John R. Houk
© June 6, 2017
In the 1967 – 50-years ago – June 5 -10; Israel fought a war with at least four Arab nations amassing troops on Israel’s border. Begin counting from day one through the last day, you have the Six-Day War.
Israel AGAIN defeated armies much-much larger than the Israel Defense Force (IDF). The Arab nations prepared for invasion for what they believed would be the utter destruction of Israel. Wisely, Israel utterly surprised the Egyptian military front by launching a preemptive attack which destroyed most of Egypt’s air force. Using the shock to Israel’s advantage, the IDF then launched their vastly outnumbered tanks and pushed Egypt out of the Sinai. Then Jordan and Syria launched their invasions unaware that Egypt had gotten their butts kicked in the Sinai. Although there was a less of a surprise, the IDF ultimately prevailed against Syria and Jordan. The Golan Heights was taken from Syria and the land conquered by Jordan in 1948 was taken back which included Israel’s heritage of uniting Jerusalem. Making Jerusalem whole allowed Jewish access to their most holy site left to them – the Western Wall still standing after the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple circa 70 AD.
The Six Day War Project has a great video setting up the scene leading to 1967:
Posted by Jerusalem U
Published on May 17, 2017
1/12 | In the first video of the mini-series, find out about the early steps that led to the 1967 Six Day War – a war that changed the future of Israel. Surrounded by enemy neighbors and only nine miles wide at its narrowest point, Israel was vulnerable.
See all the videos as they are released: http://www.sixdaywarproject.org/.
In May of 1967, the state of Israel was only 19 years old. At its inception in 1948, five Arab armies had coordinated a military invasion to prevent the creation of the small Jewish country. But Israel’s War of Independence succeeded in repelling the forces bent on Israel’s destruction. Israel reclaimed sovereignty over the ancient Jewish homeland, making way for the establishment of a Jewish country after 2,000 years of statelessness and periods of persecution.
Yet despite Israel’s success in creating a new country, it did not enjoy peace with its neighbors. Terrorism and frequent attacks on three borders kept Israel in a perpetual state of alert.
To the north, from the Golan Heights, Syria shelled Jewish communities below on a regular basis. In the South and East, Arab terrorists from Egyptian-controlled Gaza and the Jordanian-controlled West Bank infiltrated and perpetrated attacks on Israeli civilians, killing 400 in the 19 years since Israeli independence.
The attacks reached the point that they were condemned as “deplorable” by then-Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant.
Although the Jewish state had been welcomed into the United Nations and hailed by the international community, its Arab neighbors rejected its very right to exist, preparing to resume a war for Israel’s destruction which they had halted 19 years earlier. The Arab buildup for all-out war was very near.
In this video – the first in a 12-part mini-series – you will learn about the regional atmosphere leading up to the 1967 Six Day War, and find out about the early steps that led to the war that changed the future of Israel.
Like the Six Day War Project on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sixdaywarproject
This video was produced by Jerusalem U in partnership with The Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Action Network, the European Jewish Congress and the Center for Israel Education. For more on the dramatic events and impact of the Six Day War, visit sixdaywarproject.org.
Thumbnail Photo Credit: Israel GPO/Moshe Milner
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If you are a bit impatient to educate yourself at the Six Day War Project, here is a 6:45 abbreviated 6-Day War documentary that will provide the highlights:
Posted by AIPAC
Published on May 24, 2017
While the military victory was resounding, the Six-Day War created unresolved challenges that Israel grapples with to this day. The war also bolstered America’s pro-Israel community and helped to further reinforce the foundation of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship and America’s pro-Israel community. Learn more: http://fal.cn/SixDayWarReflections
Adam Garfinkle wrote an essay for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) reflecting on his historical view of the results of the Israeli victory in the 6-Day War.
The Six Day and Fifty Years War
June 5, 2017
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi R and Gen. Narkis in the old city of Jerusalem – Source: Government Press Office/Flickr
The most important lesson of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war is that there is no such thing as a clean war. That war was very short and stunningly decisive militarily; it has been anything but politically. From the Israeli point of view, military victory solved some serious near-term challenges, but at the cost of generating or exacerbating a host of longer-term ones—some of which may have come along anyway, some not, some of which may have been averted (or worsened) had Israeli postwar policy been different—and we cannot know for certain which are which. To ask whether what has transpired after the war “had to be that way” constitutes an aspiration to levitate the philosopher’s stone.
