By late May, Egyptian President Nasser’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops in the buffer zone along Israel’s border was an unambiguous threat to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol responded cautiously that Israel would not initiate hostilities as long as Egypt refrained from closing the international waterway leading to Israel’s southern port - the Straits of Tiran. Such an act would cut off Israel’s supply of oil and other vital resources, by blocking Israeli access to the Gulf of Aqaba and Asia.
On May 23, Nasser gave his answer by blockading the straits. This action violated UN Security Council Resolution 118, was condemned by US President Lyndon Johnson, and constituted an act of war in international law.
Nonetheless, Israel did not take immediate military action, continuing to attempt a resolution through diplomatic channels.
But Israel’s enemies would not be moved by diplomacy alone. As five other Arab countries deployed their troops toward Israel, Nasser told the public: “We knew that closing the Gulf of Aqaba meant war with Israel… If war comes it will be total and the objective will be Israel’s destruction.”
Tensions were mounting. It seemed that Israel was headed for a war for its very existence.
In the third video of our 12-part series
, learn what Israel did in response to Egypt’s threatening moves, and how Egyptian President Nasser escalated the situation further.
This video was produced by Jerusalem U in partnership with The Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Action Network, the European Jewish Congress and the Center for Israel Education. For more on the dramatic events and impact of the Six Day War, visit sixdaywarproject.org.