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The Six Day War Sparked Forty Years of Strife

By O'Brien Browne 
Originally published by MHQ magazine. Published Online: August 16, 2009 
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Tanks on the move: Israeli armored forces rumble across the Sinai Desert in June 1967. In six days Israel crushed three armies and took three times the territory it had when it was formed in 1949.  (Photo: © EPA/Corbis)
Tanks on the move: Israeli armored forces rumble across the Sinai Desert in June 1967. In six days Israel crushed three armies and took three times the territory it had when it was formed in 1949. (Photo: © EPA/Corbis)

Israel's 1967 surprise attack obliterated the Arab forces arrayed against it, and set the stage for decades of conflict and insecurity

The gleaming rows of Soviet-made Egyptian Arab Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 and Sukhoi fighters and Tupolev Tu-16 bombers were carefully lined up under a warm sun on the morning of June 5, 1967. Their pilots, back from their early patrols, were in the mess, breakfasting on tomatoes, falafel, and sliced cucumbers. Few noticed the black dots screeching toward them at more than Mach 1. In seconds the dots had grown into sleek Israeli Daussault Mirage IIIC, Super Mystère, Ouragan, and Sud Aviation Vautour jets, now spewing rockets, cannon fire, and bombs. Massive explosions rent the air and giant orange-red balls of fire billowed into the cloudless blue sky. The Israelis flew so low that Egyptians on the ground could make out their faces. Within minutes, the Israelis were gone, Egypt's air force had ceased to exist, and the Middle East had been utterly transformed. Rapid in its execution, brutal in its destructive force, searing in its psychological impact, the 1967 War was one of the most dramatic and wrenching moments in the modern history of the Middle East. Through misinformation, misinterpretation, and misrule, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt stumbled into an unwanted war against the powerful Israeli Defense Force (IDF), with cataclysmic consequences, as the Jewish state—controlling the air after that de-
cisive strike—pushed aside the land forces of its enemies and boldly seized the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Desert, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

When the smoke had cleared, Israel emerged as the undisputed regional superpower. In the long run, however, it might be argued that no one won this war of opportunity, spawning as it did more than 40 years of unrest and death in a region that has become known as one of the most volatile in the world. Rather than using its startling victory to bargain for its security while restoring the lands and pride it had wrenched from the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors, Israel held on to its gains, and the results have been tragic: fresh war and guerrilla fighting, an intractable and massive refugee problem, and burgeoning, radicalized, Islamic fundamentalism. A tactical masterpiece, the 1967 War may also have led to some of the worst strategic decisions Israel has ever made.

On paper, the forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan looked formidable. With Soviet help, Egyptian engineers had fortified the Sinai Desert. On the eve of war, the Egyptian army had seven divisions, 950 tanks (the majority of them T-55s), 1,000 artillery pieces, and about 100,000 soldiers in the Sinai. Egypt's United Arab Republic Air Force (UARAF) consisted of 450 aircraft, among them the Soviet-made Tu-16 supersonic bomber and the state-of-the-art MiG-21 fighter. The Syrian army looked equally impressive, boasting 70,000 troops, 550 tanks (largely Soviet T-54s, T-55s, and Su-100s), and 300 pieces of artillery, while the Syrian air force consisted of 136 MiGs, including MiG-21s. The Syrians placed 12 brigades in the Golan Heights, a craggy area of valleys, forests, and ridges, some reaching 2,000 feet above sea level. Also advised by the Soviets, they had constructed fortifications and laid extensive minefields.

Jordan, the smallest of the three Arab populations with 1.5 million, in contrast to 33 million Egyptians and 6.3 million Syrians, fielded 270 tanks, mostly American M47 and M48 Pattons, 200 artillery pieces, and 45,000 troops in the West Bank, divided into nine brigades and independent battalions. The minuscule Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) had only 24 Hawker Hunters. Not having enough troops to defend the West Bank, the Jordanians positioned themselves on the high ground and built sophisticated defenses, particularly in Jerusalem.

