This Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, also known as the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, in which the tiny nation of Israel defended itself against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan on three fronts. In the conflict Israel captured all of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan Heights.
The outcome of the Six-Day War has been a key factor in shaping the current geopolitical situation in Israel. Palestinian demands often hinge on UN Resolution 242, which requires Israel to keep to its pre-1967 borders with its Arab neighbors, but no one can agree exactly what that means because the pre-1967 borders were not clearly defined. At the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war no peace treaty was signed; a cease-fire armistice was the only thing defining borders and the terms of peace. A peace treaty was to be hammered out later, something which the Arab countries subsequently refused to do, since they intended to retake the territory of Israel when the occasion presented itself.
The Six-Day War
On May 15, 1967, Israeli intelligence discovered that Egypt was concentrating large-scale forces in the Sinai peninsula (remember this is before the days of satellite intelligence). On May 19, the United Nations Emergency Force stationed on the border between Egypt and Israel was evacuated at the demand of Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel-Nasser. During the night of May 22-23, Egypt’s navy blockaded the Straits of Tiran opening into the Indian Ocean, prohibiting passage to Israeli ships. On May 30, Jordan joined the Egyptian-Syrian alliance of 1966 and placed its armies under Egyptian command. Iraq followed suit shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, military detachments from other Arab countries began arriving. By the end of May, Israel confronted a Muslim force of 465,000 troops, 2,880 tanks and 810 fighter aircraft along the entire length of her borders with Arab countries, which had not been there less than a month earlier.
As Arab radio crackled with “drive-them-into-the-sea” rhetoric, the situation became very tense. Technically, the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran could probably be considered the first bellicose act of war, but there had been no violence or lives lost. Despite a huge Egyptian army threatening its southern border, Israel tried to diplomatically defuse the crisis by approaching Britain and France, who had guaranteed freedom of Israeli navigation. Those counties reneged on their promise. US President Johnson proposed breaking the blockade with an international armada. In a May 28 broadcast, Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol agreed to wait and see.
By June 4 it became clear that diplomatic channels had failed. Faced with the imminent threat of annihilation, Israel launched a preemptive air strike to shatter Arab air forces while their aircraft were still on the ground, a move which succeeded. During the six days of the war, in fierce fighting Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria, the Sinai Desert from Egypt, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan—all of the territories that have been on the table for negotiation during the Oslo Peace Process. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt during the historic Camp David agreement under President Jimmy Carter, negotiated between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (Sadat would later pay for this with his life as the result of an assassination). The remaining territories are still held by Israel. The Palestinians view these lands as having been seized and occupied by Israeli aggression, while Israelis view them as spoils of a war they didn’t start or want.
The Countdown Begins
Today Israel’s enemies are once again preparing for war. Once again, the goal is Israel’s complete annihilation. This week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Israel with the wrath of an “angry ocean of nations” saying: “God willing, in the near future we will witness the destruction of the corrupt occupier regime…With God’s help, the countdown button for the destruction of the Zionist regime has been pushed by the hands of the children of Lebanon and Palestine.”
Most diligent Bible students understand Israel’s history up to the Crucifixion, but few really understand how Israel’s present predicament came about. These vital chapters in Israel’s history should not be overlooked.