“The Jewish people has had to fight unceasingly to keep itself alive,” says Israel’s Premier Levi Eshkol. “Hopeful ever of redemption, we labored to return to the land of our fathers and to set foundations for the resurgence of an exiled folk. We made our arduous way to the shores of that land. We fought to open its gates to our brethren. We acted from an instinct to save the soul of a people.”
Both the land and the soul of Israel are sorely tried. Last week, 19 years after the Diaspora dream of return to Zion became a reality in the first Jewish state in almost 2,000 years, Levi Eshkol and his people found themselves besieged and threatened as few nations have ever been in their history. Tiny, dagger-shaped Israel, whose 2,700,000 people cling to 7,993 sq. mi. on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, faced the implacable hostility and cocked guns of 14 Arab nations and their 110 million people. Its borders were ringed with Arab troops on all sides; its important sea access through the Gulf of Aqaba remained blocked by Egyptian mines and patrol boats.
Reading reports about the Six-Day-War from 44-years ago and comparing them to today reminds me of one of those Star Trek episodes where Kirk and the crew goes back in history and change the past—it seems like two different wars.
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Forty-four years ago the reports spoke of the underdog Israel and her need to defend herself against the warlike acts of the big bullies lead by Egypt who was committing many acts that could be interpreted as acts of war including: conspiring with other belligerent countries for a coordinated attack (in this case, Syria and Jordan), closing Israel’s access to international waterways (the straits of Tiran), violating the terms of the 1956 armistice by re-militarizing the Sinai. Expelling the UN and USA peace-keeping troops form the Sinai, perpetrating illegal spy-plane fly-overs to reconnoiter Israeli sensitive areas and massing troops and tanks on Israel’s borders.
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The United States tried to prevent the war through negotiations, but the other side did not want peace, The US could not persuade Nasser or the other Arab states to cease their belligerent statements and actions (back then they tried). So just like today, they warned Israel not to attack. Right before the war, President Johnson warned: “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone.” Then, when the war began, the State Department announced: “Our position is neutral in thought, word and deed.”
While the Arabs were falsely accusing the United States of airlifting supplies to Israel, Johnson imposed an arms embargo on the region (France, Israel’s other main arms supplier, also embargoed arms to Israel). By contrast, the Soviets were supplying massive amounts of arms to the Arabs. Simultaneously, the armies of Kuwait, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq were contributing troops and arms to the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian fronts.
Today, retrospectives tell a different story, the tale of the cynical Zionist nation whe saw an opportunity to deal a blow to the Arab nation, expand her territory, and rule over the Palestinian people. Some even say that maybe the Six Day War was not the best thing for Israel, “since it lead her to become the evil rogue nation she is today”
But there is one indisputable fact that today’s revisionist historians keeps forgetting, if Israel didn’t fight and win the Six Day War—there would be no Israel today. Just as if Israel doesn’t protect herself from the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah today–there will be no Israel in 44 years.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Israel offered to give everything except Jerusalem back in exchange for peace. Rather than respond to Israel’s invitation, the Arab states met in Khartoum, Sudan, for a conference in August, 1967. They unanimously decided in favor of the now famous three “NOs,” better that Israel hold on to the territories taken in the war. Better that the refugees continue languishing in their squalor and misery. Better that the Arab states re-arm for another war…than to recognize Israel’s right to exist or negotiate toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict. For most of the Middle East, the rule is still the three “NOs”: No recognition, No negotiation, No peace.
On 6/5/1967, in a pre-dawn raid, Israeli jets destroyed almost all the fighter planes of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq before their pilots could get them off the ground. With most of their air forces a smoldering wreck, the Arabs had lost the war almost as soon as it had begun. Arab armor without air cover was destroyed by Israeli planes; and Arab infantry without armor was no match for the Israeli land forces. In six days, Israel re-gained the Sinai, drove the Jordan Legion from the West Bank, and took control of the Golan Heights within artillery range of Damascus. Suddenly there was a new order in the Middle East.Israel had done much more than is generally acknowledged to avoid this war. It struck only after working for weeks under threat of annihilation to exhaust all reasonable diplomatic channels, and after begging the Arab states to honor their cease-fire agreements. But even more compelling, unnoticed by many but thoroughly documented in diplomatic archives is the communication between the Israeli government and King Hussein of Jordan. On Tuesday, June 5, several hours AFTER the Jordan Legion had begun its bombardment of Jerusalem and Petakh Tikvah, Israel sent a message via the Rumanian Embassy to King Hussein. The message was short and clear: stop the bombardment now and we will not invade the West Bank.But King Hussein had already received a phone call from Nasser. This call was monitored by the Israeli Secret Service. Even though he knew that his air force was in ruins, Nasser told Hussein that Egyptian planes were over Tel Aviv and his armor was advancing on Israeli positions. Hussein believed him, and disregarded Israel’s plea. Had Hussein listened to Israel, the West Bank would still be in Jordanian hands. Instead, he sent his troops into the Israeli section of Jerusalem. Only AFTER its territorial integrity in Jerusalem was violated did Israel mount an assault on the Jordanian West Bank.A few days after the UN cease fire of 6/11/67, Abba Eban, Israel’s representative at the UN, made his famous speech. He held out the olive branch to the Arab world, inviting Arab states to join Israel at the peace table, and informing them in unequivocal language that everything but Jerusalem was negotiable. Territories taken in the war could be returned in exchange for formal recognition, bi-lateral negotiations, and peace.
Some wonder if peace could ever happen in the holy land. The Arabs have seen Israel prosper on soil from which they barely scratched a living when they had it. If you have ever stood within Israel looking out into the Palestinian territories the border between the two is very obvious. On the Israeli “side of the line” the ground is lined with lush green trees, however the other side is parched land.
To the Arab States, Israel’s success is not only a blow to their pride but a constant rebuke to the dismal poverty in which most of the Arab world lives, that’s why Israel is so hated.