Events leading up to Six-Day War
Arab leaders unite to plan destruction of Israel.
January 14-17 1964
Arab heads of state meet in Cairo to counter Israel’s national water carrier project, fearing it will strengthen Israel. Arab League decides to block Israel by diverting water at the Jordan’s source – the Banias and Hatzbani rivers in Syria. The Unified Arab Command under Egyptian leadership is created to protect the Arab water diversion project from Israeli attack. They pledge to strengthen their military capabilities with the goal of destroying Israel in 2-3 years. They also agree to create both the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Ahmad al-Shuqayri, and the Palestine Liberation Army, to be deployed along Israel’s borders.
Photo: Insignia of the Palestine Liberation Organization
Nasser, upstaged by Syrian-sponsored anti-Israel terror, ramps up threats to Israel.
January 1965 – June 1967
Palestinians from al-Fatah terror group, with Syrian support, carry out dozens of attacks against Israel between January 1965 and June 1967. Nasser seeks to reinforce his leadership on the popular Palestine issue and continually intensifies his own rhetoric about destroying Israel.
New Syrian Baathist regime sets destruction of Israel as primary goal.
February 23, 1966
Baathist socialist coup in Syria by Shazli Al Jadid and Hafez El Assad. Leadership is mostly Alawite, a minority unpopular with many Syrians. Wary of Nasser, wanting to weaken Hussein of Jordan, and seeking to rally country around new regime, Syria makes destruction of Israel a primary goal. PLO activity supported by Syria increases, and Syrian attacks on Israeli fisherman and farmers intensify.
Photo: General (later President) Hafez El-Assad
Syria shells Israel. Israel Air Force downs Syrian MiG-21.
July 7, 1966
Egypt and Syria sign mutual defense pact.
Nov 4, 1966
Attacks against Israel increase sharply.
November 4-10, 1966
Eleven guerrilla attacks, most from Jordanian territory, are launched against Israel, killing seven. On November 10, three Israeli soldiers are killed by a land mine near Jordan. King Hussein sends apology to Israel via U.S. ambassador Wally Barbour, but Barbour fails to deliver the apology.
Photo: Border policeman holding sandal of one of the two occupants of civilian jeep blown up by a land mine laid by Syrian saboteurs on sand track near Almagor.
Samu raid by Israel to stop Palestinian terror backfires.
November 13, 1966
Israeli troops take action to prevent further attacks from Palestinians in West Bank and Jordan. Plan called for minimal strike against Palestinian villages in Samu, a staging ground for Fatah terrorists, in the hope villagers would ask King Hussein to keep al-Fatah out of their area. Israeli forces unexpectedly encounter Jordanian soldiers, killing 15 and 3 civilians. Israel is censured by UN Security Council Resolution 228 (Nov 25, 1966), but Jordan does not respond militarily. Palestinians living in West Bank and Jordan are outraged and clash with Jordanian security forces throughout West Bank. Jordan is publicly assailed as a pawn of the U.S. and Israelis by other Arab leaders, threatening the relatively moderate Hussein’s regime. U.S. is furious with Israel for inadvertently undermining Hussein as well as U.S. diplomatic efforts there.
Photo: Security Council report on the Samu incident
Israel responds to intensive Syrian shelling into Israeli DMZ.
April 7, 1967
Israeli Air Force responds to numerous Palestinian terror attacks, as well as Syrian shelling and mortar fire aimed at Israeli demilitarized zones and northern communities. Israelis shoot down six MiG 21 fighters, two over Quneitra in the Golan and four over Damascus.
Photo: Artist’s rendering of a Syrian MiG21 on the eve of the Six-Day War.
After fourteen attacks, Israeli PM Eshkol warns Syria of retaliation.
May 13, 1967
In response to fourteen Palestinian terrorist attacks carried out since April 7 with the support of Syria, , Israeli PM Eshkol states on Israel Radio, “There will be no immunity for a state that encourages sabotage operations against us and Syria is the spearhead of such actions.
Photo: Prime Minister Levi Eshkol
USSR plants disinformation about Israeli attack on Syria.
May 13-14, 1967
Anwar al-Sadat, speaker of the Egyptian National Assembly, on a visit to Moscow, is told by Soviet leaders that an Israeli invasion of Syria aimed at regime change is due to take place between May 16-22, despite Soviet warnings to the Israeli ambassador. The same false information is given to the Syrians. The Kremlin had spread false stories about Israeli invasions throughout 1966, perhaps to keep the area on a low boil and ensure Arab alliance with the Soviet superpower. This time, Arab leaders believed the Soviet fabrications.
