* Israel Palestine Arabs Six Days War 6 Days War

Arab-Israeli Conflict: Six Days War (June 5-10, 1967)

Figure 1.--This news photo was captioned, "Al Khalil, occupied Jordon: A young Jordanian boy tries to seel souvenir beads to two amused Isreali girls in the Army, one shoulders a rifle while the othefr sniffs a flower during theitr walk through the Isreli-occupied toen of where street vendors have gone back to busuness as usual." This press photo is dated June 26. 1967, two weeks after the conclusion of the Six Days War. The caption refers to Jordan because Jordan after the initial Israel-Arab War in 1948 has annexed the West Bank. Al Khalil is the Arab term for Hebron, a popular tourist site. An important point often ignored in press coverage is that the collapse of the economies in both the West Bank and Gaza did no come with the Isreli victory in the Six Days War, but with the Palestinian Interfada years later.

The Six Days War changed the dynamic of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. The United Nations for 8 years after the SuezWar patrolled the Isreali-Egyption border in the Siani. Egypt and the other Arabs states remined hostile to Israel and were determined to destroy the Jewish state. Egypt was the key. No oyher Arab state would confront Israel without Egypt. Modern arms are expensive. The Soviet Union was, however, willing to supply Egypt and other Arab countrie with large quqntities of modern weapons. It was part of Soviet policy to gain influence in the region. Nasser backed with this infusion of Soviet weapons decided to confront Israel militarily. Nasser otganized an alliance with Syria and Jordan. He moved 100,000 troops to the border equipped with an incredible force 1,000 tanks. He ordered the United Nations out. An audacious Isreali air attack destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. Egyptian Air Force commanders were at first afraid to tell Nassar wjat had happened. Radio Cairo claimed that the Isreali Air Force had been destroyed. The Arab public was estatic. Nassar urged the Syrians and Jordanians to joun the war with Isreal. He assured them that Egypt was winning the war in the Siamai. In fact, without without air cover from the air, the Egyptian army was left vulnerable to attack in the stark desert area between Israel nd Egypt. Israli armor desimated the Egyptians and pushed to Suez. The Isrealis then turned on the Jordanians and Syrians that had invaded. The Isrealis managed to seize the rest of Jeruselum. The Six Days war was the semenal event of the Middle eastern Conflict. Virtually every Arab country even today has as its primary demand, a return to the pre-1967 borders.

Gamal Abdel Nasser

Gamal Abdel Nassar, an Egyptian colonel, overthrew King Farouk. Nassar was a strong proponent of Arab nationalism. They justified their seizure of power by a committed to modernizing Egypt and restoring greatness to the Arab people. His emotional speeches and wide appeal throughout the Arab world. He preached a single, triumfant Aab nation. He gradually raised to great prominance throughout the Arab world. There was even a public realtions union with Syria. Nassar believed in no accomodation with Israel. Differences over the Aswan Dam caused Nasser to move toward the Soviets who offered both enguneers and financing for the dam, but large quantities of weapons. Nasser by 1967 was prepared to destroy the Jewish nation militarily. He and other Egyptian officers considered Egypt's defeat in the First Isrelali-Paleetinian War (1948) and the Suez War shameful and were determined to destroy Israel. Arab leaders have a way of declaring victory after battlefield defeats, even disasterous defeats. Nasser was extremely accomplished at this. He claimed that the 1956 Suez War was a victory because he had forced Israel, Britain and France to withdraw. But the UNEF and the movement of Isreli shipping through the Straits of Tiran were a reminder that Egypt had not won the War. And there were intra-Arab politics that pressed on Nasser. He had come to power with a process to make Egypt a modern properous state. Here he made little progress in addressing the deep seated problem of poverty. He also experienced a failed war in Yemen. And he was embarassed by taunts from Fatah and the Muslim Brotherhood to move against Israel.


Nasser managed to bog the Egyptian Army down in aiding the Nassarite officers who seized control of the Yemni goverment and declared a republic. They then had to fight the former monarchy and tribes supporting the monarchy (1962). Saudi Arabia assistied the monarchy with arms and financing. The Egyptians began bombings Saudi targets. President Kennedy ordered Strike Command to provide a combat squadron to help the Saudis, The rules of engagement included preparations to engage Egyptian planes. Nasser commited Egyptian ground forces to support the republicans. Five years later there was no sign of a ressolution. Nasser ordered the ground forces home to strenhten the forces being assesmbled to destroy Israel. The Egyptians and Saudis agreed on very little except the need to destroy Israel. As a result, the Saudis also agreed to withdraw from Yemen.

Israeli National Water Carrier Plan

The Israeli National Water Carrier Plan proved controversial. This was a plan to pump water from the Sea of Galilee to irrigate farms in southern and central Israel. The project was based on a plan developed by U.S. envoy Eric Johnston (1955). Such a plan in a small area required internatinal consultations. Syria, Jordon, and Israel all had an interest in the Sea of Galilee. Arab engineers agreed to the plan. Arab governments refused, however, to participate because this would be de facto recognition of Israel. Israel and Jordan met secretly and agreed to adhere to the quotas established by the plan. Fatah seized on the Israeli diversion of water, charging that it was an 'imperialist event'.

Palestine Liberation Organization -- PLO (1964)

Yasser Arafat intensified his call for war to destroy Israel. And Arafat in the Fatah newspaper, Filistinunah ("Our Palestine") began to lampoon Nasser and other Arab leaders for their failure to invade Israel. Nasser controlled the Egyptian media, but Filistinunah was outdide his control. Nasser decided to undercut Arafat and other Palestnian hardliners. Nasser through the Arab League enginnered the foundation of the Palestine Liberation Organization --PLO (1963). The PLO was formally constituted during a meeting of the first Palestinian Congress (1964). Almost immediwtely the PLO began to splinter into factions. Nasser had thought that unlike Fatah, he could control ghe PLO. The first PLO leader he installed, the extremely bombastic Ahmed Shukhairy, proved to be incompetent. Gradually Arafat's Fatah as the largest faction gained control of the PLO. Arafat realized that he could prick Israel, but the only was that Israel could be destroyed was by war and the Egyptian Army. Only Egypt had the military force capable of accomplishing this.

