By Jamal Kanj
Last Tuesday was the 45th anniversary of the outbreak of a war between Egypt and Israel that would reshape the Middle East.
At 7.30am, on June 5, 1967, 200 Israeli fighter jets took off in a massive surprise attack, neutralizing Egypt’s air force before advancing ground troops to occupy Sinai, Golan Heights and the West Bank.
Drumming up the pilots, Israeli Air Force Commander Mott Hod proclaimed: “The spirit of Israel’s heroes accompany us to battle… From Joshua Bin-Nun, King David and Maccabees… scatter him [the enemy] throughout the desert…”
It was the official Israeli declaration of war, but I will debunk its version of events – which have long shaped Western understanding of the Six-Day War.
Towards mid-May, seeking to pressure Israel, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser took the uncalculated measure of ordering a UN peacekeeping force out of Sinai and closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
Immediately following the closure of the disputed waterway, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and army generals held meetings in the pit deep underneath Israeli military headquarters to discuss a response to the threat from Nasser.
A book by current Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren revealed Israeli army generals seized on Nasser’s blunder to execute a plan they had prepared since the US forced Israel and its British and French allies to abandon Sinai in 1956.
At the meetings, Israeli army generals pressured and cajoled Eshkol to destroy Egypt’s army. On May 23, Deputy Chief of General Staff Ezer Weizman spoke of the need to “strike now and swiftly”. Israel’s military commander at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, added: “First we’ll strike Egypt, and then we’ll fight Syria and Jordan as well.”
Several days later, the Soviets informed Eshkol that Nasser had unequivocally relayed through a USSR ambassador on May 27 that “Egypt does not want war and is not heading in that direction.”
To assuage Israel, US President Lyndon Johnson urged Eshkol not to succumb to his warmongering generals, assuring him that the US would sponsor international efforts to open the strait while promising economic and military aid if it was given an opportunity to resolve the Egyptian blockade peacefully.
When briefed on the US offer, Israeli army generals lectured Eshkol on the prospect of expanding Israeli borders. General Ariel Sharon, who would himself go on to be prime minster, emphasised: “The question isn’t the (strait of Tiran) passage.”
In reviewing newly released records and public statements, Israeli leaders have unequivocally acknowledged the June war was neither pre-emptive nor defensive. In an interview in 1968, Rabin was quoted as saying: “I don’t believe that Nasser wanted war… He knew it and we knew it.”
In 1982, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin said: “(The) Egyptian army concentration in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us… We decided to attack him.”
Despite this, most in the West continue to adopt Israel’s false narratives for the Palestine-Israel conflict since 1948, with pro-Israel, Jewish media conglomerates suppressing candid discussion on Palestine – in effect allowing Israel to maintain the longest, cruellest occupation in modern history.
- Jamal Kanj writes frequently on Arab world issues and is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: [email protected]. (This article was first published in the Gulf Daily News Newspaper)