THE recent Six Day War in the Middle East grew out of the sterile confrontation to which the peoples of the region had committed themselves over the past twenty years. Both parties had frequently proclaimed their intention to go to war under certain circumstances. It seems unlikely, however, that any of them plotted and planned war for 1967. It seems more likely that they blundered into it.

Both sides might on many occasions have moved to end their confrontation by compromise, but this neither side showed the slightest willingness to do. The Israelis, feeling themselves beleaguered by fifty million hostile neighbors, acutely conscious of the recent fate of six million Jews in Europe, believed any significant concession would merely whet insatiable Arab appetites and start Israel down the slippery slope to extinction. The Arabs, looking upon the establishment of Israel as the latest in a series of imperialist occupations of their homeland, of which the presence of a million Palestine refugees was a constant reminder, found it emotionally and politically impossible to accept Israel as a permanent fact of life or to forego harassing it and conspiring against it.

This common intolerance and mutual harassment had brought on war in 1956. It is pertinent to note that, in his "Diary of the Sinai Campaign" published in 1966, General Dayan wrote that the three major objects of that campaign from the Israeli point of view were "freedom of shipping for Israeli vessels in the Gulf of Aqaba; an end to the Feydayen terrorism; and a neutralization of the threat of attack on Israel by the joint Egypt-Syria- Jordan military command." With slight variations, these were the issues that brought on war again eleven years later.


Through the latter part of 1966, so-called "El Fatah" incursions into Israel, sometimes carried out by Palestinian refugees, sometimes moving through Jordan or Lebanon, but for the most part mounted in Syria, grew in numbers and intensity. In October two particularly serious incidents in which several Israelis were killed caused Israel to appeal, as it often had before, to the U.N. Security Council. However, a relatively mild resolution proposed by six of its members, calling on Syria to take stronger measures to prevent such incidents, was, as on previous occasions, vetoed by the Soviet Union in the supposed interests of its Arab friends.

A new and more radical Syrian government had come to power by coup d'état earlier that year. It enthusiastically supported the claims and machinations of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army which mobilized and inflamed the refugees and carried out some of the raids. The Syrian Prime Minister declared in a press conference in October: "We are not sentinels over Israel's security and are not the leash that restrains the revolution of the displaced and persecuted Palestinian people." Early in November, moreover, a "defense agreement" was concluded between Syria and the United Arab Republic, involving a joint military command and other measures of "coördination and integration" between the two countries.

It had long been Israel's practice, whenever it judged that Arab raids had reached an intolerable level, to retaliate massively. It did so on November 13 against Es Samu in Jordan where, according to U.N. observers, eighteen Jordanian soldiers and civilians were killed and fifty-four wounded. The fact that moderate Jordan rather than extremist Syria was the target of retaliation seemed ill-judged to most of the world but was excused by Israel on grounds that there had recently been thirteen acts of sabotage committed on Israeli territory from Jordanian bases. Be that as it may, the consequences, in and out of the region, of this disproportionate and misplaced retaliation were considerable.

The U.N. Security Council, by a vote of fourteen to one abstention (New Zealand), censured Israel "for this large-scale military action in violation of the U.N. Charter and of the General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan" and emphasized to Israel "that actions of military reprisal cannot be tolerated and that if they are repeated, the Security Council will have to consider further and more effective steps as envisaged in the Charter to ensure against the repetition of such acts."

Perhaps more important in its effect on subsequent events, the Jordanian Prime Minister in a press conference charged the U.A.R. and Syria, which had been denouncing King Hussein's government, with failing to bear their share of the confrontation against Israel. He accused the U.A.R. of failing to supply promised air cover and urged that Egyptian troops be withdrawn from Yemen and sent to Sinai on Israel's southern flank. The U.A.R. Commander-in-Chief of the Arab Command replied publicly with similar recriminations but the charges must have struck home to a régime so peculiarly sensitive to face and prestige.

