Declassified documents emerge: Was Israel's 1967 surprise attack on Egypt really necessary? Issues Beyond Palo Alto, posted by Oh Oh, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 7:30 am
Little-noticed details in declassified U.S. documents indicate that Israel's Six-Day War may not have been a war of necessity.
At a little after 7 on the morning of June 5, 1967, as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's commanders were finishing their breakfasts and driving to work, French-built Israeli fighter jets roared out of their bases and flew low, below radar, into Egyptian airspace. Within three hours, 500 Israeli sorties had destroyed Nasser's entire air force. Just after midday, the air forces of Jordan and Syria also lay in smoking ruins, and Israel had essentially won the Six-Day War -- in six hours.
Israeli and U.S. historians and commentators describe the surprise attack as necessary, and the war as inevitable, the result of Nasser's fearsome war machine that had closed the Strait of Tiran, evicted United Nations peacekeeping troops, taunted the traumatized Israeli public, and churned toward the Jewish state's border with 100,000 troops. "The morning of 5 June 1967," wrote Israel's warrior-turned-historian, Chaim Herzog, "found Israel's armed forces facing the massed Arab armies around her frontiers." Attack or be annihilated: The choice was clear.
Or was it? Little-noticed details in declassified documents from the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, indicate that top officials in the Johnson administration -- including Johnson's most pro-Israeli Cabinet members -- did not believe war between Israel and its neighbors was necessary or inevitable, at least until the final hour. In these documents, Israel emerges as a vastly superior military power, its opponents far weaker than the menacing threat Israel portrayed, and war itself something that Nasser, for all his saber-rattling, tried to avoid until the moment his air force went up in smoke. In particular, the diplomatic role of Nasser's vice president, who was poised to travel to Washington in an effort to resolve the crisis, has received little attention from historians. The documents sharpen a recurring theme in the history of the Israeli-Arab wars, and especially of their telling in the West: From the war of 1948 to the 2007 conflict in Gaza, Israel is often miscast as the vulnerable David in a hostile sea of Arab Goliaths.
"You will whip the hell out of them," Lyndon Johnson told Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban during a visit to the White House on May 26, 1967. The president's conclusions were based on multiple intelligence reports, including a CIA assessment that Israel "can maintain internal security, defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, launch limited attacks simultaneously on all fronts, or hold any of three fronts while mounting successfully a major offensive on the fourth." As Nicholas Katzenbach, U.S. undersecretary of state at the time, recalled: "The intelligence was absolutely flat on the fact that the Israelis ... could wipe out the Arabs in no time at all."
A key discrepancy lay between U.S. and British intelligence reports and those conveyed to the administration by the Israelis. On May 26, the same day Eban met with Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, the secretary of state, relayed a message from Israel indicating "that an Egyptian and Syrian attack is imminent." In a memo to the president, Rusk wrote: "Our intelligence does not confirm this Israeli estimate." Indeed, this contradicted all U.S. intelligence, which had characterized Nasser's troops in the Sinai as "defensive in nature" and only half (50,000) of the Israeli estimates. Walt Rostow, the national security advisor, called Israeli estimates of 100,000 Egyptian troops "highly disturbing," and the CIA labeled them "a political gambit" for the United States to stand firm with Israelis, sell them more military hardware, and "put more pressure on Nasser."
As for the Egyptian president, there was a huge difference between his public and private signals. He had threatened Israelis with "annihilation," causing fear bordering on paralysis for a population devastated by the Holocaust. He had closed the Straits of Tiran, a source of less than 10 percent of Israel's shipping, but nevertheless a casus belli as far as Israel was concerned. He had expelled the U.N. peacekeepers from Sinai, further raising fears of war. (Israel, however, refused to accept those same peacekeepers -- a move that would have diminished the chance of war.) And, as the leader of the "Arab nation," Nasser was under great pressure from other Arabs to cut short Israel's nuclear ambitions and deliver the Palestinians back to the homes they had fled and been driven out of in the war of 1948.
But privately Nasser was sending strong signals he would not go to war. On May 31, he met with an American emissary, former Treasury Secretary Robert Anderson, assuring him that Egypt would not "begin any fight." Two days later, Nasser told a British M.P., Christopher Mayhew, that Egypt had "no intention of attacking Israel." The same day he met again with Anderson, agreeing to dispatch his vice president, Zakariya Mohieddin, to Washington, in an apparent last-ditch attempt to avoid war. (Anderson and Johnson had also spoken of a visit to Cairo by Vice President Hubert Humphrey.)