At any rate, of the war’s many consequences, three stand out as pre-eminent. First, major wars change the societies that fight and endure their consequences. The Six Day War changed the political, social-psychological, and, in at least one key case, demographic balances within all the participating states and a few others besides, with multiple and varying secondary and tertiary effects over the years. Second, despite the war’s after-optic of a smashing Arab loss, it was the best thing that ever happened to the Palestinian national movement. And third, the war catalyzed a redirection of U.S. Cold War policy in the Middle East (and arguably beyond) from one teetering on the edge of generic failure to one of significant success.
At this fiftieth “jubilee” anniversary of the war, buckets of ink will inevitably be spilled mooting and booting about such questions and many others; a lot already has been, and I am not reluctant to add to the bucket count. But before doing so, we all need to take a deep breath to inhale as much humility as we can—to remind ourselves what exactly we are doing and what we cannot do when we exhume moldering chunks of anniversarial history for reexamination.
We are so very attracted to anniversaries in the long parade of political history. We love to draw clear lessons from them, if we can—and if we can’t some others will claim to do so anyway. We are also attracted to thinking in terms of parsimonious eras with sharp lines of delineation between them; anniversaries of turning or tipping points help us mightily to draw such lines—which is precisely why we call them epochal. Wars, mostly hot but occasionally cold, figure centrally in the pantheon of such points.
The June 1967 Arab-Israeli War is all but universally considered to be epochal in this sense, so the recent ink flow is no wonder as journalists, scholars, memoirists, and others look for lessons and insight as to how those supposed sharp lines that divide eras were drawn. The subtitle of a new book furnishes a case in point: “The Breaking of the Middle East.”
There is a problem here—at least one, arguably more than one. Without yet having read this book, I cannot say for sure that this subtitle is not magnificently meaningful. But I can say for sure that it puzzles me. What does it mean to say that a region of the world is “broken”? Does it imply that before the 1967 Middle East War the region was somehow whole, a description that implies adjectives such as peaceful, stable, and nestled in the warm logic of a benign cosmos; and suggests that regional wholeness also meant that its state or regime units were seen as legitimate by their own populations and by other states and regimes? So on June 4, 1967, the Middle East was whole, and by June 11, it was well on its way to being broken?
All of which is to say that the penchant for reposing great significance in anniversaries is often distortive, because for many it reinforces the right-angled sureties and sharp distinctions—and presumed causal chains leading into our own time bearing those precious, sought-after lessons—that historical reality rarely abides. Only by rounding off the ragged edges, usually with a rasp composed of our contemporary concerns and convictions unselfconsciously pointed backwards, can such artificial categories be devised. Ambiguity annoys most people, and so they go to some lengths to duck it, in the case of getting arms around history by generating categories, boxes, and labels into which to shove obdurate facts. History, meanwhile, remains the sprawling entropic mess it has always been and will always remain.
To employ the anti-ambiguity rasp presupposes, too, that the craftsman commands cause and effect. We can, after all, only simplify a reality we presume to understand in its detail. When it comes to the Six Day War, that means presuming to know how it started and why, how it ended and why, and what the war led to thereafter in an array of categories: how the postwar geopolitical trajectory of the core Middle Eastern region and its periphery spilled forth; how the region’s relationship to the key Cold War superpower protagonists shifted; the war’s impact on the domestic political cultures of participants and near-onlookers; and more besides.
The problem here is that we know with confidence only some of these causal skeins, and, what is more (or actually less), some of what we know has not stayed constant over the past half century. At one point, say thirty years ago, we thought we understood the Soviet government’s role in fomenting the crisis by sending false reports of events in Syria to the Egyptian leadership; after the Soviet archive opened in the early 1990s, consensus on that point has weakened as revisionist interpretations have come forth. Nasser’s moving-target motives at various points in the crisis leading to war seemed clear for a time, until they no longer quite did. Several more examples of elusive once-truths could be cited.
Alas, every seminal event has a pre-context and a post-context: the convolutions of historical reality that give rise to an event and its causal afterflow. The further we get from the event, the greater the still-expanding post-context overshadows the pre-context, because we can see, for example, how various things turned out in 2017 in a way we could not have in, say, 1987. But so much else has happened that must, of necessity, dilute any construction of direct or preponderant causality.