From January to April 1967 the Syrian-Israeli frontier was agitated by an ascending series of clashes ranging from potshots at tractors plowing to exchanges of fire between tanks, artillery and aircraft. These clashes were primarily caused by the refusal of both sides, at different times, to permit the U.N. Mixed Armistice Commission even to mark the armistice line at disputed points and the insistence of both parties on farming and patrolling disputed areas.

On April 7, 1967, one of these clashes escalated into what in retrospect appears to have been the curtain-raiser to the six-day war. An exchange of fire between tanks gave rise to intervention first by Israeli and then by Syrian aircraft. This led by the end of the day to the appearance of Israeli planes over the outskirts of Damascus and to the shooting down of six Syrian planes.

The most serious aspect of this affair was that for the second time in six months Arab forces suffered a very bloody nose at the hands of Israel without the "unified Arab Command" in Cairo lifting a finger. President Nasser, who aspired to be leader of the Arab world and who had formally established a military apparatus at least for the containment of Israel, had sat quietly by while first his rival and then his ally had been conspicuously and roundly chastised. Neither the rival nor the ally hesitated publicly and privately to point out this dereliction. Nasser could of course reply, and perhaps did, that the El Fatah raids were excessive and untimely, that the Arabs must not be provoked into fighting before they were ready, and that the U.N. Emergency Force standing between his army and Israel blocked its coming to the rescue of his Arab allies. These excuses, however genuine and well-founded they may have been, were quite clearly wearing thin in the eyes of the Arabs after the April 7 affair. Those knowing President Nasser's temperament could hardly have felt any assurance that he would hold aloof a third time.


Yet the respite was brief. A month later, on May 11, the U.N. Secretary- General declared at a press luncheon: "I must say that, in the last few days, the El Fatah type of incidents have increased, unfortunately. Those incidents have occurred in the vicinity of the Lebanese and Syrian lines and are very deplorable, especially because, by their nature, they seem to indicate that the individuals who committed them have had more specialized training than has usually been evidenced in El Fatah incidents in the past. That type of activity is insidious, is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Armistice Agreements and menaces the peace of the area."

On the same day, May 11, Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol was saying in a public speech in Tel Aviv that his government regarded this wave of sabotage and infiltration gravely. "In view of the fourteen incidents of the past month alone," he said, "we may have to adopt measures no less drastic than those of April 7." In a radio interview two days later he declared: "It is quite clear to the Israeli Government that the focal point of the terrorists is in Syria, but we have laid down the principle that we shall choose the time, the place and the means to counter the aggressor." Eshkol went on to say that he intended to make Israeli defense forces powerful enough to deter aggression, to repel it and to strike a decisive blow within enemy territory.

It would appear that a senior Israeli military officer also made a public comment on or about May 12, the exact text of which it has not been possible to find but which, whether or not correctly understood, significantly contributed to Arab apprehensions. President Nasser referred to it in a speech on May 23, saying, "On May 12 a very important statement was made. . . . The statement said that the Israeli commanders have announced they would carry out military operations against Syria in order to occupy Damascus and overthrow the Syrian Government."

These Israeli exercises in verbal escalation provoked far more serious repercussions than they were no doubt intended to do and, far from sobering the exuberant Syrians and their allies, raised probably genuine fears in Damascus, Cairo and Moscow to a level which brought about the fatal decisions and events of the following week. Indeed the Secretary-General, disturbed that his statement of May 11 on the El Fatah raids might stimulate Israeli military action, announced on May 13 that that statement "cannot be interpreted as condoning resort to force by any party."

On the same day the Syrian Foreign Ministry summoned ambassadors from countries which were members of the Security Council and told them that a plot against Syria was being concocted by "imperialist and Zionist quarters." The Ministry described "the prearranged aggressive role Israel is preparing to play within the framework of this plot" which, it declared, "began with the abortive April 7 aggression" and was revealed by "statements of Zionist Chief of Staff Rabin."

