05 Jun Israel’s Triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War
In 1948, once the Jewish people established the State of Israel, they had to prepare for war against the surrounding Arab nations. While tiny Israel won the war, it was a pyrrhic victory, losing 1% of the total population. Nineteen years later, the State of Israel would have to defend her very existence again against the same countries, an attempt to finish what Adolph Hitler had started, the genocide of the Jewish people. Israel would come out of the 1967 Six-Day War the victor, sustaining relatively few causalities and gaining the ability to defend her existence. Israel also had gained new lands, these new areas were strategic for security, historical to the Jewish people, and could be used as negotiation tools for peace with her neighbors. Many experts, even the skeptics, have called Israel’s triumph in 1967 a miracle.
Israel’s Prime Minister in 1967 was Levi Eshkol, a man of agricultural innovation who was the country’s next in line after David Ben-Gurion retired (Eshkol was the 3rd Israeli Prime Minister, after Ben-Gurion’s second term following Israel’s 2nd Prime Minister Moshe Sharett). Prime Minister Eshkol’s agricultural background gave him great insight when the Jordanians and Syrians tried to direct the Jordan Valley River Basin’s water flow away from Israel, dramatically hindering Israel’s national water supply. On the other side of Israel’s border, the Egyptians were warned in 1957 that closing the Straits of Tiran, an important Israeli shipping route, would be an act of war against Israel. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt was given false reports from the Soviet Union that Israel had been increasing their military presence on the Sinai Peninsula, he responded by closing the Straits and expelled the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) whom had been in the Sinai since the 1956 Suez Crisis.
In the Middle East, water politics is the means to survival in a region that depends on the smallest amounts of water to survive. In May 1967, Israel could also see the rising military coordination by Egypt and Syria, the big Arab players in the region. The two countries had signed a mutual defense agreement in 1966 and again on May 30, 1967. Sensing the change atmosphere, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol could see the region moving in for another conflict, though he lacked the military experience to bring Israel to defend herself. The choice for many Israelis was clear, bring David Ben-Gurion out of retirement to choose Israel’s best course of action. For Eshkol, his choice was to give confidence back to Israelis by bringing together a unity government between the right-wing and the left-wing parties, and just as importantly, he appointed the well-respected Moshe Dayan as Defense Minister.
On June 5, 1967, Israel responded to these threats with a massive preemptive strike against the Egyptian and Syrian armies built up on Israel’s borders. Despite Israel’s warning to King Hussein of Jordan not to get involved in the war, he was swayed by Egyptian President Nasser that the Egyptians were winning. Jordanian forces in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) were sent to Hebron to connect with the Egyptian army, the Jordanian air force then struck along Israel’s Mediterranean coast line just north of Tel Aviv. After the Israeli cabinet convened on Israel’s next move, the Israel Defense Forces encircled Jerusalem and pushed back the Jordanians across the Jordan River. The Israeli army were extremely careful not to kill civilians nor damage Jewish, Muslim or Christian holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City. By June 10th, the Israelis had pushed back all the Arab armies from Israel’s major population centers, giving the Israeli people much needed room to breathe after almost twenty years of their enemies’ chokehold. The State of Israel had liberated the Golan Heights from Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, as well as the West Bank (historically called Judea and Samaria) from Jordan’s illegal occupation starting 1949.
The 1967 Six-Day War had changed not only the power dynamics of the region, but also the views of the Israeli people and World Jewry. Before Israel’s miraculous victory, the world viewed her as a tiny country in a region of hostile enemies. She was small but able to defend herself, though there was never a promise of Israel’s longevity. As the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated by the Israel Defense Forces, the feeling of the Israeli 55th Paratroopers Brigade, whom had freed her, was a wave of deep emotions. The Jewish people had yearned for 2000 years for Jerusalem and now she was to be opened to the masses. Israel had liberated Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank), which was major strategic threat, being used a launching pad for attacks against Israel. Not to mention that the Jewish people’s historic lands were included in the entirety of Judea and Samaria. The Golan Heights were a major victory for Israel’s defense against Syrian airstrikes and invasion. Israel’s victory was miraculous, she was now able to use these newly liberated lands and military legitimacy to truly defend herself and her people.