six day war trench 298.
(photo credit: AP)
By June 5, 1967, Egypt had about 210,000, Syria 63,000 and Jordan 55,000 soldiers - a total of 328,000 men - poised to wipe Israel off the map. A few days before, foreign minister Abba Eban noted in his diary in London, "The British radio and television, which I turned on briefly before retiring, were full of sympathy for Israel, but they had a distinctly funereal air."
Israel had secretly asked the US to provide 20,000 gas masks. An internal Pentagon memo approving the request noted, "All concerned (including the Israelis) recognize that the number of masks involved is too small to do much good and that by themselves could not assure adequate protection against the type of gas which may be used. This would be essentially a psychological gesture."
At a press conference on May 28, Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser said, "The existence of Israel is in itself an aggressionâ€¦ We will not accept anyâ€¦coexistence with Israel... Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israelâ€¦ The war with Israel is in effect since 1948."
On May 31 the Egyptian newspaper Al Akhbar reported, "Under the terms of the military agreement signed with Jordan, Jordanian artillery, coordinated with the forces of Egypt and Syria, is in a position to cut Israel in two at Kalkilya, where Israeli territory between the Jordan armistice line and the Mediterranean Sea is only 12 kilometers wide."
On June 1, Ahmed Shukairy, the PLO representative in Jordanian Jerusalem, responded as follows when asked what would happen to Israelis if there was a war: "Those who survive will remain in Palestine. I estimate that none of them will survive."
It was in this atmosphere that, on the morning of June 5, the IDF launched an air strike against the Egyptian air force that arguably decided the war - not in six days, but in three hours. Despite being vastly outnumbered by the Arab armies in troops, aircraft and tanks, Israel captured the Sinai from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, the ancient Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria that had been occupied by Jordan, and reunited - including the Western Wall, Temple Mount, and Jewish Quarter - the nation's capital in Jerusalem.
Over the past 40 years, this victory has been transformed in international and even, to a large extent, in Israeli eyes into a burden and a mark of Cain. The besieged Israel of June 4, 1967 has, for some, become the besieger of the Palestinians. A nation, once threatened, is seen as an occupier.
This transformation has contributed to and been exacerbated by an internal rift within our society, as symbolized by the poles of Peace Now and the settler movement. Both of these movements are now badly battered: the first destroyed by the wave of Palestinian suicide bombings that were the response to the Israeli offer of a Palestinian state, the second devastated both by war and peace agreements that convinced the public that the Palestinian population cannot be absorbed without destroying our society and democracy.
Now, since Ariel Sharon's incapacitation and the Second Lebanon War, a third option - unilateralism - has been discredited as well, since this too has led to Palestinian radicalization, missile attacks and war.
Yet Michael Oren, the premier historian of the Six Day War, is right when he states that it "opened opportunities for resolving the core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict ... for guaranteeing Israel's security and legitimacy and for achieving Palestinian independence."
Those opportunities have been taken in the form of peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. They have been squandered, however, on the failure to hold the Palestinians and the Arab world accountable for their refusal to address the root cause of all of the Arab-Israeli wars since 1948: the rejection of Jewish national self-determination in any part of the Land of Israel.
It is not the lack of a Palestinian state that perpetuates the war, but the war, and the rejection of Israeli sovereignty at its heart, that perpetuates the lack of a Palestinian state.
Until this fundamental truth is absorbed and becomes the basis of international policy, the 1967 war, like all those before and after, will not be fully resolved.