Gaining national sovereignty

It should be clearly understood that our true independence was not won in 1948.

By YAIR SHAMIR
June 9, 2013 21:18
Yair Shamir as a soldier.

yair shamir young soldier 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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It should be clearly understood that our true independence was not won in 1948.

While we functioned as a state from the time prime minister David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence aloud, we had not won the confidence of the international community, and especially of the superpowers of the time, regarding our nation’s ability to endure.

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The War of Independence had a great result militarily. However, there were few real diplomatic achievements to go with it. We had won few friends in the international community, with some states even attempting to undo diplomatically what had been achieved militarily.

However, after the war in 1956, the international community knew that we were firmly on the map, a force to be reckoned with in the region and an important part of the Western alliance. This was most attested to by our relationship with France, which assisted in the building of transport infrastructure, fostered academic cooperation, offered technological assistance and perhaps most importantly, served as a vital exporter of military equipment, especially warplanes.

In those days between 1956 and 1967, everything came from France and this was vital as our population grew exponentially, with refugees arriving en masse from the Arab world and Europe.

However, these cordial relations did not extend to quelling the growing threat from our neighbors as the winds of war began to blow in the mid-1960s.

Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had begun testing the determination of the West to resist his imperial ambitions. He did this firstly by expelling United Nations forces from the Sinai, then by closing the Straits of Tiran and finally by forming a coalition with Syria and Iraq.



The lack of a serious reaction within the international community left Israel with a sense of abandonment. Even Abba Eban’s intense diplomacy, and the constant pleas for assistance, did not yield any results.

In the weeks leading up to the war, the country was paralyzed. All the reserves had been called up and the streets and cities were empty, save for the young and the elderly.

Those of us waiting for action felt extremely frustrated. There was gallows humor in the air; the most famous joke making the rounds was, “Will the last person in Israel please turn the lights off in Ben-Gurion Airport?” While the soldiers felt deeply frustrated, it was worse for those who stayed at home.

There was tremendous anxiety and tension among those whose only source information was the media, which reported the bloodcurdling threats of annihilation emanating from the Arab world. They were already witnessing the massive rationing of food, and many of their private vehicles had already been requisitioned by the army.

Prime minister Levi Eshkol, while intelligent and politically savvy, lacked the charisma so desperately needed in a wartime leader.

In May, during an Independence Day speech at Hatzor Military Base, he gave a stuttering address which did the opposite of instill confidence among those of us in the audience who would be on the frontlines of the looming war.

As we listened to Eshkol, many of us were nervous that this was the person who was making life-and-death decisions for our nation, only a couple of decades after the Holocaust. However, when war came, it was over in a few hours. We achieved an extraordinary victory against the armies that had amassed at our borders.

But we had lost France, our chief ally, and Charles De Gaulle imposed a weapons embargo on Israel. As a sign of anger and contempt at our stunning victory, France sent the vital Mirage 5 warplanes to Libya instead of Israel.

In the days leading up to the war, I was involved in reconnaissance as a pilot traveling sometimes behind enemy lines to transmit troop movements to our decision makers.

I flew reconnaissance on the southern front, which was our gravest worry in the lead-up to hostilities, but when war began I was stationed to fly reconnaissance in the Jerusalem theater, and would land every day on a landing strip that would eventually become Kanfei Nesharim St.

It is impossible to put into words the total euphoria that reigned once the war was effectively over and Jerusalem had been conquered.

From the gallows humor of a few days prior, we, the Jewish state, had not just vanquished our enemies, but had redeemed our ancient lands and eternal capital.

I, along with two other pilots, took a light plane from our base at Sde Dov to Atarot airfield.

There we took an American-made car to Jerusalem and rode through Lion’s Gate to the Old City. Like most people of my generation, I did not know how to reach our holy sites so when I saw an ultra-Orthodox man running through the streets, we followed him until we reached the Kotel.

The Kotel Plaza that we know today did not exist, and due to the Mughrabi Quarter was only a few meters wide. It was choked up with large crowds who had come to pray and touch these hallowed stones. The feeling of standing at this place, dripping with religious and historic significance, was indescribable.

Witnessing the physical liberation of our most holy places was something I felt I had to do at the earliest possible opportunity.

I can honestly say that this was indeed one of the best days of my life.

The pure exhilaration of the day has always remained with me. On a national level, those six days were as important as any in modern Jewish history, and their significance resounds even today, in more ways than we can fully contemplate.

The Six Day War gave us something vital for any nation, especially one so relatively young and surrounded by enemies. If, as I stated earlier, the 1956 war gave us independence, the war in 1967 gave us sovereignty.

We were, as a result of the war, forced to think in terms of greater military and economic independence. We had been taught the hard lesson that when the chips were down we could only rely on ourselves, and began to build our country anew upon this stark understanding.

In 2013, we can see the fruits of this policy.

While we have friends in the world, especially the US, we have become an economic, hitech, military and innovative regional superpower.

Our achievements can largely be traced back to those six days in June. Those miraculous days, largely unprecedented in the annals of military warfare, not only gave us our ancient lands, but our long-term future.

Our victory and the liberated territories are eternally bound with our modern achievements and endurance. While the War of Independence in 1948 gave us a state, and the Suez Crisis in 1956 gave us independence, the 1967 war gave us sovereignty, and no state can consider its abjuration.

These were some of the best days of my life, and the most essential for our nation.

The writer is the minister of agriculture and rural development and a former commander in the Israel Air Force.

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