Palestine: Part 13 – The Six Day War
Palestine: Part 12 – The PLO
After the 1956 Suez Crisis, Egypt agreed to the stationing of a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Sinai to ensure all parties would comply with the 1949 Armistice Agreements. In the following years there were numerous minor border clashes between Israel and its Arab neighbors, particularly Syria.
In early November, 1966, Syria signed a mutual defense agreement with Egypt. Soon thereafter, in response to PLO guerilla activity, including a mine attack that left three dead, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) attacked the city of as-Samu in the Jordanian-occupied West Bank. Jordanian units that engaged the Israelis were quickly beaten back. King Hussein of Jordan criticized Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser for failing to come to Jordan’s aid, and “hiding behind UNEF skirts”.
In May 1967, Nasser received false reports from the Soviet Union that Israel was massing on the Syrian border. Nasser began massing his troops in the Sinai Peninsula on Israel’s border. On May 14, 1967 General Mohammed Fawzi left for Syria for a one day tour where he verified that the Soviet report was false and there were no Israeli armed forces near the Syrian border.
Still, Nasser declared full mobilisation in Egypt as of 14 May 1967, citing the joint defence agreement with Syria. Nasser then misled the Egyptian people by perpetuating the falsehood claiming in an address on the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, that the IDF was concentrating forces “on Syria’s doorstep”. Nasser expelled the UNEF force from Gaza and Sinai on May 19, and took up UNEF positions at Sharm el-Sheikh, overlooking the Straits of Tiran.
Israel reiterated declarations made in 1957 that any closure of the Straits would be considered an act of war, or justification for war. Nasser declared the Straits closed to Israeli shipping on May 22–23.
On May 30, Jordan and Egypt signed a defense pact. The following day, at Jordan’s invitation, the Iraqi army began deploying troops and armored units in Jordan. They were later reinforced by an Egyptian contingent.
On June 1, Israel formed a National Unity Government by widening its cabinet, and on June 4 the decision was made to go to war. The next morning, Israel launched Operation Focus, a large-scale surprise air strike that was the opening of the Six-Day War.
Six Day War
The Six Day War was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967 by Israel and the United Arab Republic (a short-lived political union between Egypt and Syria from 1958-1961 when Syria seceded from the union; Egypt retained the name until 1971), Syria and Jordan. The war began on June 5 with Israel launching surprise strikes against Egyptian air-fields in response to the mobilization of Egyptian forces on the Israeli border.
A period of high tension had preceded the war. In response to PLO sabotage acts against Israeli targets, Israel raided into the Jordanian-controlled West Bank and initiated flights over Syria, which ended with aerial clashes over Syrian territory, Syrian artillery attacks against Israeli civilian settlements in the vicinity of the border followed by Israeli responses against Syrian positions in the Golan Heights and encroachments of increasing intensity and frequency into the demilitarized zones along the Syrian border, and culminating in Egypt blocking the Straits of Tiran (narrow sea passages, about 7 nautical miles wide, between the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas which separate the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea) deploying its troops near Israel’s border, and ordering the evacuation of the U.N. buffer force from the Sinai Peninsula. Within six days, Israel had won a decisive land war. Israeli forces had taken control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.
Israel’s territory grew by a factor of three, including about one million Arabs placed under Israel’s direct control in the newly captured territories. Israel’s strategic depth grew to at least 300 kilometers in the south, 60 kilometers in the east, and 20 kilometers of extremely rugged terrain in the north, a security asset that would prove useful in the Yom Kippur War.
The political importance of the 1967 War was immense; Israel demonstrated that it was able and willing to initiate strategic strikes that could change the regional balance. Egypt and Syria learned tactical lessons and would later launch an attack in an attempt to reclaim their lost territory.
The final report on the war to the Israeli general staff listed several shortcomings in Israel’s actions, including misinterpretation of Nasser’s intentions, overdependence on the United States, and reluctance to act when Egypt closed the Straits. He also credited several factors for Israel’s success: Egypt did not appreciate the advantage of striking first and their adversaries did not accurately gauge Israel’s strength and its willingness to use it.
1967 Oil Embargo
The 1967 Oil Embargo began on June 6, 1967, one day after the beginning of the Six-Day War, with a joint Arab decision to deter any countries from supporting Israel militarily. Several Middle Eastern countries eventually limited their oil shipments, some embargoed only the United States and the United Kingdom, while others placed a total ban on oil exports. The Oil Embargo did not significantly decrease the amount of oil available in the United States or any affected European countries due mainly to a lack of solidarity and uniformity in specific countries that were embargoed. The embargo was effectively ended on September 1 with the issuance of the Khartoum Resolution.
The Khartoum Resolution of September 1, 1967 was issued at the conclusion of the 1967 Arab League summit convened in the wake of the Six-Day War, in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The summit lasted from August 29 to September 1 and was attended by eight Arab heads of state. The resolution called for: a continued state of belligerency with Israel, ending the Arab oil boycott declared during the Six-Day War, an end to the North Yemen Civil War (where Egyptian involvement was deemed to be devastating to their abilities in the Six Day War), and economic assistance for Egypt and Jordan. It is famous for containing (in the third paragraph) what became known as the “Three No’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it…”
Palestine: Part 14 – The Rise of Arafat