Thus, did the war push Israeli society into becoming more religious, as many have claimed? Did it help shift Israeli politics to the Right by transforming the relationship of Orthodox Judaism to Zionism, leading Orthodox Israelis to engage on many political issues to which they had been formerly aloof? Or was that a deeper social-demographic trend that would have happened anyway, if differently, war or no war? So we face a paradox: the richer the post-context becomes for any epochal event, the poorer becomes our ability to isolate its downstream impact. As already suggested, we often enough make up for that poverty by exiling natural ambiguity before the demands of our current questions or biases. That is how we predict the past.
Scholars do try to isolate causal threads, of course, but differently because intellectual business models, so to speak, differ. Historians tend to seek out particularities; political scientists tend to search for general rules. Historians like their rocks fresh and jagged; political scientists like theirs rounded by patterns that flow through time. Each to their own intellectual aesthetic.
And the rest of us? How do we chase truth in history? Consider that if you pick up a history book and a memoir old enough to serve as an adjunct to it, you will have in your hands two different perspectives on the political world. An international political history of the 1930s written in the 2010s will take a passage of reality—say about the British, French, and American reaction to the 1935 Italian aggression against Ethiopia—and might spend two sentences or perhaps a paragraph on it. A memoir written in the 1950s by someone actually involved in debating and shaping that reaction will read very differently, recalling details, sideways connections to other issues, and nuances of policies and personalities bound to be lost in a general text if it aspires to be less than 10,000 pages long. In a history book such a mid-level event is likely to be framed as a consequence of larger forces that were leading to more portentous happenings (say, World War II); in a memoir it is more likely to be framed as both illustration of a synthetic historical moment, akin to a zeitgeist that is fully felt but is recalcitrant to reductionist analysis, and partial cause of what came after. Which do we read; which do we trust?
The answer is both, and wholly neither. How will the Six Day War figure in history books fifty years from now? There’s no way to know, because it will depend at least as much on what happens between now and then as it will on what happened in May and June 1967. But one thing we do know: As the post-context of the war doubles, the thinness and sameness of the description will grow, and be of little help in understanding how the main actors involved saw their circumstances. It will lose a sense of human verisimilitude. Details invariably give way to theme, and narratives grow shorter even as their truth claims grow larger. The thickness of memoirs will retain that sense of human verisimilitude. But what they provide in terms of broader context may suffer from too narrow an authorial aperture, and perhaps a bad memory in service to ego protection, if not other incidental causes of inaccuracy. As with many aspects of life, intellectual and otherwise, tradeoffs spite us in our search for clarity.
The point of all this? Anniversaries are shiny. They attract a lot of attention, much of it self-interested and sentimental enough to lure some people into excessive simplifications if not outright simplemindedness. If someone will bait the hook, someone else will swallow it. We witnessed exactly such a spectacle not long ago at the 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot, and we’ll see it again a few months hence with the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. But as Max Frankel once said, “simplemindedness is not a handicap in the competition of social ideas”—or, he might have added, historical interpretations. If it gets you on TV talk shows to sell your book, no form of simplification is liable to remain out of bounds these days. After all, what is fake history if not a collection of aged fake news?
Never mind all that: I want people to read this essay, so rest assured that I know what happened and why, and what it all means even down to today. And now that I have donned sequins and glitter, I can be almost as brief and punchy as I am shiny, as is the current custom.
What did the war mean for the region? Plenty. It proved to remaining doubters that the Arabs could not destroy Israel by conventional force of arms. It helped establish Israel’s permanence in the eyes of its adversaries, the world at large, and, to an extent, in the eyes of its own people. That changed Israel’s domestic political culture. It no longer felt to the same extent like a pressure-cooking society under constant siege, and that, along with demographic and other subterranean social trends, ironically loosened the political grip of Israel’s founding generation of leaders, and the Labor Party. Less than a decade after the war Revisionist Zionists came to power for the first time, and now, fifty years later, Israel has the most rightwing government in its history. Did the Six Day War directly cause that? Of course not; but it was one of many factors that steered Israeli politics toward its current circumstances.
