* This is the first of two dispatches to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War. This dispatch contains notes and articles on events leading up to the war, some new analysis of why the war started and some lessons from the fighting.
* The second dispatch will concern the media coverage of the war’s anniversary.
1. How 3 million defeated 100 million
2. Poll: 96 percent of Israelis wouldn’t give up Western Wall for peace
3. “A gamble of astonishing proportions”
4. A Soviet War?
5. Lessons for today
6. “Prelude to the Six Days” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, May 18, 2007)
7. “The days before the Six Days” (By Patrick Goodenough, CNS, May 31, 2007)
8. “The Soviets’ Six Day War” (By Daniel Pipes, Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2007)
9. “Wisdom of waiting” (Michael Oren, Yediot Ahronot, May 20, 2007)
10. “The audacity of 1967” (By Saul Singer, Jerusalem Post, May 31, 2007)
“WE FORGET HOW PERILOUS WAS ISRAEL’S CONDITION”
Prelude to the Six Days
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
May 18, 2007
There has hardly been a Middle East peace plan in the past 40 years – including the current Saudi version – that does not demand a return to the status quo of June 4, 1967. Why is that date so sacred? Because it was the day before the outbreak of the Six-Day War in which Israel scored one of the most stunning victories of the 20th century. The Arabs have spent four decades trying to undo its consequences.
In fact, the real anniversary should be now, three weeks earlier. On May 16, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser ordered the evacuation from the Sinai Peninsula of the U.N. buffer force that had kept Israel and Egypt at peace for 10 years. The United Nations complied, at which point Nasser imposed a naval blockade of Israel’s only outlet to the south, the port of Eilat – an open act of war.
How Egypt came to this reckless provocation is a complicated tale (chronicled in Michael Oren’s magisterial “Six Days of War”) of aggressive intent compounded with miscommunication and, most fatefully, disinformation. The Soviet Union had reported urgently and falsely to its Middle East clients, Syria and Egypt, that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border for an attack. Israel desperately tried to disprove this charge by three times inviting the Soviet ambassador in Israel to visit the front. He refused. The Soviet warnings led to a cascade of intra-Arab maneuvers that in turn led Nasser, the champion of pan-Arabism, to mortally confront Israel with a remilitarized Sinai and a southern blockade.
Why is this still important? Because that three-week period between May 16 and June 5 helps explain Israel’s 40-year reluctance to give up the fruits of that war – the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza – in return for paper guarantees of peace. Israel had similar guarantees from the 1956 Suez war, after which it evacuated the Sinai in return for that U.N. buffer force and for assurances from the Western powers of free passage through the Straits of Tiran.
All this disappeared with a wave of Nasser’s hand. During those three interminable weeks, President Lyndon Johnson did try to rustle up an armada of countries to run the blockade and open Israel’s south. The effort failed dismally.
It is hard to exaggerate what it was like for Israel in those three weeks. Egypt, already in an alliance with Syria, formed an emergency military pact with Jordan. Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco began sending forces to join the coming fight. With troops and armor massing on Israel’s every frontier, jubilant broadcasts in every Arab capital hailed the imminent final war for the extermination of Israel. “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants,” declared PLO head Ahmed Shuqayri, “and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.”
For Israel, the waiting was excruciating and debilitating. Israel’s citizen army had to be mobilized. As its soldiers waited on the various fronts for the world to rescue the nation from its peril, Israeli society ground to a halt and its economy began bleeding to death. Army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, later to be hailed as a war hero and even later as a martyred man of peace, had a nervous breakdown. He was incapacitated to the point of incoherence by the unbearable tension of waiting with the life of his country in the balance, knowing that waiting too long would allow the armies of 100 million Arabs to strike first his country of 3 million.