Photo: King Hussein of Jordan (center) meeting with Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin (far left) and other Soviet dignitaries.
Egypt mobilizes thousands of its troops in and around the Suez Canal. Nasser finds no Israeli buildup, but continues massing troops.
May 14, 1967
Egyptian General Muhammed Fawzi is sent to Damascus to confer with Syrian leaders. He finds no state of alert nor sign of concentrations of Israeli Defense Forces anywhere near the Syrian border. Egypt’s chief of military intelligence agrees there is no danger from Israel, as does the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Nonetheless, Nasser continues to mass troops and to broadcast bellicose statements about the imminent destruction of Israel.
Photo: Arab demonstrators calling for war with Israel.
Two Egyptian MiG-21 jets fly over Dimona; Israelis agonize over course of action.
May 17, 1967
Egypt carries out a reconnaissance mission over Dimona (where Israel’s nuclear reactor is thought to exist). Israel now fears destruction of the reactor is Egypt’s motive for war. Israeli leaders debate whether Nasser is saber-rattling or serious. Israel will suffer mass casualties if Egypt’s air force strikes first. Debate centers on moving preemptively to save Israeli lives, versus potentially alienating the United States, and provoking the Soviet Union into joining in a war against Israel. Agonizing days for Israel’s decision makers.
Photo: Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona.
1967 U.S. President Johnson warns Israel not to attack first.
May 26, 1967
President Johnson meets with Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban, telling him the U.S. needs at least two more weeks to build international support for the Regatta Plan, an international convoy of ships to open the Straits of Tiran. He warns Israel in that meeting, and repeatedly thereafter, not to take pre-emptive action. Subsequent U.N. discussions on opening the Straits prove useless.
Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson
Six Arab countries deploy more than 230,000 troops close to Israel’s boundary lines.
May 24 – June 4, 1967
Responding to Egypt’s incitement, the governments of Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon move troops toward the Israeli border. By May 29, Jordan masses 56,000 soldiers and 270 tanks. Syria masses 50,000 troops on the Golan Heights. Egypt’s forces ready to fight Israel are estimated at 130,000 soldiers and 900 tanks. Israel calls up its reservists and launches a desperate diplomatic campaign to win international support to end the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran. The U.S. is unable to muster international support for the ’Regatta Plan.’’
Photo: Israeli NCOs inspecting personal arms of reservists in the field.
“Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map!”
May 31 – June 4, 1967
More threatening statements from Arab leaders are broadcast, including that of President Abdur Rahman Aref of Iraq: “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. 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.”
Click here to read other bellicose statements by Arab leaders during this time period.
Photo: Iraqi President Abdur Rahman Aref
First day of fighting. Israel destroys most of Egyptian air force. Jordan, Syria and Iraq attack Israel.
Day 1, June 5, 1967
8:15 am: Israel destroys Egyptian Air Force
Fearing thousands of civilian losses by the Egyptian Air Force, Israel preemptively strikes and destroys 311 Egyptian planes, most on the ground. Thirteen bases are rendered inoperable.
8:30 am: Israel sends message to Jordan, pledging no attack, if Jordan stays out of war
Israel passes message via Chief U.N. Observer Odd Bull to Jordan’s King Hussein. Israel promises not to attack if Jordan stays out of the war, but warns that Israel would respond forcefully otherwise.
10 am: Jordan attacks Israel
Nasser tells Hussein Egypt has inflicted staggering damage on Israel. At 9:30 am, Hussein informs his people that ’the hour of revenge has come.’ At 10 am, Jordan begins attack on Israel. Over 6000 shells hit Jewish Jerusalem, 900 buildings are damaged, including Hadassah Hospital. Twenty civilians die, over 1000 injured. ’Very heavy machine and mortar fire, probably cannon, continuous in Jerusalem’, reported the British consul-general at around 11:30am. (Six Days of War, Michael Oren, 187)
Noon: Syria and Iraqi Air Forces attack Israel.
12 noon, Motivated by Jordan’s attack, Syrian MiG’s strike Galilee settlements, including Kibbutz Degania, home to PM Eshkol. Iraqi planes fire on communities in the Jezreel Valley and Afula.
