XI. THE SIX-DAY WAR
On 15 May 1967, Israel celebrated its 19th Day of Independence. The celebrations were attuned to a minor key. The economy had not yet recovered from a recession that had afflicted it the year before. Tension on the border with Syria had risen incessantly, sabotage was being committed in Israel's territory by terrorists from across the lines, settlements were being shelled by Syrian guns entrenched on the Golan Heights. The Soviet press waged a propaganda campaign against Israel, accusing it of aggressive designs against Syria.
During the Independence Day parade in Jerusalem, Israel's Government heard from the Chief of Staff the first news of large Egyptian troop movements, begun the previous day, in the direction of the Suez Canal and the Sinai peninsula (Document 1). There was, at first, an inclination to believe that the movements were no more than a propagandistic show. Egypt's fortunes at that time were at a low ebb. It was still entangled in the Yemen war, with little success, and consequently suffered from loss of prestige. Its relations with some of its Arab sister-States had deteriorated, those with Saudi Arabia were near the breaking point, those with Tunisia and Morocco strained, Jordan was considered an enemy (in a speech on 1 May Nasser had called King Hussein an 'agent and slave of the imperialists'). Syria indicted Egypt as not living up to its obligations as an ally. The Israelis did not yet know that the Soviet Union was urging Egypt to take an active stand alongside Syria against what was described as an impending Israeli aggression against Syria. An Egyptian parliamentary delegation, headed by Anwar Sadat, which visited Moscow on May 11-12, where they were warned that Israel had concentrated eleven to thirteen brigades along the Syrian border in preparation for an assault within a few days, with the intention of overthrowing the revolutionary Syrian Government. Similar information may have been given to Egypt by the Soviets somewhat earlier. There was, of course, not a grain of truth in the story, as the Soviets knew very well. The Egyptians were in a position to know it, too, in view of the authoritative denial issued by Secretary-General U Thant a few days afterwards. Later, U Thant reported that UNTSO observers "have verified the absence of troop concentrations and absence of noteworthy military movements on both sides of the [Syrian] line". But Nasser probably understood the Soviet information as a hint that the Soviet Union was persuaded that timing and circumstances were propitious for an assault on Israel, and obviously felt obliged to abandon the cautious policy that he had till then pursued and assume the leadership of the Arab campaign.
If Israel's leaders still told themselves on 15 May that there was no imminent danger of war, they were soon to be undeceived. On 16 May Radio Cairo declared: "The existence of Israel has continued too long. We welcome the Israeli aggression we welcome the battle we have long awaited. The peak hour has come. The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel." On that day, Egypt asked for the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force from Sinai and the Gaza Strip. U Thant acquiesced on the night of 18-19 May in what many considered unwarranted haste. Israel asserted that his precipitate compliance ran contrary to an express undertaking by his predecessor in 1957 (see Section IX, Document 35). UNEF ceased its functions on 19 May (Document 2). On the same day, Israel decided on partial mobilization, but was still hopeful that a dangerous escalation could be averted by stepped-up diplomatic efforts. It was indicative of this state of mind that, also the same day, President Zalman Shazar flew to Canada for a long-planned State visit, and that on 21 May Finland's Premier, Kustun Passio, was welcomed on a State visit to Israel. At the opening of the summer session of the Knesset on 22 May Prime Minister Eshkol emphasized Syrian aggression and incitement and called for a lessening of tension and the preservation of peace (Document 3).
In the meantime, unprecedented military escalation had taken place on the Egyptian border. By 20 May Nasser had massed over 80,000 men and about 900 tanks in Sinai, facing Israel. In the early morning hours of 23 May while U Thant was on his way to Cairo as a peace-maker, the world learned that Nasser had proclaimed the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli and Israel-bound shipping some hours before. He was fully aware that Israel regarded the closure as an act of aggression justifying Israel's invocation of the right of self-defence. It was his declared aim to force Israel into action that would trigger off full-scale war. Speaking to Egyptian trade unionists on 26 May, he declared: "The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel" (Document 7). With the UNEF departed, Egypt planned to resume fidayun operations from the Gaza Strip against and into Israel. After more than ten years of repose, Israel's villages in the vicinity of the Egyptian border had, once more, to suffer shelling and mines. War frenzy swept Egypt and almost the entire Arab world. Nasser was at the zenith of his popularity, the hero of battle who would lead the Arabs to victory. On 29 May he delivered a speech proclaiming that he would erase the Arab defeat of 1948 (Document 8). On 30 May, King Hussein of Jordan visited Cairo unexpectedly, committed himself to take part in the war that loomed and placed his forces Under an Egyptian commander, General Riad. Iraq followed suit. During a visit to Moscow, Egypt's War Minister was assured of Soviet support by Prime Minister Kosygin.
On 24 May, the Security Council met, at the insistence of Canada and Denmark, to discuss the situation in the Middle East. The representatives of the Soviet Union and Bulgaria maintained that there was no reason for a discussion. After fruitless talks, the Council adjourned on 3 June; it had reached no decision (Document 10).
