In the summer of 1967 a war was fought between Israel and a coalition of Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. The war only last six days, however, it is one of the most significant wars that was ever fought in the region. The Six-Day War has had a lasting effect on Middle Eastern foreign and domestic policies as well as the day-to-day lives of millions of people. It is easy to make the argument that if the war were never fought, the Middle East would be a drastically dissimilar place than it is today.
In order to fully understand the causes of The Six-Day War, as it is sometimes called, it is important to look not just at Israel but also at the whole of the Arab world in this time period. At this point in history Israel had fairly recently been established as a nation and the surrounding nations made it clear that they were not welcome. Multiple wars were already fought between Israel and their neighbors before the 1967 War began. Leading this charge against Israel was Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. As president of Egypt Nasser was very vocal about the destruction of Zionism and Israel as a state. Nasser’s primary ideology was called Pan-Arabism. Pan-Arabism is the idea that all Arab nations will be united as one under a central leader, namely, Gamal Abdel Nasser. In this proposed Arab coalition it would be impossible for Israel to exist because it is a non-Arab state in an Arab area. Therefor, it was essential that Israel be eradicated in order for Pan-Arabism to be fully enacted (Levine). By pushing this ideology Nasser was able to gain support from other nations that already held animosity towards Israel. Through a campaign of propaganda and speech making, Nasser was able to harness an immense amount of respect and influence over the smaller Arab nations in the area including Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In 1959 Nasser made the following statement, “We are awaiting aggression by Israel and any supporters of Israel. We will make it a decisive battle and get rid of Israel once and for all… This is the dream of every Arab.” This quote shows that years before the war began Nasser was ready to fight a “decisive” battle against Israel which he hoped would eradicate the state and lead to him becoming the head of the united Arab world, called the United Arab Republic. In 1967, prior to the war, during a re-election speech Nasser stated, “Our path to Palestine will not be covered with a red carpet or with yellow sand. Our path to Palestine will be covered with blood… In order that we may liberate Palestine, the Arab nation must unite, the Arab armies must unite, and a unified plan of action must be established.” This quote clearly embodies Nasser’s ideology and proves that his overall goal was a united Arab state at the expense of Israel. He used threats of violence and war to successfully rally the Arab world behind him against Israel simply to gain control and power over the region (Levine).
In the years leading up to the war there were a number of events that helped to fuel the fire between Israel and the Arab world. These events are sometimes confused as the causes of the war, however, although the events did strengthen animosities they did not directly cause the war. On the other hand, it is possible to argue that without these events tensions would not have been high enough for Nasser to rally the entire Arab world behind him in war (Levine). The first of these events is often referred to as The Water Dispute. In 1965 Arab nations decided to divert water that they claimed they had a right to from the Jordan River and Israel, and into their lands. The problem with this was that the Johnston Plan, which was agreed to by Nasser and Israel’s government, ensured this water would flow through the Jordan and into Israel as their primary source of water. By diverting this water the Arab nations were guaranteeing that Israel would not be able to grow as a nation or be as prosperous. Because water is such an essential resource and the diversion plan would have been such a large blow to Israel, the Israeli military attacked the diversion work in Syria. This act of violence was condemned by most of the western world and the UN. The attack also heightened hostility towards Israel from the Arab nations (Levine). Another noteworthy event occurred when an al-Fatah landmine killed three Israeli soldiers on the boarder of the West Bank. Israel responded by invading the town of Samu where the terrorists originated. During this invasion Israel destroyed homes of civilians as well as other buildings in the town. Israeli forces were met West of Samu by Jordanian forces and a battle ensued. The battle ended with 16 Jordanian soldiers dead and another 54 wounded. The aftermath of this incident left Israel under attack by the world for acting as the aggressor while Jordanian leader King Hussein was highly condemned for not being able to protect the town of Samu from the Israeli forces. This incident added to the growing conflict between the Arab world and Israel. The incident also provided Nasser with ammunition against Israel. A number of other incidents like these, including terrorist attacks, heightened the conflict for both sides and helped to fuel the fire for the coming war. Citing these events as evidence of Israel’s aggressive tendencies Nasser was easily able to unite the Arab world against a common enemy. The Soviet Union also involved itself in this fight by providing weapons and intelligence to Egypt. The Soviets were reported to have purposefully provided Egypt with false intelligence stating that Israeli forces were massing on their boarders leading Egypt to mobilize their army into the Sinai (Lackowski).