Another component in the accumulating mass of explosive elements was mentioned by President Nasser in the famous speech of June 9 in which he offered to resign. He declared at that time: "We all know how the crisis began in the first half of last May. There was a plan by the enemy to invade Syria, and the statements by his politicians and his military commanders declared that frankly. The evidence was ample. The sources of our Syrian brothers and our own reliable information were categorical on this. Even our friends in the Soviet Union told the parliamentary delegation which was visiting Moscow last month that there was a calculated intention."

There seems little doubt that the Soviets did transmit warnings along these lines to the Syrian and Egyptian governments. Eastern European sources have justified these warnings on the grounds that the Israeli Government itself advised Soviet representatives that, if the El Fatah raids continued, it would take drastic punitive action against Syria. This was of course no more than they were saying publicly, but the Israelis may have hoped that direct notice to the Soviets might induce them to persuade their Syrian friends to stop the raids.

Indeed there is evidence that Israeli officials were at this time disseminating their warnings rather widely. The New York Times correspondent, James Feron, in Tel Aviv reported on May 12: "Some Israeli leaders have decided that the use of force against Syria may be the only way to curtail increasing terrorism. Any such Israeli reaction to continued infiltration would be of considerable strength but of short duration and limited in area. This has become apparent in talks with highly qualified and informed Israelis who have spoken in recent days against a background of mounting border violence."

However, these private warnings, coupled with the provocative pronouncements by Eshkol and others, would seem to have backfired by convincing the Soviets, Syrians and Egyptians that a major retaliatory strike against Syria was fixed and imminent. In a speech to the United Nations on June 19 Premier Kosygin declared: "In those days, the Soviet Government, and I believe others too, began receiving information to the effect that the Israeli Government had timed for the end of May a swift strike at Syria in order to crush it and then carry the fighting over into the territory of the United Arab Republic."

On the other hand, the Israelis state that on May 12 the Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, on May 19 the Foreign Minister and on May 29 the Prime Minister each invited Soviet Ambassador Chuvakhin, who had accused Israel of massing forces on the Syrian border, to visit the area and see for himself, but that in each case he refused to do so. Furthermore, in his report to the Security Council on May 19, Secretary- General Thant had referred to allegations about troop movements and concentrations on the Israeli side of the Syrian border but concluded: "Reports from UNTSO observers have confirmed the absence of troop concentrations and significant troop movements on both sides of the line." U.S. representatives in Israel at the time also saw no evidence of the alleged troop concentrations. Moreover, on May 15 the Israeli Government, observing that Egyptian forces were crossing the Suez Canal into Sinai in considerable strength, instructed its Representative at the U.N., Ambassador Rafael, to request the Secretary-General to assure Cairo on its behalf that it had no intention of initiating any military action. The Secretary-General immediately complied with the request.

Nevertheless, it should also be noted that in the May 19 report referred to above the Secretary-General remarked: "Intemperate and bellicose utterances ... are unfortunately more or less routine on both sides of the lines in the Near East. In recent weeks, however, reports emanating from Israel have attributed to some high officials in that state statements so threatening as to be particularly inflammatory in the sense that they could only heighten emotions and thereby increase tensions on the other side of the lines." Press accounts of these statements also seemed so inflammatory to U.S. State Department officials that they expressed concern to Israeli authorities.

The situation in mid-May was therefore the following: The aggravation of the El Fatah raids originating in Syria would seem to have brought the Israeli Government to the decision, announced publicly in general terms by responsible officials and confided in more specific terms to journalists and perhaps to foreign diplomats including the Soviets, to retaliate sharply and substantially if the raids continued. There is no solid evidence, however, that they intended anything so massive as a drive on Damascus. Nevertheless, this prospect had in both Moscow and Cairo an impact which the Israelis probably did not fully anticipate or correctly assess.

