The Six-Day War between Political Miscalculations & Sheer Aggression
In his illustration of the crises preceding the June War 1967 – “The Six-Day War,” Sune Persson (2012) refers to the Egyptian prestige being tarnished after the setbacks in Yemen and in May Egypt’s countermeasures were carried out: army was ordered into the Sinai, which had been demilitarized since 1956, request was made for the evacuation of UN forces and a new blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba.
In addition to escalation of tensions on all Arab-Israeli fronts, further element featuring the context of the June War was underlined by Kissinger (1979), who perceived Soviet Union warning Egypt of an imminent Israeli attack on Syria setting in motion a fateful process comprising the above mentioned measures ordered by Nasser.
In January 1978 in Aswan, Israeli Defence Minister Ezer Weizman learned from his host, Egyptian Minister of War Muhammad Abd-el-Ghani Gamassi, that the war in 1967 was the result of a political error. Weizman told President Sadat that he was the man who in 1967 gave the first order to move Israeli troops when the information came that Nasser had brought troops into Sinai, and that he did not believe war would break out but it did (Haber, Schiffe, Yaari, 1979).
Kissinger (1979) doubted Nasser was seeking a military showdown. He introduced a possibility of Nasser getting astonished by the alacrity with which U Thant acceded to his request and intending to do no more than striking a heroic pose.
Conversely in 2002, Michael Oren referred to recently declassified documents revealing a number of Arab countries having extensive plans to attack Israel several days before the Six Day War began with the Egyptian attack plan, “Operation Dawn” calling for strategic bombings of major ports, airfields, cities and the Dimona nuclear reactor (Middle East Forum). Whilst Doron Geller assertively declares that
While Soviet warnings may have preempted the crisis and U Thant’s decision to withdraw UN forces upon Nasser’s request deepened it, the joint Egyptian-Jordanian military pact made war almost inevitable (The Virtual Jewish Library).
In 2004 during a conference in the USA on 1967 war, Jordanian former minister and scholar Hisham Al-Khatib demonstrated unique position as an Arab of Palestinian origin by stating that ‘1967 war once more demonstrated the historically crucial role that single statesmen play in crisis management and war avoidance. Had a strong UN Secretary General existed and played his role, had decision-making in the Egyptian leadership not been so confused, this war could have been avoided to the relief and benefit of everyone.’
The crucial, however devastating role, of a single official was equally underlined by Oren who noted
The Six Day War was the result of miscalculation and misunderstandings. For its part, Jordan wanted to avoid a war. Declassified documents reveal that King Hussein had even attempted to send Prime Minister Eshkol a letter expressing sorrow for the death of the three soldiers in Samua. This letter was received on a Friday afternoon by U.S. Ambassador Walter Barbour, who decided to wait to deliver the letter after the Jewish Sabbath. Unfortunately, Israel struck before he did. Thus, if not for an American ambassador’s procrastination, the Six-Day War may have been avoided (ibid).
The disputants had their own different interpretations of the war. It was seen as a defensive war by the Israelis and as an aggression by the Arabs. Israel claimed that the Arabs, by ‘illegally’ closing the Gulf of Aqaba, mobilizing their armies, and calling for its ‘extermination,’ were the aggressors and that Israel was merely exercising its ‘right of self-defence,’ as provided by Article 51 of the UN Charter. The Arabs, in turn, contended that Israel was the aggressor and that it deliberately started the war in disregard of UN obligations, despite Egypt’s assurances that Egypt would not initiate any offensive military action, and while the UN and the United States were still actively trying to solve the crisis (Khouri, 1988). Henry Cattan (1988) notes that ‘there can be no doubt that it was a war of aggression waged by Israel in order to seize the rest of the territory of Palestine, namely the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.’
Prior to the Six-Day War, on May 29, 1967 President Nasser addressed the Egyptian National Assembly and said
Now, eleven years after 1956, we are restoring things to what they were in 1956. This is from the material aspect. In my opinion this material aspect is only a small part, whereas the spiritual aspect is the great side of the issue. The spiritual aspect involves the renaissance of the Arab nation, the revival of the Palestine question, and the restoration of confidence to every Arab and to every Palestinian. This is on the basis that if we were able to restore conditions to what they were before 1956, God will surely help and urge us to restore the situation to what it was in 1948… But now that the time has come – and I have already said in the past that we will decide the time and place and not allow them to decide – we must be ready for triumph and not for a recurrence of the 1948 comedies. We shall triumph, God willing. Preparations have already been made. We are now ready to confront Israel…They want to confine the issue to the Straits of Tiran, the UNEF and the right of passage. We demand the full rights of the Palestinian people.
However the events mocking the intentions of the actors did race out of control, a possibility underlined by Kissinger, and overturned Nasser’s aspirations.
With Israel deciding the time and the place, the war did erupt through a surprise attack on June 5, 1967 targeting the Egyptian air force. The situation did change, however far from restoring to what it was in 1948 and Palestinian people regaining their full rights. The war ended in six days with Israel occupying Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank of the Jordan River including the old part of Jerusalem. During the war, Israel crushed Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian Armies and emerged as the mightiest nation in the Middle East (Sheehan, 1976). On the humanitarian repercussions of the war, Persson (2012) writes
The Jews could visit again the Wailing Wall in the Old Jerusalem. A stream of Arabs (325 000 according to UN estimates) run away from the Israelis across the Jordan river, many of them on the run for the second time in their lives…Israel reported its losses during “Six Day War” of 676 deaths while the losses of the adversaries estimated to be up to 15 000 deaths.
In 1993 in reference to 1967 Six-Day War, William B. Quandt noted
The Middle East would never again be the same. A War that might have been avoided was soon to transform the policies and the map of the region…Restoration of the immediate status quo ante of June 4 was clearly ruled out.
Last week, the Arab World marked the 47 anniversary of the war, perceived by the Arabs as an-Naksah (The Setback), with the above statement of Quandt still gaining relevance.
The Palestinians did embrace peace and perceived it through UN General Assembly Resolution Nr. 194 in the aftermath of 1948 war and UN Security Council Resolution Nr. 242 following the Six-Day war of 1967. The former accentuates Palestinian refugees’ rights to return to their homes and the latter calls for the establishment of a Palestinian State within 1967 borders with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital
Today, though the Palestinians adopted peace as a path to attain justice through getting engaged in Madrid Peace talks in 1991, as a direct partner of Oslo Agreement of 1993 and partaking in all the following peace processes. The Jewish illegitimate settlements continue to mushroom and the Palestinians still undergo persecutions on the occupied Palestinian territories.
Jordan and Egypt did regain their territories occupied by Israel as an outcome of peace agreements in implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. Palestinians, most suffered of the outcome of 1967 war, still wait for justice to prevail through the establishment of a Palestinian state with the right for the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland Palestine. Irrespective of the circumstances conducive to the Six-Day War, the outcome of the war yet to be reversed to secure the legitimate rights of all the peoples of the still occupied territories foremost that of the Palestinian people.
The defenseless Palestinian people did not shape the factors leading to the Six-Day War, whether in form of political miscalculations or sheer act of aggression. However they continue to endure the tragic repercussions of the Six-Day War.
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