With the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War this month, we offer a quick review of work on the subject produced over the years by the Middle East Forum’s staff and fellows, and by contributors to its flagship journal, Middle East Quarterly (MEQ).
The basic facts of the Six-Day War aren’t really in dispute. In the face of a military buildup by Arab armies, bellicose threats by Arab leaders, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping (an act of war that cut off the Jewish state’s access to the Red Sea), and other provocations, Israel struck first on June 5. Catching its enemies by surprise, Israel effectively destroyed Nasser’s air force in the first hours, then defeated the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian armies in quick succession. By the end of the war it had captured the entire Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.
The conventional wisdom is that the Six-Day War was more or less accidental in that Nasser did not want war. Led astray by Soviet misinformation and egged on by rival Arab leaders, he took the escalation a bridge too far, cornering Israeli leaders into seeing a “preemptive” strike as the only option.
But MEQ editor Efraim Karsh argues in the new Summer 2017 issue of MEQ that whatever specific triggers may have led to war on June 5, 1967, a “second all-out attempt … to abort the Jewish national revival” was going to happen eventually given the Arab world’s unwavering rejection of Jewish statehood, together with Nasser’s pan-Arab ambitions and overconfidence.
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