The Soviets had particular reason for not wishing to see the Syrian Government humiliated, defeated and perhaps overthrown. The increasingly radical Syrian governments which had assumed power during the previous eighteen months, though they were far from being communist (the Communist Party was and still is banned), had come to rely more and more on Soviet military and economic aid, to permit increasing numbers of Soviet advisers to be stationed in the country, and all in all to offer the most promising field for Soviet penetration and influence to be found anywhere in the Middle East. The particular Soviet concern for Syria was dramatically shown at the end of the six-day war when the prospect that Israeli forces might then drive to Damascus caused the Soviets suddenly to join in a demand, which they had up to that point stubbornly opposed, that U.N. observers police the cease-fire. It may well have been that by mid-May they genuinely feared massive Israeli retaliation which might topple the Syrian Government and that they therefore spurred the Egyptians on to vigorous counteraction, the full repercussions of which they did not foresee. In fear of "losing" Syria they overreached themselves and urged the Arabs to take action which resulted in much more disastrous losses for their side.

Nasser, for his part, saddled with responsibility for the unified Arab Command which was supposed to protect all the Arab states from Israel, jealous of his already damaged position as would-be leader of the Arab world, having been ridiculed by his allies and rivals for his failure to stir at the time of the Es Samu and April 7 affairs, categorically assured by Syrians and Soviets that Israel was about to attack Syria, for which public statements by Israeli leaders seemed to give warrant, may well have felt that he could no longer stand aside without fatal loss to his prestige and authority.

Israeli public statements between May 11 and 13, therefore, regardless of how they may have been intended, may well have been the spark that ignited the long accumulating tinder. On May 14 the Egyptian Chief of Staff flew to Damascus and, according to the Syrian official spokesman, discussed with Syrian officials "important matters concerning joint defense against Israel." On May 16 the Cairo radio announced that the United Arab Republic had declared a state of emergency for its armed forces because of "the tense situation on the Syrian-Israeli armistice lines, Israel's large military concentrations, its threats and its open demands for an attack on Damascus." On that same day, according to the Cairo radio, Foreign Minister Riad received the Soviet, Syrian and Iraqi Ambassadors in separate audiences and Minister of War Badran received the Soviet Ambassador accompanied by his military attaché. The fourth act of the tragedy was about to begin.


At 2200 hours local time that evening, May 16, General Rikhye, Commander of the U.N. Emergency Force in Sinai, was handed the following letter from General Fawzi, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces: "To your information, I gave my instructions to all U.A.R. Armed Forces to be ready for action against Israel the moment it might carry out an aggressive action against any Arab country. Due to these instructions our troops are already concentrated in Sinai on our eastern borders. For the sake of complete security of all U.N. troops which install O.P.s along our border, I request that you issue your orders to withdraw all these troops immediately. I have given my instructions to our Commander of the eastern zone concerning this subject. Inform back the fulfillment of this request."

Secretary-General Thant received General Rikhye's report at 1730 hours New York time that same evening and an hour and a quarter later (at 1845 hours) at his urgent request received the U.A.R. representative to the U.N., Ambassador El Kony, to whom he presented the following views: (1) General Rikhye could not take orders from anyone but the Secretary-General; (2) if General Fawzi was asking for a temporary withdrawal of UNEF from the Line this was unacceptable because UNEF "cannot be asked to stand aside in order to enable the two sides to resume fighting"; (3) if General Fawzi was asking for a general withdrawal of UNEF from Gaza and Sinai the request should have been addressed by the U.A.R. Government to the Secretary- General; (4) the U.A.R. Government had the right "to withdraw the consent which it gave in 1956 for the stationing of UNEF on the territory of the U.A.R."; (5) if the U.A.R. Government addressed such a request to the Secretary-General he "would order the withdrawal of all UNEF troops from Gaza and Sinai, simultaneously informing the General Assembly of what he was doing and why"; (6) a U.A.R. request for a temporary withdrawal of UNEF from the Line would be considered by the Secretary-General "as tantamount to a request for the complete withdrawal of UNEF from Gaza and Sinai, since this would reduce UNEF to ineffectiveness."

Early the next morning, May 17, Egyptian troops began to move into and beyond some UNEF positions along the Armistice Line. At noon G.M.T. that day General Fawzi conveyed to General Rikhye a request that the Jugoslav detachments of UNEF (which occupied the main portion of the Sinai Armistice Line) be withdrawn within 24 hours, adding, however, that the UNEF Commander might take "24 hours or so" to withdraw the UNEF detachment from Sharm el Sheikh (which commands the Straits of Tiran but is far distant from the Armistice Line).

