1967 was not “a defensive war”

Our whole society seems to be deliberately polluted with misinformation and disinformation concerning
Israel and its relation to the Palestinians.
Take, for example, this statement
from the Washington Times’ 2005-06-06 editorial
“A peace process in grave danger”
(emphasis added):
Israeli society is going through a very difficult period,
as its people engage in a wrenching public debate
over the logistics of how to uproot their fellow countrymen
from territory captured in
a defensive war.

This typifies the Zionist conceit,
that everything the Israelis have done is defensive in nature,
that the Israelis are just poor little innocent victims
of all those mean, nasty Palestinian thugs and terrorists.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.
To see what really happened in the June 1967 Six-Day War,
and how far it was from being “a defensive war,”
here is an extended extract from pages 310–325
of Israeli historian Benny Morris’s
Righteous Victims:
A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001
divided into sections
  1. The Decision To Go To War

  2. The Line-Up

  3. The War Plan

  4. The Air Assault

  5. The Ground Assault on Egypt

  6. The West Bank
Emphasis, links, headings, occasional paragraph numbers,
and comments in this color
have been added; all dates are in June 1967.
[Note also the Wikipedia account.]

1. The Decision To Go To War
[O]n June 2, at a joint meeting of the cabinet and the general staff,
Israel decided in principle on war,
but no date was set....
[O]n June 4, the cabinet gave the army
the green light to attack when ready.

Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had finally been persuaded
by the director of the Mossad,
who had spent the previous three days in Washington
and returned to Tel Aviv certain that the United States
would “bless an operation if we succeed in shattering Nasser.”
American intelligence accurately predicted that Israel
would defeat any possible Arab coalition within a few days,
perhaps a week,
and by the start of June Washington had come round
to the view that war was inevitable.
Israel was given to understand that it could go ahead.
The change in President Lyndon Johnson’s thinking
apparently occurred during the long Memorial Day weekend,
which he spent on his Texas ranch
with a number of Jewish friends and advisors

[Why is this not surprising?]....
The president now expected the Israelis to strike.

2. The Line-Up
The armies were extremely ill-matched.
Israelis, throughout their history,
have tended to see themselves as the “weaker side,”
their army smaller and less well armed than their Arab enemies’.
The truth, in 1967 as at other times, was different.

3. The War Plan
The Six-Day War was in all essentials a clockwork war
carried out by the Israeli Defense Force
against three relatively passive, ineffective Arab armies;
indeed, the Israeli offensives in most areas
proceeded more rapidly than the planners had envisioned.
Throughout, the initiative lay with the IDF;
occasionally, the Arabs “responded” to an Israeli move;
most often they served as rather bewildered, sluggish punching bags.

The main and initial objective of the Israelis
was the destruction of the Egyptian army in Sinai.
From the first it was understood that
the implementation of their plan would be severely circumscribed
by limitations of time imposed by the superpowers.
Before June 5 Foreign Minister Abba Eban estimated that
the IDF would have no more than twenty-four to seventy-two hours
at its disposal.
Israel’s diplomatic missions,
and particularly its delegations in Washington and at the UN,
were ordered to stall for as long as possible,
to allow the IDF to complete its work.


[To the world at large]
Israel’s explicit, publicly stated assumption
was that Egypt was intent on attacking the Negev.
But captured Egyptian documents show that Egypt’s army
was in fact preparing for a defensive battle,
to absorb and repel an initial IDF blow.


Much like the Japanese plan
for war against the United States in 1941,
the IDF battle plan hinged on an aerial master stroke—
this one designed to incapacitate the opponents’ air forces and,
in consequence, render their ground forces vulnerable
to a continuous pounding from the air.
The plan ... was to destroy the Egyptian air force on the ground.
If other Arab states entered the fray,
their air forces would be dealt with similarly.

As originally conceived,
the IDF plan was based on attaining strategic surprise.
But in the circumstances of late May–early June 1967,
this was no longer possible.
The Arabs were expecting an offensive,
and Nasser and Hussein both predicted
it would begin with a massive IAF strike against their air bases.
Nonetheless, two elements in the plan
proved virtually equivalent to strategic surprise:
the timing of the attack and
the direction of approach of the attacking forces.


All of the IAF’s combat units were to be thrown into the assault,
save twelve interceptors left behind to defend Israel’s skies.

4. The Air Assault
Between 0714 and 0730 [on June 5] 183 planes took off.
In this first wave were a full 95 percent
of the IAF’s front-line aircraft....
Approaching their targets,
the attacking Israeli jets soared upward to get into position
for their bombing runs.
The lead foursomes all reached and attacked their targets,
eleven bases in all, at precisely 0745.
They first released their large bombs
at one-third and two-thirds the length of the runways,
ripping up the tarmacs, rendering them useless.
Then they made additional runs,
bombing, rocketing, and machine-gunning the MiGs
waiting on the runways or in their hangers....
The Egyptians were caught almost completely by surprise;
antiaircraft fire was meager and ineffective....
By 0900 the picture was clear.
The IAF had scored a victory of historic proportions....

