Arab / Israeli Conflicts From 1960 – 1970 Israel’s incredible victories, in just 6 days, Israeli armies conquered the West Bank, including the Old City of Jerusalem, the Gaza strip and the Syrian Golan Heights, defeating simultaneously the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. But more than that, Israel created a new reality in the Middle East – and sowed the seeds for deep dissent within its own society. Today over 400,000 Israelis live on land conquered in the 1967 war. Their fate and the fate of those lands is the stumbling block on which over 20 years of attempts to forge a comprehensive peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours has floundered. For some Israelis, Zionism was fulfilled with the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, while for others it was properly extended with the gains of 1967 which all comprise part of the Biblical Greater Israel they seek to restore.
Tension had been building throughout the first half of 1967, with Israel warning the Arabs states to end their support for Arab guerrillas raiding Israel from neighbouring countries. The Arabs saw war as inevitable and, despite the clear possibility of a surprise Israeli pre-emptive strike, they were confident of victory this time. The strike came on 5 June when Israel attacked Egyptian airfields and destroyed most of Egypt’s air force on the ground within a couple of hours. This allowed Israeli forces speedily to capture Sinai. They then bussed their troops back to Jerusalem and into the attack against Jordan, occupying the West Bank and the Old City before Jordan accepted a UN demand for a ceasefire on the evening of 7 June.
Egypt accepted the following day, allowing the Israelis to switch their attention to Syria. The Six Day War had a profound affect on the Arab world and in its aftermath many of the leaders held responsible for the defeat were toppled. It also led to a restructuring of the Arab guerrilla movement and the emergence of a genuinely Palestinian resistance. On June 5, 1967 the Israeli Army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin launched a preemptive strike on Arab forces, annihilating Nasser’s airforce. Within six days, Israel had conquered huge swaths of territory, seizing the vast Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan and the strategically important Golan Heights from Syria.
So-called land for peace negotiations stem from Israel’s conquests during this Six-Day War. After Nasser’s death in 1970, Anwar Sadat began rebuilding Arab unity and military power with substantial Soviet support. Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Oct. 6, 1973, catching Israelis off guard as they observed their most revered holiday, Yom Kippur. Despite initial Arab success, the Israelis soon regrouped and pushed the assailants back.
Egypt and Syria ultimately only achieved minimal territorial gains. No matter that only the night before, President Gamal Abdel Nasser had welcomed Iraq to the Egypto-Jordanian alliance against Israel, and proclaimed: We are so eager for battle in order to force the enemy to awake from his dreams and meet Arab reality face to face. In Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, the reaction was much the same – and with better reason. Only days before, new Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the dashing, one-eyed Hero of Sinai, had said the time was not ripe to strike at the Arab forces ominously gathering around the Jewish homeland. In stunning pre-dawn air strikes across the face of the Arab world, Israeli jets all but eliminated Arab airpower – and with it any chance of an Arab victory.
In a few astonishing hours of incredibly accurate bombing and strafing, Israel erased an expensive decade of Russian military aid to the Arab world. Ice-Cream Trucks. Tel Aviv’s residents got the news only 30 minutes after the first air-raid siren, as Radio Kol Israel interrupted its regular broadcast to announce that heavy fighting had begun against Egyptian armored and aerial forces which moved against Israel. Lively Jewish folk tunes, rousing Israeli pioneer songs and stirring military marches, including the theme song from The Bridge on the River Kwai, filled the air waves until Defense Minister Dayan came on. Only three-fourths of Israel’s reserves were mobilized when war began. The buses used to deliver the reservists to their units in the field were often reserves too: laundry trucks, ice-cream trucks, even taxis and private cars drafted along with Israel’s men and women.
Israeli tanks, each manned by a single regular of Israel’s 50,000-man standing army, waited in convenient tank parks for the two or three reservists required to complete each crew. Israeli Intelligence had tracked the Arab enemy to the last desert dune. The system worked so well that Israel was able to field a fighting force of 235,000 men within 48 hours. Lovelier Windows. Mortar and artillery shells rumbled down from the heights of Arab Jerusalem to splatter the Israeli sector of the divided city. Longer-range guns reached across Israel’s narrow waist to hit the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and Syrian guns opened up on northern Israeli towns from the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee. No part of the city was spared.
Wrote Chagall from France: I am not worried about the windows, only about the safety of Israel. Let Israel be safe and I will make you lovelier windows. Two armored columns snaked out and around the Old City of Jerusalem. The southern column swept south, moving inexorably from hill to hill despite stubborn Jordanian Arab League resistance, until the Old City was encircled. Next night Israeli commandos prepared a dawn attack into the Old City itself. Curious Footnote.
Unaware of the extent of Egypt’s air losses, Hussein could not believe that the Israeli air force alone could so blacken the sky on his own Jordanian front. Thus it was partially understandable that for a while, at least, he backed up Nasser’s claim that the U.S. and British planes had joined in Israel’s attack. Nasser almost surely knew better. The Russian ambassador in Cairo went to Nasser and bluntly told him so. With nothing more to lose, Nasser continued his big lie, triggering the breaking off of diplomatic relations by seven Arab nations with the U.S.
and touching off demonstrations against U.S. and British embassies all over the Arab world. Just how Nasser pressured Hussein into backing his phony air-attack ploy will surely become one of history’s more curious footnotes. Israel monitored and tape-recorded a radio conversation between Nasser and Hussein on the second day of the war, and released the dialogue two days later. Later, Hussein admitted that the vast umbrella over Jordan had been entirely Israeli.
Nasser, however, stuck to his story to the end, insisting that three times as many planes as Israel possessed had engaged the Arab forces. History.