In the weeks leads to the war Egypt mobilized its army and instructed UNEF officials stationed in the Sinai Peninsula to leave by May 19th. This show of force by Nasser was simply used to prove to the Arab world and to Israel that he has the power to do as he pleases. At this time Israel warned Egypt that any closure of the Strait of Tiran would be considered an act of war. On May 22nd Nasser closed the strait in direct defiance of Israel’s warning. On May 30th Nasser signed a pact with King Hussein of Jordan that formally pulled them into the coalition. Around this time Iraq decided that they would send troops through Jordan to fight in any possible conflict. The USSR also pledged 10 war ships to Egypt to help in the coming war. The following statement was made on an Egyptian government radio station only days before the war, “…total war resulting in the extermination of Zionist existence.” This statement was made to strike fear into the hearts of the Israeli people as well as stir up support from the Arab people for Nasser and his ideology. As Nasser massed his forces on the Israeli boarders he fully expected Israel to back down from this show of force and succumb to the demands of the Arab world.
As the Arab states mobilized and massed troops against Israel the Israeli government and people prepared for war; they fully expected to be attacked at any time and were incredibly frightened. The Israeli government reached out to France, the United Stated and the UN for help in the coming war against the Arab states, all of which refused. Fully believing war was inevitable, Israel called up 80,000 reserve troops and began massing on their boarders in the Sinai, Golan Heights and West Bank. Israeli citizens began filling sandbags and fortifying their homes and businesses as the men left home to fight. If anything, Nasser prominently succeeded in causing a vast amount of fear all throughout Israel (Levine). After nearly a week of standing mobilization Israel simply could not hold out any longer. During times of full mobilization Israel’s economy comes to a complete stand still. Most of the men were away from their homes and businesses, at the same time the Strait of Tiran was closed which is Israel’s main trading route. This meant that no resources were coming in or going out of the country at the time. Because Israel is such a small nation it simply could not maintain this level of economic stand still. On June 4th the newly created Israel cabinet voted to go to war the following day.
On June 5, 1967 the Israeli military attacked the Egyptian military, completely crippling it’s air force with air strikes. Following the initial attacks on his military, Nasser was caught completely off-guard and sent word to Jordanian forces that the war was going well and they should move forward with their attacks. Israeli intelligence was able to intercept a call between Nasser and King Hussein in which Nasser ensured Hussein that the war was going well. This call was intercepted on June 6th, and published by Israeli officials on June 8th. The purpose of this was to show the world that Nasser was not working in the best interests of the entire Arab world but only in his best interests to continue to strengthen his power. Nasser was highly condemned for fabricating this lie and was looked down upon for a short time. During this time the IDF continued to push through the Sinai Peninsula and were able to push the Egyptian forces back to the Suez Canal by June 8th. Israeli forces did not advance on Jordanian forces in the West Back until June 7th, for fear of international outcry. Israeli forces were easily able to push Jordanian and Egyptian forces out of East Jerusalem and subsequently out of the West Bank all together (Lackowski). Israel now controlled the entire West Bank as well as the Sinai Peninsula. By June 9th Israeli officials decided, after multiple Syrian air strikes, to advance on Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. On June 10th the Syrian forces were pushed back behind the Purple Line. Although Iraqi forces mobilized towards the war zone they never made it to Jordan and therefor were not able to take part in the war. On the morning of June 11th the parties involved in the war signed a ceasefire and the fighting stopped. The war ended with less than 1,000 Israeli casualties and over 20,000 Arab casualties (Levine).
