Over the last few weeks, we have tried to undo a lot of the mystification that still surrounds the 1967 War, which so transformed Israel’s presence in the Middle East and indeed the world.
We have shown how much genuine fear there was on the part of Jews worldwide, even leftwingers, over Israel’s possible destruction 20 years after the Holocaust. Yet as Norman Finkelstein documents, military leaders around the world, including in Washington, Damascus and Cairo, knew that the Arab nations were no contest for Israel, and that the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric was largely bluster. And bear in mind: Israel started the war, and ended up taking large chunks of its neighbors’ territories.
We have also stressed the dubious lessons from Israel’s six-day victory. Israel had to go it alone in the world. The Israel lobby must become a force in U.S. life in order to insure Israel’s survival.
An event at the Wilson Center last month extends this understanding. Guy Laron, the Israeli author of a new book on the 1967 war (“The Breaking of the Middle East”), explained that Israeli generals and the CIA knew very well that the Arab armies posed no existential threat: the war would end in a week. He also said that the victory was produced in Britain and France, through the supply of state-of-the-art arms, not “by Jewish geniuses” in Israel, as Israel liked to claim.
Let’s go to the video. At minute 42, Jeffrey Herf, a leading historian at the University of Maryland, and a friend of Israel, rose in the audience to give the conventional belief about the war: that Egypt and Syria intended to destroy Israel. Laron then demolished Herf’s argument.
There’s a simple explanation for the Six Day War, which is that Nasser and the leaders in Syria thought they could destroy the state of Israel. They made a bunch of misjudgments based on a lot of hatred… Fortunately Israel prevented them from accomplishing what they wanted to do. That is in accord with everything Nasser was saying publicly, what he did in the weeks preceding the war. The Israelis had every reason to believe that the United Arab Republic and Iraq and Jordan were intent on destroying the state of Israel, and they failed… Why is that interpretation of the origins of the war wrong?
Let’s set aside intentions. Let’s talk about capabilities. That’s something I researched in depth… footnoted in depth. The situation was like this, and the Israeli general staff knew it quite well, because Israeli intelligence, Israeli knowledge about Arab capabilities was excellent.
It goes beyond the fact that Israel had two top, high-level spies up to the mid-60s both in Damascus and Cairo. They also used a secret commando unit to plant bugs on major telephone lines, both in Sinai and in Syria. They had lots of ways of knowing what’s going on in the other side.
So what was going on on the other side?
Both the Syrian and the Egyptian army had plans for limited attacks– limited attacks, not a major offensive. They had no way of actually doing that. Why? They were not trained nor were they equipped by the Soviets to launch a major offensive. One example is, What if the Egyptians would have done to the Israelis what the Israelis did to the Egyptians? That is, bomb the airplanes on the ground, wipe the Israeli air force off. So the Soviets never gave the Egyptians planes with enough range to reach a major Israeli air field. They had only one squadron of heavy bombers and it wasn’t trained in a way that would have allowed them to evade Israeli radar system.
So beyond that, there’s the fact that there were lines of fortifications both on the Golan Heights and the Sinai, and millions of dollars were invested in them by the Soviet Union; and the whole doctrine of fighting, both of the Egyptians and the Syrians, was basically to hide behind these lines and wait for Israel to break its offensive teeth against these bunkers and trenches and then perhaps launch a counter-attack. So they didn’t have the capability. They didn’t have the weapons, they didn’t have the leadership, they didn’t have the training…. They didn’t have the army. Like, a third of the army, the best units, are in Yemen. Most of the people on the front line, they are farmers, they are hastily conscripted. They were thrown into the desert by a corrupt dictatorship. No water, no food, no maps, no uniforms, no weapons.
The Israelis know that. They listen to the radio transmitters, they hear them wail to their commanders, that they supply them with water, they’re in the desert, and they’re not getting any!
They also captured a few Egyptian prisoners of war before the war even started, and they interrogated them. They knew exactly what was going on. Things were a mess. The commander of the Egyptian army is a drunkard and he’s erratic, he’s moving the units all the time from place to place. Even the basic plan of defense that they prepared for many years– Abdel Hakim Amer, he ruined it. He ruined it.
So it was less a case that Israel was under an existential crisis and more of a case that the Israeli general staff quietly knew that they’re going to win the war big. They had an excellent plan, they were professionals, they planned for that for over a decade, they were absolutely ready. From the first move, which is wiping out the Arab air forces, to armored warfare. You have to give them credit, those were real professionals in the Israeli army.
It’s not just me talking. It’s the CIA. The CIA said at the time: the Egyptian forces, Syrian forces are in a defensive posture. They don’t have a chance in the world to win against Israel. If Israel is attacked, it will win in a week. If Israel attacks, it will win in a week. It doesn’t matter. That’s what the CIA said.
That’s what they wrote in a memo, that they delivered to Lyndon Johnson. So I don’t think the Arabs could have done it.
Later Laron was asked about Israel’s arms-suppliers in the war. He said that the war was won thanks to Britain and France, Israel’s partners in the Suez war 11 years before.
It’s a common misconception to assume that Israel won the war thanks to American weapons system. The Israeli victory in the Six Day War was manufactured in Western Europe.
Two thirds of the tanks… There were 1000 tanks in the Israeli army on the eve of the war — about 650 were Centurion tanks made in the U.K, and almost 100 percent of all the planes in the Israeli air force were French made…
Now this leads to an even more interesting story. Because what the Israeli air force told to the world and the Israeli public, is that they are Jewish geniuses. They came up with this idea of how to circumvent around Soviet radars and surface-to-air missile. Because they are just geniuses, they invented it all from scratch. And that is not true. That is not true.
What happened on this exciting, this amazing operation that they conducted on the first three hours. In which they surprised the Egyptian air force, and they did the same with the Syrians, and the Jordanian and the Iraqi. That was an implementation of French technology and French doctrine on Soviet weapons. This was exactly how it was supposed to work, but not in the Middle East, in Europe… This was the French doctrine. This was how they wanted to start their war against the Warsaw pact.
He went on to say that the French Mirage flew low and compromised on its payload to do so. “The reason why Israel insisted on purchasing from France was because Israel was developing nuclear weapons.” The Mirage was intended to carry nuclear weapons, but in this case it was converted into a conventional attack.
But everything that happened in those three hours including the fact that the Israelis were able to suppress Soviet radar signal, that was French electronic equipment and it workd in the first hours of the war. They basically equipped Israel in a way that it helped win the war.
The French government was not pleased by the result. Charles de Gaulle announced an embargo. But Israel had been supplied till the very first hours of the war, by France.
Anything you need, tell us. There was like an air train coming from Paris to Tel Aviv. And the same thing was happening in the U.K. Publicly they were not supportive but behind the scenes they helped Israel get the hardware until the very last minute.
I hope these comments help to further undermine myths about Israel’s loneliness in the world against all enemies, and about the existential threat of the 1967 crisis. When Israel’s friends say that the occupation was forced on the country by aggressive neighbors, think again. Whatever its origins, the expansionist character of the war effort cannot be denied.