THE NEAR EAST AFTER THE JUNE 1967 WAR
The Six-Day War of June 1967 produced what has been described as “a territorial earthquake” in the Middle East, with the ca. 20,000 km2 Jewish State taking control of an area of 90,000 km2 seemingly overnight. The Egyptian Sinai, Syrian Golan Heights, Jordanian-held West Bank and Egyptian-held Gaza Strip were conquered by a vastly superior Israeli force in a humiliating defeat for Arab nationalism that shook the region and redefined the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Publicly, Israel would always maintain that the war was an act of defense against Syrian border aggressions and Nasser’s deployment of Egyptian forces in the Sinai. Privately, the leading figures - Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin - admitted that the war was an opportunistic, haphazard act of aggressive expansion. In the years leading up to the war, Israel had been engaged in a minor war of attrition along its eastern border, as Palestinian guerillas infiltrated and attacked Israeli targets. Generally, Israel saw King Hussein’s Jordan as a potential accomplice in controlling the Palestinians and preferred to direct its ‘preemptive’ and retaliatory strikes at Syria and Egypt. Nasser’s pan-Arab popularity and the two states’ Soviet weaponry troubled Israel, while the US supported Israel as a strategic means of challenging Soviet allies and regional Arab nationalism. In early 1967, Israel commenced a concerted drive to escalate tensions on the Syrian border. According to Dayan, “[i]t went this way: we would send a tractor to plow someplace... in the demilitarized zone, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force... that’s how it was.”4 One such incident, in April 1967, culminated in Israeli jets over flying Damascus to shoot down six Syrian planes. A month later, Rabin, in a newspaper interview, threatened to conquer Damascus. Nasser, the acknowledged leader of the Arab World, found himself obliged to make a show of strength and to act on Egypt’s defense pact with Syria. After deploying troops in the Sinai, he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The US informed Israel it saw no sign of any imminent Arab invasion, but that in any event Israel would “whip the hell out of them,” and pledged to replenish Israeli armaments in a post-war scenario. Israel acted on 5 June, attacking Egypt’s air force on the ground and annihilating it in two hours. When Syrian and Jordanian forces engaged from the east, their air forces met a similar fate. Some 400 planes were destroyed in a single day. In the five subsequent days, Dayan and Rabin transformed an original operational plan limited to securing the Straits of Tiran and effecting ‘minor border adjustments’ on the eastern front, into one of huge assaults and lightening territorial conquest. The attack on the Sinai was well planned, but the occupation of the entire West Bank and Golan Heights had not been anticipated. The West Bank was ‘grabbed’ as soon as intelligence reports revealed that King Hussein had ordered his troops back across the Jordan. The Golan was captured last and without even the pretence of military justification. Dayan bypassed the Chief of Staff to order the Golan offensive on the penultimate day of the war, hours after Syria had requested a cease-fire. Dayan would later call his adventurism a failure of duty. Prime Minister Eshkol called him a “vile man.” The war Israel had initiated with Egypt led their armies against Jordan and Syria and brought them massive, unexpected gains on all fronts. Prime Minister Eshkol proclaimed “a new political reality in the Mideast.” Following the cessation of hostilities on 10 June, the UNSC called on Israel to comply with the 4th Geneva Convention and to allow the “return of those inhabitants who have fled...” Israel did neither. During the war, Israel had again employed its 1948 tactic of razing entire Palestinian villages to the ground (in the Latrun area). Some 300,000 Palestinians had been added to the refugee Diaspora by the end of the war. Another 1.3 million Palestinians found themselves under Israeli military occupation, divided into two areas – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.