Directly after the war Nasser made a statement of resignation from his position as President, citing his mistakes of closing the Strait of Tiran as well as removing the UNEF officials from the Sinai Peninsula, only to be reinstated after protests and calls for him to do so. Israel gained an enormous amount of international recognition as a military power. The world saw Israel as the clear underdog in the war, a small nation being surrounded by enemies on nearly all sides and not only winning the war but also taking a vast amount of land in the process, was not at all expected. At this point it is important to look at and understand why Israel was able to defeat the Arab nations so quickly. An Israeli intelligence report that was issued earlier in the year stated that Egypt was unlikely to be prepared for war until the years 1969 or 1970 (Lackowski). With this being the case an important question is why did Nasser mobilize without his military being fully prepared for war? The reason for this goes back to Nasser’s ideology of Pan-Arabism. By mobilizing his troops and persuading the other Arab nations to do so, Nasser was hoping to intimidate the Israelis and make them back down or at least make then recognize the military powers surrounding Israel, in short he was bluffing. Nasser however, failed to take into account the economic burden that a stalemate would have on Israel. With their economy at a stand still Israel had no other choice but to attack and defeat the opposing powers. With Israel having gained so much recognition in the international community, tourism increased, as well as immigration into Israel and the spread of Zionism. And with Israel now controlling all of Jerusalem the Israeli people were able to visit holy sites in the city that they were not able to visit before. Overall moral was very high in Israel directly following the war. The main international downfall for Israel immediately after the war was that France imposed an arms embargo on the Middle East. Considering Israel was the only nation that France supplied with weapons in the region; this was a clear embargo against Israel. France feared possible international outcry and did not want to be involved in any future wars. However, with France pulling weapons support from Israel, the United States stepped up to fill this role; President Kennedy was the first president to allow defensive weapons sales to Israel (Bard). The U.S. saw Israel as a reliable and strong ally in the region that could oppose Soviet influence. With the Soviets backing Nasser and the Arab nations it was crucial that the U.S. have a foothold in the region to combat the spread of communism, Israel was their best chance to achieve this goal. From 1967 to the present, U.S. relations with Israel have continued and only gotten stronger; the two nations now share one of the strongest alliances in the world (Bard).
Directly after the war on June 19, 1967 Israel drew up and proposed a deal to the Arab world that become known as the “land for peace” trade. Israel’s proposal would return nearly all occupied lands to their original owners in exchange for a promise that the Arab nations would not attack Israel in the future, and that they would recognize Israel as a nation that should be allowed exist peacefully. This proposal was also drawn up by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 242, a resolution that has been cited in every peace agreement involving Israel since the war. The Arab nations responded to the proposal with what became known as “The Three No’s”. The Three No’s were as follows, “No negotiations, no recognition and no peace.” This response would be the main theme of Arab foreign policy concerning Israel until the 1970’s when peace was finally made with Egypt (Levine). By far the largest drawback of this war was the issue of Palestinian refugees. When Israel was founded in 1948 over 100,000 Palestinians fled to areas just outside of Israel so that they would not be held under the control of the Israeli government. These individuals mainly fled to Egypt, Syria and Jordan. During the 1967 War, Israel occupied a large amount of land, most of which contained the Palestinians that fled nineteen years earlier. These Palestinians, now living under Israeli control, were not pleased with their new situation, many of these individuals fled again further into Jordan as refugees. After the war there were over 300,000 Palestinian refugees in Israel. Israel now faced an enormous issue of how to treat these individuals (Levine). The Jordanian government did not fully accept the Palestinians and they did not offer citizenship to the Palestinians, Israel also did not offer citizenship. This meant the Palestinians were now a people without a land or nationality, living under Israeli rule in Israel. Without a proper home, the Palestinian people felt frustrated and oppressed by the Israeli leadership. These harsh emotions lead to lashing out and violence towards Israel and the Israeli people. Palestians began attacking Israel through terrorist attacks and eventually began suicide bombings. It is safe to say that the main cause of the violence that we have seen between Israel and Palestine over the past fifty years was The Six-Day War. Had the Israeli government been more proactive and worked with the refugees after the war, the situation in Israel would be dramatically different today. Israel would have been smart to give the Palestinian people citizenship and treat them exactly as they treat the Israeli people. With the Palestinian people receiving citizenship they would have shared the land with Israelis and would be treated as any other Israeli citizen is treated. This would have likely eased the tensions between the two people creating a safe and prosperous land where Palestinians and Israelis could live in peace.
The 1967 War was a major turning point in history for not only Israel and Palestine, but for the entire world. Had the war gone differently Israel would likely not exist and certainly would not be the closest ally of the United States. Zionism would either have died out or there would be Zionist groups fighting to reclaim their Holy Land. The entire Arab world would be changed deeply. It is fortunate that some time after the war Israel has been able to make peace with some of its aggressors, however, it is unfortunate that there is still a war being fought between Israel and Palestine. If only the leaders on each side would have taken advantage of the situation after the war and made peace between each other, the Middle East would prospectively be in a better state.
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