Space permits only the briefest summary of the events which followed in rapid succession. On the afternoon of May 17 in New York the Secretary- General consulted with representatives of countries providing contingents to UNEF (Brazil, Canada, Denmark, India, Jugoslavia, Norway and Sweden). According to his subsequent report to the General Assembly, two of them expressed serious doubts about complying with "a peremptory request" for withdrawal and suggested reference to the Assembly, whereas two others maintained the United Arab Republic had the right to request withdrawal at any time and that request would have to be respected regardless of what the Assembly might say. Later that afternoon the Secretary-General presented to the U.A.R. Representative an aide-memoire reiterating the points he had made the previous evening and concluding that, if Egyptian troop movements up to the Line were maintained, he would "have no choice but to order the withdrawal of UNEF from Gaza and Sinai as expeditiously as possible."

The next morning, May 18, Foreign Minister Riad informed representatives in Cairo of nations with troops in UNEF that "UNEF had terminated its tasks in the U.A.R. and in the Gaza Strip and must depart from the above territory forthwith." At noon New York time the Secretary-General received a formal request from the Egyptian Foreign Minister to the same effect. That afternoon he met with the UNEF Advisory Committee where he encountered the same divergence of views as at the meeting the previous day but where the members finally acquiesced in his belief that, in the absence of any proposal to convene the Assembly, he "had no alternative other than to comply with the U.A.R.'s demand." He did so that same evening by a message to Foreign Minister Riad and by instructions to the UNEF Commander.

The immediate reaction of Israel also deserves mention. On the morning of May 18 the Secretary-General received the Israeli representative who presented his Government's view "that the UNEF withdrawal should not be achieved by a unilateral U.A.R. request alone and asserting Israel's right to a voice in the matter." When, however, the Secretary-General raised the possibility of stationing UNEF on the Israeli side of the line, the Representative replied that this would be "entirely unacceptable to his Government," thus reaffirming the position in regard to UNEF which Israel had taken ever since the establishment of the Force in 1956.

The intent and rationale of the decisions taken in Cairo during those critical days in mid-May are still shrouded in obscurity, while those taken in response in New York are still bedeviled by controversy. What seems reasonably clear is that, as so often in the prelude to war, the control of events slipped from everyone's hands and limited decisions hastily taken had sweeping consequences no one desired.

No doubt the Egyptian Government decided sometime between May 13 and 16 that, in view of its assessment of the threat to Syria, it must move some of its armed forces up to the Sinai Armistice Line in order either to deter Israel or to come to Syria's assistance if deterrence failed. Reliable Arab sources maintain that: (1) the U.A.R. Government had as late as May 16 no intention to request the withdrawal of UNEF; (2) it desired merely the removal of several UNEF posts along the Sinai Line which would inhibit the contemplated redeployment of Egyptian forces; (3) it saw no incompatibility between this redeployment and the continuance of UNEF in its other positions including Sharm el Sheikh; (4) the implementation of the redeployment was left to the military leaders who failed to consult the civilian authorities, including the President, about either the scope of the redeployment they intended to carry out or the demand addressed to General Rikhye on May 16; (5) when the Secretary-General confronted the U.A.R. Government with the naked choice between reversing the redeployment, to which its military leaders had publicly committed it, and requesting the withdrawal of UNEF, it felt obliged to choose the latter; (6) furthermore, when it unexpectedly found its forces once more in possession of Sharm el Sheikh, it felt it could not fail to exercise, as it had from 1954 to 1956, its "belligerent right" to forbid the passage of Israeli vessels and "war material" through the Strait.

