The Six-Day War
June 5-10, 1967
Although four of the five Arab nations that attacked Israel signed armistice agreements at the end of Israel’s War of Independence, they nevertheless refused to make peace. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser repeatedly called for Israel’s extermination: “Our basic objective,” he said, “will be the destruction of Israel….The issue is not the establishment of peace….The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.”
On May 19, 1967, the United Nations Emergency Force in the Sinai and Gaza Strip pulled out, ending a 10-year commitment for peacekeeping in the areas. The next day Nasser moved 100,000 troops, including more than 1,000 tanks, to Israel’s border. Meanwhile, Syrian troops amassed along the Golan Heights, from where they had been shelling Israeli settlements on the Sea of Galilee for the past 19 years.
On May 23, Nasser blockaded the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli shipping and all ships bound for Eilat in Israel and placed soldiers on the banks of the Suez Canal. Jordan, Syria, and Iraq helped Egypt. Israel became surrounded by 250,000 enemy soldiers, 2,000 tanks, and 700 jetfighters.
The United States and France, Israel’s main arms suppliers, refused to supply Israel, while the Soviet Union continued to supply massive amounts of weaponry to the Arabs.
On June 5, Israel launched a dawn preemptive strike against the Arab confederacy and, in barely three hours, destroyed 391 planes on the ground and 60 airborne fighters. Israel’s air force gained complete control of the air space over the Middle East.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told Jordan’s King Hussein that Israel would not attack Jordan unless Jordan struck first. (Jordan controlled Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], which it annexed in 1950. Previously, the British ruled the area.) King Hussein ignored the message and on June 5 shelled Israel.
Israeli forces advanced into Samaria and defeated Jordan around Jenin before turning eastward toward the Jordan River and then south into Nablus. In the south, General Uzi Narkiss secured the Jerusalem Corridor and pushed north.
On June 7, Israel recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem, containing Judaism’s most sacred sites—the Temple Mount and Wailing (Western) Wall, which Jews had been barred from visiting since 1948. King Hussein accepted a cease-fire and handed over the entire West Bank to Israel.
On June 8, Israeli tanks went to El Arish, down the Gulf of Suez to Sharm El Sheikh, and surrounded the Egyptian army, taking the whole Sinai.
In another miraculous victory, Israel captured the Golan Heights in the north—an uncultivated, barren area that the Syrians used solely for fighting Israel. Syria had studded it everywhere with in-depth defenses, minefields, barbed wire, dug-in artillery, tanks, and soldiers in concrete bunkers that stretched across the plateau almost to Damascus. Upon scaling their way to the top under heavy fire, the Israelis fought in hand-to-hand combat.
The Outcome. At the end of the six days, Israel controlled all of the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. It later returned the Sinai. Israel refused to withdraw to the 1949 armistice boundaries. Nasser said he would continue to deny Israeli ships access through the Suez Canal and demanded Israel withdraw from all captured territory.
International involvement in the Middle East increased. Area Arabs began to call themselves Palestinians and eventually called for recognition of a Palestinian state. Israel, however, insisted on negotiating for peace in exchange for guaranteed borders and a nonbelligerent Palestinian position.
On November 22, 1967, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which, among other things, called for (1) an end to the belligerency; (2) acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area; and (3) the rights of each state to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.