Category: History
The Arab-Israeli Six Day War

The Middle East after World War II holds a special place in international relations. Since the late 40s, the Middle East became a source of tension in the world. Beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict is primarily connected with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. About 50 years ago, the world watched the Six Day War between Israel and four countries – Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Historians and military experts still have not unraveled the phenomenon of the stunning victory of the Israel Defense Forces over the well armed Arab armies. However, Israel was not able to repeat the success of 1967. The Six Day War (5-10 June, 1967) is one of the shortest wars in history. However, its results influenced the subsequent actions in this region. The Middle East crisis of 1967, which is a subject of the research paper, had a significant impact on international relations in the Middle East region and in the world. After the Six Day War, the conditions of the Arab-Israeli conflict dramatically changed. During the Six Day War, Israel defeated the armies of the Arab states and was able to dictate the terms of a peace agreement. High morale of the Israeli army, great training of soldiers and officers, talented leadership of military operations by senior commanders and complete air supremacy achieved in the first hours of the war were the key to Israel’s victory. The aim of the research paper is to determine causes and consequences of the war.

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Prerequisites of the Six-Day War

Since its establishment, Israel was in the midst of one of the largest political conflicts in recent history. The state of Israel was created on 14 May 1948 following the end of the British Mandate for Palestine that had been created after World War I. It was primarily caused by the fact that in the current ethno-cultural system of the Middle East, relatively quickly (within 50 - 70 years), a completely alien element – the Israeli state – was introduced. Israel had sprung from the movement calling itself Zionism that developed within European Jewry at the turn of the twentieth century as a reaction to anti-Semitism in Europe. Arab states perceived the appearance of Israel on the native Arab land as an insult to the Arab nation and declared a holy war to Israel. Arab people did not perceive and could not accept the changes that the Israelis made on the Palestinian territories. The Arabs refused to understand and accept the social and economic innovations in Israel. It extremely separated the Arab world and Israel.

For the last few centuries, the Middle East is one of the most volatile regions of the world. After World War II, it became a permanent hot spot of the world. One of the biggest crises in the Middle East crisis began in 1967. The formal reason for the war was the overlap of the Straits of Tiran by Egypt. However, the causes of the conflict between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries were deeper. Syria and Egypt were dissatisfied with the results of the war of independence of 1948-1949 and craved for revenge. The tension between Tel Aviv and Damascus intensified due to the lack of agreement on the distribution of water resources in the region. As Israeli agriculture flourished, so the need for more water grew. Already in 1964, Syria was ready to go to war to stop the construction of the Israeli sluice. Later, the Arab states started the implementation of their project, aimed at reallocating the water resources of the Jordan River. The Sea of Galilee was and remains the main source of fresh water for Israel. Meanwhile, a new water channel of the Syrians could lead to fall of the water level in the lake that did not suit Israel.

The outbreak of the war in 1967 was the culmination of a series of political events that convinced Israel that its Arab neighbors were planning to move from their usual rhetoric to the use of force. After the withdrawal of the Israeli troops from the Sinai Peninsula in March 1957, not numerous armed forces of the United Nations were posted on the border between Israel and Egypt. Israel was given international guarantees of freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran. Israel officially stated that it would consider resumption of the blockade of the Strait as a casus belli.

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In 1960, in the Arab countries, under the influence of Nasser, President of Egypt, radical nationalist sentiments intensified. If there was an Arab standard-bearer in the quiescent, largely verbal war against Israel, it was Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian dictator and the largely self-proclaimed leader of the so-called Arab Nation. On March 8, 1963, after coming of the Baath Party to power in Syria, the situation on the Syrian-Israeli border became extremely acute. The Syrian leadership aspired to deprive Israel of the water resources. In 1964, when the construction of the water carrier of Israeli was almost finished, Syria proposed the Arab countries to launch a war against Israel to prevent the completion of this project. At the meeting of the leaders of the Arab countries the plan was rejected. Nevertheless, it was decided to withdrawal the sources of the Jordan River in the channel leading to the reservoir situated on the Yarmouk River in Jordan. The plan had to deprive Israel of the greater part of the waters of the Jordan River. Israel claimed that it would lead to a sharp decline of the water level in Lake Kinneret, and it would consider the implementation of the plan as a casus belli. Israel repeatedly subjected the track of the built channel to artillery bombardment and bombing from the air. It forced the Syrians to stop the construction. Nevertheless, Syria continued provocations on the border. On August 15, 1966, Israeli police boats were attacked. In response to this, the Israeli fighters shot down two Syrian aircrafts over the lake. Fatah militants also implemented terrorist attacks against Israel. They were actively supported by the Arab countries, especially Egypt.