We know the rest of the story. Rabin did recover in time to lead Israel to victory. But we forget how perilous was Israel’s condition. The victory hinged on a successful attack on Egypt’s air force on the morning of June 5. It was a gamble of astonishing proportions. Israel sent the bulk of its 200-plane air force on the mission, fully exposed to antiaircraft fire and missiles. Had they been detected and the force destroyed, the number of planes remaining behind to defend the Israeli homeland – its cities and civilians – from the Arab air forces’ combined 900 planes was... 12.
We also forget that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was entirely unsought. Israel begged King Hussein of Jordan to stay out of the conflict. Engaged in fierce combat with a numerically superior Egypt, Israel had no desire to open a new front just yards from Jewish Jerusalem and just miles from Tel Aviv. But Nasser personally told Hussein that Egypt had destroyed Israel’s air force and airfields and that total victory was at hand. Hussein could not resist the temptation to join the fight. He joined. He lost.
The world will soon be awash with 40th-anniversary retrospectives of the war – and exegeses on the peace of the ages that awaits if Israel would only to return to lines of June 4, 1967. But Israelis are cautious. They remember the terror of that June 4 and of that unbearable May when, with Israel in possession of no occupied territories whatsoever, the entire Arab world was furiously preparing Israel’s imminent extinction. And the world did nothing.
ISRAEL STOOD ALONE
The days before the Six Days
By Patrick Goodenough
May 31, 2007
With the approach of the 40th anniversary of a short but momentous war that changed the face of the Middle East, brace yourself for a barrage of propaganda and revisionism. Prepare for reports and commentary focusing on the themes of upheaval, dispossession, refugees and, naturally, four decades of brutal Israeli occupation.
Less common will be accounts of what led up to the Mideast war of June 1967, when Israel for six days fought the combined militaries of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, supported by personnel from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria and Kuwait.
By the time the gunfire subsided, Israel had seized the Golan Heights from Syria; the “West Bank” from Jordan; and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt .
Oft-forgotten fact #1: Prior to 1967, the Jordanian-named West Bank and the Gaza Strip weren’t controlled by Palestinian Arabs at all, but were ruled by Jordan and Egypt, respectively.
The result of the war, of course, is what the United Nations calls the Occupied Territories. The conventional wisdom parroted by pundits and politicians is that if only that pesky little Jewish state would hand back the land it captured in 1967, the Arab-Islamic world would accept Israel. The fringe goes further, envisaging the emergence of a “new Middle East” of love and brotherhood.
And pigs might fly.
Let’s look back at the weeks before the war, when there was no Israeli occupation of these lands. How did Israel’s neighbors view it, and how did they act on those views?
Start with the Palestinians.
Oft-forgotten fact #2: Yasser Arafat’s Fatah was created in the late 1950s, and the Palestine Liberation Organization he dominated was established in 1964 – yes, three years before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza. So its goal was not to liberate those areas but to liberate all of “Palestine” – by which it meant pre-1967 Israel. Sure, the Six Day War elevated the PLO to a new status, but remember: Fatah was mounting terrorist operations from Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank before the war.
Move on to Egypt, a Soviet client state at the time and the PLO’s main benefactor.
Here’s what that country’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser did in the weeks leading up to the war :
May 15 – moved two divisions of troops into the Sinai, an area between Egypt and Israel which since a 1956 conflict had been monitored by a U.N. force;
May 16 – ordered the U.N. buffer force to withdraw immediately. It complied;
May 22 – closed the Straits of Tiran, a Red Sea waterway through which Israel obtained its vital oil supplies;
Moved seven more divisions (infantry, armored and mechanized) into Sinai;
May 30 – signed a defense pact with Jordan’s King Hussein.
Throughout this period, Nasser and others repeatedly declared that Israel was facing destruction. At the end of May, he said: “The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel ... the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived.”
On Israel’s northeastern flank, meanwhile, the Soviet-allied, Baath Party-ruled Syria was flexing its muscles, stepping up attacks from the strategic Golan Heights onto Israeli communities in the Galilee valley below.