Ecalating Arab Terror Attacks (1964-67)

Armed action between Israel and the Arabs did not begin with outbreak of the Six Days War. Israel for several years was asailed by both Fatah terror attacks and attacks supported or even carried out by the Arab militries. The PLO’s creation resulted in a substantial increase in terror attacks. In 1965 there were 35 raids. In 1966 this increased to 41 attacks. In the first 4 months of 1967, there were 37 attacks. The attackers consistently attacked unarmed civilians. [Sachar, p. 616.] The pattern was a little different along the various borders. Along the Egyptian border, despite the war-like language coming from President Nasser and Egyptian media, actual attacks were limited. A few came from Egyptian-ocvupied Gaza. It is unclear to what extent the Egyptian Government was fomenting the attacks. We do know that the number of attacks were lower than along the Jordanian and Syrin border. The existence of United Nartions border peace keeping force may have been a factor (UNEF1). . Along the Jordanian boorder, the Fedayeen conducted cross-border raids, primarily tsrgetting Israeli civilians. The objective was to destabilize. Israel retaliated with incursions against Palestinian targets in the West bank. The Syrians used artilley enplacements in the Golan Heights to fie on Israeli kibutz farmers in the valley below. Syrian army intelligence recruited terrorists for actions against Israel. They were conducted with a Fatah cover so the Syrian military could not be directly blamed. A factor here was a rivalry between Egypt and Suria over control of Fatah. The first of these actions claimed was an attack on the Israel water carrier at Beit Netopha, but in fact no attack had taken place (December 31, 1964). A second attempt failed ehen the explosive charge was disarmed (January 2, 1865). Successful attacks followed (January 14 and February 28, 1965). In the next 18 months runniung up to he Six Days War, Syria insigated and/or supported 120 Palistinian terror attacks, resulting in a mere 11 Israeli deaths. The effort was stimied by effective Israeli security operations. Along the Lebanese border there was minimal activity. Despite the minimal results achieved by Fatah, the Arab press devote considerable publicuity to them, inclusing where they were launched from. There was an obvious contrast with the lack of action from Egypt despite Nasser's bombastic speeches. Some authors believe that this rivalry was far of the fermet thst led up to the Six Days War. It seems to have been a motivation for Nasser's aggressive actions against Israel that led to the War. Nasser seems to have felt a need to prove himsel to the Arab street. Historians debate if Nasser's aggressiveness was more driven by the Syrian rivalry or the Fatah movement. It does seem to be the case that the actions of the Palestinians and Syrians pushed Nasser to moving against Israel. Of course neither created Nasser's desire to eliminate Israel, he was strongly motivated in that direction, but it seems to have at a minimum reduced his inhibitions and affected his judgements concenining the dangers of war.

United Nations Peacekeepers (UNEF1)

United Nations Peacekeeping began in 1948 when the Security Council authorized the deployment of U.N. military observers to the Middle East. The mission's role was to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab countries which had invaded Palestine to destroy the Jewish state. The operation became known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). A new group of U.N. Peacekeepers was organized as part of the arrangements associated with Isrrael's withdrawl from Siani after the Suez War (1956). Paralyasis in the U.N. Secrurity Coucil led to action in the General Assembly. The General Assembly authorized the first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) with resolution 1001 (ES-I). U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld played a key role in this unprecendented action. Only Egypt allowed the U.N. ovservers on their side of the cease-fire line. The United Nations observers for 8 years patrolled the Isreali-Egyption border in the Siani. They were unable to prevent irregular Palestinian attacks, but they did effectively keep the two armies apart. This grearly reduced the danger of an unintened war. The further apart the two armies were, these less liklihood of an incident setting off a war. As long as the two countries accepted the arrangement than the liklihood of War was reduced. The United Nations force could not resist an invasion by one side. But as long as both of the two sides were were interested in peace, the U.N. Force could prevent an accidental war. It could also establish arecord of violations. But if one side was determined to launch an attack, the UNEF had no real capability to prevnt it. And Nassar as well as other Arab leaders were determined to destoy Israel. And the Sianai border was at the center of the conflict. Egypt was had the largest population and was the most important Arab state. Without Egypt there could be no Arab war with Israel. The UNEF was also a conflict indicator. If Egypt demanded that the UNEF be removed, this suggested that war was eminent.

Military Preparations

Military oreparations varied widely in the Arab countries and Israel. Thevtwo key weapons were fighter aircraft and tanks. The Soviets provided Arab states a wide array of top of the line modern weaponry at favorable terms. This included aircraft, anti-aircraft guns and missles, tanks, and artillery as well as an array of small arms. We are not entirely sure of the financial arrangements, but it was mostly done on credit. We believe the Soviets never got paid for much of this weaponry. But the Arabs got a huge quantity of very effective, modern weaponry. This was during the Cold War and the Soviets were basically buying allies. The Arabs at the time were in phase of Arab socialism promoted by Nasser and the Bath Party. (Socialism did not work out any netter for the Arabs than it did for the Soviets.) The Middle East was a strategic area because of the West's depedence on Middle Eastern oil. The backbone of the Arab air forces was the Mig-19, an excellent, tough and manuerable fighter, although sub-sonic. The Soviets had begun to deliver Mig-21s, but the basic plane faced by the Isrealis was the Mig-19. Soviet assistance went primarily to Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. It was Egypt and Syria (front-lines states) that posed the greatest danger to Israel. The Arabs by the time of the 6-Day War had a semingly overwhealming 5 to 1 advantage in aircraft and a 2 to 1 advantage in tanks. It was not only numbers, but much of the Aran arsenal was more modern weaponry. While the Soviets were provided the Arabs vast quantities of expensive modern weapory, Isreal was essentially on its own. The Soviet weaponry was hugely expensive, the Arabs could not have affored to buy it because the countries preparing to invade Israel were not the wealthy oil states. Isreal was a small country with very limited resources. It could not begin afford to purchase modern weaponry on that scale and did not have the economic resources to create a modern weapons industry. Much of Isreael's limited resiurces were used to purchase French aircraft. The Isreali Air Force was based on the French Mirrage III fighter. The Israels purchased 72 French Mirrage IIIs (1962). The Isreli's turned to the French because America and Britain were particupating in an international arms embargo. But as the Soviets were not participating the result was to prevent Israel from arming while the Arabs were arming to the teeth. Thanks to the French, the Israelis had a fighter to take on the Soviet Migs. The French armed the Mirrage with missles. The Isrealis insisted they be modified for cannon. The Mirrage was faster than the Mig-19, but the Mig was more rugged and more maneuverable. The real difference was in the capability of the military planners and the training of the pilots. Armor was another matter. The Arabs had modern Soviet tanks, including T-34/85s as wll as other models. The Israelis had a hodgepodge of basically obsolete World War II tanks, including Centurion, Pattons, and Shermans. These tanks were obrained by scouring Europe for junked tanks and repairing them. They also had seized quite a number of Egyptian tanks in the Suez War (1956). The French sold then surplus tanks, but only the Arabs had modern tanks. The French has upgraded some of their Shermans and the Isrealis proceeded to do the same for the others they has acquired. Thus the israealis fought the Six Days War with basically obsolete Workd War II tanks, but ones that had been upgrades with a very effective main gun. The ressult would be the greates tank battles sonce World War II with over 2,500 involved.

