iran, Former War Pilot Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - If the United States and the Western world do not stop Iran's nuclear program soon, Israel will have to launch a preemptive strike, just as it did against Egypt, Jordan and Syria at the beginning of the 1967 Six Day War, an Israeli Air Force official told Cybercast News Service.

Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, and although perspectives differ on that conflict, everyone agrees that it changed the Middle East.

Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto was the chief of planning and operational requirements for the Israeli Air Force in the years leading up to the war, 1963-1966. At 42, he was also the oldest pilot to fly missions during the war.

"Israel cannot put up with a nuclear Iran with the present [radical] regime," Tsiddon-Chatto told Cybercast News Service in a recent interview at his home near Tel Aviv.

If the West, particularly Europe, viewed Iran as a direct and serious threat to themselves, then it would be possible to avoid war, said Tsiddon-Chatto. But he said the atmosphere in Europe is like it was in 1938, when European countries preferred to appease German dictator Adolph Hitler rather than confront him.

While a regime change in Iran would be helpful, time is running out. Tsiddon-Chatto said, and the problem is that Iran will go after Israel first.

It would be very painful, difficult and risky for Israel to launch a preemptive strike against Iran, but the Jewish State simply cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran, he said.

Three years ago, Tsiddon-Chatto, along with American and Israeli experts, drafted a document on the threat posed by Iran for then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "If you read it properly [it] is in favor of a pre-emption at any cost," whether it is Israel's action or that of someone else, he said.

He compared the existential threat Israel faces now from Iran to the threat it faced at the time of the Six Day War. He described the 1967 war as an "all-out effort, a very risky affair, but you didn't have a choice."

Preemption in 1967

By the early 1960s, Israeli military leaders expected that Israel would have to fight a war by 1969 at the latest, said Tsiddon-Chatto.

Military leaders knew the only way to win was to ensure that Israeli ground forces had freedom of movement and that the enemy's troops did not. Those objectives could only be achieved from the air, he said.

"We were very good at dog fighting but dog fighting is a defensive affair. So what came to our mind during [19]63 and 64 was that in fact we have to bomb their runways, drill holes in their run ways, so the aircraft couldn't take off and then [we had to] go about destroying the aircraft," said Tsiddon-Chatto.

The Arabs had "total superiority" with almost 3 aircraft for each one of Israel's. And they had about 50 runways to Israel's eight, he said. Moreover, they fully intended to destroy Israel.

In May 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had signed military pacts with Syria and Jordan, imposed a naval blockade on the southern Israeli port city of Eilat, moved troops to Israel's southern border, and kicked United Nations peacekeepers out of the Sinai Desert.

The U.N. was gone; France, Israel's strategic ally, switched sides to support the Arabs; and the U.S. was bogged down in Viet Nam. So, Israel, barely 19 years old, with a population of 2.5 million, many of whom had recently escaped the horrors of Holocaust, was forced to go it alone.

At dawn on the morning of June 5, 1967, 202 of Israel's 206 striking aircraft were sent on the mission. "Four were left for the defense of the country," he said.

But the gamble paid off. Within a few hours, Israel had destroyed 286 enemy planes, decimating the air force of Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Israel lost 19 planes that day and more than 700 of its soldiers had died by the end of the week. An estimated 15,000 Arab soldiers were killed, another 10,000 captured, and about $2 billion of Soviet equipment destroyed on the battlefield.

Israel gained control over the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Desert and Golan Heights as a result of the war.

Tsiddon-Chatto said all references to the "conquered" territories infuriate him. "There was absolutely no choice," he said. "It was...either a new holocaust or a victory."

If Israel were forced to strike Iran today, "the technology, tactics, ranges -- everything will be different," said Tsiddon-Chatto. "But I hope this will not come to pass."

Israel has backed away from leading an international campaign against Iran, saying that a nuclear Iran would threaten not only Israel but the Middle East and the entire world.

Iran has ignored a United Nations Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment, a key step in producing nuclear weapons.

The Security Council is preparing to discuss a third set of sanctions against Iran but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday it is "too late" to stop the Iranian program.

(Many analysts believe that such claims are a bluff, intended to force the world to accept the idea of a nuclear Iran.)

Earlier this week, Ahmadinejad said that the countdown to Israel's destruction had begun.

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