Rostow decided that Israel should know about the secret visit. In a June 2 note to the president, the national security advisor urged that the United States inform Israel of Mohieddin's impending trip to the White House: "My guess is that their intelligence will pick it up." The same day, Nasser sent a telegram to the American president indicating that Egypt would not attack Israel, but that "we shall resist any aggression launched against us or against any Arab state."
The archives for the 1967 war, as with the documentary evidence from other Arab-Israeli wars, thus reveal a history far more complex, and far more interesting, than the inflated portrayal of Arabs poised to crush Israel. "One against 40," declared David Ben-Gurion in describing the odds facing Israel in the war of 1948, ignoring the fact that comparisons of total populations meant little. The records show that the key Arab and Jewish forces -- a much more crucial benchmark -- were about the same, and that after a June 1948 cease-fire, a rearmed Israel had a decided advantage, which it parlayed into victory. Fifty-nine years later, in today's conflict in Gaza, the tragic, well-publicized deaths of Israelis in Sderot from crudely built Qassam missiles -- nine in the last six years -- are dwarfed by the deaths of 650 Palestinians last year (more than half unarmed civilians, according to Amnesty International) from attacks by Israel, one of the most potent and sophisticated military powers in the world, armed with nuclear weapons.
Yet the David vs. Goliath narrative persists, obscuring a more nuanced view of the balance of power in the region. Much of this has to do with Americans' familiarity with the story of Israel as a safe haven for Jews ravaged by the Holocaust. By contrast, Arabs, especially Palestinians, have long been seen as a vaguely menacing Other, as depicted in Leon Uris' hugely influential best-seller, "Exodus." The "Exodus" history, in which Arabs are alternately pathetic or malicious, holds no room for a more layered narrative of the struggle between Arabs and Jews, in which someone like Gamal Abdel Nasser, blustering for the Arab street, may have been privately seeking a way out of war.
Did Nasser truly want peace? We may never know. On June 3, 1967, after Secretary of State Rusk had informed Israel of the pending visit from Egyptian Vice President Mohieddin, Rusk relayed a message from the president to Nasser. "In view of the urgency of the situation," Rusk wrote, "we hope it will be possible for him to come without delay." That same day, however, at a Pentagon meeting between Mossad director Meir Amit and McNamara, the prospects for war seemed closer than ever. Amit told McNamara bluntly that he was "going to recommend that our government strike." This time, the Americans did not object; indeed, the CIA had grown sympathetic to Israel's war aims, in which Nasser, seen as too close to the Soviets, would be defanged. When McNamara asked Amit how long a war would last, the Mossad director replied: "Seven days." And so the meeting between the White House and Mohieddin, scheduled for June 7, never took place. By that time, it was already Day 3 of the Six-Day War, and Israel was already in control of Sinai, the West Bank, Gaza and the skies over much of the Middle East.
Posted by Sarlat, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 7:51 am
Let me refer actually to the Syrian front in 1967, because it I believe it to be the key to the six day war.
In series of interviews conducted in 1976 with Moshe Dayan (which was later published in Yediot Ahronot after his death in 1981), he confessed that his greatest mistake was that, as a Minister of Defense in June 1967, he did not stick to his original opposition to storming the Golan Heights, and he described how the confrontation with the Syrian evolved to a war as the following:
"Never mind that [when aked whether Syrians initiated the war from the Golan Heights]. After all, I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let's talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plough someplace 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 Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that's how it was. I did that, and Laskov and Chara [Zvi Tsur, Rabin's predecessor as chief of staff] did that, Yitzhak did that, but it seems to me that the person who most enjoyed these games was Dado [David Elzar, OC Northern Command, 1964-69]." (Iron Wall, p. 236-237)
Remember that Nasser blocked the Tiran straights and ammased troops in Sinai because Israel was threatening Syria and he had a pact with Syria that obligated Egypt to come to Syria's help. It's clear from Moshe Dayan that Israel was provoking Syria in oder to have an excuse to attack both countries.
Military Provocation By Arab Countries and Soviet Disinformation
While Israel consistently expressed a desire to negotiate a peace with its neighbors, there was no matching sentiment on the Arab side. In an address to the UN General Assembly on October 10, 1960, Foreign Minister Golda Meir challenged Arab leaders to meet with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to negotiate a peace settlement. Nasser (Egypt) answered on October 15, saying that Israel was trying to deceive world opinion, and reiterating that his country would never recognize the Jewish State. Nasser's rhetoric became increasingly bellicose; on March 8, 1965 he said:
* We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand. We shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.