Egyptian Actions

President Nasser since seizing power made incenderary speeches against Israel. He finally began a series of concrete steps that looke like the prelude to war. Backed with an infusion of advanced Soviet weapons, he seems to have decided that Egypt now had the military capability to confront and defeat Israel militarily. His speeches included increasinly inflamatory language. Actual concrete steps were threatening to Israel. 1) Nasser negotiated a military alliance and war plan with Syria and Jordan. 2) He closed the Straits of Tiran, denying Isreali shipping access to the Red Sea. (The Israelis had made it clear that closing the Straits wold be seen as an act of war.) 3) Nasser ordered the United Nations onservers (UNEP) out as he prepared his attack (May 16). The commander of the United Nations' Emergency Force (UNEF), General Indar Jit Rikhye, was ordered by General Muhammad Fawzy, Chief of Staff of the United Arab Republic, that he immediately withdraw the UNEF. UN Secretary-General U Thant suggested that UNEF be relocated onto the Israeli side of the cease-fire line, but Israel refused. The Sectetary General orderd the UNEF commander to withdraw (May 19). 4) He began to bring back troops from Yemen to beef up Egypt'd combat strength. 5) He moved 100,000 troops to the border armed with 1,000 modern Soviet tanks (May 1967). Closing the Straits were alone an act of war. Expelling the UNEP and moving troops to the border were clear indications that Egypt was preparing to attack. One report suggests that Nasser was willing to use poison gas. We can not yet confirm this or have details about Egyptian poison gas weapons. It is clear that Nassar took all these actiins without any provacative steps from Israel.

U.S. Policy

The Eisenhower Administration in the 1950s sought to achieve a balance in the Israeli-Arab conflict based on the assumption that if no country had an advantage, there would be no resumption of fighting. The tripartite U.S.-British-French declaration established the policy of not making arms sales to either side. The Kennedy and Johnson Administratioin continued this policy. Nasser after the War attempted to explain the Egyptian defeat by perpretrating the lie that the Egyptian Air Force was attacked by the 6th Fleet which was deployed in the Mediterranean. This lie is still widely believed in Egypt. Actually U.S. policy at the time was not at all committed to the defense of Israel. The U.S. Defense Department reportedly secretly drew up operational plans for a military confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces to prevent Israel from occupying territory in Arab countries, especially Egypt. As the crisis developed in May-June 1967, the plan developed by the Defense Department planners involved an attack on Israel in the event it initiated a war with the Arabs. The military plan involved using air attacks, paratroopers, and Marines to stop IDF armored spearheads in the Sinai. This was during the peak of the Viet Nam War. The U.S. military prepared many such contingency plans. We are not sure if there was a similar plan prepared if the Arabs attacked. The primary American effort at the time to defuse the situation was a diplomativ effort to organize an international convoy to break the Egyptian blockade by sending ships through the Straits of Tiran, suposedly defusing the situation. The plan was code-named Regatta and 26 countries were asked to contribute ships. Congress and 24 of the countries invited rejected the plan.

Arab Public Pronouncements

Arab media broadcasted vilent public pronouncements by Arab officials denouncing Israel with infltory rhetoric and incenderary charges. They made it absolutely clear that their objective was to destroy Israel. Most left unsaid what was to be done with the Jewish population. Others were more frank. These could only be interpreted as preparing their countries for war. The Syrian chief of staff stated, "Our objective is the freeing of Palestine and the liquidation of the Zionist existence." The Iraqi president excliamed, "Our goal is clear--to wipe Israel off the face of the map." Egyptian President Nasser described a "total war ... aimed at Israel's destruction." In other statements he used the term, 'extermination'. That word used in connection with Israel and Jews has obvious connotations. The PLO pledged, "We shall destroy Israel and prepare boats to deport the survivors, if there are any." These and similar statements inspired frenzied mass demonstrations throughout the Arab world. These and similar statements and the public attituides are important. The Arab street was shrieking for blood as had repeately been the case of riots and attacks on Jews for centuris. This was no longer possible in the Arab world as for the most part they had already driven Jews out of their countries. Now to get at Jews, they now had to attack Israel. there were shocking, bloodcurdling threats of mass extermination for all Israelis, young and old. Arab political and religious leaders leaders competed with each other to see who could utter the most horrendous promise of massacre and slaughter. The historic Muslim Arab cry of countless past pogroms 'Itbah Al-Yahud', an Arabic phrase meaning "Slaughter the Jews," was heard from countless Arab radio and television station as well as newspapers. Also heard was another historic battle cry, 'Khaybar ya Yahod'. This was a 7th century battle cry used by Islam's great prophet, Mohammed and his followers used when attacking the Jewish community in Khaybar. It was chanted by mobs throughout the Arab world. Mohammed's surprise attack, ending a 10-year treaty. Later Mohammad attacked the Jewish Bani Quraysh tribe, beheading many of the men and boys and enslaving the women and younger children. While little known to American readers. These events are well known to Arabs and those who have studied the Koran. Notably, we do not notice any Arab leader speaking pubically for peace and compromise. Any consideration of the Palestinian-Isreali conflict can get very complicated. Here the obvious observation is that Arab leaders and the Arab public wanted war and a military sollution. There was no peace party among the Arabs, even though Muslims constantly tell us that Islam is a religion of peace. It is also important to note that the Arab armies prepared detailed war plans. These were no plans on how to resist an Isreali attack, but plans on how to attack Israel.

