The Métropolitain

THE SIX DAY WAR—ICONIC MILESTONE

Par David T. Jones le 7 juin 2017

Washington, DC ~ Four times in the 75 years of my life, Israel has had to fight its Arab neighbors:  1948, for the creation of the country; 1956, to restore freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal; 1967, in pre-emptive strikes against Arabs on the verge of their own attacks; and 1973, beating back a surprise Egyptian attack across the Suez Canal that was initially successful.

Each time there was the basic appreciation that Israel could not afford to lose a single war or “never again” would be implemented to catastrophic effect.

It is the 1967 “Six Day War,” now in its 50-year commemoration starting on 5 June, that has proved the most enduring and consequential.

In a thumbnail sketch, Israel fought directly with Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi forces (although the latter two were less engaged).  Appreciating that these countries were massing forces and Egypt had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in violation of international agreement, Closed the Suez Canal and threw out the UN peacekeeping force from Sinai, Israel attacked pre-emptively.  Exceptional tactics and training resulted in the annihilation of opposing air forces.  Surprise and tactically innovative ground attacks against Egyptian forces in Sinai and Gaza destroyed virtually the entire Egyptian army.  Egyptian President Nasser misled Jordanian and Syrian leadership into believing it was winning the war, leading Jordan’s King Hussein to enter the war although Israeli leadership had promised to take no action in Jerusalem-West Bank if Jordanian forces did not engage.  

Although casual instant analysis was contemptuous of Arab combat capabilities, more detailed subsequent study indicated that Arab/Egyptian/Jordanian forces fought hard, but simply were outfought/outmatched by Israelis, particularly with Israel enjoying total command of the air.

The result ended with Israel holding the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, all of previously divided Jerusalem, and the West Bank.  Tens of thousands of refugees fled during the fighting and its immediate aftermath.  

The question for the last half century is how to transform this victory into a lasting peace.  

Following the 1973 war, during which Egypt despite initial success suffered a devastating defeat, efforts to achieve “peace” have been a persistent theme in Western, and particularly U.S. diplomacy.  

And there has been some success.  The 1979 agreement brokered by President Carter resulted in the return of the Sinai to Egypt accompanied by stringent efforts to keep it demilitarized.  The 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Sadat, resulted in the political assent of Hosni Mubarak to the presidency with his rule lasting until the 2014 “Arab Spring.”  This has been a period of “cold peace” with the United States supplanting the USSR as Egypt’s primary source of economic and military assistance. 

The last 43 years have consumed the energies of multiple, highly qualified and motivated diplomats and political leaders—all to no avail.

The basic approach to peace has conceived of a “two state solution” (with an Israeli and a Palestinian state) created under mutually agreed circumstances.  This result will be reached by a steady transfer of “land for peace” as the territory seized by Israel during the 1967 war is returned to Arab control.  Neither approach has proved fruitful.  The most dramatic land transfer:  Israel's unilateral return of the Gaza Strip and withdrawal of all Israeli settlements in 2005.  Unfortunately, the action resulted in control of Gaza by a radical, indeed, terrorist-designated Palestinian Hamas government that has served as a base for steady attacks on Israel and deadly, often massive, Israeli response.  Hardly an encouraging precedent for this approach. 

The last intensive peace effort was directed by President Clinton during the last years of his presidency.  Thoughtful volumes by many U.S. senior participants have attempted to elaborate/explain its failure, including unwillingness/inability of then-Palestinian leader Arafat to make the final painful compromises. 

Although creative theoretical solutions have been advanced by everyone with an International Relations degree, if anything “peace” has become more elusive in the past 17 years.  

Indeed, nobody has lost money betting against peace in the Middle East.  And cynics suggest that the Second Coming will arrive before any political arrangement more satisfactory to all actors than the current fragile arrangement can be devised.

Consequently, diplomacy has focused on “crisis management” rather than problem resolution.  The resulting frustration has prompted some “outside the box’ thinking such as advancing a “single state” solution with Israel simply transferring land and occupants to neighboring states such as the West Bank to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt, while retaining the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and West Bank settlements.

For his part, President Trump has expressed commitment to brokering a “deal” that will satisfy all concerned.  

One can only wish him well.