The Six-Day War

Provoked by an Egyptian military buildup, Israel fights back.

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In the spring of 1967, Israel was threatened with annihilation, as her Arab neighbors began a series of strategic moves designed to destroy the Jewish state. American Jewry, fearing that they might once again serve as spectators to genocide, displayed unprecedented philanthropic, emotional, and physical support for Israel. Israel, in turn, enacted a swift victory, demonstrating to the world the strength and staying power of the Jewish state. The following article, which details the events of the Six-Day War, 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.

Terror Continues

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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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University