In reality, however, none of these three states was prepared for war. All were saddled with enormous sociopolitical problems such as extremely high unemployment and illiteracy. Syria and Jordan were—and remain—artificial colonial creations, lacking national identities and political legitimacy. Syria had been convulsed by bloody coups as recently as 1966, and the leader of Jordan, King Hussein, whose family comes from a southern Arabian tribe, had little in common with his own subjects. Indeed, more fearful of a coup than of the Israelis, Hussein made certain that the army had no divisional or corps formations and that he made all the important decisions.

Likewise, the Syrian armed forces were fatally weak. Purges and political intrigue had depleted its officer corps, the Golan defenses had deteriorated, and perhaps only 50 percent of its tanks were operable. Its leaders, desperate for popular support, allowed Palestinian attacks into Israel and made arms deals with the Soviets.

Egypt, the largest Middle Eastern nation in population in 1967, seemed to be the exception. The country enjoyed a strong national identity, and its charismatic president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had helped overthrow Egypt's British puppet monarchy in 1952. His best friend, Maj. Abdel Hakim Amer, was chief of the armed forces, later grandiosely titling himself "field marshal."

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25 Responses to “The Six Day War Sparked Forty Years of Strife”


  1. 1
    Tamahome Jenkins says:

    Wow, talk about the price of greatness. Excellent article, more people would do themselves a great service by learning more about the recent history of Israel before jumping to conclusions about who started what, or "good guys vs. bad guys."

  2. 2
    Earl Lee says:

    Another poor attempt to label Israel as the aggressor and the poor Arabs as defenseless victims. This article is rife with inaccuracies and bias. Unfotunately no-where near the high quality articles usually found on this website.

  3. 3
    Tamahome Jenkins says:

    Earl, how is Israel not the aggressor in this war? Have you ever actually done any research on the Six-Day War, or do you just assume that Israel is blessed by God and can do what it pleases?

  4. 4
    Ricardo says:

    It's out of discusions that Israel did the first strike, but it was absolute self defense, without any doubt too. In other case surely the state of Israel doesn't would exist today. I think it was clearly a self defense war (and one very well executed too)

  5. 5
    Jim Faletti says:

    I am VERY disappointed with this article. You can not take a FEW facts, add your bias and write them off as facts. Taking one sentence to explain the Jordanian attack on a resort with the excuse of stupidity, then take three paragraphs to explain an opinion that the Israel's attacked the American's on purpose. If the American's could see all that you mention, they would have been inside the international mark. And stating that they would have seen prisoners killed is ludicrous – not fact.

    What is clear is the "bad" attemp to make Israel the bad guy. In your own statement, that it was a "setback' for the Egyptians, explains why when Israel offered to give back most if not all of the land, the offer was refused. They don't want the land back, they want Israel gone. Factually, that is not going to happen and any propoganda is just that – propoganda.

  6. 6
    dsm says:

    As a subscriber since the founding issue of MHQ I would label this as one of the most biased articles I have ever read.

  7. 7
    Fred Wolfe says:

    This is a really biased article. Congratulations to the proud IDF and their excellent military campaign.

  8. 8
    Steve says:

    The second paragraph of this article is so factually wrong. Immediately after the war, Israel offered to give back the land it had won in exchange for peace . The Arab leaders met in Khartoum after the war and issued the famous three no's. No recognition, no peace, no negotiations with Israel. How did the writer of this article not know about this?

    Also, the land was not taken from the Palestinians. The West Bank was ruled by Jordan, Gaza by Egypt and Golan Heights by Syria. The author has an exciting writing style but has done no research to make sure he got his facts straight.

  9. 9
    Ctos says:

    "Immediately after the war, Israel offered to give back the land it had won in exchange for peace ." – notice the poster does not say "all" of the land; Israel was attempting to legitimize some of its gains by giving back land (which it was mandated by the UN to do).

    Also notice the language "land it had won" which is in direct violation of the UN concept of the inadmissability of acquiring land by war.

    The truth is Israel started the war and it was not a defensive one (Israel's territory was greater after the war and it attacked the Arabs in their own countries).

    Zionists and uninformed historians may take umbrage at this article but what they really take umbrage at is the truth of the FACTS around the '67 war.

  10. 10
    Lee Vann says:

    Another great article! Very informative and though, although I feel that it should have gone into more detail on the USS Liberty.

