“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”
Alexander Graham Bell – inventor of the telephone
As a very young boy at Primary School, I vividly remember the Middle-East Six-Day War in 1967. Our school Principal announced at Assembly that he was deeply concerned about it leading to another World War and we should all pray. As a farm boy, I caught the local school bus, which in those days also delivered the mail, newspapers and bread to local farms. I distinctly remember glancing at the newspaper headlines and viewing the photos over that week of the newspapers that lay stacked at the front of the bus near the driver. Within a week the news vanished. Israel had defeated the Arab armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
Next month it is 55 years since the Six-Day War.
Are there some lessons for managers from this significant historical event?
The war between Israel, Egypt, Jordon and Syria was fought between June 5 and June 10 1967 and resulted in an overwhelming victory to Israel and included the capture of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank and the Arab section of Jerusalem from Jordan. In summary, the war was a pre-emptive strike by Israel within an environment of mounting tensions with its Arab neighbours, where war unfortunately seemed inevitable. Israel was geographically challenged, lacked strategic depth, was politically and economically isolated and was numerically inferior in population and the size of its military.
So how did Israel succeed so spectacularly against such overwhelming odds?
Israel had been planning for war for many years, and central to this was the use of their air force. This involved a pre-emptive strike to destroy the Arab air forces on the ground. The plan had been worked out and practiced for several years with Israeli pilots flying repeated practice missions against mock Egyptian airfields in the Negev Desert.
At 7:14 a.m. the entire Israeli Air Force (IAF) of nearly 183 planes, with the exception of just 12 fighters assigned to defend Israeli air space, took off, flying under the radar with the goal of bombing 11 Egyptian airfields while the Egyptian pilots were eating breakfast. Israel needed to destroy the Arab air force on the ground as their bombers could devastate Israeli cities. Amazingly, Israel had no bombers to use in the attack and the raid was carried out entirely by fighter planes. Most of Egypt’s planes never left the ground. By 11:05 a.m., 293 Egyptian planes were destroyed. Israeli fighters then attacked the Syrian and Jordanian air forces. By the end of the first day, most of the Egyptian, half the Syrian and all of the Jordanian air forces had been destroyed on the ground. By the end of the Six-Day War, the Arabs had lost 450 aircraft, compared to 46 for Israel.
So how was success achieved?
Logistics, superior training, planning and better intelligence.
The Israeli ground crews had practiced the rearming and refueling of returning aircraft. They achieved this in less than eight minutes, thereby enabling the strike aircraft of the first wave to fly in the second wave and meant an aircraft could fly five missions per day. By comparison, NATO aircraft could only fly three missions per day.
The IAF pilots were highly skilled and had been training for years. They practiced low level flying which required exceptional skills over the Mediterranean at under 30 metres so as to avoid radar detection. Furthermore, every pilot had photographs of their targets and had been practicing on mock targets in the Negrev Desert.
The IAF, using the “concrete dibber” anti-runway bombs which created huge craters made it impossible for the Egyptian aircraft to take off. This made the aircraft ‘sitting ducks’ and they were later destroyed on the ground.
Dawn was always considered the best time for an air attack from the east as the sun was in the defenders’ eyes. This was when the Egyptian air force was on high alert. However, Israeli intelligence found that 7.45 a.m. was when all the Egyptian air force was on the ground and the pilots were having their breakfast. This is when the IAF first attacked.
Within six hours after the first IAF aircraft had soared into the morning sky, Israel had laid the foundation to winning the Six-Day War. Although the pre-emptive strike was a gamble, it paid off.
Careful preparation and some luck had been rewarded
What other lessons are there for managers here?
1. Planning – never underestimate how important planning is and doing your homework. The IAF did their homework on their enemies, knowing when they were most vulnerable and where the planes were located. Sound intelligence laid the groundwork for success.
2. Logistics – efficient use of available resources. The IAF was able to increase the utilisation of their aircraft well above what was considered ‘the norm’. Furthermore, as the IAF lacked bombers a new strategy of using bombs to effectively ground the rival air forces made them vulnerable to attack from the air by fighter jets.
3. Practice – leaving very little to chance the IAF practiced and practiced minimising the risk of failure. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. There is no substitution for practicing to improve performance and increase the chances for success.
What other lessons do you think there are for managers?