Lasting a total of 6 days, a war which broke out on June 5th 1967 between Israel and its neighbours shaped the course of history and had devastating consequences, many of which are still felt in Middle Eastern politics today.
To contextualise the conflict, relations between Israel and its neighbouring states: Egypt, Syria and Jordan had always remained tense following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, fought between the newly formed state of Israel and a coalition of Arab countries. The state of Israel, implemented in line with the Zionist movement in the biblical homeland, resulted in 750,000 Palestinians being expelled or forced to flee due to the destruction of Arab villages and the advancement of Jewish militaries. The defeat of the neighbouring Arab military forces led to years of upheaval in the domain of international politics, but it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that this tension rose to dangerous levels.
During 1956, Nasser was elected as the new president in Egypt where he established a heroic status in the Arab world as he defied Britain, France and Israel in the Suez Crisis of 1956. This only added to existing tensions between Israel and its neighbours; which were further exacerbated by the cold war and the growing militarisation of Israel as they acquired a modern air-force and more military personnel. Israel was always conscious that its neighbours had tried to destroy their state whilst Israel’s Arab neighbours were conscious about their defeat and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs.
“Both sides knew that another war would come, sooner or later” (Jeremy Bowen, 2017).
As tensions between Israel and its neighbours, Egypt, Syria and Jordan, rose to threatening levels, small skirmishes began erupting on each of their connecting borders. Whilst each border experienced varying levels of conflict, the most notable engagement occurred between Syria and Israel’s northern border where Syria attempted to divert water flowing, from the River Jordan, into Israel’s water supply. A devastating attack by Palestinian guerrillas penetrated the border of Israel, which, alongside a land mine attack in Israel, provoked the state to respond with hard military action. The state of Israel launched a raid into the West Bank, occupied by Jordanian forces, which caused uproar from King Hussein and the Palestinian population and was subsequently condemned by the UN Security Council. Hussein received sympathy from the Americans as he disclosed to the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) that he had been in private conversations with Israel who promised there would be no violent responses.
Meanwhile, conflicts were escalating on Israel’s other borders and a full-scale artillery strike occurred between the state and Syria on the 7th April, 1967. Whilst Israel won the skirmish, tensions grew as it became more evident that further conflict was on the emerging horizon. These tensions were heightened by provocations from Palestinians and Syria which contributed to the illusion that further conflict was nearing. Whilst the reasons for this are hotly debated, the Soviet Union escalated the conflict and made war inevitable by providing a false report to Nasser (president of Egypt) which claimed that the Israelis were massing troops near their border.
“You never thought we’d go to war, after all the things we saw” (Mos Def, 2002).
In response, Nasser expelled United Nations peacekeepers and started scrambling their own troops together in preparation for contact. On 22nd May, Nasser banned Israeli ships from passing through the Straits of Tiran in a blockade as the crisis further escalated; his attempts to stand up to the Israelis reinforced his position as a political idol of the Arab world and signalled that war was emerging. Whilst at this stage, international diplomats attempted to de-escalate and resolve the crisis, it was widely believed that co-existence was not possible or on the agenda due to the Israeli’s treatment and expulsion of the Palestinians.
Whilst Nasser rallied troops and gained more influence among the Arabs, Hussein’s distrust in Nassar rose as he confided his concerns to the CIA that the West Bank was to be Israel’s target. This was of deep concern as war among his people was likely to result in the falling of his regime. If he fought however, there was a chance that before his regime fell that the UN might be able to impose a ceasefire, a hope which they held on to, despite the limited influence which international attempts to defuse the crisis had had.
“I knew that war was inevitable. I knew that we were going to lose” (President Nassar, 1967).
Eventually, the tensions evolved into conflict and war started on the 5th June, 1967.
“Negotiations breaking down. See those leaders start to frown. It’s sword and gun day” (Mos Def, 2002).
On the morning of June 5th, the Israeli’s launched their first attack to destroy Arab air forces on the ground in Egypt with devastating consequence and success. This bloodshed continued throughout the day as similar results emerged after attacks against Jordanian and Syrian air forces. Whilst King Hussein was advised by Israel to not get involved in the war in exchange for Jordan being spared, his forces opened fire at the Israelis.
In the following 5 days of the 6 day war, Israel’s military advanced as they launched further blows against the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian forces; in the process, the Israelis captured the Gaza strip, the Sinai desert, Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and expelled and killed more Palestinians.
By the 11th June, a ceasefire was signed which brought an end to the conflict and bloodshed. Over 20,000 had lost their lives within these few days, the vast majority being of Arab origin.
The war has had a series of long-term consequences, many of which are still felt in contemporary international politics, such as the calls to free Gaza and Palestine from the oppression of the Israeli state. This article has offered a brief history of the six day war and the contextual background which has caused the end of life for several thousands of people.
“It has been said that the world is still feeling the seventh day of the Six Day War” (David Makovsky, 2004).
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