    Of corse the Pro-Zionist lobby would be upset with this, as it does not show their cause in the best possible light.

  11. 11
    Kaiser says:

    So let me get this straight…Egypt kicks the UN out of the demilitarized zone two weeks prior, places all but 10,000 of its remaining forces (seven divisions and numerous independent brigades totalling 100K) in the Sinai, and closes the Straits of Tiran; Egypt flies artillery and battalions of commandoes to Jordan on June 3rd after signing a mutual defense treaty; Jordanian reserves are called up on June 2nd and orders subsequently captured from Jordanian command posts dated at the end of May detail operations for the capture of objectives inside Israeli territory; Iraqi forces are repositioned closer to the Iraq/Jordanian border; Syrian mobilization; etc, etc. And Israel was to believe this all just defensive "posturing"?

  12. 12
    Jay White says:

    I was very disappointed that this poorly written propaganda piece was accepted by what I always considered the best military history magazine . I was so upset that MHQ would publish such garbage, that for the first time in 15 years I didn't purchase MHQ. I sincerely hope this is not a trend . The history channel no longer has any history shows. Let's hope MHQ doesn't deteriorate into garbage that attracts the Jew haters who always bring up the Liberty which was in an active war zone.

  13. 13
    Elliot says:

    I’m surprised at how some posters chose to read this article so selectively.

    Because of his own personal agenda, Kaiser omits facts clearly stated in the article that according to three US “separate intelligence groups” “Egyptian deployments…were defensive,” of which Israelis were informed on May 26 by U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara. This, of course, was nothing new to the Israelis who knew from their own superb intelligence organizations all the precise information about their enemies.

    Similarly, Kaiser chooses not to mention the following two passages from the article where IDF chief of operations Gen. Ezer Weizman and Menachem Begin both honestly admitted that the surprise air strike against Egypt had been planned for a long time:

    (1) “For five years,” IDF chief of operations Gen. Ezer Weizman recalled, referring to the surprise air strike against Egypt, “I had been talking of this operation, explaining it, hatching it, dreaming of it, manufacturing it link by link, training men to carry it out.”

    (2) “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches,” Menachem Begin told the New York Times, “do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

    Why can’t one mention certain facts about Israel, facts confirmed by prominent Israeli historians themselves, without being attacked as being biased and writing propaganda?

  14. 14
    Randy says:

    This article was a great addition to this issue. It is sad that today people are still looking at wars from only one side. Mankind needs to FINALLY learn that there are always two sides to every story and the only way to find truth is looking at both sides. The author stated the faults of both sides very well. I particularly appreciate the credit given to soldiers of both sides. As for the other comments, how can someone say this is bias? The paragraphs concerning the USS Liberty say in their first statement controversial which by definition means debatable. So how can you call the author a propagandist? His obvious respect for the Israeli military machine is clear throughout the article. The statements about the political motives of both sides are again, “debatable”, as are all political agendas. The comments on the colonial structure of the region being a serious cause were very interesting. To call someone a “Jew hater” for an article with historical facts and speaking on a subject rarely talked about today is juvenile, and obviously made by someone who has not studied the conflict. Readers need to focus on the real tragedies of such events for example, 1.4 million and now 4.7 million refugees. This is the real issue. The war happened no matter the cause , it should be time now to clean up the mess it caused by mending fences and helping those who are still affected by it.

  15. 15
    Garbage says:

    Alright, so honestly I rarely try to make sense of anything that happens in the Middle East because everything seems to just boil down to a bunch of religious fanatics who hate each other. And no, for the record, I am not blaming this war on religion.

    This article, however, is the most biased piece of trash on earth. So lets say a guy comes near you with a knife, in a stance of aggression, are you going to stand and wait, or are you going to pull out your handgun and put a round through him?

    I mean for God's sake, why is it that so many people support America in the Iraq war (when they are in the wrong, without any doubt whatsoever) but so many others support Gaza in the war with Israel? It makes absolutely no sense. At least Israel is actually TRYING to fight terrorism and ensure minimal casualties.

  16. 16
    David All says:

    An extremely biased article. Its anti-Israeli slant makes this article a travesty of history. I hope this is an exception to the usual fine level of articles at MHQ and not an indication of articles to come.

