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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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Tensions had been simmering for years between Israel and its neighbors. There was a dispute about how to share the waters of the Jordan River. Palestinian guerrillas had been attacking Israel from bases in Jordan and Syria, attracting powerful Israeli reprisal raids. Controversially, Israel was constructing a nuclear power plant.

While there were many points of contention, it was a single skirmish that presaged war. On April 7, 1967, the IAF shot down six Syrian MiGs after Syrian artillery had shelled two Israeli tractors that had entered a demilitarized zone. Adding insult to injury, the elated Israeli pilots flew victory circless over the skies of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The Soviets told the Egyptians in May 1967 that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian frontier. Although United Nations observers discovered no buildup, the Syrians—fatally, it turned out—asked the Egyptians to make some demonstration to relieve the pressure on them. Seizing this chance to play the "protector" of the Arabs, Nasser mobilized his army, placed it into defensive deployment in the Sinai, and asked the peacekeeping UN Emergency Force to withdraw. But what came next ensured war: After Field Marshal Amer sent troops to take control of Sharm el-Sheikh, Nasser closed the Tiran Straits on the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping on May 21.

Israel defined closing the straits as an act of war. Nasser's move was, writes historian Laura James, primarily "aimed at reaping political gains, which he knew carried a high risk of precipitating military hostilities." Underlining Egypt's lack of hostile intention, its military intelligence knew virtually nothing about IDF plans, tactics, size, or deployment. Egyptian field commanders didn't even know where their enemy was located. But by deploying troops and engaging in hostile acts, Egypt played into the hands of Israel's hard-line leaders.

On May 23, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli chief of staff; Gen. Aharon Yariv, head of Aman, the IDF's intelligence branch; and others advised the Israeli cabinet to declare war. The cabinet stalled. U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara informed the Israelis on May 26 that "three separate intelligence groups" had concluded that the "Egyptian deployments…were defensive." This fit with Aman's estimate that Egypt would "not be ready for war at least until the end of 1970."

At this stage, Nasser apparently thought everything could be politically managed. He believed the United Nations would step in to end any hostilities, that the Soviets would counterbalance any move by the United States, and that Eshkol wished to avoid war. Even if it came to war, Field Marshal Amer had assured him that the army could hold off and perhaps even defeat Israel.

Under intense pressure from hardliners, Eshkol hesitated, hoping that the United States would suggest a diplomatic solution. Alternatively, he wanted the United States to bless any Israeli strike. But in high-level meetings between American and Israeli officials, the Americans were noncommittal: President Lyndon B. Johnson had his hands full with unrest at home, a looming election, and the Vietnam War. Although one high-placed U.S. official had warned, "do not fire the first shot," the Israelis decided to read the lack of a firm American "no-go" as a green light.

The creation of a new Israeli cabinet on June 2 brought in hawks such as Moshe Dayan as defense minister and hardliner Menachem Begin. They insisted that the bluff be called to put an end to Syrian threats, deflate Nasser's prestige, and maintain the IDF's credibility—all while achieving Israel's geopolitical goals, that is, expanding the state's borders and increasing its strategic depth. On June 4, the cabinet voted to go to war.

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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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