Israel Report

June 2001         

The ‘Waiting Periods’ Of 1967 And 2001

by Ze’ev Schiff - June 11, 2001 The Six-Day War of June 1967, whose 34th anniversary was marked last week, was preceded by three-week waiting period that began when Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, concentrated forces in the Sinai and urged other Arab states to concentrate troops on their borders. Now as well, Israel is in a waiting period, as it waits to see what will emerge from the promises of various Arab organizations to launch a wave of terror and as it weighs the decision as to whether it should prevent the threatened attacks by launching an all-out offensive against the initiators of terrorist operations against Israeli targets.

Then as now, some of Israel’s so-called friends were indifferent to the threats it was faced with. For example, even before one shot was fired in the Six-Day War, French President Charles de Gaulle imposed an embargo on Israel. The difference between the waiting period that preceded the Six-Day War and the present waiting period is that, in 1967, there was the feeling that Israel’s very survival was threatened--and, in fact, the Arabs declared that they sought Israel’s destruction. At the time, the pretext for the Arab threat was not the settlements; instead, Israel’s existence per se, even within its pre-June 5 borders, was considered an act of occupation.

Furthermore, the threat was of a different nature altogether. Israel today is much more powerful than it was in 1967, nor is there any threat to its physical survival, although Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is doing everything possible to turn back the clock and to bring both the Palestinians and the Israelis to the initial stages of the 1948 War of Independence.

Moreover, he is carrying out the sort of terrorist methods that no nation on earth could possibly tolerate. Hamas and Fatah have recently threatened that they will blow up apartment buildings in Israeli cities. This is precisely what the Chechnyans did in Moscow and the Russian response was the indiscriminate, horrendous bombing of Grozny. Is that the kind of scenario these Palestinian “freedom fighters” are interested in generating as they push the entire region into a new tragedy?

As was the case on the eve of the Six-Day War, Arab leaders are issuing threat after threat against Israel, stirring their own passions and those of their audiences. Each new dawn seems to bring another threat. Hezbollah General-Secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is threatening to abduct more Israelis, while Lebanese President Emil Lahoud is threatening to strike at Israel. Arab League Secretary-General and former Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa is continuing to issue threats couched in ostensibly diplomatic language. Egyptian newspaper columnists have declared their readiness to serve as suicide-bombers and to explode themselves in the downtown districts of Israeli cities.

In this context, it should be noted that the Egyptian press carries so much Nazi phraseology that one would think that Third Reich propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels had arisen from the grave and was managing Egypt’s propaganda machine. Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, with his boastful threats, feels perfectly home in this atmosphere. Even Israeli Arab leaders are using the sort of threatening tones that have never been issued by the heads of the country's Arab community.

Israel requires immense restraint in the face of all these threats and it would be wholly inadvisable for Israel to lower itself to this category of gutter talk. Restraint broadcasts to the Arabs a message of national self-confidence (even if the Arabs term Israel’s stance an expression of national hubris)--but that message is credible only if it is known that Israel can respond with tough military action, if necessary.

Another element also strongly recalls the eve of the Six-Day War. In 1967, all Israel Defense Forces personnel--whether serving in ground units, the Israel Air Force or the Israel Navy--were confident that they would soundly defeat the country's enemies. They knew that victory was theirs, although they had no idea what price it would exact. In contrast, the mood of the general public was bleak: The average Israeli citizen was not confident of an Israeli victory and was anticipating massive casualties.

Today as well, there is a wide gap between the general feeling in the IDF and the mood prevailing in broad segments of Israeli society…

The present pessimistic mood in this country is being generated by the nation’s leaders, frequently cabinet ministers, who are delivering messages of panic, but who are not displaying even the slightest trace of a broad vision. Joining them are most of the media, which are creating headlines that spread anxiety, worry and defeatism. That phenomenon did not exist on the eve of the Six-Day War.

©2001 - Ha'aretz

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