And on the 7th day, oil politics was created
The Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors was fought 42 years ago next week – June 5-10, 1967. It is a war that to this very day has affected the world in more ways that could been imagined.
While the 1956 Suez Crisis was a military victory for Israel, France and Great Britain over Egypt, there was no political settlement to the deep problems that were besetting the Middle East. This included the recognition of the state of Israel by its Arab neighbors and the matter of the Palestinian refugees. Israel, which had captured the Sinai Peninsula, was pressured to return that land to the Egyptians. A very uneasy peace was installed between the belligerent parties.
In the early 1960’s, guerilla raids from Syria and other Arab countries began to be revved up. In 1964, Syria and Jordan began a water diversion project that would have diverted a large portion of Israel’s potable water supply. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked the project in 1965. Then in November 1966, an Israeli force attacked the Jordanian controlled -est Bank town of Es Samu in retaliation for the killing of Israeli soldiers, despite the secret talks between Golda Meir and King Hussein. Also in 1966, Egypt and Syria signed a mutual defense pact supporting each other if attacked. Tensions were rising.
In April 1967 there was an aerial battle over the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria. As border incidents between the two nations began to rise, Arab leaders called for an end to Israeli reprisals and threatened more violence if they didn’t. The Arabs felt confident that the Soviet Union would supply arms and money to help fight back the Israelis. Every nation had their finger on a war-trigger. Then in May, the United Nations withdrew its peace keeping troops in the Sinai, and Egypt began to militarize the peninsula – up to the Israeli border. On May 22nd, Egypt closed Israel’s only outlet to the Red Sea – the Strait of Tiran. Eight days later Jordan joined the Egypt-Syria military alliance. Gamel Nasser, President of Egypt was bellicose in his rhetoric, as three nation’s armies sat on the borders of Israel. The armies of Algeria, Iraq, Sudan and Kuwait were mobilized. The Israelis felt isolated and threatened. War seemed inevitable.
The Israelis told President Johnson that the Arabs were about to attack on May 28th. Johnson contacted the Soviets, who then told the client – Egypt, that they would not support an attack. The operation was cancelled. Nasser was to send an envoy to Washington to discuss the easing of tensions on June 7th. Israel attacked on June 5th. Johnson was livid.
Egypt had 100,000 troops in the Sinai. Syria had 75,000 troops along the border and Jordan had 55,000 along the West Bank. The Syrians and Egyptians were armed by the Soviets, the Jordanians by the Americans. Israel’s troop strength was 265,000 including reservists.
Israel launched a pre-emptive surprise attack on the Egyptian Air Force. Losses were massive, as 2/3 of its planes were destroyed, including the Soviet supplied bombers. Attacks against Jordan, Syria and Iraq wiped out most of their air forces and defenses. At the end of Day 1 – the Arabs were completely grounded and had no air power. On the ground Ariel Sharon had ordered an attack against the Egyptian army in the Sinai. Within three days the Arabs armies were retreating. The Sinai would soon fall.
Shortly after the attack on Egypt, Jordan began shelling Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from the West Bank. Israel struck back. Moshe Dayan was hesitant to enter Old Jerusalem, but when he heard the UN was about to declare a ceasefire he changed his mind. Originally all the Israelis wanted was the Old City and the Western Wall, but when King Hussein withdrew to the eastern side of the Jordan River, Dayan took the whole West Bank.
Syria believed Egypt had won the initial battles. Shelling of Northern Israel began. Air attacks on the Syrian Air Force destroyed almost all aircraft. By June 10, the Golan Heights was captured.
A cease fire was signed on June 11th. It was over in 6 days. Israel had defeated the armies and air force of 7 Arab nations with over 100,000,000 people. Israel had seized the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and West Bank. Israeli territory was 200% bigger and now had over million Palestinians under their control. Israel controlled oil fields in the Sinai. Egypt lost 80% of its equipment and had over 11,000 dead. Syria lost ½ its equipment and 2,500 soldiers. Jordan had 700 casualties. Israel lost around 1,000 soldiers.
On June 19, 1967, Israel offered to return the Sinai and Golan Heights form peace agreements with Egypt and Syria. There would be further negotiation regarding the West Bank. This offer was to be conveyed to the Arabs through the US Government. The US was informed but claimed it never was given the order to transmit to the necessary governments. There is no evidence Egypt or Syria ever received that offer. On June 27th, 1967 Israel officially incorporated East Jerusalem into the Israeli city of Jerusalem.
Another major war would erupt 6 years later, which would have a pronounced and direct effect on American lives in 1973 and continue on to 2008.
The West Bank and Golan were incorporated into Israel proper in the 1980s, the Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1979. Many Jews in Arab lands like Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon permanently left their homeland and emigrated to Israel.
The map was redrawn. The Israelis felt strong and confident (and rightfully so), The Arabs felt humiliated and embarrassed. To this day they have never recovered from this stinging defeat. The stage was set, the psychology was changed. The war that was so overwhelmingly won by Israel has proven to be one of the mightiest and most amazing military victories in history. But Israel soon saw that their military victory turned into a political nightmare, as the world labeled Israel as aggressive and arrogant, and demanded concession after concession. 42 years after a lightning victory, the political solution has been oozing like sap from a maple tree. A solution seems more and more difficult.
Our current president has spoke of peace before he leaves in January. There is plenty more sap back in the White House.