This week I joined a tour of the Six Day War battle for Jerusalem, led by historian Michael Oren and author Yossi Klein Halevi for the new Adelson Institute of the Shalem Center.
Standing in places where fierce, sometimes hand-to-hand fighting took place, it was difficult to mentally transport ourselves back just 40 years, when Jerusalem was a small town in a cul-de-sac sealed by a wall and Jordanian snipers. And to the few hours of brutal struggle that changed all that.
The tour began at the Sherover Promenade in Talpiot, which has been transformed from a strategic strip of no-man's land to one of the most magnificent vistas of the united city. We heard how, contrary to Jimmy Carter and others who blithely claim that Israel preemptively attacked Jordan, Israel went to extraordinary lengths to avoid opening a front in Jerusalem, even as the IDF pummeled Egypt's air force.
Before the war, one paratrooper was so sure the fighting would be confined to the north and south that he sent his nine-months pregnant wife to family living on the border with Jordan in Jerusalem. He was part of the Paratroop Brigade that had trained to fight in the south, and yet was sent on the second night of the war to respond to the unexpected Jordanian attack on Jerusalem.
On the war's first day, June 5, Jordan launched massive and indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian west Jerusalem, killing and wounding dozens of residents. Jordan also rocketed Tel Aviv from Jenin. Further, Jordanian troops assaulted Jerusalem from the south, on the ridge where the Promenade is today. They retreated after Rachel Kaufman, the wife of the director of an experimental farm on that ridge, opened fire with an old machine gun.
Even after these Jordanian attacks, Israel's leadership was torn over how to respond. Paratroop Brigade commander Motta Gur sent two of his battalions to secure Mount Scopus, and one to take over the Rockefeller Museum, which overlooks the walls of the Old City. By sending part of his force to the Rockefeller, Gur was clearly anticipating an order to take the Old City.
Careful planning and preparation, however, is not what characterized the battles that day. The soldiers sent to capture Ammunition Hill, on the way to Mount Scopus, were not expecting the Jordanians to be so heavily fortified in trenches and bunkers. Nor did they know, as the pre-dawn battle raged, that the Jordanian tanks they were being sent to ward off were being destroyed by the Israeli air force a few kilometers away.
The brigade that was sent to the Rockefeller, which did not even have enough street maps of the city, took a wrong turn on to Nablus Road, where the US consulate still stands, came under hails of Jordanian fire and took many casualties.
There are never commissions of inquiries into victories, but if there were, the Winograd Committee's standards for preparations, training and decision making would not have been remotely met by the battle for Jerusalem. Yet, as in all of Israel's wars, there were battles that were won despite everything, because each soldier knew he could not let his comrades down, and he was fighting for the existence of his family and country.
AT THE CONFERENCE preceding the tour, Adelson Institute scholar Martin Kramer said, "The memory of 1967 is the basis of an implicit understanding between the [Arab] regimes and the peoples: the regimes will avert war, and in return the people will stay loyal, even docile.... The skill of rulers in averting war has helped to secure and entrench them. The collective Arab memory of 1967 explains why no Arab state has entered or stumbled into war with Israel in over 30 years. It's the underpinning of such peace and stability as the region has enjoyed."
In this view, the 1967 war ended the Arab-Israeli phase of the conflict and started a Palestinian-Israeli one. We have now, however, entered a third phase in which the conflict has expanded outward again, to a global battle between Islamofascism led by Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and al-Qaida; and the West, including the US, Europe and Israel.
The idea that the Six Day War actually ushered in this third phase, however fashionable, does not hold water. Though Islamofascism rose over the ashes of pan-Arabism, there was nothing inevitable in the West's toleration of this new and growing threat, which had little to do with Israel.
Even when Osama bin Laden was fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with American help, the Islamofascists saw the West as the next obstacle in their quest for world domination, and the easier one to beat.
Some wonder whether the powerful effect of 1967 has faded. Particularly since last summer's war, they claim, Israel does not look so invincible any more. Even if this is so, phrasing the problem this way largely misses the point.
The bigger problem now is that the global equivalent to 1967 in the current struggle, the dispatching of the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 is now seen to be unraveling. The new US Iraq strategy is succeeding on the ground, but perhaps not fast enough to stem the erosion in domestic support for seeing the struggle through.
Nasser's pan-Arabist bubble was not fully popped until the defeat of the Arab's Yom Kippur War counterattack six years after 1967. We are seeing a similar Islamofascist counterattack now. This menace will grow until its center, the Iranian regime, is defeated.
On May 26, just days before the Six Day War, as Egypt massed 80,000 troops and 900 tanks on the border, Nasser said, "We intend to open a general assault against Israel. This will be total war. Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel."
Iran has been equally blunt about its intentions. The international response to Iran's gathering storm has been as feckless as its inaction while Egypt and Syria openly prepared to destroy Israel 40 years ago. Today, however, the Islamofascist threat, while most acute against Israel, is global in scope. Barring an unforeseen burst of effective sanctions, such as imposing a total banking and import ban, a return to Western 1967-like audacity will be necessary.
- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11