Soviet Pronouncements

The Soviets armed the Arabs to the teeth with billions of dollars of modern weaponry that the Israelis could not begin to afford. The small Israeli Defense Force would not only faced huge Arab numbers, but massive quantities of modern aircraft, tanks, and artillery. It should be recalled that this was before the era when American began arming Israel. The Soviets issued pronouncents firmly supporting the Arabs. The Soviets couched the conflict as a struggle against imperialism. Unsaid was the huge numbers of Jews from Third World Muslim countries that had been driven to Israel by Arab and other violence and would come to make up the majority of the Israeli population. Of course other countries in the Soviet Empire endorsed this position. At the same time the Soviet Jewish Movement was beginning to take shape. Soviet Jews were highly assimilated. Some believe that the Six Days War would play an important tole in that movement generating a ense of pride among Russin Jews who for the most part had been deprived of their religion and cultural heritage. The Six Days War despite the one sided Soviet media porting appears to have stimulated an interest among a basically secular Jewish population in their history and heritage. an importanr development in the Cold War. This would prove to be the first observable crack in the Soviet collosus..

French Embargo

France played a key role in the survival of Israel. This included diplomatic support. France recognized the indeendent Jewish stte (1949). And France supprted Israel membership in the United Nations. The key role France played, however, was suppling weapons. The Soviets which supported Israel at first soon ordered its European satellites not to sell weapons. They would then become the major arms supplier for the Arabs. The United States while supporting Isael diplomtically, provided little aid and refused to supply weapons. Individul Americans, mostly Jews, aided Israeli financially, but not the U.S. Government. American policy at the time was to contain the Israel-Arab conflict by keeping weapons out of the region. Britain because of their desire to placate the Arabs was not about to provide weapons to the Israelis. This would have mmeant death of Israel, espcially after Soviet arms shipmets began. It was France who stepped into arm the Israelis at this critical earlystae of Israeli indpendence (1953). France for a time became Israel's closest ally and supporter. This was interesting because of the major powers, France had the most substantial history of anti-Semitism. France at the time was fighting Arab nationalism in Algeria and resisting Egyptian efforts to seize the Suez Canal. French support was crucial because it provided Israel's only access to advanced weaponry. Israel at the time was a very newstate with a very basic economy. The only was that Israel could obtain advanced jet aircraft was from one of the major powers. And only France was willing to sell jet aircraft to the Israelis. This was the beginning of the modern Israeli airforce. The French povided Israel's first high-performance combat aircraft. Less public at the time was french aid in jump starting the Israeli nuclear program. The 1956 Suez Crisis was thw watershed event for Israeli-French relations. Israel was hard pressed by the Egyptian military build up, especially the appearance of Soviet weaponry. They this went along with a secret British-French plan to maintain control of the Suez Canal. Israel initiated a surprise invasion of the Egypt Sianai. The British and French intervened, obstensibly to protect th\ e Canal and hopefully remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Britis and French, however acted without American support. The United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations forced Israel as well as Brtain and France to withdraw. While the plan failed, the French became Israel's major arms supplier. This included French jets, evebtually the Mirage which became the backbone of the Israeli Air Force. President DeGualle made bothsome pro-Israeli statements as well as some troubling statements when he retuned to power (1960), but France continued selling weapons. With the end of the Algerian war (1962) DeGaulle began the process of repairing France’s relations with the Arab world> this mean a conflict with France's Idraeli relationship. Arms sales, hoever, continued until President Nassar began escalating the condlict with Israel taking steps little removed from War (1967). This apparently forced Frane's hand. The French Givernment had to pick a side. The French decided that it was in their interest to shft alleginace from Israel to the Arabs. Despite the the unprovoked aggressive moves by Egypt, France shocked the Israelis by imposing an arms embargo which mostly hurt Israel (June 3). The French also warned senior Israeli officials to avoid hostilities. This was potential disaster for Israel. The Soviets were arming the Arabs, but now Israel was being denied arms. This essentially forced Israel to launch a premtive strike. Israel had no way of maintaining its aircraft without French spare parts. When Israel launched a pre-emptive strike (June 5), France condemned it even though ironically Israel’s stunning air victory was achieved with mostly French-made aircraft. A few months later President DeGaulle told reporters that France had 'freed itself ... from the very special and very close ties' with Israel, adding an editorial that Jews were 'an elite people, sure of itself, and dominating.' It is unclear how important that thinking was compared to basic power politics--the growing influence of Arab states. Obstensibly, France embargoed shipments to the Arabs as well. But because the Arabs were obtaining their arms from the Soviets, only Israel was adversely affected. The French held up 50 Mirages bought and paid for by Israel in a French warehouse. President DeGualled retired (1969). President Georges Pompidou would bring about better relations, but Pompidou continued the weapons embargo. Frtuntel, by this time, Israel was developing aodern economy capable of building modern weapons. In additon, the Uited states to counter the flow of siviet weapons into the region, began supplying advanced arms to Israel.

Israeli Reaction

The Isrealis were unsure how to respond to the Arab preparations. Many did not want to stage a preemtive attack because of the impact on world opinion. A cabinet vote was deadlocked, 7 for and 7 aginst a premtive strike. Moshe Dyan was appointed defense minister. Dyan was a man of action and believed that Israel had no choice but to strike first given the Arab advantage in virtully every measure of military power. The French arms embargo forced his hand. It meant that the IDF could not maintain its air power while Soviet arms deliveries would steadily strengthen the Arab militaries.