On November 4, 1966, Syria and Egypt created a military alliance. Attacks on Israel from Syria intensified. On April 7, 1967, Israeli aircrafts shot down six military enemy aircrafts in Syrian airspace. Egypt forced the UN to withdraw their forces from the Sinai and threatened to block the Strait of Tiran. Reconciliation of Jordan, Egypt and Syria, after ten years of periodic mutual insults, became a serious perspective of coordinated attacks. Egypt strengthened its troops and armored units in Sinai. Retrospectively, it is doubtful that Nasser seriously planned to strike a blow against Israel. However, considering the hysterical intensity of his public statements and maneuvers of the Arab troops on the borders, it is hardly surprising that Israel reacted to the provocation by preparing a pre-emptive attack.

Israel resisted the powerful coalition of the countries with a significant superiority of the armed forces both in the number of soldiers and weapons, and the quality of military equipment. The Israeli strategy was guided by the risky geographical location. Israel is small in size and very narrow in the concentration of the basic mass of the population. Defensive war of a European model was impossible, since there was no area for the organization of a profound defense. Therefore, the Israeli military doctrine was based on offensive operations performed by the mobile forces in an attacking manner. It led to the cultivation of armored and air forces. A plan provided to eliminate a major threat – Egypt – dislodging its troops from Sinai, and then turn against Syria and completely upside for border incidents of the previous decade. Until the last minute, the Israeli government tried to avoid military operations with Jordan. If King Hussein had not been involved in the war with deliberate Nasser’s deception, the course of recent history would have been completely different. The plan called for maximum capabilities of mobile forces of Israel. The success depended on the usual lack of coordination of the Arab States and general skills and commitment of the troops of the Israel Defense Forces.

The Israel Defense Forces

The army of Egypt consisted of 240 thousand people, 1200 tanks and 450 airplanes. The army of Syria included fifty thousand people, 400 tanks and 120 aircrafts. The army of Iraq consisted of seventy thousand people, 400 tanks and 200 aircrafts. Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab countries declared their willingness to provide military contingents for the war against Israel. After the mobilization of the IDF, the army of Israel included 264 thousand people, 800 tanks and 300 aircrafts. The main threat to Israel was the strike force of Egyptian troops located in Sinai. It included about one hundred thousand people and more than 800 tanks, mostly Soviet-made. The Government and people of Israel knew what a terrible threat hanged over the country.

Israel hoped that the United States of America, England and France, as the guarantors of freedom of navigation of Israeli shipping on the Straits of Tiran, would be able to overturn the Egyptian blockade. On May 23, US President Lyndon Johnson declared that the blockade was an illegal act and that the US was determined to ensure the territorial integrity of all countries in the Middle East. England kept its warships in the Mediterranean Sea in a state of combat readiness. The United States and England declared that the Straits should be open to international shipping. Nevertheless a trip of Israeli Foreign Minister to the United States, Britain and France showed that the state could count only on itself. French President Charles de Gaulle in the form of an ultimatum demanded from Israel not to start military actions. The leaders of Britain and the United States expressing support for Israel spoke about the need to send international squadron for the opening of the Straits of Tiran, without any specific commitments.

Threat of war, as well as Israel’s isolation in the international arena increased the tension in the country. Representatives of various political forces required to extend the ruling coalition. On June 1, Moshe Dayan was appointed as Minister of Defense. The same day, the government decided to attack the Egyptian army located in the Sinai Peninsula. To make an Israeli strike a surprise to the enemy, the commanders held a number of events. On June 3, thousands of Israeli soldiers received a vacation. Photos of Israeli soldiers resting on the beaches were in all newspapers. The first day of the war predetermined the outcome of the entire campaign, which ended with the complete defeat of the superior forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Military Actions

On 5 June, the offensive began with the attack of the Israeli Air Force. On June 5, 1967, after three weeks of tension, the Israeli Air Force attacked air bases in Egypt, Syrian and Jordan, and destroyed approximately 80 % of the warplanes of these states on the ground. The Israeli intelligence identified that the best time to attack was 7:45. At that time, the Egyptian pilots usually went to the aircrafts, and there was no duty fighter in the air. The Israeli planes were flying very low and were not seen by the Egyptian radars. The Israeli fighter jets swept into Egypt from the sea and bombed Egyptian military positions. Israeli Air Force numbering a relatively small number of airplanes during the first three hours of military operations without interruption attacked ten military airfields of Egypt. It became possible due to high professionalism of the Israeli pilots and coordinated work of Air Force ground crew.

On the combat sortie including the return, refueling and inspection of the aircrafts, the Israeli officers spent 57 minutes, while the Egyptian ones needed about two hours. The Israeli aircrafts made several passes over the target trying to achieve more accurate hits. As a result, during the first hours of the war, Egyptian Air Force as a serious fighting force, capable to support the ground forces, ceased to exist. By the end of the second day of the war, Egypt lost 309 airplanes and helicopters including all 30 long-range bombers Tu-16.

