JERUSALEM — Mordechai Hod, the commander of the Israeli air force during its lightning 1967 destruction of Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian warplanes, died Sunday in Tel Aviv. He was 76.
Hod, a British army veteran who joined the Israeli air force in 1949, died in Tel Hashomer Hospital after a "lengthy illness," Israeli media reported.
A major general, he directed repeated sorties over Arab airfields June 5, 1967, preemptive strikes that destroyed most of the Arabs' planes and ensured a quick Israeli victory.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Arab Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula during the conflict that became known as the Six-Day War. Israel later returned the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for peace, but it still holds the other territories.
The official Israeli military history says the strike was planned before Hod became air force commander in 1966, though it was carried out only after Egypt ordered a U.N. peace force out of the Sinai Desert and blockaded the Straits of Tiran, cutting off the Israeli port of Eilat.
Hod once told AP that just 10 people knew in advance of the plan to wipe out the Arab air forces in a massive preemptive strike.
Even Israeli pilots were kept in the dark until they were awakened before dawn the day of the strike and briefed on the mission that would commit 188 planes -- nearly the entire air force -- and leave just four Mirage jets to defend Israel's air space.
Hod said the air force broke accepted practice at the time and did not strike at first light but at 7:45 a.m., while Arab pilots were eating breakfast.
Hod was born at Kibbutz Degania in 1926 and volunteered to serve in the British army.
After retiring from the air force just months before the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Hod founded a cargo airline, Kal. He served as chairman of Israel's national airline, El Al, from 1977 to 1979.
Hod was buried Monday in Tel Aviv.