|The Six-Day War: A Retrospective
by Rachel Neuwirth [commentator/analyst] 12/13/06
June 5, 2007 will mark forty years since the Six-Day War. As we approach that anniversary, we can expect Israel’s critics, enemies and alleged friends, to intensify their demands for Israel to relinquish and evacuate the “occupied territories”, and help establish a Palestinian Arab State in their place. That demand often comes with a promise of recognition and peace with Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal. A constant drumbeat of voices, including the Jewish left and some in the U.S. administration, insist that it is the ‘Israeli occupation’ that is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Critics claim that continued ‘occupation’ is causing Palestinian anger and despair which fuels their violence because they have no other option to reclaiming their ‘occupied’ lands.
A full withdrawal would require the uprooting of at least 250,000 Jews causing major financial and human trauma to the tiny country of Israel. But to achieve a full and permanent peace, might such a huge sacrifice be a price worth paying?
If Israel could be absolutely certain of full and permanent peace in exchange for a total withdrawal many Israelis might be tempted to pay that painfully high price to finally end the bitter and costly conflict. But how could Israel know in advance if it is absolutely safe to first withdraw and then trust the Arabs to make a true peace? Who would guarantee the results? America? Europe? The U.N.? Do nations, including the U.S. government, ever break their promises? In response to a previous promise of the U.S. coming to Israel’s assistance in case of attack, the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said, ‘By the time you Americans get here we won’t be here.’ How can this vision be tested in advance? The deal requires that Israel alone would be betting her survival on everyone else keeping their promises. The deal-breaker is that Israel cannot be certain, in advance, that she would not be walking into a death trap.
That proposal can be tested right now, and risk free. Recall May of 1967. All of the conditions now demanded for a full peace with the Arabs were present then. No ‘occupation’ whatsoever. The Golan, Gaza and the ‘West Bank’ (Judea Samaria), were all in Arab hands and entirely devoid of Jews. All of the bloody wars that had transpired after June 1967 had not yet happened to exacerbate Israeli-Arab relations. We can now review the conduct of the Arabs, and especially of the United States, before, during and after the Six-Day War.
Before the Six-Day War
In May 1967 there were NO ‘occupied territories’ and NO Jews in Gaza, the ‘West Bank’, the Golan Heights or in eastern Jerusalem. Yet in 1964 the Arab League established the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The name itself suggests ‘liberating’ Arab land from the Jews. But before June 1967 there were NO ‘occupied lands’ to be ‘liberated’ -- unless there was something sinister afoot. There was.
The PLO Covenant of 1965 declared the existence of Israel null and void along with the PLO’s intention to exterminate the Jewish State with no offer of peace under any conditions. Faced with a terror organization announcing its intention to destroy the State of Israel, a member of the U.N., the U.S. administration remained neutral in thought, word and deed.
The Golan was entirely in Syrian hands but Syrian guns regularly shelled Israeli farmers in the valley below causing Jews to hide in bomb shelters. Gaza was entirely controlled by Egypt but Arab killers often crossed into Israel from both Gaza and Egypt to kill Jews. Judea and Samaria (West Bank) plus eastern Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands but Arab killers often crossed from Jordan into Israel to kill Jews.
Jerusalem received ‘special’ treatment. The ‘old city’ containing Judaism’s holiest shrines was in the hands of Jordan, an American client. Jordan denied access to Jews wanting to pray at Jewish holy sites. Jordan destroyed Jerusalem’s synagogues, uprooted Jewish burial sites and used the tombstones for latrine covers. During this time the U.S. maintained an American Consulate-General in eastern Jerusalem where they could easily observe Jordanians destroying Jewish holy sites. There was NO U.S. consulate in the Israeli part of Jerusalem thus showing a one-sided preference for Arab domination of that city.
(Even today the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem provides all of its services for Arabs, and not for Jews. It recently celebrated Ramadan while ignoring Simchat Torah along with 2/3 of Jerusalem’s population which is Jewish.)
There was no U.S. opposition to Jordan’s destruction and desecration of Jewish holy sites. How could this have happened when we are told that the “occupation” is the sole cause of the conflict and also that America gives total and uncritical support to Israel?
We are constantly told that the PLO/PA only sought to eliminate the “occupation” and establish a Palestinian Arab State in the vacated territories. In 1965 there was no “occupation” yet the PLO’s Covenant still called for Israel’s destruction. We are told that the Palestinian Arabs only want a state of their own in the territories. Before May 1967 the PLO never moved to establish a Palestinian Arab State in those territories. From 1949 until 1967 Arabs controlled all of the territories. Why was there never even a call for creating a “Palestinian” Arab State? The only calls were for Israel’s destruction.
The Six-Day War
In May 1967 Egyptian dictator Gamal Nasser unilaterally demands and gets the prompt removal of U.N. monitors in the Sinai so he can move his large Egyptian army towards the Israeli border. Inexplicably the U.S. remains passive to this dangerous development. Nasser vows to drive the Jews into the sea while he and the Syrians mobilize for war.
Nasser blockades the Straits of Tiran, an act of war, which denies Israeli shipping from its southern port of Eilat. Israel appeals to the U.S. to honor its 1957 promise to back Israel in case Egypt blocks Israeli access. The U.S. refuses to act. Tiny Holland offers to join an international naval convoy to break the Egyptian blockade. The U.S. still declines to act.
Gamal Nasser tells cheering Egyptians he intends to throw the Jews into the sea. Egypt and Syria are mobilized for war with Soviet arms. Jordan’s arsenal includes American tanks. Nasser’s German scientists had provided missiles and poison gas in the Sinai which Israel discovers later. Israel’s generals warn that if the Arabs strike first, tiny Israel could suffer 40,000 dead, (the American equivalent of losing nearly 3 million dead). Israel mobilizes her citizen army which paralyzes her economy. Over two weeks pass and Israel cannot long bear the cost of a total mobilization.