Damascus then announced it was invoking a defense treaty with Egypt, and once Jordan joined a pact with Egypt on May 30, the threat appeared both severe and imminent.
Rather than await the expected assault, Israel chose pre-emption. In a spectacularly successful operation on June 5, Israeli planes destroyed the bulk of the considerably larger, Soviet-supplied Egyptian air force before the planes could leave the ground.
Israeli tanks, paratroopers, infantry and armored divisions swept into Sinai, and within four days had defeated the Arab world’s strongest army.
Meanwhile, Jordanian forces launched attacks against Israeli positions in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on June 5, and the following day Israel struck back. In two days, Israel had seized major West Bank towns and on June 7, Israeli paratroopers captured eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City and Temple Mount, Judaism’s most revered location.
Back on June 5, Israel’s air force had returned from Egypt and headed for Syria, where night-time air strikes destroyed two-thirds of that country’s air force.
Syria then mounted a massive shelling of Israeli towns, and Israel over the following days launched a hard-fought and costly assault. By June 10, the Syrians had fled the Golan Heights.
And on the seventh day, Israel rested.
It’s precisely because of what Israel experienced during the weeks leading up to the war that its governments and people since then have been so reluctant to relinquish the territory won in 1967.
Consider having Bashir Assad’s forces again overlooking northern Israel (on a clear day you can see the Mediterranean from the Golan – that’s how tiny the country is).
Imagine heavily-armed Palestinian fighters holding sway over Gaza and the West Bank, well within rocket-range of Israel’s main population centers (with Arabs controlling the West Bank, Israel at its narrowest is some eight miles wide).
Throw into the mix Hizballah in Lebanon and the terrorists ruling Tehran – neither of them a factor in 1967 – and you begin to get a glimpse of why so many Israelis oppose surrendering more territory. Look what evacuating Gaza got them.
Oft-forgotten fact #3: When Israel faced the growing clamor of war in May 1967 the world largely looked the other way. The U.N. caved to Nasser’s dictates; France, formerly Israel’s key arms supplier, applied an arms embargo against Israel; the Johnson administration, focused on Vietnam, would not intervene forcibly.
While most of the world views the upcoming anniversary from the Palestinian viewpoint, Israel will be remembering the harrowing weeks leading up to the war 40 years ago – when it stood alone.
“A SOVIET SCHEME TO ELIMINATE ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR FACITLITY AT DIMONA?”
The Soviets’ Six Day War
By Daniel Pipes
The Jerusalem Post
May 30, 2007
One of the great enigmas of the modern Middle East is why, 40 years ago next week, the Six-Day War took place. Neither Israel nor its Arab neighbors wanted or expected a fight in June 1967; the consensus view among historians holds that the unwanted combat resulted from a sequence of accidents.
Enter Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, a wife-husband team, to challenge the accident theory and offer a plausible explanation for the causes of the war. As suggested by the title of their book, Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets’ Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (Yale University Press), they argue that it originated in a scheme by the Soviet politburo to eliminate Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona, and with it the country’s aspiration to develop nuclear weapons.
The text reads like the solution to a mystery, amassing information from voluminous sources, guiding readers step-by-step through the argument, making an intuitively compelling case that must be taken seriously. In summary, it goes like this:
Moshe Sneh, an Israeli communist leader (and father of Ephraim Sneh, the country’s current deputy minister of defense) told the Soviet ambassador in December 1965 that an advisor to the prime minister had informed him about “Israel’s intention to produce its own atomic bomb.” Leonid Brezhnev and his colleagues received this piece of information with dead seriousness and decided – as did the Israelis about Iraq in 1981 and may be doing about Iran in 2007 – to abort this process through air strikes.