Foreign Minister Eban left Jerusalem on 24 May for Paris, London and Washington, to alert the Western leaders to the critical situation and seek of them action in accordance with their declarations ten years earlier, when Israel withdrew its forces from Sharm el-Sheikh and the Gaza Strip. In Paris, Eban found a completely changed situation. President de Gaulle suggested that the Big Four should work together for a de-escalation of the tension and decide on a solution to the questions of navigation through the Straits, the problem of the Arab refugees and the "conditions of proximity of the interested States". He urged that Israel should not be the first to open fire. Eban's protestations that Egypt had already started aggression were in vain. A statement in similar terms to the utterances of de Gaulle was issued on 2 June by the Council of Ministers of France (Document 11), and, on the following day, by the French representative in the Security Council (Document 10). It became apparent that France, which only three years earlier had hailed Israel as "friend and ally", had switched sides. On 3 June, it imposed an arms embargo on the Middle East, but in reality only Israel was affected.
President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Harold Wilson assured the Israeli Foreign Minister of their support for free passage through the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba, but added that they needed some time to enlist the participation of other States and to assure the necessary approval by Congress and Parliament. The Foreign Minister returned to Jerusalem on the evening of 27 May. After a long and anxious session, the Government decided to give further chances to diplomatic efforts to prevent war. But, within a few more days, it was considered that there were no chances of resolving the crisis by international action. While a sympathetic but passive world watched Israel in its most perilous hour, Israel finished mobilization and prepared for the worst eventuality. On I June, the two major opposition parties, Gahal and Rafi, joined the Government coalition in a Government of National Unity. Lieutenant-General Moshe. Dayan (Rafi), Chief of Staff during the Sinai campaign, replaced Levi Eshkol as Minister of Defence, and Gahal leaders Menachem Begin and Yosef Sapir became Ministers without portfolio. On 4 June, the Cabinet authorized the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence to decide on appropriate steps to defend the State (Document 12).
On the following morning, 5 June, the Israel Air Force attacked Arab air forces and airfields and destroyed 400 enemy aircraft in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, most of them on the ground. The Egyptian air force was virtually destroyed in a lightning action lasting less than three hours. At the same time, the Israel Defence Forces moved against the Egyptian columns massed in Sinai. The Southern Command, composed of three divisions, faced seven Egyptian divisions and about 1,000 Egyptian tanks. In four days of battle, including one of the largest battles in the history of armoured warfare, Israel occupied the entire Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip, reached the eastern bank of the Suez Canal and opened the Straits of Tiran. On 8 June, Egypt accepted a cease-fire and, that evening, fighting ceased in Sinai.
On the morning of 5 June, Prime Minister Eshkol had, through the Chief of Staff of UNTSO, General Odd Bull, despatched a message to King Hussein of Jordan, urging him to refrain from joining the war (Document 16). The message was not answered, but, in the later hours of the forenoon, Jordan opened fire along the entire armistice line with Israel, shelling Jerusalem with especial violence. At noon, Jordanian soldiers occupied the United Nations headquarters. In the afternoon, Israel opened its counterattack, and two days later, after swift fighting, had taken the Old City of Jerusalem and the entire West Bank. On the evening of 7 June, Jordan accepted the cease-fire and fighting stopped.
Syria had taken part in the fighting with planes and artillery, continuously shelling Israeli villages near the border and attacking some of them with infantry and armour. At noon on 9 June, the Israel Defence Forces, now freed from other fronts, attacked the Syrian army entrenched on the Golan Heights. In fierce righting during that and the following day, they stormed the Heights and occupied the town of Kuneitra on the afternoon of 10 June. At 1630 GMT, a cease-fire became effective on the Israel-Syrian front.
The Six-Day War was over. Israel's casualties amounted to 759 dead and about 3,000 wounded. Arab casualties came to about 15,000. Israel, delivered from the peril to its very existence, was now determined not to move from the new cease-fire lines until permanent peace was established (Document 23).
The Security Council, inert and ineffectual during the emergency that preceded the war, had met each day of the fighting, its main concern to arrange a cease-fire (Documents 20, 21, 22). On 13 June, the Soviet Union having broken off diplomatic relations with Israel three days previously, followed by Bulgaria, Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Guinea, asked that a special emergency session of the General Assembly be convened. The Assembly was addressed on 19 June by Soviet Premier Kosygin, who called for condemnation of Israel, withdrawal of its forces from all areas occupied in the war, and payment of compensation by Israel for damage inflicted on Egypt, Syria and Jordan (Document 24). His address was answered by Israel's Foreign Minister (Document 25). The discussion in the Assembly then centred on a number of draft Resolutions (Documents 27-30) and lasted for a month. On 21 July, the session adjourned: the Assembly had decided nothing and referred the issue back to the Security Council. The Council, after long discussions, on 22 November unanimously adopted Resolution 242, which became the basis for future United Nations policymaking on the Middle East conflict (Document 32).
The Arab States did not listen to Israel's call for peace. Encouraged by the Soviet Union, which embarked on the rebuilding of their shattered armies, they resolved, at a summit meeting in Khartoum between 29 August and 1 September, upon a policy of three nays: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel (Document 31). Israel advocated direct negotiations between the parties, without prior conditions, aimed at the conclusion of binding peace agreements. Until peace was made, the Israel Defence Forces would be deployed on the new cease-fire lines, and the areas occupied in the Six-Day War would be administered by an Israeli Military Government. Jerusalem was reunified at the end of June, and the whole city was thus brought under Israeli law (see Section IV).