1967: The Six Day War

Key Facts

  • In response to Arab forces massing on its borders in anticipation of a war of annihilation, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike resulting in a swift six-day victory against its Arab neighbours.
  • Israel more than tripled its territorial possession and gained control of the Sinai, West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights and reunited the formerly divided city of Jerusalem.
  • The war laid the foundation for the ‘land for peace’ formula.
More information

The Six Day War has had a resounding impact on Israel and the region. Escalating aggression from Israel’s neighbours significantly contributed to the war’s outbreak. On Israel’s northern border, Syria waged a terror campaign that garnered little international criticism. On its southern border, Egypt expelled the UN Emergency Force that had served as a buffer in the Sinai, Egyptian President Nasser declaring his motives in no uncertain terms: “As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence”.1 Egypt then cut off Israeli traffic through the Red Sea by closing the Straits of Tiran which, according to US President Johnson, constituted an act of war.

Attempting to avoid involvement in a war, the US tried to remain neutral. When war broke out, the US refused to arm Israel and imposed an arms embargo on the region. The Arab states, however, received both materiel and ground support from other Arab nations and Russia.

On June 5, 1967, the War was initiated by Israel crippling the Egyptian air force in a swift, pre-emptive air attack. Israel had told Jordan that it would not attack – unless Jordan initiated hostilities. Rejecting this warning, on June 5, Jordanian forces attacked Israeli neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. In response, Israeli forces entered the Jordanian-controlled eastern part of the city, drove out Jordanian forces and liberated the historic Old City.

The aftermath of the 1967 War is as significant as the War itself. In addition to reunifying Jerusalem, Israel effectively tripled the size of the area it controlled, holding possession of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights. Israel had the opportunity to capture Cairo, Damascus and Amman but, instead, agreed to a ceasefire.

Following the War, the UN Security Council issued what became the basis of the land-for-peace formula, UNSC Resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories seized in the Six Day War only after Arab leadership ceases “all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.2 There was a deliberate omission of the words ‘all the’ with respect to withdrawal of territories Israel captured – with the expectation that the extent of withdrawal would be determined through negotiations. Israel has since withdrawn from both the Sinai (an area more than twice the size of Israel) and Gaza.

There were further implications of the War. The term “refugee” was expanded to any Palestinians who fled or was removed from territories captured in the War. Moreover, neighbouring Arab states underscored their rejection of Israel when, in September of 1967, at a meeting of the Arab League, the Arab nations passed the infamous “three no’s” resolution regarding Israel3: “no peace, no recognition, no negotiations.”

Sources

  1. Isi Leibler, The Case For Israel, (Australia: The Globe Press, 1972), p. 60.
  2. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/un242.asp
  3. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/khartoum.asp

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