Rather than do so directly, however, Moscow devised a complex scheme to lure the Israelis into starting a war which would end with a Soviet attack on Dimona. Militarily, the Kremlin prepared by surrounding Israel with an armada of nuclear-armed forces in both the Mediterranean and Red seas, pre-positioning mat riel on land, and training troops nearby with the expectation of using them. Perhaps the most startling information in Foxbats over Dimona concerns the detailed plans for Soviet troops to attack Israeli territory, and specifically to bombard oil refineries and reservoirs, and reach out to Israeli Arabs. No less eye-opening is to learn that Soviet photo-reconnaissance MiG-25s (the “Foxbats” of the title) directly overflew the Dimona reactor in May 1967.
Politically, the scheme consisted of fabricating intelligence reports about Israeli threats to Syria, thereby goading the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces to go on war-footing. As his Soviet masters then instructed, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser moved his troops toward Israel, removed a United Nations buffer force, and blockaded a key naval route to Israel - three steps that together compelled the Israelis to move to a full-alert defense. Unable to sustain this posture for long, they struck first, thereby, it appeared, falling into the Soviet trap.
But then the Israel Defense Forces did something astonishing. Rather than fight to a draw, as the Soviets expected, they quickly won what I have called “the most overwhelming victory in the annals of warfare.” Using purely conventional means, they defeated three enemy Arab states in six days, thereby preempting the planned Soviet invasion, which had to be scuttled.
This fiasco made the elaborate Soviet scheme look inept, and Moscow understandably decided to obscure its own role in engineering the war (its second major strategic debacle of the decade – the attempt to place missiles in Cuba having been the first). The cover-up succeeded so well that Moscow’s responsibility for the Six-Day War has disappeared from histories of the conflict. Thus, a specialist on the war like Michael Oren, has coolly received the Ginor-Remez thesis, saying he has not found “any documentary evidence to support” it.
If Foxbats over Dimona is not the definitive word, it offers a viable, exciting interpretation for others to chew on, with many implications. Today’s Arab-Israeli conflict, with its focus on the territories won in 1967, accompanied by virulent anti-Semitism, results in large part from Kremlin decisions made four decades ago. The whole exercise was for naught, as Israeli possession of nuclear weapons had limited impact on the Soviet Union before it expired in 1991. And, as the authors note, “21st century nostalgia for the supposed stability of the Cold War is largely illusory.”
Finally, 40 years later, where might things be had the Soviets’ Six-Day War not occurred? However bad circumstances are at present, they would presumably be yet worse without that stunning Israeli victory.
WISDOM OF WAITING
Wisdom of waiting
Lessons of Six Day War still applicable in face of ongoing rocket attacks
May 20, 2007
The Palestinians are resorting to terrorism to attack Israel, Syria is threatening to embark on a war, hostile elements exploit southern Lebanon as a base for launching attacks on Israel – and the world condemns any Israeli attempt to defend ourselves through revenge attacks.
This scenario is very familiar to us through our daily existence, but it also describes the situation Israel found itself in 40 years ago, during the process that led to the Six-Day War’s outbreak.
Then as now, Fatah members carried out terror attacks from the West Bank, while other Palestinian groups emerged from southern Lebanon with the aim of hitting Israeli targets. Syria, which at the time was also controlled by the Baath party, frequently called for war to liberate “occupied Arab land.”
Israel did not sit idle in the face of these threats, but rather, carried out defensive operations such as the paratroop raid on a terrorist stronghold in the West Bank village of Samua in November 1966. This operation was harshly condemned by the international community, and particularly by the US Administration.
On the face of it, there can be no comparison between the 1967 Israel, a relatively poor country surrounded by hostile regimes and lacking any powerful allies, to current-day Israel: A high-tech powerhouse boasting peace agreements with two of its neighbors and a close alliance with the world’s only superpower.
Yet despite the changes, Israel still faces the threat of terrorism, which could turn large sections of Israeli territory into no-man’s land, along with existential threats – which today originate in Iran rather than in Egypt – that may lead to an all-out war that could last six minutes rather than six days.