Israeli Air Attack (June 5)

Egypt especially the powerful Egyptian Air Force was the greatest threat to Israel. Dyan ordered a strike aimed at catching the Egyptians on the ground--Operation Focus. The audacious Isreali air attack succeeded in destroying the Egyptian Air force on the ground. Virtually the entire Isrelai Air Force (IAF) of 1,800 planes was committed to the daring attack--Operation Focus . They flew in under the Egyptian radar. Observation of Egyptian air operations noted that most pilots had a coffee break after morning patrols. This was when the Isrealis struck and found virtually the entire Egyptian Air Force on the groud with little or no defensive precautions such a protectuve reventments. The Israeli pilots struck with amazing precession. The IAF pummeled Egyptian airfields. Egypt's airfields were a primary target as Egypt had the most potent air force. The IAF would also hit airields in Syria and Jordan, but only after those two countries attacked Israel. An Iraqi airfield on the Jordanian border wold also be hit after an Iraqi attack. The IAF was primarily concerned with crippling the Egyptian airfields in the Nile Delta. Aircraft there were equipped with long-range missile systems, capable of striking civilian targets in Israel. Only 20 Israeli planes were lost, mostly by Soviet supplied anti-aircraft missiles. IAF fighter jets also made sure any existing runways were demolished, so as to paralyze the remaining enemy warplanes. Bombing runways meant that the Egyptian planes not immediately destroyed could not take off. Eventually 400 Arab aircraft were destoyed on the ground. The IAD assaults on Egypt were completed within a few hours. The IDF was thus free to focus on Arab ground forces and play a ground support role. This would be a major factor in the ensuing ground campaign. The IAF began hitting Arab troop dispositions and attempts to renforce and supply those positions. More Arab airfields were hit on the second day of fighting. By the end of the war, the IAF had destroyed 451 Arab aircraft, losing only 46 planes of their owm, and this despite the fact the Arabs had modern Soviet airaicrft and airfieldd protected by Soviet missle systems. The success of Operation Focus prevented Arab air attacks on Israeli cities and IDF troop movements. THe IDF had command of the air as the war unfolded. Egyptian Air Force commanders were at first afraid to tell Nassar what had happened. Radio Cairo as a result announced that it was the Israeli Air Force had been destroyed. The Arab public was estatic. The Israeli press releases reports were ar first discounted as exagerated propaganda by the Western Press. In fact they proved accuarate.

The Sinai (June 5-7)

The Arabs had a substantial force of modern Soviet tanks. The Arabs has 1,400 tanks compared to 650 Israeli tanks. (We have seen varies estimates here, but all the estimates give the Arabs a substantial preponderance of tanks and other weapon categories. Egypt had the largest force and had led the preparations for the War. As a result, the outcome of the war would be settled in the Sinai or southern Egypt. Dyan struck first at the Egyptians at the same time the Air Force was hitting Egyptian air fields. The open territory of the Sinai was perfect for tank and air warfare. The Egyptians had heavily fortified the Sinai and formulate a defense following the advise of Soviet military advisers. The Israelis coordinated their devetaing air strikes with aggressive attacks in the Sinai, this time focusing on the north and cebtral sectors rather than the south. Nassar and Egyptian radio reported glorious victories in the Sinai and urged the Syrians and Jordanians to join the war with Israel. In fact, Israeli tanks broke through in the Sinai and were moving toward Suez. Egyptian forces which had heard the radio reports that the Israeli Air Force had been destroyed were puzzled when they not only saw Egyptian planes to support them, but were being attacked by the Israeli Air Force. The Egyptian put up a stiff defense but the Israelis achieved one objective after another. The Egyptian High Command with the Israelis seizing the strtegic mountain passes and importnt crossroads, lost its nerve. Egyptian military chief, Marshal Amer, saw clearly what was happening and cracked (May 6, afternoon). Amer began issuing orders, many contradictory, to his field commanders. Basically he ordered an immediate retreat of all forces in the Siani. Nasser concurred. The Egyptian soldiers had fought well and most units were still in tact, but at this point some important commanders semsing disaster abandoned their troops and fled back to Cairo to save themselves. There was no planned retreat or effort to organize a fighting withdrawl. Every Egyptian unit was on its own. And in the resultung pandominium to reach Suez, the Egyptians lost far more men than during the fighting. The retreat turned into am uncontrolled rout. Many men persished in the desert dying of thirt. The Isrealis monitoring Egyptian military communications instead of attacking the very substantial and Egyptian armor force, moved to close off the passes and road bottlenecks, thus trapping much of the fleeing Egyptian army. Most of the Egpytian armour and vehicles was destoyed or captured--much of it in working order. Vast quantities of supplies and equipment and thousands of prisoners were taken.

Israeli Plans

The Israeli premptive strike and offensive was aimed at Egypt which had been threatening war. Only Egypt had the power to wage war against Israel. The othercarab states had military forces, but none of which on their own was a threat to Isreal. hus the Israel ar plan was simply to defeat the Egyptian Army and open the Straits of Tiran. The War night have been restricted to the Sinai. There was no plan to seize other territiry and in fact there were many Israeli leaders who couneked against expndung the War. What occurred beyonf the Siuani happened because the Palistiniabs, Jordanians, and Syrians joined te Egyptians and attacked Israel. What followed was a disaster for the Arabs, but it was a disaster entirely of their own making.

Jordan (June 5)

Nassar assured King Hussein that Egypt was winning the war in the Sinai. Israel had attempted to convince King Hussein to stay out of the War. Jordanian public opinion, however, strongly favored joining Egypt in the War. Thus King Hussein ordered his army to attack. The priority Jordanian target was Jerulsalem. Jordan had seized parts of Jerusalem in the 1948 fighting and still controlled the Old City with the Temple Mount and Wailing Wall. The Israelis after the Jordanian attack on Jerulsalem struck back. Israeli Army (Isreli Defense Force) doctrine strongly avoided being drawn into urban warfare because this negates the IDF's superority in mobile warfare. Dyan ordered Israeli paratroopers into Jurulselum. By this time the Arabs were asking for a ceasfire. Aba Eban in the United Nations delayed action to give the paratroopers time to seize the rest of Jerusalem. The Isrealis also seized the West Bank from Jordan.



Syria to support the Egyptianns and Jordanians begins shelling Isreli ettlments from the Golan Heights. Dyan ordered Isreali paeatroopers to seize the Heights. They also destroyed Syrian border defenses leaving the road to Damascus wide open to them. For the first time since the 1948 War, the Jewish settlements in northern Israel were free of Syrian shelling.

