The Holocaust motivated large numbers of immigrants to move to the new country, providing the necessary population; secondly, the Holocaust enabled Israel to pressure Germany into supplying the economic base necessary to build infrastructure and support those immigrants; and finally, the Holocaust swayed world opinion so that the United Nations approved the State of Israel in 1948.
It was a war which would fatefully decide whether Israel would “live or perish”.
It was a war for survival, where an Israeli David defended itself from the Arab Goliath hell-bent on its elimination.
This is how the 1967 war is often described by Israelis.
Unfortunately, this view is often uncritically regurgitated in the mainstream narrative of the war.
Needless to say, this is pure revisionism with no basis in reality.
Israel has managed to score a major propaganda victory when it convinced many that its wars are all defensive, even the one which it initiated through a sneak attack.
It is a testament to the triumph of sophistry and confirmation bias over facts in the context of the Palestinian question.
Let us look at the historical record and dismantle this myth piece by piece.
Although it has become part of the conventional “wisdom” for many, the idea that Israel was pushed into a war it wanted nothing to do with collapses upon itself when the historical record of events is examined.
The 1967 war did not materialize out of a vacuum, nor should it be understood as such.
The 1967 war was merely a continuation of Israel’s wars against the region to achieve maximum territorial expansion.
Particularly, this war would finish what was begun in 1956, when Israel invaded Egypt with the help of Britain and France.
The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was created in the aftermath of the 1956 war on Egypt to secure peace, and patrol both sides of the border between Egypt and Israel.
Despite being the aggressor, Israel refused to cooperate with the UN force, and rejected the idea of any peace-keeping force on their side of the border, meanwhile Egypt accepted the UN force and cooperated with them.
Not only did Israel refuse to cooperate, but over its decade-long existence, Israeli troops “regularly patrolled alongside the line and now and again created provocations by violating it“.
This, however, was only the tip of the iceberg of Israeli provocations towards its neighbors.
Much of Israel’s military actions were designed to goad Nasser into war, an example of this can be seen in the disproportionate Israeli assault on Gaza in 1955, or the assault on Samu in 1966, or the frequent unprovoked bombings of Syrian border positions.
This is hardly our unique interpretation of events; at the time this was widely understood. For example the British ambassador in Israel explained that this tactic aimed to spawn a “deliberately contrived preventive war“.
But even if this is unconvincing to you, and you remain adamant that Israel was acting purely in self-defense, there is ample evidence to show that Israel was not intent on avoiding war.
As mentioned, war was an opportunity to achieve many of its objectives, one of which is the expansion into territories not conquered in 1948, as Ben Gurion lamented.
This becomes exceedingly clear once we examine the diplomatic record, and the numerous times Israel sabotaged any attempt at mediation or diplomacy to avert the outbreak of war.
For example, throughout much of the crisis of 1967 Egypt expressed its willingness to resurrect and expand the Egyptian-Israeli Mixed Armistice Commission (EIMAC), which was officially rejected by Israel in May.
In the same month, the UN secretary-General personally attempted to avert an escalation by travelling to Cairo to mediate between the Egyptians and Israelis.
He came with a proposal which called for a two-week moratorium in the straits of Tiran (Which we will be discussing shortly).
Once again, Egypt agreed to the proposal in an attempt to lower tensions. Israel rejected the proposal.
Brian Urquhart, who was a senior UN official at the time, wrote in his memoir that “Israel, no doubt having decided on military action, turned down U Thant’s ideas“.
This is hardly the only attempt at averting an escalation, the United States also tried its hand at mediation.
High ranking American diplomats and politicians met with Nasser in late May in a meeting that was deemed a “breakthrough in the crisis”.
In this meeting Nasser showed flexibility and a willingness to include the World Court to arbitrate in some of the issues.
However, what was most promising was that Nasser agreed to send his vice-president to Washington within a week in an attempt to reach a diplomatic settlement for the crisis.