A few months later, Nasser expressed the Arabs' goal to be:
* ... the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel.
Other Arab leaders from Syria, Jordan, and Iraq joined in the rhetoric and preparations for war, increasing pressure on Egypt's President Gamal Nasser, perceived as the leader of the Arab world. Syria's attacks along the DMZ grew more frequent in 1965 and 1966. Syria's attacks on Israeli kibbutzim from the Golan Heights provoked a retaliatory strike on April 7, 1967, during which Israeli planes shot down six Syrian MiGs. Israel followed up by re-introducing military forces to the DMZ.
At the same time, and unknown to the Israelis, the Soviet Union mounted a disinformation campaign pushing Egypt to join Syria against Israel. At that time, the Soviets were providing military and economic aid to both Syria and Egypt. On May 13, 1967 a Soviet parliamentary delegation visited Cairo and informed the Egyptian leaders that Israel had concentrated eleven to thirteen brigades along the Syrian border in preparation for an assault within a few days, with the intention of overthrowing the revolutionary Syrian Government. This was a complete fabrication designed by the Soviets to destabilize the Middle East. Similar false information may have been given to Egypt by the Soviets as early as May 2.
The build up and aggressive intent were denied by Israel. UN Secretary General U Thant reported that UNTSO observers on the Syrian border:
* ... have verified the absence of troop concentrations and absence of noteworthy military movements on both sides of the [Syrian] line.
Nasser probably correctly interpreted the Soviet information as an indication to him that the time was ripe for an attack on Israel and that he had their backing. With the United States deeply distracted by the War in Vietnam, the Soviets had reason to think there would be no US intervention. Nassar then abandoned his former cautious policy and took the lead for new aggression against Israel. Syria and Iraq eagerly joined Egypt's preparations, increasing the momentum toward war.
On May 15, Israel's 19th Independence Day, Egyptian troops began moving into the Sinai and massing near the Israeli border. By May 18, Syrian troops were prepared for battle along the Golan Heights.
On May 16, Nassar requested the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force, stationed in the Sinai since 1956. Egyptian forces moved up to the UNEF lines and began to harrass the UN positions. Without bringing the matter to the attention of the General Assembly, as his predecessor had promised, Secretary-General U Thant complied with the demand. This was a direct violation of the conditions under which Israel had returned control of the Sinai to Egypt after the Sinai Campaign. The UN force was supposed to safeguard Israel from Egypt again closing the Straits of Tiran or launching terrorist attacks from that quarter.
Blockade of the Straits of Tiran
In 1956, the United States gave Israel assurances that it recognized the Jewish State's right of access to the Straits of Tiran. In 1957, at the UN, 17 maritime powers declared that Israel had a right to transit the Strait. Moreover, any blockade violated the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, which was adopted by the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea on April 27, 1958. Nonetheless, on on the night of May 22-23, 1967 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli shipping and all ships bound for Eilat. This blockade cut off Israel's only supply route with Asia and stopped the flow of oil from its main supplier, Iran.
Posted by Amiram, a resident of Atherton, on Jun 5, 2007 at 8:54 am
It's fairly clear rom Dayan's comments and from many other sources within the security establishment that Israel had set out to bait Syria into believing an attack by Israel was imminent, knowing that the Egyptian/Syrian defense pact would oblige Egypt to take symbolic acts that would justify an Israeli attack. It is clear that Nassar had no intention of actually attacking Israel.
Posted by Oh Oh, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 9:05 am
If found a few more of Dayan's words:
In a 1976 interview by Israeli journalist Rami Tal, Dayan claimed that 80 percent of the cross-border clashes between Israel and Syria in the years before the war were a result of Israeli provocation. He said, "I made a mistake in allowing the [Israeli] conquest of the Golan Heights. As defense minister I should have stopped it because the Syrians were not threatening us at the time."
Posted by Boaz, a resident of the Greater Miranda neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 9:14 am
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I thought my posts were pretty nuanced, but I guess if they do not completely exonerate the Egyptians/Syrians/Jordanians from any role in the start of the 6 Day war, then it falls into the category of good (Israel) vs evil (Egyptians/Syrians/Jordanians) as peddled by the "jewish-controlled media".