U.N. Security Council

Nasser who days before had expelled the U.N. observers in his preparation to attack Israel, now demanded U.N. intervention to stop the Isrealis. In radio broadcasts he claimed that the battle-field disasters were part of a Western conspiracy. He claimed that the United States and Britain had aided the Israelis--ashamed toadmit the uncomeptence of his leadership. In particular the Egyptians charged that the U.S. 6th Fleet had participated in the Israeli air strikes, an outright lie. The Soviets supported the Arabs in the United Nations. Israel delayed U.N. action to give the IDF time to seize the Old City of Jerusalem. Few people i history have suffered from incompetent leadership more than the Palestinians and Arabs. Arab leaders after the 6 Days War, just as after each of the previous wars, insisted that Israel should simply return any land that had been lost. It never seems to occur to Arab leaders who after repreatedly tried to destroy Israel through military action, that there are adverse consequences to making war. The Arabs have repeatedly maintained that it was only reasonable for Israel to return territory lost in these wars. While at the same time exposing the bojective of destoying Israel if they had won the War.

USS Liberty (June 8)

The Isreali attack on the USS Liberty during he Six Days war (1967) is still unexplained. The USS Liberty was an surveilance vessel collecting electronic intelligence off Sinai. There were 34 Americans (33 sailors and 1 one Arab-language specialist of the National Security Agency) killed and 171 wounded. The Isrealis claim it was a tragic mistake. Many in the CIA including Richard Helm believe that the Isrealis attacked the Liberty on purpose, although they are baffled as to why. [Helms] Survivors of the attack complain that the U.S, authorities never pursued the incident properly with the Isrealis. Conspiracy theories abouns, especially among those who do not like Israel/ The most likely explanation is simoly the fog od war. Israel was at the time fighting for its life and decesions were made without the time needed to reasonavly assess the situation.

Palestinian Villages (June 8)

The Isreali Army occupied large numbers of Palestinian villages during the Six Days War. Almost all were basically untouched. The Army did destroyed three villages---Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba (June 8, 1967). The 6,000 residents were deported. [Kenan] Israel knocked the houses down, and later the area became part of the Ayalon Park (known as Canada Park). I am not yet sure why the Isrealis took this action. one of the destroyed villages, Imwas, is thought to be a possible site of Emmaus of Christian scripture. The villages were treated differently because they were an actual military threat. They commanded the road to Jerusalem. Lots of Israelis were killed along that road, particularly during the the 1947-48 siege of Jerusalem. In a sense, the destruction of the villages in 1967 was a final phase of the 1948-49 War, when Israel tried and failed a number of times to capture the Latrun salient. The Army acted here because of the strategic position of the villages.

Media War Reports

Media reporting became an issue in the War. Arab media, especially Egyptian media, reported huge, but non-existent Egyptian victories from the onset of the War. They hid the actual Israeli victories from the public as the War unfolded. Announcers may not have even been aware of the battlefield disaters. They were using reports issued by the military. After the Israelis had destroyed the Egyptain Air Force on the ground and were driving toward Suez in the Siani, Egyptian news reports were proclaiming great victories over the Isrealis. After the Israeli Air Forcec (IAF) destroyed the Egyptian Air Force, Radio Cairo announced that their Air Force had destroyed the IAF. There were few doubters. Media reports before the war had assumed tht their armies equiipped with modern Soviet arms would have no trouble defeating the Israels. The battlefield was in isolated reas far from Cairo and the major cities, so they had no reason to doubt. Nasser was not only keeping the truth from the Egyptian people, but his Arab allies as well becuse he was desperate for Jordn and Syria to enter the war. President Nasser when finlly forced to tell the truth, he announced his retirement. A shocked Egyptian public, however, poured into the streets. They did not blame Nasser. Nor did they question war policies of destroying Israel as a primary nationl goal. They were sure that mere Jews could never defeat Arab armies. So rather then Nasser, they blamed the United States. Despite his abject failure, they demanded that he remain in office. In an effort to reduce the humilation of being defeated by Jews, Nasser ordered the media to perpetuate a lie, that American carrier aurcraft koined in the IAF attack. This lie appeared in media throughout the Arab world. Arab countries broke off diplomatic relations with the United States. This lie is still commonly accepted by many. It was not only the Arabs ho had a hard time believing the Israeli reports. a British commenttor writes, "Many people believe that the astonishing Israeli victory was a miracle. I remember listening in England to Michael Elkins, the BBC reporter in Israel at the time, who broke the startling news of the Israeli victories on all three fronts; the Egyptian, the Syrian, and the Jordanian. But equally, many people also thought he was exaggerating Israel's total defeat of her enemies, preferring almost to the end of the Six-Day War to continue believing the strident but false Arab boastings that Israel was being destroyed." [Sharpe]

Nasser's Resignation (June 9)

Nasser was sure as he engineered the crisis that Egypt and his Arab allies had the military power to destroy Israel. He and the Free Officers had come to power in part to rectify the humiliation of the 1948-49 defeat. Their defeat in the Suez Conflict (1956) was excused because the British and French had participated in the conflict. The disatrous defeat in Sinai was a huge embarassment. Egypt armed to the teeth by the Soviets had been defeated by tiny Israel. The defeat was humiliating to the Egyotian people and Nasser personally who had been assuring the Egyptians that Israel would be destroyed. He apologized, but blamed the defeat on American and British intervention. (On hearing this, American diplomats contacted the Egyptians asking why Nasser was saying this. The response was that Israel could not possibly destoyed the Egyptian Air Force by itself.) Nasser told the Egyptian public, "I have taken a decision with which I need your help. I have decided to withdraw totally and for good from any official post or political role, and to return to the ranks of the masses, performing my duty in their midst, like any other citizen. This is a time for action, not grief... My whole heart is with you, and let your hearts be with me. May God be with us – hope, light and guidance in our hearts." Millions of Egyptians immediately poured into the streets in mass demonstrations for Nasser to stay. Some of this was organized by Nasser's political party, but much of it was the heart-felt outpouring of support for Nasser. Similar demonstratioins occurred throuout the Arab World. Nasser recinded his resignation.