The war also began the occupation, first of Golan, the West Bank, and Gaza—in time a bit less of Golan and not of Gaza at all. If you had told typical Israelis in the summer of 1967 that fifty years later the West Bank would still be essentially occupied, neither traded for peace nor annexed, they would have thought you mad or joking. Israel as an independent state was 19 years and a few weeks old on June 5, 1967. The twentieth anniversary of the war in 1987 was about the midpoint of Israel’s modern history, half within-the-Green-Line and half beyond it. Now vastly more of Israel’s history has passed with the occupation as a part of it. Many more Israelis today cannot remember Israel in its pre-June 1967 borders than can—and that includes the Arabs citizens of the state as well as their ethno-linguistic kin living in the West Bank and Gaza.
In Israel there is a huge open debate, and a constant more private discussion beneath it, as to how the occupation has changed the nature of Israeli society. It is a difficult debate to set premises for, because in fifty years a lot is going to change in any modern society, occupation or no occupation. My view, like that of most Israelis I know, is that the occupation has been significantly corrosive of many Israeli institutions. They would like the occupation to end if it could be ended safely; but increasingly most agree that it can’t be, at least anytime soon. The remarkable fact is that, considering the circumstances, the damage to morale and heart, beyond institutions, has not been even worse. Israel’s moral realism has proved resilient. But the damage has not been slight, and of course it is ongoing.
As for the Arabs, the war crushed the pretentions of Arab Socialism and of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Within what the late Malcolm Kerr called “the Arab Cold War” it played in favor of the Arab monarchies against the military-ruled republics and hence generally in favor of the West; but it did not guarantee the safety of monarchical rule everywhere: Just 27 months later the Sanusi kingdom in Libya fell to a young army colonel named Muamar Qadaffi. None of the defeated Arab states lost its leader right away: not Nasser in Egypt, or King Hussein in Jordan, or Nurredin al-Atassi in Syria. But by the late autumn of 1970 Nasser was dead and al-Atassi had been displaced by Hafez al-Assad. Rulers also rolled in Iraq, and the very next year, with the British withdrawal from East of Suez, the United Arab Emirates came into being against its own will.
The war, therefore, was one element—more important in some places than others—in a general roiling of Arab politics (and I haven’t even mentioned stability-challenged zones like Yemen and Sudan), those politics being pre-embedded, so to speak, in generically weak states (again, some more than others). Not that Arab politics was an oasis of serenity before June 1967 either, as a glance at post-independence Syrian history will show. Indeed, the contention that the Six Day War, by hollowing out the pretensions of secular Arab nationalism for all to see, presaged the “return of Islam” with which we and many others struggle today is both true and overstated—in other words, too shiny. The frailties of secular nationalism among the Arab states preceded the war and would have multiplied on account of any number and kind of failures to come, war or no war.
In any event, the political impact of the Arab loss was mitigated by the “Palestine” contradiction that then lay at the heart of Arab politics. “Palestine” was, and remains to some extent, a badge of shame, for it epitomizes the failure of the Arab states to achieve its goals. Yet it is only a badge; the persistence of the conflict, sharply inflected by the 1967 loss, has served as a raison d’être for most ruling Arab elites, their unflagging opposition to Israel as a symbol of legitimacy. In the parlous context of inter-Arab politics, too, the conflict has served as the only thing on which all the Arab regimes could symbolically unite. Non-democratic Arab elites have used the conflict both as a form of street control internally, and as a jousting lance in their relations with other Arab states.
Yet by far the most important consequence of the Arab defeat in 1967 was to free the Palestinian national movement from the clutches of the Arab states. The theory before June 1967 was that the Arab states would destroy Israel in a convulsive, epic war, and then hand Palestine over to the Palestinians. The hysteria that overtook the Arab street leading to war shows how widespread this theory was, and the war itself showed how hollow a promise it was. So the Palestinians took matters into their own hands for the first time, seizing control of the Palestine Liberation Organization from its Egyptian sponsors and reversing the theoretical dynamic of liberation: Palestinians would liberate Palestine, and that victory would supercharge and unify the Arabs to face the hydra-headed monster of Western imperialism. The key bookends of this transformation as it manifested itself in Arab politics writ large were the Rabat Arab Summit of 1974, which passed responsibility for “occupied Palestine” from Jordan to the PLO, and the 1988 decision by King Hussein to formally relinquish Jordan’s association with the West Bank, which it had annexed and ruled for 18 years after the 1949 Rhodes Armistice agreements.