12:30pm: Israel strikes Jordanian airfields in Mafraq and Amman.
In response to Jordan’s attack, Israel seeks to destroy Jordanian air capabilities.
1pm: Israel strikes Syrian air bases
In response to Syrian air attack, Israel strikes Syrian air bases, destroying 2/3 of Syria’s planes, but losing ten of their own.
Photo: Egyptian air force jets lie destroyed on the tarmac by Israeli air force bombing on the first day of fighting.
Second day of fighting. Fighting continues on all fronts.
Day Two, June 6, 1967
2am and throughout day: Massive Syrian artillery barrage on Galilee communities.
Over 250 guns shoot an estimated 45 tons of ammunition per minute on the towns.
5:50 am: Massive Egyptian retreat begins
Afternoon: Lebanon attacks Israel with planes in the Galilee
4:30pm: Israel and Jordan accept terms of U.N .cease-fire, but Egypt and Syria do not.
11:30pm: King Hussein of Jordan orders his troops to retreat, then reverses himself.
Photo: A child’s stroller among the debris of a house at kibbutz Tel Katzir demolished by Syrian shelling.
Third day of fighting. Jerusalem taken. Blockade of Straits of Tiran broken.
Day 3, June 7, 1967
10am: ’The Temple Mount is in our hands’
Israeli troops gain control over eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, home of the Jewish Quarter and the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount. Jews had been denied access to these sites during the nineteen years Jordan had occupied eastern Jerusalem despite stipulations of the 1948 Jordan-Israel armisitce agreement. Israel leaves the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, Muslim holy sites in the Old City, under the administration of Muslim religious authorities.
12:15pm: Israel breaks Straits of Tiran blockade
Israeli forces take control of Sharm al-Sheikh from Egypt. Israel opens the Straits of Tiran to all ships.
Throughout the day: Syria continues shelling Israel’s northern communities.
Photo: Israeli paratroopers stand in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Fourth day of fighting. Israel consolidates hold on West Bank.
Day 4, June 8, 1967
Israel Defense Forces take control of Hebron and other West Bank towns.
Syria continues shelling northern Israeli communities.
According to American ambassador Barbour, ’Syrian shelling of kibbutzim and settlements in Israel has been continuous and incessant…Some kibbutzim have been completely leveled above ground.’ (Oren, 260)
Photo: Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (center) flanked by Gen. Uzi Narkis and Gen Rechavam Zeevy in front of the entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Fifth day of fighting. Israel and Syria in heavy fighting on the Golan.
Day Five, June 9, 1967
After first avoiding a ground war with Syria, Israel reverses course due to the incessant shelling and the realization that Israelis living in the north would never be safe if Syria controlled the Golan Heights. While other Arab armies retreated, then-Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad demanded his troops hunker down and ’Strike the enemy’s settlements, turn them into dust, pave the Arab roads with the skulls of Jews. Strike them without mercy.
Photo: Israeli tanks during a short stop on the Syrian frontier before going into action on the Golan Heights.
After the War
Arab leaders at Khartoum Conference say no to peace.
September 1, 1967
Israel offers to return most territory (not Jerusalem) in exchange for peace. On September 1, 1967, Arab leaders meeting in Khartoum issue the ’3 nos’:
No peace with Israel; No negotiations with Israel; No recognition of Israel.
Photo: The three “Nos” –Khartoum, Sudan.
U.N. Resolution 242 creates land for peace paradigm.
November 22, 1967
United Nations creates framework for future peace negotiations. It envisions Israel withdrawing from some of the territories it gained (not all) in the war, in return for recognition by and long term peace with the Arabs. The extent of the withdrawal to be determined in negotiations. (Click Resolution 242 from top menu for more information.
Photo: Abba Eban and Gideon Rafael lead Israel’s delegation to the UN after the war. Future PM Golda Meir sits behind Eban and Rafael.
Atlas of the Arab Israeli Conflict, Martin Gilbert, 1993
Foreign Relations of the United States 1964 – 1968, Vol XVIII, Arab Israeli Dispute 1964 – 1967
January 27, 1967 letter from the permanent representative of Israel to the U.N .addressed to the President of the Security Council
March 6, 1967 letter from acting permanent representative of Israel to the U.N. addressed to the President of the Security Council
Six Days of War, Michael Oren, 2002
“100 Years of Chronic Arab Rejectionism,” by Eli Hertz, www.mythsandfacts.com, 2005