Lie of American Involvement

Nasser was afraid to tell the Egyptian people the truth. He and the Young Officers had legitimized their regime by a promise to modernize Egypt and defeat Israel. Iseael's victory in the Suez War could be explained because of British and French involvement. The Six Days War was different--only Israel was involved. How could Nasser explain defeat again after more than 10 years in power and massive expenditures for arms. Nasser instead in vented a lie, that American carrier aircraft had joined in with the attacks on the Egyptian air force. The lie worked because Egyptians and other Arabs just didn't believe that the Isrealis by themselves could defeaft the Egyptians. It is a lie still widely believed in the Arab world. In fact, Israel at the time was receiving relatively little American aid, let alone active American involvement in the fighting. When asked about American support in Comgressional hearings, Secretary of State Rusk replied, "No, we have provided tanks and Hawk missiles and certain other kinds of equipment to Israel, but their principal arms supplier has been France ... The Israeli air force is almost all French supplied." [Rusk] Israel had obtained its fighter aircraft from France because the United States had refused repeated requests. American policy at the time was to maintain an arms balance in the region. Soviet policy was just the opposite. They were attempting to arm the Arabs to give them a military advantage.

Threat of Soviet Intervention

The Soviets were astonished at the Isreali military successes. The defeat of their client states (Egypt and Syria) was a deep embarassment. The Isrealis hesitated with Jerusalem, partly out of fear of Soviet intervention. As the fighting continued in the Sianai and the Isrealis moved on the Golan Heights in the north, the Soviets prepared to intervene. Air andd naval units were put on alert. The Soviets considered commiting air force units in Syria and an amphibious attack on Haifa. This was the most dangerous part of the war because it created the potential for super-power conflict. The United States had not supported Israel in the war, but it would not tolerate a Soviet invasion of Israel. The 6th Fleet which had been mocing away from the eastern Meditteranean was given orders to move west to counter any possible Soviet intervention.

Cease Fire (June 11)

With the Egyptian Army defeated, Arab air forces in tatters, and the Siani in Isreali hands, the Isreali were ready for a ceasefire. The Israelis and Arabs signed a cease fire (June 11). As a result of the War, Israel was no longer thretened by th Egyptiam Army and the Straits of Tiran were open. This had neen the Israeli objctive. But thy gained much more. They not only seized the entire Sinai to the Suez Canal, but the the West Bank, most of Jeuruslem including the Old City, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. The Arabs had been delt a stunning blow. Nasser was crushed and was never the same man again.


The 6 Days War changed the dynamic of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Before the War, Isreali was a tiny, isolated and beleagered state. After the War, Israel had become the dominant military power in the Middle East. It also became an occupying power by seizing the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Siani. It not only gained in international status, but set in motion a totlly unexpected interest in Juaism among the Soviet Unions largely assimilated Jewish population.

Isreali Peace Offer (June 19)

The Israel unity government, following the fighting of the 6-Day, publically declared it willingness to return the territories occupied (June 19, 1967). The Isrealis offered to return the Golan Heights (to Syria), Sinai (to Egypt) and the bulk of the West Bank (to Jordan). In return it wanted peace treaties (not cease firs) with the waring Arab states, normalization of relations, and guarantee of navigation through the Straits of Tiran. Israel rejected thr right of return for The Palestinian refugees nor did it demand reparations for Jewish refugees expelled by the Arabs. This was the "land for peace" policy that Israel has attempted to persue.

Soviet U.N. Resolution (June 19)

The Soviet Union on the same day the Isrealis made peace offers (June 19, 1967), submitted UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 519, demanding an immediate Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories with no requirement for peace or negotiations. The UNGA rejected the resolution (July 4).

Khartoum Resolutions (August 29-September 1)

Eight Arab heads of state met for an Arab summit conference held in Khartoum, Sudan (August 29 - September 1, 1967). The Conference is important because it essentually stated the consensus that would become the official policy of most Arab states toward Israel for the following two decades. The essential policy was No to Peace, No to Recognition, and No to Negotiation with Israel. This was a definitive restatement of the Arab policies since the 1949 armistice. This was a sharp rejection od Israel's "land for peace" offer. The Arab heads of state rejected the idea of a petroleum embargo on the West. This had become a major idea floated in the Arab world. Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser after the disatrous defeat in the 6 Day War has to find someone to blame the defeat on least the Egyptian people begin to question his leadershipnand policies. The Arab countries had been armed to the teeth with oil money and Soviet aid. There is no doubt that the Arabs had the military forces to destroy Israel. They failed due to poor leadership. When he spoke to the Egyptian people, he blamed the Israeli victory on air-support provided by the United States. This of course was an out right lie. He also orated, "The Sixth Fleet runs on Arab Petroleum." Other resolutions included the creation of a fund to assist the economies of Egypt and Jordan. Another agreement was reached to end the inter-Arab war in Yemen. Currently the Arab Khartoum Resolutions with the "three no's" rejecting peace with Israel are currently being laundered into an attempt at reconciliation with Israel.

Soviet Mig-21

One virtually unreported incident during the Six Days War was that the Isrealis obtained a Mig-21. The Soviets had only began to distribute these advanced aircraft to the Arabs. Thus they were not a factor in the fighting. Mosad managed to convince an Iraqi Christian pilot to defect with his Mig-21. This allowed the Israelis to cloesly examine the aircraft which would prove of emense importance when they faced the Mig-21 in the Yon Kippur War (1973). Presumavly the amerixans were also provided access.