But how would the Palestinians themselves, led by the new and authentic PLO, liberate Palestine? They had in mind a revolutionary people’s war, an insurrection focused on the territories Israel newly occupied. It took its inspiration from lukewarm Maoism and its example from the Vietcong. The attempted insurrection in the West Bank failed miserably and rapidly; terrorist attacks mounted from east of the Jordan and across the border with Egypt became the next tactical phase as Palestinian nationalism’s organizational expression fractured. In time, Palestinian use of contiguous lands in Jordan and later in Lebanon to launch repeated terror attacks against Israeli civilians sparked civil wars in both countries. It did not bring about the “liberation” of even one square centimeter of “Palestine.”
Terrorism, however, did put the Palestinian issue “on the map” for much of the world, and now, fifty years later, Palestinians can have a state if their leaders really want one and are prepared to do what it takes to get it—the evidence so far suggesting that they don’t, and won’t. Nevertheless, looking back from fifty years’ hindsight, the Six Day War was about the best thing that could have happened for the Palestinians; that fact that they have not consolidated that windfall politically is their own doing, but everyone’s tragedy.
As to terrorism, it is true that the pusillanimous behavior of many governments in the 1970s, including some allied in NATO to the United States, helped the PLO shoot, bomb, and murder its way to political respectability. So one might venture that by helping to show that terrorism post-Six Day War can work at least to some extent, these governments bear some responsibility for the metathesis of nationalist, instrumentalist terrorism into the mass-murder apocalyptical kind we have witnessed more recently with al-Qaeda and ISIS. To me it’s another in a series of shiny arguments, more superficially attractive than fully persuasive. It is not entirely baseless, however.
But far more important than what the war did for the thinking of the Palestinians was what it did to the thinking of the Arab state leaders whose lands were now under Israeli occupation: Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Before the war, Arab support for “Palestine” was highly theoretical, highly ineffectual, and in truth amounted merely to a symbolic football the Arab regimes used to compete with one another in the ethereal arena of pan-Arab fantasies. Now, suddenly, the core national interests of three Arab states—including the largest and most important one, Egypt—became directly and ineluctably entwined with the reality as opposed to the symbol of Israel.
The Egyptians, particularly after Nasser’s death brought Anwar el-Sadat to power, got downright pragmatic. Israel had something these three states wanted—chunks of their land. And the Egyptian and Jordanian leaderships, at least, knew that a price would have to be paid to redeem that pragmatism. Complications aplenty there were, as anyone who lived through the dozen years after the 1967 War knows well. Nevertheless, this critical divide among the Arabs—between state leaders who could afford to remain only symbolically engaged and those who could not—shaped inter-Arab politics then and still does to some degree today. First Egypt in March 1979 and then Jordan in October 1994 paid the price and made peace with Israel. It seemed like forever passed between June 1967 and March 1979, but it was less than a dozen years—quick by historical standards.
While Egypt recovered the entire Sinai through its peace arrangement with Israel, Jordan did not recover the West Bank. The war had shifted the political demography of the Hashemite Kingdom, sending more Palestinians to live among East Bankers—some now refugees twice over and some for the first time. The consequence was to intensify Jordan’s internalization of its problem with Palestinian nationalism: It had lost land but gained souls whose fealty to the monarchy was presumably weak. The benefit of peace to Jordan in 1984, and hence its main purpose from King Hussein’s point of view, was therefore not to regain territory but to strengthen the stake that both Israel and the United States had in Jordan’s stability in the face of future challenge from any quarter, internal and external alike.
Syria, do note, did not follow the Egyptian and Jordanian path to peace, and so the Golan Heights remain for all practical purposes part of Israel. The reasons have to do with the complex sectarian demography of the country, and specifically with the fact that since 1970 Syria has been ruled by a minoritarian sect in loose confederation with the country’s other non-Sunni minorities. The Alawi regime has needed the symbolic pan-Arab mantle of the Palestinian cause more than any other Arab state, particularly as one with a border with Israel. Regime leaders anyway did not consider the Golan to be their sectarian patrimony, but more important, peace and normalization seemed to the Syrian leadership more of a threat to its longevity (and to its ability to meddle in Lebanese affairs) than a benefit. Now that Syria as a territorial unit has dissolved in a brutal civil war, the legacy of 1967 has been rendered all but moot.