You may be wondering why you’ve never heard of such a meeting, or what its results were.
That is because two days before the meeting, Israel decided to launch its surprise attack, torpedoing all efforts to reach a non-violent diplomatic solution to the crisis.
This shocked even the Americans, Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State wrote that:
“They attacked on a Monday, knowing that on Wednesday the Egyptian vice-president would arrive in Washington to talk about re-opening the Strait of Tiran. We might not have succeeded in getting Egypt to reopen the strait, but it was a real possibility.”
Following the diplomatic developments of the time leaves no shadow of a doubt that Israel was purposely seeking war.
It rebuffed all attempts at mediation and even deceived and humiliated its ally, the United States, by allowing it to continue with the charade of diplomacy which Israel knew it was going to attack anyway.
On the other hand, this shows Nasser to have been far more flexible, and amenable to diplomatic solutions than many suggest.
Yet until this day, Israel is portrayed as being forced into a defensive war, while Nasser is portrayed as a warmonger.
In his memoir, U Thant, the UN Secretary General at the time, wrote that “if only Israel had agreed to permit UNEF to be stationed on its side of the border, even for a short duration, the course of history could have been different.
Diplomatic efforts to avert the pending catastrophe might have prevailed; war might have been averted.” This was further confirmed by Odd Bull, chief of staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) at the time, who stated that “it is quite possible that the 1967 war could have been avoided’ had Israel acceded to the Secretary-General’s request.“
Israel had no interest in avoiding war, this much is clear. But let us delve a little bit deeper and inspect the pretexts it used for the justification of its sneak attack on Egypt, which it labeled as a “preemptive strike”.
One of the main pretexts used to justify the Israeli attack on Egypt is claiming that the concentration of Egyptian troops in Sinai constituted an imminent danger.
The claim is that these troops were preparing to attack, so Israel struck first to “defend” itself. However, once again, none of this holds up to any kind of scrutiny.
Israel knew that Egypt was not about to attack, and that their military movements were purely defensive.
There is a wealth of documented proof of this, it is actually quite difficult to argue the opposite when even Israeli leaders were so frank about it.
For example, Mossad Chief Meir Amit observed at the time that “Egypt was not ready for a war; and Nasser did not want a war.”
US President Johnson shared the evaluation of US intelligence networks with the Israelis that “..there is no Egyptian intention to make an imminent attack” Some years later, Menachem Begin candidly admitted that:
“The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us.
We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
Furthermore, if Israel was truly worried about an Egyptian attack that would threaten its existence, it would have simply accepted U Thant’s offer to deploy UN peace keeping forces.
The second pretext for the war was to put a stop to what Abba Eban called the “bombardment of our northern settlements“.
However, you should by now know better than to take any of these claims at face value.
In the aftermath of the 1948 war, a demilitarized zone was established between Syria and Israel.
In the Israeli narrative, Syrians constantly rained fire down on Israel without provocation from their positions in the Golan heights.
Unsurprisingly, the details of the clashes among the northern front paint an entirely different story.
Israeli general Moshe Dayan admitted that Israel was responsible for at least 80% of all clashes that occurred with the Syrians.
He described how Israel would deliberately trespass into the demilitarized zone to provoke the Syrians and create a justification to take over more land:
“We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was.”
This is confirmed by Odd Bull, who recollected that “the situation deteriorated as the Israelis gradually took control over that part of the demilitarized zones which lay inside the former national boundaries of Palestine…as the status quo was all the time being altered by Israel in her favor”. US consular cables from Jerusalem concluded that the:
“Arabs concerned selves basically with preservation situation envisioned in [the UN armistice agreements] while Israel consistently sought gain full control”.
As a matter of fact, these same cables even mentioned that the UN observers generally credited Syria for practicing restraint in the face of Israel’s behavior.
But why provoke these clashes in the first place?
Dayan was of the view that the occupation of the Golan was driven mainly by the fertile agricultural lands it possessed and not any real concern for security.