Therefore, instead of merely marking the Six-Day War’s 40th anniversary, we should examine the Israeli government’s decision-making process in the pre-war period and learn the appropriate lessons. We can point to two decisions that significantly affected this process.
The first decision was taken in November 1966, when the revenge operation in Samua was approved. Although Syria, rather than Jordan, was behind Fatah attacks, ministers were concerned about punishing Damascus because of the possibility of confrontation with the Syrian army and its Soviet patrons. Therefore, the government preferred to approve an operation against Jordan.
Eshkol rejected generals’ recommendation
However, en route to their targets the paratroopers encountered a Jordanian force, and the operation turned into a battle. This incident had two results: The Americans slammed the operation and referred to it as madness, while Jordan’s King Hussein, who was greatly humiliated, attempted to cast the blame for the disaster on his archrival, Egyptian President Nasser, claiming that he was hiding “behind the dresses” of the UN force in the Sinai and Gaza.
The latter, in response, sought any pretext to remove the UN force – a pretext provided by the Soviets in mid-May 1967, after they told Nasser that Israel seemingly intends to attack Syria.
Nasser quickly discovered that the story was baseless, yet he used this pretext to remove UN forces and deploy his troops in Sinai, block the Tiran Straits that lead to Eilat, and form military alliances with Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. As it was surrounded by tens of thousands of Arab soldiers excited about the prospect of eliminating it, Israel was forced to decide whether it should resort to a pre-emptive strike.
The second decision was undertaken by then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, who rejected the recommendations submitted by IDF generals and senior ministers to attack Egypt at once. Eshkol insisted on waiting another three weeks in order to prove to the world, and particularly to the Americans, that Israel exhausted all possibilities to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means.
This “waiting period” is remembered today as a highly tense period, and Eshkol was harshly condemned for it. Yet Israel used this period in order to prepare the IDF for action and justify its position to international public opinion. Therefore, once the war broke out on June 5th, the IDF was ready and Israel enjoyed broad sympathy in European capitals and in Washington.
It would be worthwhile to take note of two lessons from the Six-Day War: First, instead of rushing into battle, we should utilize the period of (relative) “restraint” in 2007 to make Israel’s case – we cannot sustain Qassam rocket attacks on a daily basis. The second lesson is that undue fears, rather than exaggerated bravery, could lead to escalation, and that there is no alternative to addressing the source of the threat.
In other words, we should be waiting enough time in order to strengthen, improve our just argument, and prepare to thoroughly address those who stand behind the attacks – the Palestinians and Syrians.
“A RETURN TO WESTERN 1967-LIKE AUDACITY WILL BE NECESSARY”
The audacity of 1967
By Saul Singer
The Jerusalem Post
May 31, 2007
This week I joined a tour of the Six Day War battle for Jerusalem, led by historian Michael Oren and author Yossi Klein Halevi for the new Adelson Institute of the Shalem Center.
Standing in places where fierce, sometimes hand-to-hand fighting took place, it was difficult to mentally transport ourselves back just 40 years, when Jerusalem was a small town in a cul-de-sac sealed by a wall and Jordanian snipers. And to the few hours of brutal struggle that changed all that.
The tour began at the Sherover Promenade in Talpiot, which has been transformed from a strategic strip of no-man’s land to one of the most magnificent vistas of the united city. We heard how, contrary to Jimmy Carter and others who blithely claim that Israel preemptively attacked Jordan, Israel went to extraordinary lengths to avoid opening a front in Jerusalem, even as the IDF pummeled Egypt’s air force.
Before the war, one paratrooper was so sure the fighting would be confined to the north and south that he sent his nine-months pregnant wife to family living on the border with Jordan in Jerusalem. He was part of the Paratroop Brigade that had trained to fight in the south, and yet was sent on the second night of the war to respond to the unexpected Jordanian attack on Jerusalem.
