Re­fight­ing the Six-Day War

Fifty years later, Arabs nur­ture a fan­tasy of aveng­ing their loss

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Her­bert Lon­don Her­bert Lon­don is pres­i­dent of the Lon­don Cen­ter for Pol­icy Re­search.

In the be­gin­ning of June half a cen­tury ago, the Six-Day War ex­ploded on the Mid­dle East stage. Prior to the war, but as pre­cip­i­tate, re­lent­less at­tacks against Is­rael were con­ducted by Syr­ian, Le­banese and Jor­da­nian forces. By May 1967 Pres­i­dent Gamal Ab­del Nasser had mo­bi­lized Egyp­tian troops in the Sinai and closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Is­raeli ship­ping, thus ef­fec­tively cut­ting off all trade to the port city of Ei­lat. On May 30, King Hus­sain of Jor­dan ar­rived in Cairo to sign a mu­tual de­fense pact with Egypt.

In re­sponse to this mo­bi­liza­tion and the fear of be­ing over­run, Is­rael staged a pre-emp­tive air as­sault on June 5 that de­stroyed more than 90 per­cent of Egypt’s air force. A sim­i­lar at­tack dev­as­tated Syr­ian air ca­pa­bil­ity. With­out air cover, the Egyp­tian army was vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack and defeat. In three days the Is­raeli De­fense Force cap­tured the Gaza Strip, all of the Sinai penin­sula up to the east bank of the Suez Canal, and drove Jor­da­nian forces out of East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank.

The lop­sid­ed­ness of the defeat de­mor­al­ized the Arab pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal elites. By con­trast, in Is­rael there was eu­pho­ria as films of Is­raeli troops tak­ing con­trol of the old city of Jerusalem and sol­diers pray­ing at the Western Wall proved to be the war’s iconic im­age. But the Six-Day war also marked the be­gin­ning of a new phase in the con­flict be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans. The con­flict cre­ated hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees and placed more than 1 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans (for­merly Jor­da­ni­ans) un­der Is­raeli rule. While this was a mo­ment of re­joic­ing for Jews world­wide, it was also a time bomb re­leased within Is­rael it­self. As a re­sult of oc­cu­pa­tion and the Arabs un­der Is­raeli author­ity, this war would be fought again and again since 1967. Surely the bat­tle­ground is not the same, but the hu­mil­i­a­tion the Arabs felt in defeat was man­i­fest in hos­til­ity at the coun­cils of state, in le­gal par­lance and in the United Na­tions. This be­came the war that would not end.

Cries for the de­struc­tion of Is­rael be­came more shrill over the decades fol­low­ing the war. From the Arab side, re­sis­tance set in. De­spite ac­cords like the Oslo Agree­ment, there is an un­will­ing­ness to rec­og­nize for­mally the state of Is­rael.

In fact, diplo­macy has be­come an ex­ten­sion of war for Pales­tinian lead­ers.

Is­rael was from the out­set a geo­graphic splin­ter, a long shot to sur­vive. But this rag­tag pop­u­la­tion mer­ci­lessly op­pressed by the Holo­caust has been trans­formed from un­der­dog to top dog. The psy­cho­log­i­cal overhaul is not easy for the Arabs to ap­pre­ci­ate. Nor is it easy for Jews, who as­sume based on his­tor­i­cal an­tecedents, that they will be at the bot­tom look­ing up. It is not co­in­ci­den­tal that prior to the ’67 war, sec­u­lar Jews in the United States were uni­formly in fa­vor of Is­rael. By the 1990s, this sup­port was un­rav­el­ing. In fact, in sur­veys con­ducted by the Is­raeli Con­sul Gen­eral’s of­fice in New York, less than half of those who re­sponded pos­i­tively to Is­rael be­fore 1967 felt the same way a decade later.

A Jewish com­mit­ment to left-wing pol­i­tics placed the Pales­tinian ques­tion in a unique “box.” The lib­eral Jew could be the out­lier de­fy­ing his po­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion or he could em­brace the newly emerg­ing view that Is­rael, as an oc­cu­py­ing en­tity, had ex­ploited Pales­tini­ans through de­nial of their rights and ter­ri­tory. This lat­ter po­si­tion was re­in­forced at in­ter­na­tional meet­ings, the main­stream press and even Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions like J-Street.

It is alarm­ing that Fatah and Ha­mas goals are mu­tu­ally com­pat­i­ble on Is­rael, de­spite their lead­er­ship dis­putes. Their stance is be­lief in a Pales­tinian state from the Jor­dan River to the Mediter­ranean Sea, in other words, a land that ex­cludes a Jewish state. All of the ver­bal con­jur­ing does not change that propo­si­tion. In a sense, it means the ’67 war will be re­fought with a dif­fer­ent end­ing.

When the United States ab­stained at a re­cent Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote rec­og­niz­ing the post ’67 ter­ri­tory as “il­le­gal,” the stage was set for a Pales­tinian state. The Obama-Kerry po­si­tion was de­signed to le­gal­ize the Green Line as the Is­raeli bound­ary and to do so with­out ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis. The ghosts of ’67 live in the minds of some Amer­i­can diplo­mats who still view the Is­raeli vic­tory in the Six-Day War with the jaun­diced eye of the Ara­bist an­gry at Jewish suc­cess.

It is of­ten said that his­tory is writ­ten by the vic­tors in war. From June 1967 to the present, we have wit­nessed a re­lent­less un­der­dress­ing of events. In this case, the Pales­tini­ans have dom­i­nated the nar­ra­tive. The bear­ers of anti-Zion­ism present their big­otry as so­cial jus­tice. But the ques­tion re­mains: whose jus­tice? If Zion­ist thought is the orig­i­nal sin, only dis­man­tling the Jewish state can re­dress it. Many anti-Zion­ists claim they don’t op­pose Ju­daism, only the state of Is­rael as presently con­sti­tuted. Yet the main guar­an­tor of Jewish se­cu­rity since the end of World War II has been the sovereign state of Is­rael, the state that se­cured the ter­ri­tory in the Six-Day War that has al­lowed it to pros­per. Is­rael wasn’t born on the ashes of the Holo­caust, as Pres­i­dent Obama once noted, but it is the last fortress against its re-en­act­ment, a point some­times lost in the mem­ory hole of Jews across the globe.


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