Instead of rehashing all of this, maybe we should try for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel and got back the Sinai--I see a pattern here.
Posted by Oh Oh, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 9:25 am
In light of the preventable Six-Day war, it's quite tragic USA was used as an attack dog in the preventable invasion/occupation of Iraq. It's even more horrifying that USA is under heavy pressure to play attack dog in another preventable war with Iran.
Today we learn that Israel plans a "marathon of meetings" because they are concerned that "Bush has no intention to carry out a military strike against Iran".
"The planned marathon of meetings comes on the heels of information reaching Israel to the effect that US President George Bush has no intention to carry out a military strike against Iran. Israel is seeking to clarify the matter, particularly in light of continuing virulent anti-Israel statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his declared intention to ignore international demands that Iran freeze its nuclear program. "
And here the Israelis are complaining that no-one is stopping Iran:
"Iran is speeding towards a nuclear bomb," lamented an unnamed senior Israeli diplomatic figure, "and no one is stopping her." So reported Maariv.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni responded to the report with a show of diplomatic concern: "The international community must concentrate on preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. The report shows that the time element is critical, and the entire world must be united in understanding that we must not stray from this goal."
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 1:06 pm
Israel does not now, nor did it ever have the luxury of waiting to see. If you don't want a war, do not start one. Blocking an international waterway is an act of war. Arabs started a war, lost, and have spent the time since whimpering that they were not playing keepsies.
Posted by Sarlat, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 1:14 pm
As Dayan was nearing the end of his life, he became progressively candid about many matters he'd been involved in. In that last periods of his life he admitted in interviews that Israel had created the pre-67 war myth of David vs Goliath and that Israel never faced an existential threat from the Egyptian build-up and the closing of the straights of Tiran. He admitted that Israel would provoke the Syrians in order to heat up the northern border. Egypt was obligated by her mutual defense pact with Syria to assist Syria if attacked by Israel, so the Israelis set up the Egyptians by provoking the Syrians. Obviously, the goal was to create a pretense for Israel to attack Syria and Egypt. Israel has been fairly successful in maintaing the myth that the June 5, 67 Israeli surprise attack was a preventive war and an act of self defense. It was preconceived and premeditated and the "preventive" part of it is a myth.
Posted by paying attention, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 3:35 pm
And today the Russians revealed they had troops on the ground there in Egyptian uniforms in repainted Soviet tanks and manning anti-aircraft missle batteries that they up-graded for the games because they failed miseribly in the first round.
Posted by paying attention, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 4:00 pm
KMTP Channel 32 carries new services from Germany and Russia in English. This morning (their evening) they ran a feature story on the broadcast of "Russia Today" about the governments acknowlegde involvement. It includes interviews with 2 heros who were there. But perhaps it is just a load of stuff generated by the grand global concpiracy against truth.
You may be able to catch a repeat before they switch to the Asian broadcasts thia evening.
Posted by Jeff, a resident of Portola Valley, on Jun 5, 2007 at 5:38 pm
Boaz, just so you won't classify me a anti-Israeli or anti-Semite;I am Jewish and am actually pro Israel, although I oppose the occupation and the settlement very strongly. I just have to admit that I find those instant/ready-made links you manage to post at the speed of light to any comments that are not flattering to Israel highly disingenuous and contrived. Alarm bells go off in my brain when I see those instant links and they say:AIPAC, AIPAC, AIPAC andthe Israeli ministry of information. I don't believe that propaganda has anything to do with free speech.
Posted by Boaz, a resident of the Greater Miranda neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 6:01 pm
To Jeff/Oh Oh/Albert/Sarlat (or to rephrase that--to ONE and all of you):
I have posted a total of 3 links on this thread--all in response to a single postings. on another related thread I have posted 6 links--all news stories regarding the President of Iran threatening to destroy Israel (and this in response to another posters request for links).
Google is a great thing--you type in a word or sentence an dyou insatntly have 100's of links to pick and choose from--that is my secret--no AIPAC/Israeli ministry of information/Megaphone software from giyus.org/masters providing links.
As i said earlier, when you cannot argue with the evidence you go after the messenger. But, indeed, you are entitled to your opinions that what I am posting is "right-wing Zionist propaganda"--however the question is who gave you the right to decide what can and cannot be posted on this thread?
if you still have an issue, please contactthe editors and ask them for clarification on what can and cannot be posted. in other threads of a similar nature they have never deleted my postings regarding Israel or my response to other posters.
