Six Days of War Summary
While Israeli historian and former diplomat (he had served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013) Michael Oren’s Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East is first and foremost a military history of that brief but enormously significant conflict, it also represents the author’s attempt at placing that war in its proper context. Oren’s opening chapters provide the setting in which Israel’s preemptive attack on the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan occurred and by which that attack was justified.
Israel was formally established as a state in 1948, its creation blessed by the United Nations and vehemently resisted by the Arab world that surrounded it. The establishment of a Jewish state amid hostile Arab (and overwhelmingly Muslim) nations determined to prevent it resulted in the 1948 war that immediately altered the U.N.’s initial plan for the realization of borders between Jewish and Arab states (including those referred to as Palestinians). Arab determination to prevent Israel’s survival, manifest in the policies of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, combined with the views of many Israelis that they needed to expand their borders both for survival and in line with Biblical prophecy, resulted in the perpetuation of hostilities that left the two sides mired in a sort of Cold War. As Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian leaders calculated ways that they could collectively defeat Israel, the Israelis adopted policies intended to keep the Arab leaders on the defensive while reunifying the city of Jerusalem, which Jews viewed (and still do) as the capital of their ancestral homeland and their sole bastion against anti-Semitism.
In between the 1948 war of independence (the Israeli view), or “the catastrophe” (the Palestinian view), and the 1967 war was the Suez Crisis of 1956, during which Britain and France conspired with Israel to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt, Nasser having nationalized that important navigational route carved through its territory by European colonialists. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower surprised his European allies by siding with Egypt and forcing Israeli forces to withdraw from the canal. To Arabs, unsurprisingly, the attempted seizure of the Suez Canal reinforced dominant perceptions of continued European (and, now, Israeli) determination to hold onto Arab lands. In the intervening years between the Suez Crisis and 1967 war, then, the seeds already planted for that eventual conflict were further cemented. Complicating matters was the Soviet Union’s determination to keep the region on edge, including by providing numerous advisors and weaponry to Arab governments, especially that of Egypt.
With this context, Oren describes in minute detail the events leading up to Israel’s surprise attack on its neighbors’ armies and the execution of the actual military operations, all the while informing the reader of important diplomatic and intragovernmental consultations and negotiations before, during, and after those seminal six days of war. As noted, most of Oren’s book focuses on the details of the battles. In Israel, though, those details are inseparable from the diplomatic context. The width of the point of a pen used to draft borders separating states in that region was and remains all it takes to perpetuate conflict over slivers of land separating Arab from Jewish land.
In the final chapters of Six Days of War , Oren describes the lingering diplomatic and military ramifications of Israel’s victory, especially the Jewish state’s capture of East Jerusalem (in which resides Jews’ holiest site, the Western Wall, access to which was denied to them when Jordan controlled that half of the city). Additionally, and of no less significance, Israel’s victory in the Six Day War enabled it to expand its borders to include areas known to Jews as Judea and Samaria and to Arabs as the West Bank of the Jordan River—results that continue to be felt...
(The entire section is 2,608 words.)