On the war’s first day, June 5, Jordan launched massive and indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian west Jerusalem, killing and wounding dozens of residents. Jordan also rocketed Tel Aviv from Jenin. Further, Jordanian troops assaulted Jerusalem from the south, on the ridge where the Promenade is today. They retreated after Rachel Kaufman, the wife of the director of an experimental farm on that ridge, opened fire with an old machine gun.
Even after these Jordanian attacks, Israel’s leadership was torn over how to respond. Paratroop Brigade commander Motta Gur sent two of his battalions to secure Mount Scopus, and one to take over the Rockefeller Museum, which overlooks the walls of the Old City. By sending part of his force to the Rockefeller, Gur was clearly anticipating an order to take the Old City.
Careful planning and preparation, however, is not what characterized the battles that day. The soldiers sent to capture Ammunition Hill, on the way to Mount Scopus, were not expecting the Jordanians to be so heavily fortified in trenches and bunkers. Nor did they know, as the pre-dawn battle raged, that the Jordanian tanks they were being sent to ward off were being destroyed by the Israeli air force a few kilometers away.
The brigade that was sent to the Rockefeller, which did not even have enough street maps of the city, took a wrong turn on to Nablus Road, where the US consulate still stands, came under hails of Jordanian fire and took many casualties.
There are never commissions of inquiries into victories, but if there were, the Winograd Committee’s standards for preparations, training and decision making would not have been remotely met by the battle for Jerusalem. Yet, as in all of Israel’s wars, there were battles that were won despite everything, because each soldier knew he could not let his comrades down, and he was fighting for the existence of his family and country.
At the conference preceding the tour, Adelson Institute scholar Martin Kramer said, “The memory of 1967 is the basis of an implicit understanding between the [Arab] regimes and the peoples: the regimes will avert war, and in return the people will stay loyal, even docile... The skill of rulers in averting war has helped to secure and entrench them. The collective Arab memory of 1967 explains why no Arab state has entered or stumbled into war with Israel in over 30 years. It’s the underpinning of such peace and stability as the region has enjoyed.”
In this view, the 1967 war ended the Arab-Israeli phase of the conflict and started a Palestinian-Israeli one. We have now, however, entered a third phase in which the conflict has expanded outward again, to a global battle between Islamofascism led by Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and al-Qaida; and the West, including the US, Europe and Israel.
The idea that the Six Day War actually ushered in this third phase, however fashionable, does not hold water. Though Islamofascism rose over the ashes of pan-Arabism, there was nothing inevitable in the West’s toleration of this new and growing threat, which had little to do with Israel.
Even when Osama bin Laden was fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with American help, the Islamofascists saw the West as the next obstacle in their quest for world domination, and the easier one to beat.
Some wonder whether the powerful effect of 1967 has faded. Particularly since last summer’s war, they claim, Israel does not look so invincible any more. Even if this is so, phrasing the problem this way largely misses the point.
The bigger problem now is that the global equivalent to 1967 in the current struggle, the dispatching of the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 is now seen to be unraveling. The new US Iraq strategy is succeeding on the ground, but perhaps not fast enough to stem the erosion in domestic support for seeing the struggle through.
Nasser’s pan-Arabist bubble was not fully popped until the defeat of the Arab’s Yom Kippur War counterattack six years after 1967. We are seeing a similar Islamofascist counterattack now. This menace will grow until its center, the Iranian regime, is defeated.
On May 26, just days before the Six Day War, as Egypt massed 80,000 troops and 900 tanks on the border, Nasser said, “We intend to open a general assault against Israel. This will be total war. Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel.”
Iran has been equally blunt about its intentions. The international response to Iran’s gathering storm has been as feckless as its inaction while Egypt and Syria openly prepared to destroy Israel 40 years ago. Today, however, the Islamofascist threat, while most acute against Israel, is global in scope. Barring an unforeseen burst of effective sanctions, such as imposing a total banking and import ban, a return to Western 1967-like audacity will be necessary.