The following article is reprinted with permission from A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People published by Schocken Books.
In the spring of 1957, the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip occupied since the Suez Campaign of the previous year.
Israeli Tank on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.
The United Nations sent an international Emergency Force (UNEF) to the Egyptian‑Israeli border and to Sharm el‑Sheikh. The great powers gave Israel assurances concerning the freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Eilat, and the government of Israel made it clear that any infringement of that freedom would be regarded as a casus belli.
All these arrangements, however, did not secure peace in the region. The terror‑reprisal cycle continued on several fronts. The Fatah [the Palestinian group dedicated to obtaining Palestinian independence, founded by Yassir Arafat in 1951]went on sending its men from Jordan to carry out terrorist operations within Israel’s borders. Syrian artillery on the Golan Heights frequently shelled settlements in the Upper Galilee and the Jordan Valley, forcing the Israeli air force to retaliate in operations that often turned into mini‑wars. Moreover, although the Egyptian border remained relatively quiet, as Egypt was involved since 1962 in a civil war in Yemen, [Egyptian President] Gamal Abdul Nasser made no secret of his intention to destroy the State of Israel at the first opportune moment.
Nasser Mobilizes Troops
In the spring of 1967 it seemed as though that moment had come. In three weeks and by five impressive initiatives, Nasser managed to embroil the entire Middle East in a major war. First, Egyptian forces in the Sinai were considerably reinforced, under the pretext of coming to Syria’s assistance. Then Nasser demanded the evacuation of U.N. forces from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and U Thant, the U.N. Secretary General, immediately acceded to his request. On May 20, Egyptian forces occupied Sharm el‑Sheikh, closing the Straits of Tiran two days later. While Egyptian propaganda was proclaiming the imminent and inevitable destruction of Israel, the massive reinforcements of troops along the borders with Israel brought the numbers of Egyptian soldiers to 100,000 and tanks to 900. Once again, after ten years, Israel was directly confronted by Egyptian forces along the frontier. Finally, Nasser orchestrated a great Arab alliance: in addition to the Egyptian‑Syrian military agreement of November 1966, he now signed pacts with Jordan (May 30) and Iraq (June 4). Contingents arrived from other Arab countries, such as Kuwait and Algeria.
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