President Lyndon Johnson fails to find a diplomatic solution. He offers no aid to Israel’s suffering economy, no warning to the Arabs not to attack, and no offer to aid Israel if the Arabs attack. Instead he asks Israel to refrain from any military action so he can have more time for diplomacy. McGeorge Bundy, the President’s National Security advisor, even declares in public that ‘America is neutral in thought, word and deed.’ Egypt and Syria can feel confident because they have American neutrality plus Soviet weapons and Soviet backing. Jordan can feel confident because they are armed and supported by America. Israel has some French planes and British tanks but no outside backing - they must sink or swim alone!
During the war Israel attacked the American spy ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, killing 34 and wounding 171. There are conflicting versions of what actually happened.
Some accuse Israel of deliberately, and maliciously, attacking an American spy ship because it allegedly discovered Israel was planning to also attack Syria or was killing Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai. Neither accusation makes sense. Israel informed the U.S., before the war, that it planned to deal with Syria. There was also no evidence of Israelis killing Egyptian prisoners and no logic for killing American sailors which would be infinitely worse for Israel than killing the Egyptian enemy.
The official version from both sides is that Israel mistook the Liberty for an Egyptian warship and only discovered its U.S. identity during the attack. Audio tapes suggest Israeli pilots were initially confused about the ship’s identity. Nevertheless this account still leaves troubling questions unanswered. What was the mission of the spy ship? Why was Israel not told of its presence? When the U.S. military learned of its location why did they urgently attempt to withdraw the ship if its mission was both official and innocent? Why did the National Security Agency (NSA) take control of the ship before the war? Who was acting on their own inside the NSA and for what purpose? Could the mission have been intentionally detrimental to Israel?
John Loftus, in his book, The Secret War Against the Jews devotes an entire chapter to the Liberty incident. Israel wanted to demonstrate good faith towards America. “Realizing the danger of a massed Arab attack, the Israelis informed the United States of their intention to launch a preemptive strike, which the CIA promptly betrayed to the Arabs.”....page 259 of Loftus’ book. But the Egyptians distrusted America and discounted the information.
Loftus argues that the NSA, presumably acting alone, wanted to convince a skeptical Egypt that, despite their siding with the Soviets and their aggression against Israel, the U.S. was really on their side contrary to U.S. public opinion. This is how an apparently rogue American agency, decided to spy against Israel during wartime and secretly aid Israel’s Egyptian enemy.
According to Loftus the U.S.S. Liberty, a super high tech intelligence ship, would spy on Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai while providing secret real time battlefield intelligence to the Egyptian military. This would significantly increase Israeli casualties and conceivably affect the outcome of the war. Israel was not supposed to discover this secret American betrayal but they did and decided to only disable, but not to sink, the ‘enemy’ ship.
If Loftus is right then an American agency, on its own initiative, took part in an unauthorized war against Israel, without the knowledge of the Johnson Administration. If their purpose was to increase Israeli casualties, to impress the Egyptians, they only succeeded in needlessly causing American deaths and injuries. Loftus’ charges are damning and are not invalidated by evidence of initial confusion of Israeli pilots about the ship’s U.S. identity. Too many serious questions remain unanswered to declare this matter ‘case closed’.
A nagging question. Suppose Israel heeded the American request to not pre-empt and, as a result, suffered a devastating Arab first strike that threatened her survival. Would the U.S. have then responded militarily, and in time, to save Israel from destruction? We may never know the answer for certain, but one can’t help wondering.
After the Six-Day War
President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Gen. Earle Wheeler to do a study following the Six-Day War on what territory was needed by Israel to survive as a nation, without America needing to come to her rescue.
The following was concluded in a secret report of June 29, 1967: Israel was advised not to abandon her furthest borders and whatever high ground she held. According to the report that accompanied the map, the Joint Chiefs said:
"Returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its vulnerability. Israel would be threatened by West Bank artillery and tactical SAMs - a sword constantly over its head and the need to maintain readiness with prohibitive mobilization costs. For stable future Arab-Israeli agreements, Israel must feel it can wait out a crisis rather than strike pre-emptively. Israel should retain....the Gaza Strip, mountains and plateaus of the West Bank, the tip of the Sinai, Sharm el Sheikh, the Golan Heights east of Quneitra and ALL of Jerusalem."
The report was kept secret which denied Israel an essential bargaining point in future negotiations. It eventually came to light when revealed in the Wall Street Journal, March 9, 1983 but it remains ignored. U.S. official policy to this day remains committed to a full Israeli pullback on all fronts except for minor adjustments. Since June 2002 President Bush now supports the creation of a "Palestinian” Arab state inside Judea and Samaria (West Bank) which was never original U.S. policy. What was unworkable in 1967 is even more unworkable and dangerous today.
After the war America replaced the tanks lost by Jordan in attacking Israel.
America had earlier assured Israel that U.S. tanks sent to Jordan would never be used to attack Israel. Jordan was never punished for violating that pledge. The U.S. was also slow in supplying Israel with F-4 Phantom fighter bombers to replace the fifty French fighter planes that France embargoed against Israel in violation of their contract.
The Six-Day War could have been avoided had America and NATO warned Egypt and Syria against threatening aggression against Israel. Israel was forced to fight an avoidable war at great cost. Her quick victory belied the danger she faced had she not pre-empted, or had other things gone wrong. America did nothing to help Israel against her enemies but still benefited politically in seeing two major Soviet clients, Egypt and Syria, soundly defeated. The American people, and Congress, were solidly in support of Israel but few grasped all of what really happened. CRO
Bertram Cohen Contributed to this article