Thanks to efficient ground crews, the IAF turnaround was rapid.
The second wave, 164 aircraft,
took off about an hour after the return of the first....
At about 1000
Israel’s deputy chief of general staff Ezer Weizman
telephoned his wife and told her:
“We have won the war.”

5. The Ground Assault on Egypt
On the ground, IDF planning called for
a massive offensive against the Egyptian army in Sinai
while leaving relatively sparse defensive forces
on the Jordanian and Syrian fronts.
The aim was to destroy the Egyptian army
and then deal if forced to—and if time and the powers permitted—
with the Syrians and Jordanians.


The ground assault began at 0800 on June 5....
Three divisional task forces ...
crossed the border almost simultaneously
and rapidly overcame the opposition....
The Egyptian commanders had no clear idea of the situation
and no orders what to do—
advance, counterattack, or retreat—
though they had a growing sense that they were
about to be outflanked....
[F]or most of the Egyptian units
the Sinai peninsula had become one giant trap....

6. The West Bank
[A]s things turned out, Israel found itself
almost instantaneously engaged against Jordan and,
at the same time,
so successful against the Egyptians that it was able
to switch to the offensive on the Jordanian front
by the end of Day 1....

[S]ince 1949 David Ben-Gurion had been calling
Israel’s failure to conquer East Jerusalem and,
by extension, the whole of the West Bank
“a lamentation for generations”
a phrase that was in continuous use
among [Israeli right-wing] politicians between 1949 and 1967.
In an article published shortly before the outbreak of the war,
Yigal Allon wrote:
“In ... a new war, we must avoid
the historic mistake of the War of Independence in 1948 ...
must not cease fighting until we achieve total victory,
the territorial fulfillment of the Land of Israel.”


Much of a cabinet meeting [the evening of June 5]
was devoted to the possibility of conquering
the West Bank and East Jerusalem....


A UN Security Council call
for a cease-fire on the Jordanian front
persuaded them [Israel’s cabinet], prodded by Moshe Dayan,
that they had to act fast.
At dawn on June 7 Dayan ordered the IDF to take the Old City....
On June 7–8 Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jericho
fell to the IDF....
The next morning Israeli sappers blew up
the Abdullah and Hussein Bridges over the Jordan.
Thus, symbolically and physically,
the West Bank was severed from the East.

See The founding of the settlements
for the consequences of this conquest
for the Palestinians and their homeland.

2007 = 1967 + 40

What if Israel Had Turned Back?
New York Times Op-Ed, 2007-06-05

[An excerpt:]


History is full of “what ifs,” and
responsible historians should not indulge in such speculation.
But journalists may.
What if Israel hadn’t taken East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six-Day War?
Would the Palestinian situation have found some solution
and Israel be living at least in relative peace with its neighbors?
Would Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism have been avoided?

Perhaps. But the alternate history
is not as outrageous or inconceivable as one might think.
Leading Israeli policy planners
had determined six months before the Six-Day War
that capturing the West Bank would be bad for the country.
Recently declassified Israeli government documents show
that according to these policy planners,
taking over the West Bank would
weaken the relative strength of Israel’s Jewish majority,
encourage Palestinian nationalism and
ultimately lead to violent resistance.


The Six-Day War, 40 Years Later
by Jon Wiener
The Nation, 2007-06-04

[An excerpt:]

Israel went to war 40 years ago this week
more because of “psychological weakness”
than because of a genuine strategic threat--
that’s the conclusion of Tom Segev, one of Israel’s leading historians,
and author of the new book
1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East.


As Israeli forces advanced through the West Bank, Segev shows,
they pressured Palestinians to leave, to flee to Jordan.
“200,000 Palestinians left the West Bank,” he told me,
“and at least half of them were actually forced to leave.
Many are still in Jordan.
When speak about the refugee problem we think about 1948,
but there is a refugee problem from 1967 as well.”

[Cf. Benny Morris, RV-]

Are the Revisionist Takes on the Six Day War Accurate?

by Benny Morris
New Republic, 2007-07-23

1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East
By Tom Segev
Translated by Jessica Cohen
(Metropolitan Books, 673 pp., $35)

This is a lengthy review of the above (plus another book).
Morris includes the following quotation from the book by Segev,
as explanation of the background for Israel’s initiation of the Six Day War:

It was not Nasser’s threats ....
[Segev lists a number of claimed aspects of Israel’s internal conditions,

It was the terrorism;
the sense that there could be no peace.

In the review, Morris responds (but the emphasis is added):
This portrait of Israel in 1966 and early 1967 is skewed.
Palestinian terrorism was meager and trivial
compared with the standards set in the 1970s and 1990s.

[T]he picture that Segev paints
of Israel’s internal conditions in 1966 and early 1967,
with which he tries to “explain” the war, is essentially false.
Segev, a journalist, is overly impressed by newspaper headlines.

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