  17. 17
    Sheila Kalivas says:

    Finally, an unbiased account of the Palestinian/Israeli situation. Those who have commented otherwise appear to have a rigidly pro Zionist view. The objective of this scholarly and masterfully written piece is not to cast blame on one side or another, rather it is to articulate the breakdown of how peace has eluded the Middle East thus far. This is not only a fairly presented chronology of past events but it points to a future roadmap for achieving peace by rebuilding nations which were artificially created. Palestinians and Israelis are equally important thus both peoples must be represented by "satisfying Israel's need for security ;and recognizing and fulfilling Palestinian struggles to create a viable nation-state. " To label this author a Jew-hater, to my mind is unconscionable.

    It is said that “history repeats”. History does not have to repeat if we learn from past errors. Of concern to this writer is the right-wing or “populist” movement in the U.S. which holds extremist views about biblical prophecy to which this author has referred. This group has generated significant influence through purchased media blitz. The movement encourages and condones Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land including Jerusalem and joyously awaits the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem to usher in the end times.

    This scenario seems eerily similar to a historical misconstruing of prophecy from ancient Greece. King Croesus consulted the Oracle at Dephi to find out if he should go to war with Persia, the Oracle stated “If you go to war, you will cause the destruction of a great Empire". Croesus went to war, was defeated and captured. He sent word to the Oracle asking why he was mislead. The Oracle said he was not mislead, a great empire was destroyed, his own. Because an event is prophesized does not indicate it is a desirable path to take. This piece by O’Brien Browne, if heeded, can avert a potential disatrous course of action.

  18. 18
    Proud American says:

    A very amateurish, biased and naive perspective on the war. The author neglects to mention that but for the Six Day War, peace with Egypt and Jordan would never have been possible. He also fails to mention that Syria plays host to at least ½ dozen terrorist organizations including Hamas, Hezbollah and the PFLP. No mention is made of the fact that Israel’s overtures to the PLO unleashed a wave of terror not seen since 1947. No mention is made of the Khartoum agreement where the Arabs declared their infamous “Three Nos.” No peace with Israel, no recognition of her and no negotiation with her. If the author wants to play the blame game, there’s plenty to go around. Focusing on Israel exclusively exposes the author’s bias. Just as an aside, it was the Arabs who put the ball in play and Israel just finished the game. To the victor go the spoils. I say “bravo Israel” for standing up to gangsters, thugs and scoundrels of the Middle East and sending them back crawling to their little holes.

  19. 19
    Dave says:

    I stumbled across this website recently, and had been having an excellent time reading a host of well thought out articles on various eras of military history. Then I stumbled across this "article" (if you can call a bundle of selectively cherry picked facts devoid of any relevant background information/context, assembled by a.. 'person' who is clearly attempting to rewrite history as part of an effort to support his hatred of Israel at least, and more likely Jews in general, an article). What a dissapointment. For what little it's worth, I won't be returning to this otherwise stellar community/website, but I sincerely hope that Mr. Browne's racism and deliberate intellectual dishonesty would be sufficient reason for historynet to terminate it's relationship with him.

  20. 20
    jewz rulez says:

    everyone is saying this is biased and we get this. very poor article and not very accurate

  21. 21
    justplainbeth says:

    I don't understand :( sniff sniff

  22. 22
    Chris Montegue says:

    Very poorly written and researched article with very superficial analysis. The writer doesn't go to great lengths to conceal his bias against Israel and has allowed his personal bias to skew the article to the point of being painful to read.

  23. 23
  24. 24

    [...] Syria as well, it would strike with around 150 aircraft, 250 tanks, and 20,000 troops." The Six Day War Sparked Forty Years of Strife Those not hopelessly addicted to swallowing every load of kosher horse shit doled out by Israel [...]

  25. 25
    Richard says:

    The title of the article is itself completely misleading. Does the author mean to imply that that the attempt by the Arab states to destroy Israel in 1948 and the persistent attacks on Israelis by state forces and by terrorists as well as the utterly pervasive anti-semitic propaganda were just normal relations? My word, this is a new low in anti-Israeli propaganda.



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