What was the Six-Day War? Who were the combatants and why did they fight? How did the war affect the region and how did the world react?
Using research and analysis gathered from respected experts in Middle East history, politics and other related fields, this Web site answers those questions; because to understand the literal and metaphorical map of the modern Middle East — the geographic positions held by the region’s armies and the negotiating positions held by its leaders — one must first understand the Six-Day War, and more importantly, its causes and consequences.
This is true not because the current strife began on June 5, 1967 with the outbreak of war — it did not — but rather for the opposite reason: Many of the attitudes and forces that led to the Six-Day War were the same as those that had fueled conflict in the region since even before Israel’s independence in 1948, and are the same as those that still stoke tensions there today.
That both the Six-Day War and the current conflict stem from the same root issues is evinced by two similar statements uttered almost 40 years apart: In 1967, an Arab participant in the war that had just ended described the fighting as “not a new war but part of the old war” from 1948 — the war against Israel’s founding (Associated Press, Lighting Out of Israel, 156). Israeli leaders and pundits would later use a nearly identical description — “a continuation of the (1948) War of Independence” — to characterize the Palestinian violence and Israeli response that began in 2000, the so-called second intifada.
The major factor instigating conflict between Israel and its neighbors — whether in 1967, 2000 or any other time — has been the the Arab leadership’s rejection of the legitimate right of Jews to reconstitute their national home in the Middle East, and Israel’s attempt to cope with the security challenges caused by this rejectionism.
As far back as 1929, when Arab rioters attacked Jewish communities in Palestine and massacred their inhabitants, the civil and human rights of Jews had been under violent attack. In 1948 it became an existential issue, with six Arab armies attacking the newly independent Israel in an attempt to wipe the state off the map.
Again in 1967, in the run up to the Six-Day War, Israel’s existence seemed to hang in the balance. As the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan openly prepared for battle against Israel, and Arab leaders and the Arab “street” called for its destruction, Israel faced frightful choices. “We had already started thinking in terms of annihilation, both national and personal,” explained Lt. Yossi Peled, a Holocaust survivor who was at the time a lieutenant in the Israel army. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, realizing the immense military challenge that would be caused by an Arab attack, told his cabinet: “God help us through if they hit us first.” Chief of Staff Yitzkhak Rabin had a nervous breakdown, which for a short time kept him from his duties.
Israel’s hospitals prepared for mass casualties, not only from the advanced conventional weapons supplied by the Soviets to Egypt and Syria and by the West to Jordan, but also from chemical weapons, which Egypt was known to have used during its war in Yemen.
The tensions continued to mount while Israel’s Prime Minister Levy Eshkol insisted, even as more and more Arab troops massed on the borders, that diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis be exhausted before Israel would consider military action.
This was the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict before the Six-Day War, or in other words, before Israel ever occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Often, in current discussions about the Middle East, Israel’s occupation is mischaracterized as the primary, if not the sole, cause of the conflict rather than an effect of it. Many journalists, unfamiliar with the relevant facts and context, and mistakenly believing that the starting point of Mideast tensions is the “occupation,” may present flawed accounts that suggest the resolution of the tension can be achieved more or less simply by ending Israel’s presence in the territories. This ahistorical description is found all too often in the U.S. media, but even more pervasively in the European setting.
It is our hope that this Web site will help correct such misperceptions while shedding light on this important event in Middle East history.
- Lightening Out of Israel, Associated Press, 1967
- Six Days of War, Michael B. Oren, 2002