Forty years ago this
morning, Israel took decisive military action to stave off
annihilation promised by a belligerent Arab world led by Egypt's
Gamal Abdel Nasser. In just six miraculous days, Defense Minister
Moshe Dayan destroyed the armies and air forces of three Arab states
and tripled the land under Israeli control. And since then, Israel's
leaders - Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon - made
brave choices to preserve a peace. But on the Arab side - save for
Anwar Sadat, who paid with his life - peacemakers have been few.
For the Israeli-Arab
conflict has never been about land. Not in 1948, not in 1956, not in
1967, not today. It is about the refusal of too many Arabs to live
in the same world with the Jewish state that history made their
In 1967, there was no
Israeli plan to seize land. The only plan was to keep the ranting
nationalist Nasser and his followers from pushing Israel into the
sea. Israel could live with Nasser's mere ravings, but then Nasser
ordered a UN buffer force out of the Sinai Peninsula and moved his
army into it, and then he signed a military pact with Jordan. Said
another Nasser ally, Iraq: "The existence of Israel is an error
which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the
ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear - to
wipe Israel off the map."
That's the same
language coming today from the death merchants of Hamas and
Hezbollah and non-Arab Iran. Back then - before Israel ever won the
Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Old City of
Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from
Syria - the threats were backed up by Arab armies massing on three
fronts. Israel didn't wait to be destroyed. Dayan sent aloft his
entire air force - at just 200 warplanes, outnumbered 3 to 1 - at
7:46 a.m. June 5, 1967, to target Nasser's planes. Two hours later,
attacked by both Jordan and Iraq, Israel struck back at their
airfields. Syria attacked at noon - and Israel demolished the Syrian
"We have defeated
Israel on the first day of the battle," brayed Nasser's radio. "Bid
But the air war was
over. Arab forces had lost 452 planes; Israel, 19. Gaza was taken
June 6. The next day, Dayan's troops freed the Old City, under
Jordanian occupation for 19 years. The day after, the Sinai and the
West Bank fell. On June 10, Israeli soldiers scaled the cliffs of
the Golan Heights.
The unified Arab
response: No recognition, no negotiations, no peace with Israel.
There was no hope of
that for a decade, until Nasser's successor, Sadat, took it upon
himself to broker sanity. He was later followed by Jordan's King
Hussein. Today, Syria rejects peace, encouraging and abetting the
blind hatred of Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran is seeking nuclear arms.
The Palestinians war among themselves and lob rockets into Israel
from Gaza, territory that was ceded to them voluntarily. And the
Arab world stands on the sidelines.
Land? Not the issue.
Not in 1967, not today. The issue is that there are no Arab
peacemakers. Not in 1967. Not today.
years ago tomorrow, Israel wielded its terrible swift sword against
the attack-poised armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan - and saved the
Jewish state from destruction.
It was the Six-Day War,
and the fledgling state's stunning victory over enemies determined
to annihilate it galvanized the world and changed the Mideast map -
I was one of the
handful of foreign correspondents who reached the front during that
monumentally brief battle. I was in Sinai on the first day, then
returned north and managed to enter Gaza just as that benighted city
was falling to Israel's largely civilian tank corps. Then it was on
Like anyone who
believes in the justice of Israel's existence, I was deeply relieved
by its victory on June 10. I had heard the bloodthirsty Arab threats
of a new Holocaust. I had seen the "Kill the Jews" posters in Gaza
schools. I had seen the bunkers and mass graves that Israel had been
forced to dig in expectation of invasion, if not defeat.
Yet, as we mark its
40th anniversary, it's become fashionable in some circles to rewrite
the history of the Six-Day War. Radicals, so-called "humanitarians"
and others who love to hate Israel now claim that what was
essentially a war for survival was in fact just an excuse for
Zionist imperialism. Even serious journals like Britain's The
Economist say that while the war may have been necessary, it has
ultimately proven "a calamity for the Jewish state."
How ridiculous! Despite
the seemingly insoluble problems that have arisen over the past four
decades - not the least of them, Israel's continuing rule over
occupied territories and a million-plus hostile Palestinians - the
war was not only necessary, it was one of Israel's finest hours.
If we are to be honest
about the lessons learned, it's that many in the Mideast will never,
ever stop until they can wipe Israel off the map - and therefore
Israel must never succumb to naivete. Indeed, the core of
Palestinians - then and now - reject the legitimacy of the Jewish
state, seek its dismantlement and blame it for all Palestinian woes.
There is no doubt that,
in part because of self-inflicted strategic mistakes, Israel is now
in its weakest position in years. Its government is faltering. Its
current prime minister badly mismanaged last year's Lebanese War and
is now the least popular Israeli leader in history. Its once
powerful Labor Party is in disarray - its party chief, inept Defense
Minister Amir Peretz, has been ousted from his job in an election
that left the title of party boss, and that of Labor's next
candidate for prime minister, contested by former Premier Ehud Barak
and former intelligence chief Ami Ayalon.
These days, Israel's
leaders are not doing its history - or its people - justice. But
what ultimately must unite them, what will unite them, is the fact
that 40 years after the Six-Day War, those eager to snuff out the
Zionist flame still have it surrounded.
Shortly after the
fighting stopped in the summer of 1967, I interviewed Golda Meir and
asked her to sum up the importance of Israel's victory. "The only
way to understand," she said, "is to imagine what would have
happened if we had lost the war."
I still shudder to
think. Israel's foes are eager to make the past prologue - only this
time, with a different victor.