As to the decisions taken in New York, the U.N. authorities have maintained that: (1) the indicated redeployment of U.A.R. forces was incompatible with the continuance of UNEF since it deprived UNEF of its essential function as a buffer between Egyptian and Israeli forces; (2) UNEF had hitherto been able to function effectively only because of an informal U.A.R. agreement that its forces would be held 2000 meters back from the Armistice Line in Sinai (Israeli forces patrolled right up to the Line); (3) once confrontation between the two forces was reestablished, conflict between them was, in the existing state of tension, very probable and UNEF units scattered among them would be wholly unable to prevent it; (4) two of the troop-contributing states, India and Jugoslavia, had made clear their intention to withdraw their contingents whatever the Secretary-General decided and others were likely to follow suit, with the probable result that UNEF would disintegrate in a disordered and ignominious fashion; (5) the U.A.R. Government had the legal right both to move its troops where it wished in its own territory and to insist on the withdrawal of UNEF at any time, just as Israel had the right to refuse it admittance; (6) if the U.N. contested that right, peacekeeping would become "occupation" and other governments would not in the future admit U.N. peacekeeping forces to their territories; (7) a reference of the Egyptian request to the Security Council or the Assembly would merely have produced, as subsequent events proved, a prolonged debate during which UNEF would have either disintegrated or been helplessly involved in war.

No conclusive judgment can be pronounced on these two lines of argument. What does seem apparent is that both the U.A.R. and the U.N., like Israel a few days before, acted precipitately and with little resort to diplomacy. If the Egyptian account is accurate, temporization on the part of the U.N. might conceivably have led to some modification in U.A.R. military dispositions which had not been authorized by its own government. It seems very doubtful, however, that in the prevailing state of emotion dispositions once taken, even without full authorization, could have been reversed. By May 17 the crisis had already acquired a momentum which seemed inexorably to sweep all parties toward and over the brink.

Nevertheless, we can hardly fail to note parenthetically the serious shortcomings of a peacekeeping procedure whereby, as in this case, a U.N. force can be ordered out of a critical area at the very moment when the danger of war, which it is stationed there to prevent, becomes most acute. The fault, however, lies not with the U.N. but with the great powers whose rivalries ever since 1945 have blocked the application of the enforcement procedures provided by Chapter VII of the Charter, under which a U.N. military force could be, for example, interposed between two prospective combatants regardless of the objections of either or both. In the absence of great-power willingness to permit the Security Council to apply compulsion of that type, the U.N. has been obliged for many years to rely on a much more fragile form of peacekeeping whereunder a U.N. force, whatever may have been the arrangements under which it entered the territory of a state, can in practice remain there only so long as its government consents. Such was the situation in Sinai before May 16.


To return to the concluding events of that month: President Nasser on May 22 announced his intention to reinstitute the blockade against Israel in the Strait of Tiran. This was the final fatal step. Whether, in whatever advance planning did take place, it was contemplated that Sharm el Sheikh would be reoccupied and the blockade reimposed, or whether the military exceeded their orders and one step led to another in dizzy and unpremeditated succession, is not certain. There can hardly have been any doubt at any time, however, about the grave risks involved in restoring the blockade. It seems probable that the Russians were consulted about the redeployment of Egyptian forces and perhaps the subsequent request for the withdrawal of UNEF. Reliable Soviet sources have claimed, however, that they were not informed in advance of the reimposition of the blockade, implying that they would have objected had they known.

In any case, the reaction in Israel and elsewhere was immediate. On May 23 Prime Minister Eshkol declared in parliament: "The Knesset knows that any interference with freedom of shipping in the Gulf and in the Straits constitutes a flagrant violation of international law.... It constitutes an act of aggression against Israel." On the same day President Johnson declared in Washington: "The United States considers the Gulf to be an international waterway and feels that a blockade of Israeli shipping is illegal and potentially disastrous to the cause of peace. The right of free, innocent passage of the international waterway is a vital interest of the international community."

