|Charred remains of Egypt’s air force after Israel’s pre-emptive strike on June 5, 1967|
In November 1966, an Israeli contingent of some 400 men, 10 tanks and 40 armoured vehicles attacked the village of Samu in the Jordan-controlled West Bank and destroyed some 100 buildings and killed many Arabs.
This was one of many incidents of confrontation between Israel and Syria in the months prior to the war, and between Israel and the Palestinian fida’iyeen, or resistance fighters.
In Rami Tai’s 1997 book The Dayan Memoirs and interviews conducted in 1976, Moshe Dayan, Israel’s defence minister at the time, said that 80 per cent of these confrontational episodes were planned and executed by Israel.
When asked if the Syrians initiated cross-border wars of attrition from the Golan Heights, he stated:
“It went this way: We would send a tractor to plough some place where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarised area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end [the] Syrians would get annoyed and shoot.
“And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was.”
Nasser under pressure
|Moshe Dayan says Israel lured the Arabs
into battles they would lose [GALLO/GETTY]
In April 1967, one of these Israeli provocations became a full-fledged aerial battle with the Syrians. The Israelis shot down six Syrian planes, including one over Damascus.
At this point Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt, was highly criticised for his ineffectiveness and was seen as simply an orator, and not a doer, for Arab nationalism and unity.
As a result of the Israeli-Syrian tensions, and the criticism that followed by Syria and Jordan, Nasser expelled the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) from the Sinai Peninsula in May 1967.
He then deployed 1000 tanks and 100,000 soldiers on the border and called for unified Arab action against Israel.
June 5: At 10:10 GMT Israel launches first wave of attacks, leaving nearly 400 Egyptian aircraft destroyed and huge craters in the tarmac runway
June 6: Israel captures Gaza Strip, defeating part of Egyptian army
June 7: Israeli paratroopers seize control of Jerusalem’s old city
40,000 troops and 200 tanks deployed against Jordanian army
West Bank and East Jerusalem taken
June 8: Sinai captured and Egyptian forces defeated
June 9: Ground fighting between Israeli and Syrian forces continues in Golan region
June 10: Israel defeats the Syrian army in the Golan Heights. Syria accepts a UN ceasefire resolution and Israel heeds UN warning not to advance into Syria
U Thant, who served as secretary-general of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971, said in his memoir that the war could have been avoided had Israel simply re-stationed those UN forces on its side of the border.
U Thant had suggested that Egypt pledge not to fire on foreign vessels that traverse the Straits of Tiran, the the narrow sea passages, which separates the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea.
In return, Israel would refrain from sending Israeli-flagged vessels through the strait.
Egypt agreed, but Israel, determined to go to war, rejected the offer.
On May 10, the Algerian representative serving as the chairman of the Arab group at the UN informed U Thant that Israel was to hold a parade in Jerusalem to mark the founding of the state on May 15.
The Arabs at the time considered this yet another provocative measure to strengthen Israel’s stance over Jerusalem and promote the Jewish campaign to make the holy city their capital.
Earlier on February 6, Jordan complained about the same matter.
Despite these protests and the intervention by the Secretary-General, Israel held the parade on May 15.
As a countermeasure to the parade, the Palestine Liberation Organisation organised demonstrations protesting Israeli provocations.
“It was the season for an exchange of verbal threats, demonstrations, parades across the border and high tension,” wrote Indar Jit Rikye, the major-general in charge of the UN military forces at that time.
According to Israeli and mainstream media claims in 1967, Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran thereby prompting a response from Tel Aviv.
However, this was not true. In the first few days, the Egyptian navy did search ships passing through the straits.
But a week later, they stopped. Rikhye stated in his book The Sinai Blunder that Egypt did not block the Straits of Tiran.
Though it was obliged by international law to exploit and exhaust all diplomatic options before going to war, Israel refrained from seeking such solutions because its military was confident any engagement with the Arabs would be a walkover.
Israel knew it could win a decisive victory very quickly and easily.
|Egypt’s MiG-21s were wiped out within a
day of Israeli attacks [GALLO/GETTY]
On June 3, two days prior to the war, Meir Amit, the head of Israeli intelligence, visited Washington to gauge possible US reaction in case of a military strike against Egypt.
Despite US intelligence reports that Nasser was unlikely to attack, Washington gave Israel indirect signals to launch their pre-emptive strikes because the Americans feared Nasser’s relations with the Soviets.
On June 5, Israel launched an attack against Egypt’s air force decimating the Soviet-made jet fighters.
Jordan retaliated by attacking the Jewish sector in divided Jerusalem. But within three days the Jordanians were utterly defeated and lost all of Jerusalem.
The war was fought between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The countries of Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Sudan contributed troops, weapons and financial aid.
The war ended six days later on the Syrian borders. At war’s end, Israel had gained control over the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the Golan Heights, eastern Jerusalem and the Sinai Peninsula.
Wafaa’ Al-Natheema is the founder of the Institute of Near Eastern & African Studies (INEAS) in Massachusetts.
An author and filmmaker, she has just released a documentary film on former Iraqi president Abdul Rahman Aref and is currently directing documentary films on Jewish and Druze Arabs.