Air superiority, also called aerial supremacy, is a concept in warfare in which one side in a conflict controls the airspace against the other. Western nations, such as the United States and the UK, along with the entirety of the NATO military alliance, have a doctrine of controlling airspace within the first 24 hours of any conflict.

The first two World Wars would start the concept of aerial supremacy, but one could argue the Six-Day War was the ultimate standard-bearer of controlling the airspace. The conflict was so lopsided, despite Israel being numerically outnumbered by multiple nations, that the 1967 war became one of the significant turning points in modern warfare and the overall Cold War and geopolitical shift of the Middle East.

What was the Six-Day War?

The Six-Day War was fought between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. It occurred when tensions arose after false Soviet intelligence told then Egypt President Abdel Nasser that Israeli troops would imminently invade Syria. Even though Israeli soldiers had not amassed at the Syrian border, Nasser’s paranoia and geopolitical tensions with the nation were too much to qualm him, and he ordered the Strait of Tiran closed and UN peacekeepers out of Egypt.

Closing the Strait of Tiran was an act of war as Israel, which didn’t have the best relations with the West then, needed shipping lanes to trade with the East. The United Nations attempted to stop the conflict, but both sides knew the war was inevitable.

Egypt held a unified command over Jordanian and Syrian troops, while Israel called up all male reserves from 18-50 to military service. The United States was at a crossroads—if Egypt, heavily backed by the Soviet Union, attacked first, America would’ve intervened for Israel. Still, if Israel attacked first, they would receive no military support.

How Israeli Air Superiority was Decisive in the War

American intelligence and Israel’s General Staff had concluded the looming war would be decisive in the matter’s favor, even if Egypt’s military struck first. Nonetheless, generals in Tel Aviv argued the longer Israel would wait to hit, the higher the military casualties the nation would face as Nasser had moved brigades into readiness from the former UN peacekeeper positions in the Sinai Peninsula.

Israel’s Defense Ministry designed a complex preemptive strike to cripple Egypt’s Air Force, one of the strongest in the region. By doing this, the less experienced Egyptian ground forces would be unable to match an Israeli advance, and the incompetent Syrian and Jordanian armies would be deterred.