Unavailing efforts were made to persuade President Nasser to revoke, suspend or moderate the blockade but, the action once taken, he did not feel politically free to reverse it, even had he so desired. Equally unavailing were efforts made to forestall a unilateral Israeli response by organizing a group of maritime powers to issue a declaration reaffirming the right of free passage through the Strait and presumably, if passage continued to be denied, to take effective multilateral action to reopen it. Very few maritime powers showed any interest in participating in a confrontation with Nasser and the Arab world, nor did members of the U.S. Congress who were consulted manifest any enthusiasm for risking another conflict in addition to Viet Nam. The exploratory dialogue between the U.S. and the U.A.R., however, continued up until the outbreak of war; as late as June 4 an agreement was announced that U.A.R. Vice President Mohieddin would visit Washington within the next few days and Vice President Humphrey would later return the visit.

In the meantime, however, the crisis had assumed proportions far beyond an argument over maritime rights. The advance of the Egyptian forces to the Armistice Line, the ouster of UNEF and the reimposition of the blockade were received with enormous enthusiasm throughout the Arab world. All the pent-up emotions which had been accumulating for twenty years, and which were continually refreshed by armed clashes, inflammatory propaganda and the presence of a million refugees, erupted in pæans of triumph from Baghdad to Marrakesh.

Nasser's prestige, which had been falling for some time, rebounded overnight. Expressions of solidarity poured in. Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait and Sudan promised troops. In a startling reversal of long-standing hostility, King Hussein of Jordan appeared in Cairo on May 30 and concluded a mutual defense pact with the U.A.R. which a few days later was extended to Iraq. The armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria were more and more concentrated around Israel's frontiers and there seemed every likelihood they would soon be reinforced by other Arab states.

This Arab euphoria, moreover, led also to verbal exaltation which could not have been without its effect on Israel. For instance, the Syrian Chief of State, Dr. Al-Atasi, said in a speech on May 22: "Arab Palestinians who were expelled from their homeland now realize that armed struggle is the only way to regain their homeland. . . . The state of gangs [Israel] will not benefit by blaming others for inciting fedayeen activities. The cause of these activities is the aggressive Zionist existence itself. Let Israel know that the Palestinian fedayeen activities will continue until they liberate their homeland." In a speech addressed on June 1 to troops departing for the "frontlines" in Jordan, President Arif of Iraq declared: "It was treason and politics that brought about the creation of Israel. Brethren and sons, this is the day of the battle to revenge your martyred brethren who fell in 1948. It is the day to wash away the stigma. We shall, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa."

Yet even at this late date, despite all these verbal pyrotechnics and concentrations of force, there does not seem to have been any intention in Cairo to initiate a war. In reply to a question by British M. P. Christopher Mayhew interviewing Nasser on June 2, "And if they do not attack, will you let them alone?", the President said, "Yes, we will leave them alone. We have no intention of attacking Israel." Similar assurances were repeatedly given the United States by the highest Egyptian authorities.

There seems little reason to doubt them. Nasser had up to that point achieved a spectacular victory. Arab unity seemed closer to reality than it had ever been. Israel had suffered a serious setback in prestige, power and security. The mood in Cairo was an odd mixture of exaltation and fatalism, exaltation over what had been achieved, fatalism before the inescapable realization that Israel might prefer war to a political defeat of this magnitude. There was a clear understanding that Israel might attack at any time, no overweening confidence as to the outcome, but a determination to defend, whatever the costs, the intoxicating gains which had been won. Whether this determination might have been overcome by negotiation over a period of time, for example by the visits of the Vice Presidents between Cairo and Washington, cannot be known for certain. In view of the support which the Soviet Union was providing its Arab friends, this seems unlikely.

In any case the Israeli Government obviously decided that it could not wait. All the factors which had induced it to go to war in 1956-a multiplication of raids into its territory, a substantial build-up of Egyptian and other hostile forces on its borders, the blockade of the Strait-had reappeared in even more aggravated form. Efforts of the U.N. and the U.S. to relieve them by international action seemed unavailing. On May 30 Foreign Minister Eban said in a press conference in Jerusalem: "Less than two weeks ago a change took place in the security balance in this region. The two most spectacular signs of this change were the illegal attempt to blockade the international passageway at the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba and the abnormal buildup of Egyptian troops on the Israeli frontier. The Government and people of Israel intend to insure that these two changes are rescinded, and in the shortest possible time." Six days later Israel struck with this end in view; twelve days later it had achieved its objective, and much more beside.


