The Six Day War Sparked Forty Years of Strife

For the IDF, the bloodiest part of this mini-campaign was their assault on Jerusalem. Here Jordanian snipers fired accurately and vicious house-to-house fighting ensued. At 2 a.m. the Israeli 55th Paratroop Brigade, supported by Sherman tanks and artillery, assaulted “Ammunition Hill,” a Jordanian strongpoint. Defended by a battalion of the 3rd Brigade, this position was bristling with barbed wire, minefields, bunkers, and trenches. The Israelis attacked head-on, taking many casualties, but managed to enter the trenches, where the fighting was hot and murderous. By morning, Jordanian officers had fled and the Hill had fallen, at the cost of 50 Israelis killed and 150 wounded. Jordan lost 106 dead and some 100 wounded. By June 6, the Old City was virtually surrounded and the Israeli Defense Force was mopping up pockets of resistance. Moreover, Latrun and Janin had been captured, and the Israel Air Force dominated the skies, unopposed.

Attempts by King Hussein and his commanders to rally the army were undermined by exaggerated reports of Israeli troop numbers and Jordanian casualties. Troops panicked in response, and this reaction, combined with the inadequate Jordanian command and control structure, doomed their forces to defeat. In the evening of June 6, realizing that neither the Egyptians nor the Syrians would come to their aid, Hussein and Riyad called for a general retreat. Moments later, they received news that the United Nations had just called for a cease-fire.

Jordan’s leaders rescinded their retreat order but because of the confusion, some troops never received it, others had already been routed, while Israelis who ignored the cease-fire mauled other Jordanians as they attempted to return to their old positions. The West Bank and Jerusalem were lost. Exultant Israeli soldiers began singing old Hebrew songs. “The Old City is ours!” one soldier shouted. “The people are drunk with joy,” wrote an Israeli poet.

On June 8, one of the most controversial events of the war occurred when Israeli warplanes and naval vessels repeatedly attacked USS Liberty, a lightly armed American spy ship sailing in international waters and flying U.S. colors—including a huge U.S. flag—off the shore of al-Arish, right near the fighting. American casualties totaled 34 American sailors killed and 171 injured in a two-hour attack that President Johnson, the CIA’s director Richard Helms, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and other officials believed was an intentional effort to halt U.S. monitoring that might have revealed Israeli executions of prisoners, the impending attack on Syria, or Israel’s nuclear weapons program. If the Liberty had picked up information about Israel’s war tactics and aims, it would have tarnished Israel’s carefully crafted image in Washington, and would have caused strains between the two nations.

Friendly Fire? Israel's attack on the spy ship USS Liberty is a subject of impassioned debate.  (Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center)
Friendly Fire? Israel's attack on the spy ship USS Liberty is a subject of impassioned debate. (Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Hit by missiles, napalm, machine-gun fire, and a torpedo, the Liberty stayed afloat, thanks to the skill of the surviving crew, but Israelis jammed the ship’s sophisticated communication systems. Israel apologized for what it claimed was a mistake and eventually compensated the victims. In any case, as historian Donald Neff points out, “Israel was now free without fear of U.S. eavesdropping to pursue its final objective in the war: the capture of the Golan Heights.”

That is exactly what happened. After their stunning victories against Egypt and Jordan, Israeli policymakers turned their gaze toward the Golan. Observing the destruction of the Egyptian and Jordanian forces, the Syrians accepted the UN cease-fire at 5:20 p.m. on June 8. Ignoring this, the Israelis shifted troops from the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts, amassing seven brigades—including armor, mechanized infantry, regular infantry, and paratroops—and about 150 aircraft for the invasion. The Syrian army was in no condition to withstand them.

After a massive air attack, the Israeli Defense Force commanded by Brig. Gen. Dan Laner punched into the Syrian lines to the north, defended by the 12th Brigade Group, on the morning of June 9. Freed of duties on the other fronts, Israel’s air force smashed the Syrians with everything it had, its pilots flying more sorties—1,077—than they had against Egypt and Jordan. At 10 a.m. the Israelis entered the rocky terrain, and the Syrians fought hard from defensive positions, but failed to counterattack.

Syrian artillery was inaccurate, allowing Israel’s troops to enter Syrian lines and take out strongholds. The Israeli air force completely dominated the skies. By the end of the day, the IDF had nearly enveloped the Golan from the north and east. With its commanders fleeing their units and panic rippling up through the highest levels of the army, the Syrian army was essentially crippled.

On June 10, Israeli troops cleared up pockets of resistance in the Golan, superbly supported by the IAF. By 9 a.m., Syrian radio reported that the town of al-Qunaytarah had fallen, although the Israelis were miles away, which caused the Syrian army to rush back toward Damascus. Although some of its units fought on until eliminated, most Syrian troops fled, often leaving their equipment behind them. The Golan belonged to Israel by the end of the day. Satisfied that all of its goals had been achieved, Israel accepted the UN cease-fire. The six-day war was over.

In June 1967 the three key players had been playing different games: one of bluff, one of bluster, and one for keeps. The Egyptians and Syrians had played a dangerous game of brinkmanship and propaganda, wholly failing to see that in doing so they played into Israel’s goals of conquest. The Israelis were in no mood to give Nasser another political victory, something that consummate politician should have realized.

“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.” The object of war is to win, something the Israelis have always fully understood.

Supported by the people and the government, the Israeli Defense Forces expressed the dynamism of a Western-style, technically advanced democracy eager to acquire territory. Some lands, particularly the Golan Heights, Israel needed to increase its security. Other land it had long coveted. States enjoying legitimacy and well-functioning sociopolitical systems are the most formidable opponents. Large armies with modern equipment are no indication of fighting effectiveness.

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26 Responses

  1. Tamahome Jenkins

    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. Earl Lee

    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. Tamahome Jenkins

    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. Ricardo

    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. Jim Faletti

    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. dsm

    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. Fred Wolfe

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

  8. Steve

    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. Ctos

    “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. Lee Vann

    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. Kaiser

    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. Jay White

    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. Elliot

    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. Randy

    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. Garbage

    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. David All

    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. Sheila Kalivas

    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. Proud American

    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. Dave

    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. jewz rulez

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

  21. Chris Montegue

    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.

  22. Richard

    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.

  23. An Unbiased Richard

    Great article. I especially love the comments. \This is biased trash\, etc, ironically written by biased trash.

    \In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.\
    – George Orwell


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