Does that mean that Egypt and Jordan essentially sold out the Palestinians, making a separate peace? Well, much political theater aside, yes. But they really had no choice, and not selling out the Palestinians would not have gained the Palestinians what they wanted anyway. That, in turn, left the Palestinians with little choice. Eventually, the PLO leadership also decided to “engage” Israel directly, but without giving up what it still called the “armed struggle.”
Its partial pragmatism, tactical in character, gained the PLO a partial advance for the Palestinians through the truncated Oslo process: a kind of government with a presence in Palestine; some “police” under arms; a transitional capital in Ramallah; wide international recognition; and more. Withal, the “territories” remain under Israeli security control, and the Palestinian economy (jobs, electricity grid, water, and more) remains essentially a hostage to Israel’s.
This has given rise to perhaps the most underappreciated irony in a conflict replete with them: First Israel internalized the Palestinian nationalist problem in June 1967 by occupying at length the West Bank and Gaza, and then the PLO internalized its Israel problem by drifting via Oslo into essential dependence on Israel for basic sustenance and even security support (against Hamas, for example). Note that it was hard for Israel to bomb PLO headquarters in Tunis in October 1985, but very easy to send a tank column into downtown Ramallah ten years later. It’s all so very odd, you may think, but there you have it.
The Bigger Picture
Now to the larger, international scene. What the Six Day War showed was that Soviet patronage of the Arabs and arms sales to them could deliver neither victory to the Arabs nor reflected advantage for the Soviet Union. This devalued the allure of Soviet regional overtures reassured the Western-oriented Arab regimes and hence played directly into the portfolio of U.S. and Western interests: keep the Soviets out, the oil flowing, and Israel in existence (the latter construed at the time as a moral-historical obligation, not a strategic desideratum).
The Johnson administration figured the essence out, which is why in the aftermath of the war it did not do what the Eisenhower administration did after the Suez War of 1956: pressure Israel to leave the territories it had conquered in return for promises that, in the event, turned out to be worthless. It rather brokered a new document—UNSCR 242—calling for withdrawal from territories (not “the” territories) in return for peace.
But it was not until the War of Attrition broke out in 1969 around and above the Suez Canal—a direct follow-on to the Six Day War—that the new Nixon administration codified in policy this basic strategic understanding. To prevent and if possible roll back Soviet inroads in the Middle East, the U.S. government would guarantee continued Israeli military superiority—that was the start of the major U.S. military supply relationship to Israel that endures today (the younger set may not know it, but Israel won the Six Day War with a French-supplied air force). In short, nothing the Soviets could supply or do would help the Arabs regain their lands or make good their threats. The events of the Jordanian Civil War in September 1970, and the way Nixon administration principles insisted on interpreting and speaking about that civil war, only deepened the conviction and the anchors of the policy.
On balance, the policy worked well, despite one painful interruption. By July 1972, President Sadat had sent a huge Soviet military mission packing out of Egypt, and was all but begging the United States to open a new relationship. Egypt had been by far the most critical of Soviet clients in the Middle East, and Sadat’s volte face represented a huge victory for U.S. diplomacy. Alas, neither the victory-besotted Israelis nor the increasingly distracted Americans paid Sadat the attention he craved—so he taunted the Soviets to give him just enough stuff to draw Jerusalem and Washington’s eyes his way: He started a war in October 1973. This also worked, leading as already noted to the March 1979 peace treaty—a geopolitical and psychological game-changer in the region and, ultimately, beyond.
For most practical purposes, Israel’s role as an effective proxy for U.S. power in the Middle East endured through the end of the Cold War, although its benefits paid out quietly, more often than not in what trouble it deterred as opposed to actively fought. And the Israeli-Egyptian relationship—imperfect as it may be—still endures as a guarantee that there can be no more Arab-Israeli conventional wars on the scale of 1967 or even 1973. These are both, at least partially, strategic achievements born of the conjoining of Israeli power and American diplomacy, and—it bears mentioning—these are achievements that were constructed and made to endure pretty much regardless of the state of play in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians.
Obviously, the end of the Cold War put paid to the structure of this regional American strategy, its logic dissipated through victory. In that sense, the larger global strategic impact of the Six Day War ended when the Berlin Wall fell. While Israel remains a strategic partner of the United States in the post-Cold War environment, largely through intelligence sharing and other activities, its value as strategic proxy diminished as the focus of U.S. concerns moved east, toward Iraq and the Gulf. In the 1991 Gulf War, for example, Israel through no fault of its own became a complication for American policy—a target set for Iraqi scuds—not an asset, such that the U.S. government pleaded with its Israel counterpart not to use its military power against a common foe.