This is reinforced by the fact that for an entire 6 month period preceding the war, there was not a single Israeli casualty on that front.
The situation was quite clear cut, with almost unanimous agreement that Israel bore the responsibility for the vast majority of escalations with Syria.
As a matter of fact, there were four different UN resolutions condemning Israel for its violations of the armistice agreement and encroachments into the demilitarized zone, while none targeted Syria.
At the time it was plain to see who the aggressor was, which is why the twisting of the narrative today into the complete opposite is so insulting.
It is historical revisionism of the highest order with no basis in reality.
Perhaps the most cited pretext to justify the Israeli assault is Egypt’s blockade of the straits of Tiran.
Israelis at the time dramatically described it as a “strangulation”.
The official Egyptian reason for closing the straits was due to Israel’s violation of various UN resolutions.
This is plausible, but of secondary importance to us.
What interests us here is the Israeli claim of a “strangulation” so bad that it constituted an act of war which necessitated a military response.
First, it is important to establish that the affected port of Eilat is not the crucial lifeline that Israel claimed it was.
It is estimated that at the time barely five percent of Israel’s trade arrived through Eilat. Had Haifa been the blockaded port, perhaps this talking point could have held some water, but it was not.
Second, the blockade only targeted ships flying the Israeli flag, or other ships carrying cargo which was deemed strategic.
Yet the records show that for the preceding 2.5 years not a single ship flying the Israeli flag had docked at the port of Eilat.
So even if fully enforced, this blockade would barely affect Eilat’s port.
Third, there is strong evidence to suggest that the Egyptians did not actually enforce the blockade.
They initially searched a few ships, but relaxed their measures fairly quickly.
And finally, if you recall, Nasser was in the process sending a delegation to Washington DC to discuss lifting the blockade and de-escalating tensions with Israel.
As mentioned above, Israel chose to attack two days before the arrival of said delegation.
In any case, the idea that the ineffective, partial blockade of a minor port was tantamount to “strangulation” which threatened to destroy Israel is pure propaganda aimed at justifying Israel’s aggression.
The culmination of all the pretexts mentioned previously constituted -according to the Israeli narrative- a clear and present danger to the very existence of the Israeli state. This is why they had to attack Egypt, otherwise Israel would have been utterly destroyed. However, after reviewing these pretexts, the following becomes clear:
Israel was under no military threat from the Egyptian or Syrian militaries.
An ineffective, partial blockade on a minor port did not actually threaten it with strangulation.
Israel constantly and aggressively provoked its neighbors with raids, bombings and violations of UN resolutions.
Israel avoided every attempt at mediation or de-escalation, and chose to attack right before a meeting that could have eased tensions.
Virtually every talking point Israel uses to justify this war is based on strategic omission and the manipulation of history.
Under no circumstance was Israel under an imminent threat of destruction, not even the Israelis believed that at the time. Israeli Minister Mordecai Bentov frankly admitted a few years later that:
“This entire story about the danger of extermination was invented and exaggerated after the fact to justify the annexation of new Arab territories“.
For Israel, the 1967 war had nothing to do with “self-defense” and everything to do with finishing what it started in 1948 and 1956.
It had to do with acquiring new territories and expanding, and it had to do with striking Nasser’s project before it could become too big of a threat.
Ben Gurion’s apprehension regarding Nasser was never a secret, he admitted that he:
“..always feared that a personality might arise such as arose among the Arab rulers in the seventh century or like [Kemal Ataturk] who arose in Turkey after its defeat in the First World War. He raised their spirits, changed their character, and turned them into a fighting nation.
There was and still is a danger that Nasser is this man.”
We should keep these lessons in mind whenever tackling any Israeli claim.
We must never take these arguments at face value.
We should always question and investigate.
Truth is the best disinfectant, and Israel would not need to lie so brazenly if it truly believed its position to be a just or moral one.
All will be revealed in time, and as we say “You can’t cover the sun with a sieve“.