Six days, forty years, and still lost in the wilderness?
USS Liberty receives aid after the attack. Credit: USN
“So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.”
The Six Day War between Israel and its neighbours began forty years ago today. A war that changed the map of the Middle East. A war that changed history. And unlike the last time Israel conquered Palestine, there has been no rest in the land. As with so many wars, the facts are at odds with the purported history. Sigh. Just reading the BBC article on the subject made me want to scream, it’s filled with inaccuracies and omissions. I’m starting to despise all mainstream news sources, when it comes to history or science reporting they are all little better than the Weekly World News.
So in that spirit, I am simply going to go through the article in question and make some comments and corrections. Then I will follow up with a few further thoughts and observations of my own. As with any historical event, there are different perspectives and it needs to be viewed through the eyes of all the participants. And of course there are facts in evidence now that weren’t known then, hindsight is a dangerous game.
The first statement I have problems with is this:
The so-called Six-Day War changed the geo-political map of the Middle East, establishing Israel as the region’s dominant military force.
Actually, while this may be the popular perspective, in fact Israel has been the Middle East’s dominant military force since 1948 when its well armed and well trained European style forces trounced the basically police forces of the Arab nations. There has never been any realistic chance that Arab armies would “drive Israel into the sea” but it’s been a popular propaganda device for various parties, especially Israel.
Next we come to:
Before the war, the 19-year-old Jewish state had been awash with fear, as Arab armies massed on its borders.
True enough, but how realistic this fear was and who engendered it is debatable. Publicly the Arab nations, especially Egypt, were engaged in the worst sorts of sabre rattling. Privately they were saying the opposite. And the Arab armies “massed on its borders” were exaggerated, and there’s good evidence that Israeli and American intelligence was well aware of it.
In an extraordinary showdown on the eve of war, Israeli generals swore and shouted at the prime minister that Israel had to strike first to be sure of victory.
Well, I never heard this before but it’s extraordinary if true. Israel struck first because of shouting generals? Personally I think that the decision to go to war should never be made by generals, shouting or otherwise. This certainly does illustrate the unholy influence the military has in Israel, which unfortunately has been a big part of their non stop problems with the Palestinians. Generals view all problems as military problems, and unfortunately many problems either don’t have military solutions or the military solution makes things worse, not better.
The conflict began with air strikes which destroyed much of Egypt’s air power on the ground.
By the end of the fighting, Israel had defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
I have severe problems with how this is worded. It would be far more accurate to say that the war started when Israel launched a Pearl Harbor style surprise attack on Egypt, completely destroying its Air Force on the ground within hours. This was followed up by the destruction of the Syrian Air Force in a similar manner. The war was effectively over at that point and both sides knew it, the remainder of the war largely consisted of the Israelis taking what land they pleased from their neighbours, there was very little fighting to speak of, the surprise attack having been so devastating. (Israel lost only 779 killed during the fighting, Arab deaths were over twenty thousand.)
And that’s pretty much all the article states about the history of the war. It kind of glosses over how Jordan especially got involved and thus lost Jerusalem and the West Bank, that’s still debated to this day. The main point to be made is that Israel handily destroyed the Arab forces it faced and accomplished all of its territorial ambitions within days. This is hard to reconcile with the idea that the Arab forces were some sort of terrible threat to Israel, the facts show that the opposite was true. And it’s true to this day, Israel has the world’s fourth largest military backed with nuclear weapons, the idea that Israel is this tiny David surrounded by threatening Goliaths is great propaganda and still believed by many people to this day, but it’s simply not true.
There are two other aspects of the war that are little discussed. The first is the alleged slaughter of Egyptian POWs by Israeli forces. While the scope of the slaughter has been exaggerated, there appears to be no doubt that at least some Israeli units simply killed Egyptians who were trying to surrender. A mass grave containing 30-60 Egyptian dead was unearthed in 1995 for example. And the IDF issued a new comprehensive order about how prisoners were to be treated on June 11th, which pretty much is a slam dunk that they knew there had been some problems. In any event I mention this not to demonize the Israelis, there is no evidence and no reason to believe that the killing of prisoners was ordered at a high level, but as evidence that anyone can commit an atrocity.
Then there’s the USS Liberty incident. The US Liberty was a US spy ship operating just outside of Egyptian waters. On June eight the Liberty was attacked by Israeli aircraft and then by Israeli torpedo boats. 34 US Sailors were killed and over 100 were wounded. How Israeli forces could have mistaken a clearly marked US ship for an enemy ship has never been fully explained. An accident in the confusion of war? An attempt to stop the US spy ship from monitoring Israeli actions as it fought the Egyptians in the Sinai? A misguided attempt to get the US directly into the war by blaming the attack on the Egyptians? The almost unseemly haste with which the USA government accepted the Israeli version of the attack is probably the most damning aspect of the incident, and the survivors and the families of the dead are to this day still insistent that the attack was deliberate, not an accident.
In any event, this was the war that led to Israel occupying all of Palestine and part of Syria and Egypt as well. The Egyptians were given back the Sinai after the Yom Kippur war in 1973, and are still being paid handsomely to leave Israel alone. (Egypt is the number two recipient of US foreign aid, second only to Israel.) The Syrian Golan Heights are still occupied by Israel, as is the West Bank and Gaza. It was a complicated war, and times have changed considerably since then. Pan Arab nationalism is pretty much history, unfortunately replaced by pan Islamic radicalism. Personally I think we were better off with pan Arab nationalism, sometimes destroying your enemies creates an even greater enemy.
May God/Allah rest the souls of all who died in this war. May the people of the world today be wise enough to learn something from it and someday find a peaceful resolution in the occupied territories. For those who want to read further:
An interesting article on the aftermath of the war and how it has changed Israel. Not as neutral as it could be for my tastes, but an interesting read nonetheless.
A more neutral article on the war’s aftermath in the Christian Science Monitor.
A final curious perspective: How the 1967 War Doomed Israel.
(The above image is an official US Navy photograph and is public domain under US law.)