"For the man whose knowledge is not in order, the more he has of it, the greater will be his confusion." -- Herbert Spencer (1820-1923)
Last month Israel marked the 30th anniversary of the most decisive military victory in its modern era, the 1967 Six Day War. Revisionist commentators conjured up visions of an aggressive, expansionist Zionist state warring against its neighbours and greedily gobbling up territory. "Israel attacked the Arabs," they pointed out. "... not vice-versa." Let's take another look.
Israel did indeed simultaneously attack Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq on June 5, 1967. It had little choice. For weeks leading up to that day, Israel's Arab enemies upped the temperature by amassing troops on the borders of the tiny Jewish state, while threatening murder and mayhem. Consider the following:
May 14, 1967: Egypt's President Gamal Nasser demands the withdrawal of United Nations force--established in 1957 as an international "guarantee" of safety for Israel--from the Sinai peninsula. The UN meekly obeys; the United States and Britain fail to rouse the Security Council to take action.
May 15: Three Egyptian army divisions and 600 tanks roll into the Sinai. World community does nothing.
May 17: Cairo Radio's Voice of the Arabs: "All Egypt is now prepared to plunge into total war which will put an end to Israel."
May 18: Voice of the Arabs announces: "As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is a total war which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence."
May 18: Nasser announces blockade of Straits of Tiran in the Red Sea, severing Israel's southern maritime link to the outside world. Israel considers the closure an act of war. (US President Lyndon Johnson later says: "If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than any other it was the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Straits of Tiran would be closed.")
May 20: Syria's defence minister (now president) Hafez el-Assad says: "Our forces are now ready not only to repulse the aggression but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united ..."
May 27: Nasser: "Our basic objection will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight."
May 30: Nasser : "The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel."
May 30: Jordan's King Hussein signs a five-year mutual defence pact with Egypt and the two set up a joint command, making clear its stance in any future conflict.
My 31: Egyptian newspaper Al Akhbar reports: "Under terms of the military agreement signed with Jordan, Jordanian artillery, co-ordinated with the forces of Egypt and Syria, is in a position to cut Israel in two ..."
May 31: Iraqi President Rahman Aref announces: "This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear--to wipe Israel off the map."
June 4: Iraq joins Nasser's military alliance against Israel.
June 5: Six Day War begins: Israeli Airforce attacks airfields in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.
On June 10, Israel and its enemies accepted UN Security Council cease-fire demands. The war ended, leaving Israel in control of the Sinai peninsula, eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Judea-Samaria and the Gaza Strip. (The Sinai was returned to Egypt between 1978 and 1982, as part of an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.)
Sources and recommended further reading:
Myths and Facts: a concise record of the Arab-Israeli conflict, by Leonard Davis (Washington: Near East Report, 1984)
Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, Shmuel Katz (New York: Bantam Books, 1973)
A History of Israel, Howard Sachar (New York: Knopf, 1991)
"Never in human history can an aggressor have made his purpose known in advance so clearly and so widely. Certain of victory, both the Arab leaders and their peoples threw off all restraint. Between the middle of May and fifth of June, world-wide newspapers, radio and, most incisively, television brought home to millions of people the threat of politicide bandied about with relish by the leaders of these modern states. Even more blatant was the exhilaration which the Arabic peoples displayed as the prospect of executing genocide on the people of Israel ... In those three weeks of mounting tension people throughout the world watched and waited in growing anxiety--or in some cases, in hopeful expectation--for the overwhelming forces of at least Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq to bear down from three sides to crush tiny Israel and slaughter her people."Shmuel Katz: [Battleground: Fact and fantasy in Palestine]