Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Arab-Israeli War (Six-Day War) (1967)

Arab-Israeli War (Six-Day War) (1967)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Israel vs. the Arab states of
Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): The Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza
Strip, Jordan’s West Bank, and the Golan Heights in the
Middle East


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Israel had previously
warned that it would go to war under any one of the
following circumstances: the closing of the Strait of Tiran;
the sending of Iraqi troops to Jordan; the signing of an
Egyptian-Jordanian defense pact; or the withdrawal of
U.N. peacekeeping forces. By 1967, due mainly to
Egyptian president Nasser’s leadership, all those
conditions existed, making war all but inevitable.

OUTCOME: Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza
Strip, and the West Bank of the Jordan River. As Israel
occupied the captured territory with intentions of turning
them into a buffer zone, the outraged Arabs protested to
a world startled by Israel’s display of military prowess.

Israel, 230,000; Egypt, 200,000; Syria, 63,000; Jordan,
56,000; Iraq, 90,000.

CASUALTIES: Israel, 800 dead, 2,400 wounded, 18 missing;
Egypt, 11,500 dead, 15,000 wounded, 5,500 missing;
Syria, 700 dead, 3,500 wounded, 500 missing; Jordan,
2,000 dead, 5,000 wounded, 4,500 missing; Iraq, 100
dead, 300 wounded.

TREATIES: None, the war ended with an unsponsored
cease-fire on June 10, 1967.

Israel, a homeland for the century’s most ruthlessly persecuted
minority, came to a difficult birth in 1948 and had
been in a chronic state of guerrilla warfare with neighboring
Arab states ever since. Occasionally, as in the ARAB-ISRAELI
WAR (1948–49), the guerrilla and terrorist action flared
into outright war. After the 1956 Suez crisis (see ARABISRAELI
WAR [1956]), in an attempt to stabilize the region,
the United Nations sent an emergency force (UNEF) to
Egypt but withdrew it in May 1967 at the demand of Egypt’s
president general, Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–70). Once
Nasser had secured removal of the UNEF, he sought to
strangle Israel by means of a shipping blockade of the Strait
of Tiran, closing the principal Israeli port of Eilat on the
Gulf of Aqaba. With the blockade in place, Egyptian and
Syrian forces mobilized along the border created at the end
of the last war, and Israel responded in kind.
It was an all-too-familiar scenario, as both sides apparently
braced for another round of guerrilla attacks along
the borders like those that had taken place frequently since
the 1956 war. But this time Israel stunned the Arabs—and
the world—by launching on June 5 a massive air attack
(urged by Israeli chief of staff Itzhak Rabin [1922–95]) on
some two dozen Arab airfields, destroying more than 400
Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian aircraft on the ground. It
was the bulk of the Arab air forces. Simultaneously, under
the direction of General Moshe Dayan (1915–81), a oneeyed
veteran of the 1956 war, ground forces invaded the
Sinai Peninsula, Jerusalem’s Old City, Jordan’s West Bank,
the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, seizing and occupying
these areas when an unsponsored cease-fire was
declared on June 10, 1967.
Although the guerrilla and terrorist activity continued,
and another war would erupt on Yom Kippur, the
holiest of Jewish holy days, in 1973 (see ARAB-ISRAELI
WAR [1973]), the 1967 Six-Day War marked a turning
point in Israel’s relation to the Arab world and the world at
large. For centuries—and in no century more than the
20th—Jews had been regarded as vulnerable, as eternal
objects of persecution, and as perpetual victims. The brilliant
performance of the Israeli armed forces in the Six-
Day War, achieving the century’s most complete military
triumph in proportion to the forces engaged and the
length of the engagement, convinced Arabs and others
that the Jews were no longer willing to be trifled with. As
for the United States, which had favored and supported
Israel from its inception as a nation, the Jewish state was
now perceived as a strong ally and a key bulwark in the
containment of the Soviet-allied or Soviet-leaning Arab
states, which controlled so much of the oil Americans
needed to run their industries and their automobiles.
On the other hand, while the brief three-front campaign
clearly demonstrated the combat effectiveness of the
Israelis and their superiority over their more numerous
enemies, it also led the Israelis to underestimate the Arabs.
The scope and speed of the victory was much enhanced by
the fatal orders of Egyptian field marshal Ali Amer (active
1940s–60s) for a general withdrawal on June 6, which
turned what was probably an inevitable defeat into an
embarrassing and disastrous rout. Holding Ali Amer and
other Egyptians in unwarranted contempt led the Israelis
to miscalculate Egypt’s military potential a few years later
in the Yom Kippur War.
The more immediate effect of the war, however, had
come on June 9, 1967, the day before the cease-fire. Gamal
Abdel Nasser appeared on Egyptian television to announce
his resignation. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took
to the streets to demonstrate their demand that Nasser
remain in power. While some of the demonstrations may
have been engineered by Nasser himself, it is undeniable
that some were indeed spontaneous. A hard-liner against
Israel and the West, supremely repressive at home,
Nasser—from his assumption of power in 1954 until his
death from a heart attack on September 28, 1970—was the
most popular and influential Arab leader in the world.
As a result of the war, Jordan suffered severe economic
setbacks, while Palestinians became stateless refugees, subject
to martial law on the West Bank. The stage was set for
decades of unrest and violence, which, as of the early
twenty-first century, showed no signs of abating.


Further reading: Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, Elusive Victory:
The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947–1974 (New York: Harper-
Collins, 1978); Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, Land of Darkness,
Shadow of Death: A Military History of the Arab-Israeli
Wars, 1947–1973 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976);
Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making
of the Modern Middle East (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2002).

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