It is not difficult in retrospect to identify the ventures and responses on both sides which over preceding months and weeks, compounding the hatreds which had been allowed to fester for twenty years, led almost inevitably to war.

First were the El Fatah raids, organized from Syria, involving the "Palestine Liberation Army," subjecting peaceful Israeli villages to recurrent jeopardy and terror, building up through the months from October to May, unpunished and, because of the Soviet veto, even uncensured by the U.N. Security Council. Remembering the history of the previous twelve years, it is difficult to see how any Arab or Soviet leader could have failed to realize that this murderous campaign would eventually bring forth a murderous response.

Second were the Israeli "massive retaliations" at Es Samu in November and in the air over Syria and Jordan in April, designed to punish and deter, but disproportionate in size, visibility and political impact, causing also the death of innocent people, condemned by the Security Council in the strongest terms in November, as similar disproportionate retaliations had been repeatedly condemned in the past. It is difficult to see how any Israeli leader could have failed to foresee that such repeated massive reprisals must eventually place the leader of the Arab coalition in a position where he would have to respond.

Third were the public and private statements by high Israeli authorities in mid-May which indicated the probability of even more drastic retaliation against Syria in the near future if the El Fatah raids continued. These statements, even though no doubt designed to deter the raids, almost certainly convinced the Syrian and U.A.R. Governments that such retaliation was definitely projected and may well have persuaded them and the Soviets that the Syrian régime itself was in jeopardy.

Fourth was the decision by the U.A.R. Government, presumably encouraged by Soviets and Syrians, to move its armed forces up to the Sinai Armistice Line, thus reëstablishing at a moment of acute tension the direct Egyptian- Israeli military confrontation which had been the major immediate cause of the 1956 war. This redeployment of Egyptian forces was under the circumstances critical whether or not it was originally intended to be accompanied by a demand that UNEF be withdrawn.

Fifth and finally was the decision of the U.A.R. Government, finding itself whether by intent or accident once more in command of the Strait of Tiran, to exercise its "belligerent rights" by reimposing the blockade, thus reproducing the third of the elements which had brought on the 1956 war. The likely consequences of this step were indeed foreseen but, in the climate of fear, passion and "national honor" which by then prevailed, were faced with fatalism and desperation.

It remains, however, the thesis of this article that no government plotted or intended to start a war in the Middle East in the spring of 1967. Syria mounted raids against Israel as it had been doing for years, but more intensively and effectively; Israel retaliated disproportionately as it often had before, but in more rapid succession and in a way that seemed to threaten the existence of the Arab government; Nasser felt his responsibilities and ambitions in the Arab world did not permit him again to stand aside in such a contingency and took hasty and ill-calculated measures which made major conflict, already probable, practically certain. All concerned overreacted outrageously. Yet there is no evidence-quite the contrary-that either Nasser or the Israeli Government or even the Syrian Government wanted and sought a major war at this juncture.

Of course the fault of all of them, and indeed of the great powers and the United Nations, lay not so much in their actions or omissions in May and June 1967 as in their failure, indeed their common blunt refusal, to face the facts of life in the Middle East during the twenty years before that date.

There will be no peace there, no security for its inhabitants or for the great powers involved there, until the Arabs recognize that Israel, however unjust its creation appears to them, is a fact of life, that it has as much right to exist as they have, that to threaten and harass it, to arouse among their people false hopes about its dissolution, is actually as much a threat to Arab as to Israeli security, that the two equally have more to gain than lose by peaceful coexistence. On the other hand, there will also be no peace in the Middle East until the Israelis recognize that the condition of their long-term survival as a nation is reconciliation with their much more numerous Arab neighbors, that survival cannot indefinitely be preserved by military force or territorial expansion, that displays of inflexibility and arrogance are not effective modes of international intercourse, and that in particular there will be no security for Israel until, whatever the political and financial cost, the million or more Palestine refugees have been compensated, resettled and restored to dignity.

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