The same day, a Syrian aircraft attacked an Israeli military airfield near Megiddo. Syrian warplanes destroyed several layouts. After that, Israeli planes attacked the Syrian airfields. By the end of the first day, 60 Syrian airplanes were destroyed. Jordanian jets attacked the Israeli military air base in Kfar Sirkin and destroyed a transport aircraft. The Israelis attacked the Jordanian air bases. By the end of the second day of the war, Jordan lost 40 aircrafts. Despite the fact that the Egyptian air force disposed of airplanes, which by the technical and tactical indicators surpassed Israeli planes in aerial combat, 50 Egyptian MiGs were shot down. Moreover, Israel did not lose a single Mirage. The Israeli Air Force had an important role in the fighting in the West Bank during the Six Day War. Brilliant victory of the Israeli Air Force determined the outcome of the war.

From a military standpoint, two episodes of the war were well planned and successful – the Israeli Air Force attack on the airfields of Egypt and the classic battle between the division of Ariel Sharon and the Egypt division in Sinai. At that time, these operations were made technically impeccable.

At 9 am, the division of General Ariel Sharon started advance on the southern sector of the front to the strengthened Egyptian position of Abu Ageyla. Strengthening consisted of three concreted trench lines with tanks, anti-tank guns and mine fortifications between them. In the evening, six battalions of artillery opened fire at the Egyptian positions. In half an hour, the assault began. The main role was played by armored units and a battalion of paratroopers. In the morning, the last pockets of resistance of the Egyptians were suppressed. Abu Ageyla was completely occupied by Sharon’s division.

Within a few days, the Israel Defense Forces occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, Gaza, Judea and Samaria. Only the adoption of a tough UN Security Council cease-fire resolution put an end to the Six Day War. However, the question of signing the peace dragged on for many years.

Results of the War

In the Six Day War, Israel gained one of the greatest victories in its history. The Six Day War of June 1967 resulted in far-reaching changes, which continue to affect Middle Eastern politics to this day. Armies of three Arab countries were defeated. The Air Forces of Syria and Egypt lost their combat capability, and the Air Force of Jordan ceased to exist. The total losses of the armed forces of the Arab coalition amounted to more than 40 thousand people, 900 tanks and 360 aircrafts. About six thousand soldiers and officers were taken prisoner. Egypt suffered the biggest losses. The country lost 80% of its military equipment. However, the Israeli army lost about 700 people. The Six Day War largely determined the contours of the modern Middle East. Syria lost the Golan Heights. Jerusalem was declared the united and indivisible capital of Israel. Until June 1967, the Palestinian territories were under the jurisdiction of Egypt and Jordan. Joining of these lands to Israel subsequently led to the formation of the Palestinian Authority in its current form. The question of the status of the Palestinian Authority has not been resolved yet. The international community demands the recognition of Palestine. However, Israel, in turn, wants to receive security guarantees.

The position of the Arab States and Israel after the Six Day War was determined by two factors - economic and foreign policies. Immediately after the Six Day War, the Arab states began an economic war against the United States and Western Europe. Arab oil producers stopped the supply of oil to the United States and Great Britain. Egypt closed the Suez Canal to the American and West European shipping. The three largest countries in the West – the United States, the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany – were subjected to the Arab oil boycott. For the first time, the Arab countries used the “oil weapon”. Objects for the boycott were not chosen by chance. The US and the UK were considered friends of Israel, while with the Federal Republic of Germany Israel actively developed military-technical cooperation. In 1967, the “oil weapon” was not effective. The US, Britain and Germany using strategic oil resources and purchasing oil from the Arab states indirectly reduced the effects of the oil boycott to minimum.

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Public Opinion toward the Six Day War

The beginning military operations produced a controversial reaction around the world. 11 Arab countries declared their solidarity with Egypt. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia provided tremendous financial aid to Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In Tunisia, Libya, Syria and some other countries, there were anti-Jewish pogroms. Saudi Arabia, Libya, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates stopped selling oil to Britain and the United States.

In the Middle East conflict, the United States and England took a balanced position. In the Mediterranean, these countries increased a number of military ships, which monitored the movements of the Soviet squadron. The United States was the main supplier of arms to Israel. Public opinion in these countries as well as in most countries of the free world was pro-Israeli. After the war began, French President Charles de Gaulle took a sharply anti-Israeli stance, despite the active support of Israel by the general French public and various political forces. In 1968, France imposed an arms embargo on Israel. Since the beginning of the conflict, the Jews around the world expressed solidarity with Israel. The Jews of the West provided great financial aid to Israel. Thousands of Jews appealed to the Israeli embassy to help them get to the front.

In the Six Day War, Israel gained one of the greatest victories in its history. The armies of three Arab countries were defeated. Egypt, Syria and Jordan suffered great losses. As a result of the Six-Day War, united Jerusalem became the capital of Israel. The Golan Heights became part of Israel. The territory was of strategic importance. Sinai and the west bank of the Jordan River passed under the control of Israel, which later made it possible to negotiate and conclude a peace treaty with Egypt and accept a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO. Nevertheless, despite all the efforts of the international community, the Arab-Israeli conflict today is one of the major conflicts of the Middle East, which continues to threaten peace and stability in the region.

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