Last Tuesday was the 45th anniversary of the outbreak of a war between Egypt and Israel that reshaped the Middle East. At 7.30am, on 5 June, 1967, 200 Israeli fighter jets took off in a massive surprise attack, neutralising Egypt’s air force on the ground before troops advanced to occupy the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and the West Bank.
Israeli Air Force Commander Mott Hod told his pilots, “The spirit of Israel’s heroes accompany us to battle… From Joshua Bin-Nun, King David and the Maccabees… scatter him [the enemy] throughout the desert…”
It was Israel’s official declaration of war, but its version of events which shaped Western understanding of what became known as the Six-Day War – have long since been debunked.
Towards mid-May 1967, seeking to put pressure on Israel, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered a UN peacekeeping force out of Sinai and closing the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. This closed Israel’s access to the Red Sea and beyond from its southern port of Eilat.
Immediately following the closure of the disputed waterway, Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and army generals held meetings in deep below Israeli military headquarters to discuss a response to Nasser’s move, which was seen as a major threat.
A book by current Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren revealed that Israeli generals seized on Nasser’s lack of aforethought to execute a plan they had had prepared since the US forced Israel and its British and French allies to back down during the Suez Crisis of 1956.
The generals pressured and cajoled Eshkol to destroy Egypt’s army. On May 23, Deputy Chief of the General Staff Ezer Weizman spoke of the need to “strike now and swiftly”. Israel’s military commander at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, added, “First we’ll strike Egypt, and then we’ll fight Syria and Jordan as well.”
Several days later, the USSR informed Eshkol that Nasser had relayed an unequivocal message through a Soviet ambassador on May 27 that “Egypt does not want war and is not heading in that direction”.
To assuage Israel, US President Lyndon Johnson urged Eshkol not to succumb to his warmongering generals, assuring him that the US would sponsor international efforts to open the Strait of Tiran while promising economic and military aid if it was given an opportunity to resolve the Egyptian blockade peacefully.
When briefed on the US offer, Israeli generals lectured Eshkol on the prospect of expanding Israel’s borders. General Ariel Sharon, who would himself go on to be prime minster, stressed that the question “isn’t the [Strait of Tiran] passage”.
Newly released records and public statements prove that Israeli leaders later acknowledged that the June 1967 war was neither pre-emptive nor defensive. In an interview in 1968, Rabin was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that Nasser wanted war… He knew it and we knew it.”
In 1982, the then Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, said: “(The) Egyptian army concentration in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us… We decided to attack him.”
Despite this, most in the West continue to adopt Israel’s false narrative of the Palestine-Israel conflict since 1948, with a compliant pro-Israel media more or less preventing candid discussion of the subject. In effect, this allows Israel to maintain the longest, cruellest military occupation in modern history.
Jamal Kanj writes frequently on Arab world issues and is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. He can be reached at [email protected]. This article was first published in the Gulf Daily News Newspaper
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.