Isreali Views

Most Isrelis for good reason see the Six Day War as a just war that the Arabs forced them to fight. It has a hallowed place in the Isreali history. Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, including the Old City with its most holy site, the Temple Mount that is revered by both Jews and Muslims. Jerusalem has been the focus of longing for Diaspora Jews who were first forced by the Babylonians from their land and the Temple of their God. The well-known lament of the Babylonian Jews who wept “by the rivers of Babylon” and declared, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.” [Psalm 137] Since the Roman War and Diapora (1st century AD), Jews have dreamed of returing to Jerusalem. The Seder traditionally ends the appeal, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Finally this has come to fruition. The Jordanians had denied Israelis access to the Wailing Wall--the remains of Solomon's Great Temple. It was in many ways the final achievement of the dreamns of countless Jews over two millennia of history. We see celebration throughout Israel fter the War. The military set up exhibitions showing off the vast array of mostly Soviet weaponry captured from the Egyptians. It seemed a modern miracle give the extent to which the Soviets had provided the much larger Arab armies modern weaponry. The United States at the time was not oroviding military assistance to Israel. Tiny Israel was harf pressed to finance a creditable military. A few left-wing Isreali authors have challened this view of the War. We note one such author who maintains that Israel did not need to fight the War. [Segev] The author provides a perceptive assessment of Israel at the time. He does not provide, however, any information to prove his central thesis that the war could have been avoided give aggressive Arab actions, especially the series of steps toward war taken by Egyoptian President Nassar. He certainly does not show that the Soviets had not provided the Arabs with a massive arsenal of modern weapons, because they clearly did. An arsenal a small country like Israel could not match as the United States at the time was not prividing military assistance. He does not provide any evidence that Arab leaders and public did not want a military sollution. They clearly did. It is undeniable through the public statements of Arab leaders and the enthusiatic way they were received by the Arab public that there was a desire for war. Nor does he provide any evidence of Arab leaders prepared to negotiate with Israel. They clearly did not want to negotiate, they wanted a military victory. An interesting point to bear in mind here is that the Isreali left is free to pursue such views in a democratic society. One has to ask, where is the left in the Arab world? Where is the desire for peace and toleration? What book comparable to the Segev book has been published in an Arab country? And why is there not a similar examination of Arab society and the continued Arab-Muslim persuit of military sollutions? And it is important To note that an Arab commentator taking the Israeli side would be putting his life in danger.

Arab View

For the Arabs, especially the Plestinisns and Egyptians, the Six Day War was a disaster, in fact the Palestinians call what occurred 'The ?????' (the disater). Not of course bevause the War occurred, but because the arab armies were so decisivdly defeated. The Arabs see the War as Israeli aggreession because the IDF fired the first shots, ignoring the constant Feydaeen attacks and the aggressive actions taken by the Egypptians threatening Israel. There was no pacifist or anti-War feeling in the Arab countries, rather there was great popular support for a war to 'liberate' Palestine as they saw it. The result of the War camne asa great shock to the Arab world which could not believe that a despiesed minority like the Jews could defeat the great Arab nation. This was so shocking that a lie had to be invented to explain it, namely that the United Stastes military had aided Israel. The United States at the time was not even providing miliitary aiud, let lone fighting in Israel's behalf.


The Six Days War was not just an isolated military event. It upended the geopolitics of the Middle East. The Israelis increased their territory by more than six times. The war changed leadership in Egypt and with Nassar gone. Egypt siezed to be the leader of the Arab world as had been the case before the War. After the stunning defeat of Egypt, the Arab public begin to turn to irregular groups like the Feydaeen and Islamic groups like the Arab Brotherhood for leadership. Given the massive Soviet arms shipments to the Arabs, American policy began to change. When the Araby launched the Yom Kipur War, the United States would become involved. Israel emerged as a regional power and has remained the most formidable power of the region ever since. And with Anmerican military aid, Israel was unassailable. The character of anti-Semitism in the Arab world changed. The hatred continued, but they no longer looked down on the Jews as a cowardly, despicable people. And even worse for the Soviets than the Arab defeat and loss of huge quantities of military equopment was the domestic impact. Soviet Jews watched the TV reoportung anbd were stunned by the performance of the IDF. It ignited an interest in Judaism that Stalin's atheism campaign had largely extinguished. This led to the Jewish Refusniks and the camoaign to permit Jewish emmigration.

Media Assessments

It was a given that Arab media presents a biased assessment of the Six Days War, including Egyptian propaganda lies that American carrier aircraft joined in on the Isaeli air attack. The surprisiong development is how Western media have joined in on the biased assessment of the War. The BBC on its website stated, "it took only six days for Israel to smash the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria." The BBC goes on to emphasize that "the Israeli Air Force destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground on the morning of 5 June 1967 in a surprise attack." [Bowen] Shocking for a news service whuch loudly proclaims its objectivity, the BBC Middle Eastern Bureau makes no reference to Arab actions provoking the Israeli attack, including broacasting bloodcurdling threats, a massive military buildup on the Israeli borders, expelling U.N. peacekeepers, closing of the Straits of Tiran, an illegal blockade cutting Israel off from its main supply of oil. [Jacoby] None of this was even mentioned by the BBC, only a surprise Isreli attack leading to the impression that it was unprovoked. The BBC goes on to claim that Israel's 'hugely self-confident' generals couldn't wait to go to war because they knew they couldn't lose. Actually Israel's military and political leaders were very concerned and terribly anxious that the Soviet-backed Arab military buildup had upset the military ballance in the region. Yitzhak Rabin, the IDF chief of staff had even suffered a nervous breakdown. "The myth of the 1967 Middle East war was that the Israeli David slew the Arab Goliath." [Bowen] Another commetor points out that the Arab Goliath was no myth and details how biased the BBC retrosoective was. [Jacoby] In addition while Israel struck first against Egypt (because of Egyptian provocations), Israeli actions agaunst the Palestinians (Gaza), Jordan (Jerusalem and the West Bank), and Syria (Golan Heights) occurred only after attacks by the Arabs in these areas.


Bowen, Jeremy, Middle East Editor, Retrospective on the Six Days war, BBC Website (2007). 40th anniversary. See Jeff Jacoby's analysis below

Jacoby, Jeff. "THE 40TH anniversary of Israel's astonishing victory in the Six Day War," (2007).

Kenan, Amos. Israel: A Wasted Victory (1970). Kenan is a prominent Israeli writer who as a young Isreali Army reservist took took part in the operation destroying the three Palestinian villages.

Rusk, Dean. Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, June 9, 1967.

Sachar, Howard. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979).

Segev, Tom. 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (Metropolitan, 2007), 673p. Segev is a columinist for the left-wing Isreali newspaper Ha'aretz.

Sharpe, Victor. "The Six-Day War: Israel's miraculous victory," American Thinker (June 10, 2012).


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Created: 3:14 AM 10/2/2004
Last updated: 8:01 PM 5/8/2020