Posted by Oh Oh, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 6:58 pm
A new map of the West Bank (see below), 40 years after its conquest by Israel in the Six Day War, gives the most definitive picture so far of a territory in which 2.5 million Palestinians are confined to dozens of enclaves separated by Israeli roads, settlements, fences and military zones:
"Produced by the United Nationsís Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, it is based on extensive monitoring in the field combined with analysis of satellite imagery. It provides an overall picture officials say is even more comprehensive than charts drawn up by the Israeli military.
The impact of Israeli civilian and military infrastructure is to render 40 per cent of the territory, which is roughly the size of the US state of Delaware or the English county of Norfolk, off-limits to Palestinians."
And so now that all of Palestine has conquered, we've got a 50-year occupation of a devastated Iraq underway, Israeli black ops are in progress to further destablize a bomb-savaged Lebanon, lots of frothing at the mouth for Iranian blood, and the campaign to smear Syria's leaders is well underway, too.
Posted by Sarlat, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 7:09 pm
Wrong, Boaz.It's very easy to argue with your so called evidence-none is subjective, your links all lead to sites that take the Israeli position and don't represent all sides and all information. The point others have tried to make that even if you Google, which w all do daily, your links all seem to be of the same nature-the ones who represent only the Israeli right wing version of events and ideology. On the other hand, posters who referred to the Liberty incident linked to sites that represented subjective views based on real information. for example, the report of the investigation headed by former chief of naval operations admiral Moorer, articles by investigative journalists or interviews with surviving crew members who were actually on deck when the Israelis attacked.You on the other side pick and choose- you'll never provide a link that is subjective or provides various views about any Israeli related subject, only links that justify anything Israel does and always take Israel's position. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I have no problem with you accusing me of posting one-sided links--I think we get alot of that on these threads, including people who you tend to share beliefs with--but in that case it is okay.
The bottom line is that we all will post what we feel is a good argument for our case--if you think that is "propoganda", then contact the editors and tell them you want complete and total censorship of any views that you view as propoganda (in this case it would be any postings supportive of Israel).
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 8:22 pm
Who was it said "If the Palestinians laid down their arms there would be no war, if the Israeli laid down their arm there would be no Israel". Preventative war, blocking a waterway on suspicion is allowable, but preventative war, attacking beligerant armies poised at your border shouting death to Israel is provocation?
When you talk of occupied lands do you include the Jewish properties in Arab countries from which Jews were run out with no compensation?
Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Jun 5, 2007 at 9:13 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
And how is it that Boaz is the one accused of bias here? Doesn't everyone have bias? What kind of hypocrisy allows someone in one breath to cite freedom of speech and then suggest that only some people deserve it? You don't like his web links - fine. He doesn't forfeit his right to speak just because you don't like what he says. In fact I find it impressive that he maintains a relatively polite tone through all this - more than I do, I admit, and much more than those attacking him. Keep it up Boaz.
Posted by Sarlat, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 6, 2007 at 7:17 am
When I google a topic like the Liberty, I'll get many links. When Boaz googles Liberty, he gets links that lead to sites that support only the Israeli version. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
There are plenty of links that present both the Israeli claims and Admiral Moorer's investigative panel conclusions. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 6, 2007 at 7:36 am
How about what? Today is today, and no nation has to accept its death. It is not death for Palestine to move East into their traditional lands. By launching attacks they have lost title to the lands from which those attacks were launched.
Posted by Boaz, a resident of the Greater Miranda neighborhood, on Jun 6, 2007 at 9:08 am
Sarlat--we are all entitled to our own opinions, though I am surprised the Liberty link I posted was "nonsensical and extremely one sided"--it had interviews with the survivors, interviews with israeli and US government officials, interviews with an Israeli soldier involved in the incident and others--I thought it was a pretty interesting link that made it sound that the Liberty incident was not an accident.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] i do not expect any reader to take what i post at face value, i expect them to look into matters themselves and form their own opinions--I am providing one view.
Posted by Boaz, a resident of the Greater Miranda neighborhood, on Jun 6, 2007 at 9:19 am
BTW Sarlat (and others): I noticed how upset you are about the Liberty attack, but seem not to be upset at all with Al Qedia attacks on 9/11 and the USS Cole (or for that matter the bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut, the Bali bombings, the murder of Daniel Pearl etc).