Amid the sectarian and proxy wars of the present moment in the region, Israeli arms lack any point of political entrée that can aid U.S. policy. Even when it comes to counterterrorism efforts, Israeli intelligence is indeed valuable but we will not see Israeli special forces attacking salafi terrorist organizations far from home. The last thing Israel needs is to persuade still more murderous enemies to gaze its way.
Only if the two parties come to focus on a common enemy—never the case during the Cold War, by the way, when for Israel the Arabs were the threat and for the United States the Soviets were the threat—could a truly robust U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership be born anew. And that common enemy, which could bring in also many Sunni Arab states and possibly Turkey as well, is of course Iran. But we are now very deep into the post-context of the Six Day War, more than six degrees of separation from any plausible causal skein leading back to June 1967.
A Smaller Picture
The war affected the political and social-psychological condition not only of state actors but of some others as well. As the Middle East crisis deepened in May 1967, I was a (nearly) 16-year old Jewish high school student in the Washington, D.C. area. Just like every American who was of age in November 1963 can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated, I suspect that just about every Jew of age anywhere in the world in May and June of 1967 can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard that the war had started, and how they felt when it had ended.
We had been frightened, and afterwards we were relieved and even elated. It turned out that a lot of what we thought was true about the state of affairs at the time was incorrect. That was hardly a unique experience, but more important, over time the effects of the Six Day War on American Jewry and other Jewish communities outside Israel were dramatic—and the triangular relationship between Israel, American Jewry, and the United States has never since been the same.
Figuring it all out has borne its own challenges, surprises, and disappointments. Those on all three sides who thought they knew what was going on—who was dependent on whom, who could count on whom, who had political leverage over whom, and so on—learned better, often the hard way. But none of this has involved armies with modern weapons and high-level state diplomacies interacting; no, it is truly complicated and tends to generate narratives that are very, very shiny—so let’s just leave it at that.
If You Pick Up the Gun, You Roll the Dice
Let us conclude by returning to where we began, using another’s much earlier conclusion as our prooftext. On Saturday, June 3, 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol concluded a meeting of his inner cabinet with these words: “Nothing will be settled by a military victory. The Arabs will still be here.”
Eshkol (as well as the out-of-office but still prominent David Ben-Gurion) had counseled patience and restraint to Israel’s confident military leadership as the spring 1967 crisis grew, and only reluctantly came to the decision for war. Keenly sensing the ironies of history—Jewish history not least—he knew that the war would not be politically conclusive. He realized that whatever immediate threats needed to be extinguished, war would not deliver peace and security before, if ever, it delivered mixed and unanticipated consequences. He was right.
Not even the shrewdest statesmen are wise enough to foresee the consequences of a major war: When you pick up the gun, you roll the dice. That, I think, is no shiny lesson, but one more likely for the historically literate to recall the past’s many dull pains. May it help future leaders to control their own and others’ expectations if use force they must.
 I have written on the anniversary of the Six Day War before: See “Arab Loss Had Profound Effect on Politics in the Middle East,” Jewish Exponent, June 5, 1987; “1967: One War Won, a Few Others Started,” Newsday, April 30, 1998; and “Six Days, and Forty Years,” The American Spectator, June 5, 2007.
 Guy Laron, The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (Yale University Press).
 See, for example, Isabella Ginor & Gideon Remez, Foxbats Over Dimona: The Soviets’ Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (Yale University Press, 2007).
 On the former, note my “The Bullshistory of “Sykes-Picot”, The American Interest Online, May 16, 2016.
 For detail on what is meant by “pre-embedded” in “generically weak states,” see my “The Fall of Empires and the Formation of the Modern Middle East,” Orbis (Spring 2016).
 A point emphasized in Michael Mandelbaum, “1967’s Gift to America,” The American Interest Online, June 2, 2017.
 I have written of this triangular relationship elsewhere: “The Triangle Connecting the U.S., Israel and American Jewry May Be Coming Apart,” Tablet, November 5, 2013.
Israel Kicks Hostile Arab Armies’ Butts 50 Yrs. Ago
John R. Houk
© June 6, 2017
The Six Day and Fifty Years War
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