The Globe: Fifty Years of the Six Days War
50 years ago, last June, the world witnessed one of the greatest victories in military history; one nation - the size of a Central American country, defeated five other nations that wished to see that nation annihilated from existence, only taking six days. In six days, the modern Middle East was born. In six days, the Cold War was shifted. In six days, a nation the size of a Central America county defeated an alliance of five much larger countries. On one side stood an Arab coalition that consisted of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. On the other side: Israel, and Israel alone.
The Six Day War had been brewing for some time: in 1948, Israel defeated multiple Arab states after the latter invaded following the pullout of Western troops. Tensions rose again as Israel, Britain, and France participated in a botched attack against Egypt in the Suez Crisis. Of course, history persisted in the Arab world without Israel. Despite what many believe, Israel is not the sole provocateur of turmoil in the Arab world
The Arab states hardly lived in a state of peace with one another; the time preceding the Six Day War is known as the “Arab Cold War.” Nationalist republics like Egypt and Syria faced off against monarchies such as Saudi Arabia. Egypt was bogged down in a war in Yemen that has been referred to as “Egypt’s Vietnam.” Pan-Arabism was spreading throughout the Arab world. The idea called for a unified Arab super-state, based on ideas of nationalism.
Egypt and Syria attempted to manifest this idea in a short-lived unified Arab republic, but the project failed for a multitude of reasons. Pan-Arabism and nationalism threatened the Arab monarchies, and they sought to counter it. The monarchs of nations such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan did not want to suffer the same fate as the monarchs of Iraq, when that kingdom fell to republicanism. These ideological power struggles led to the proxy war in Yemen (Yemen tends to endure those) between monarchist forces and republican forces. About the only thing unifying the Arab world was the malice directed toward Israel.
The Arab states feared Israel as much as Israel feared the Arab states – and perhaps shared the same overconfidence as the Israelis. The tensions between Israel and the Arab states have been growing for sometime; though there was no direct war, there were minor incidents, which always precedes war. Allegedly, due to faulty intelligence provided by the Soviets, Egypt believed Israel was going to soon launch a strike. Egypt began amassing troops in response. Israel recognized the dangers that had been posed and decided on war.
The IDF launch a swift campaign of annihilation against the Egyptian air force: in modern warfare, whoever controls the air controls the battle, and the IDF understood this. To this day, this doctrine is studied and executed. Egypt pressured Syria and Jordan into attacking, and the latter rained down upon Jerusalem artillery fire. It wasn’t enough. Israel destroyed the five-nation alliance in less than a week. The casualties were heavily Arab, with more than 20,000 estimated losses. It is though that Israel lost less than a thousand lives.
There were the usual dealings of such a conference: an issue regarding an oil embargo was addressed, the North Yemeni Civil War, which pitted the Republican Arab States against the Monarchist Arab States, was resolved, but must importantly: it was declared that the Arab world would live in a perpetual state of belligerency with Israel. To this effect, the three no’s were signed: No Peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negations with Israel. This is the context that would define the Israeli-Arab conflict.
But blood begets blood, and as the Ancient Greek Historian Thucydides would say; war is predicated on fear, honor, and interest. To be humiliated like that by the Jewish state was unacceptable, and the Arab states prepared for war once again. This time, the showdown would take place in October of 1973, in the Yom Kippur, or October War. In the dichotomy between fear of annihilation and overconfidence in the face of Goliath that has always defined Israeli strategy, it was the former that proved to be the most accurate. Israel came close to destruction, but miraculously (with military assistance) Israel defeated the aggressors again – though this time it was more painful.
After the Yom Kippur/October war, tensions resumed, par usual. Patient diplomacy however have made some tepid strides - though break throughs. Egypt, the former archenemy of Israel, agreed to a peace agreement in return for Israel’s forfeiture of the Saini peninsula, which Israel annexed after Egypt launched a war against Israel. But as old foes fall, new enemies rise; and when Egypt lower their sword, a revolutionary Iran raised theirs. Of strategic fortune to Israel, Iran also poses a threat to many of the Arab states that were formerly dedicated to the annihilation of the Jewish state. Now, there is an alliance of convenience between Israel and Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has not taken the peace processes seriously. Almost every peace offer made by Israel is met with violence by the PLO. Suicide attacks are the most notable aspect of PLO diplomacy. It wasn’t until the 90’s when the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist, though it was insincere to the extreme. Currently, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine and leader of the PLO, is in the thirteenth year of his four-year term.
A problem with politics is that many people have a Rousseauean vision as to why there are problems in the world. “Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains” the Genevan philosopher wrote in his work on the social contract. We tend to direct blame towards a single issue and neglect that many of the challenges facing humanity are in fact complications associated with the human condition. This failure of thought also bleeds into global affairs.
There are many who blame Israel as to why the Middle East is aflame. This is a simplistic reading of the world. There are many whom blame the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East on imperial politics following WWI, and there are those whom blame Islamic terrorism solely as the result of an activist foreign policy pursued by the United States. The world is more complicated than that.
Many of these things can be true, and none of them can be true at the same time. The best explanation of the conflict associated with the human condition comes from Thucydides. Yes, conflict and turmoil can at times originate form a place of pure interest and reason. But often, fear is associated with turmoil, and honor proliferates it. Human nature itself is to blame. It is why the rational decision might not always be made, and why events occur that are illogical to viewers from other cultures. The reality is that the world is complicated because people are complicated – people are chained by the realities of their culture, and that chain is unbreakable.