The Six-Day War

The Six-Day War, fought between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, ended this week (June 10) in 1967.  In its wake the Middle East was changed forever.

It was one of the shortest wars in history — it took just 133 hours for Israel to annihilate its Arab enemies.  Casualty figures were more than 20 – 1 in Israel’s favor, and the prisoner ratio was even greater.

As was the damage.  Because of a preemptive attack on the war’s first day by the Israeli air force against Egypt’s air forces, 85 percent of Egypt’s combat aircraft and all of its bombers were destroyed.   That knockout blow against Egypt’s air power was the chief contributor to Israel’s victory.

To the victor belong the spoils, and Israel’s were mind-boggling.  At war’s end, Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem — thereby uniting the city of Jerusalem under Jewish hegemony for the first time in eons.  On June 11, 1967, Israel was more than three times its size at birth in 1948, and rather than being vulnerable to Arab attacks, as it was before the war, geographically Israel was a threat to attack its Arab neighbors.

Demographically things also changed.  At the war’s start approximately 200,000 Palestinians fled the West Bank and settled in Jordan, where, in miserable refugee camps, they exacerbated an international refugee problem that continues to this day — a problem that many Arabs blame on Israel despite the fact that Israel had little to do with this mass emigration.  Most Palestinians fled because of the expected fighting, and because they were encouraged to leave by Arab military personnel expecting a quick victory over Israel, at which time the refugees would return in triumph.

Instead, it was the Diaspora Jews who returned to Israel, triumphantly celebrating the warrior spirit of their ancient race.  Yitzhak Rabin, the head of the Israeli Defense Force and architect of Israel’s victory, was even accorded the honor of giving the war a name, and although names such as “The War of Daring” and “The War of Salvation,” were suggested, Rabin chose the simple “Six-Day War,” in part because of its Biblical connotation.   Israel’s God had created the Earth in six days.

The Arabs had another name for it, “The Disaster,” which might also describe the West’s relations with the Arab world ever since.

In that vein, one fundamental, but at the time little-noticed change in the war’s wake was the end of pan-Arab nationalism, as many Arabs, disgusted by the incompetence and corruption of their leadership, turned to other faiths.  Among those other faiths — very much noticed since Sept. 11, 2001 — was Islamic fundamentalism.