Six Day War of 1967: causes, course and consequences

Land taken by Israel as a result of the war
Land taken by Israel as a result of the war

Arab cartoon: Nasser kicking Israel into the sea
Arab cartoon: Nasser kicking Israel into the sea

Timeline of key dates:

1964 - Nasser establishes the PLO, Palestine Liberation Organization in an attempt to control the fedayeen, the Palestinian guerrilla. However, the PLO soon became the object of an inter-Arab struggle for influence between Egypt, Syria and Iraq,
as well as an Arab-Palestinian struggle for control.

· May - The Palestine National Council meet with the PLO for the very first time to draft its Covenant in which the PLO demonstrated their aims. Article 3 of the PLO Covenant:
"The Palestinian Arab people have the legitimate right to its homeland and are an inseparable part of the Arab Nation. It shares the sufferings and aspirations of the Arab Nation and its struggle for freedom, sovereignty and unity."

1966 – November, the Syrian-Egyptian Defence Pact
- The As-Samu Raid

1967 – April, the Israeli-Syrian Air Clash

- May, the False Soviet Intelligence Report
- May, Nasser mobilises troops
- May, UNEF asked to withdraw
- May, Blockade of Straits of Tiran
- May, Egyptian-Jordanian Defence Pact
- June, Six Day War
- September, Khartoum Summit
- November, UN Resolution 242

Key causes of the war:

The change of government in Syria in February 1966
  • The rise to power of militant Ba'thists resulted in increasingly hostile rhetoric at a time when already bad Syrian-Israeli border relations were deteriorating. Conflict embarked in August 1966 when Israel and Syria clashed in a fierce battle in the area of the Sea of Galilee.
The Syrian and Egyptian Pact of November 1966
  • The defence pact boosted Syria's confidence and both Syria and Egypt continued fedayeen operations against Israel from Jordan. This increased Israel's threat perception which made Israel adopt a more hard-line security response. Consequently, Israel launched its most extensive operation since the Sinai Campaign when the IDF, the Israel Defence Force raided the West Bank villages of As-Samu, Jimba and Khirbet Karkay.
The Israeli-Syrian air clash in 1967
  • Israel and Syria engaged in an air battle over Syria, in which Syria lost six MiGs. This conflict added to the tensions and an all-out military confrontation seemed almost unavoidable.
The False Soviet Intelligence Report of 1967
  • The Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny told Nasser's aide Anwar Sadat that Israeli troops had mobilized and intended to invade Syria, yet this was inaccurate information. However, given the defence pact of Syria and Egypt, Nasser decided to act immediately. On May 14, Egyptian troops moved in to the Sinai.
  • The UNEF, the United Nations Emergency Force was asked to withdraw. Yet U Thant’s insistence on either “no withdrawal or complete withdrawal” left the Egyptian-Israeli border without buffer.
The Blockade of the Straits

  • Nasser proceeded to close the Straits, later claiming that he had no choice if he wanted to return “things the way they were in 1956”. Nasser did not believe that his action would lead to war. Rather, he would gain a political victory and deflect Arab criticism.
The Egyptian-Jordanian Defence Pact

  • Egypt’s aggressive intent was confirmed when Jordan joined the general mobilization, followed by the signing of a mutual defence agreement with Egypt in May 30 1967.
  • By that point, Israel too had started to mobilize with the overall result of 80,000 Egyptian troops and 900 tanks, 300 Syrian tanks, 300 Jordanian tanks, and some 250,000 Israeli troops, 1,093 tanks and 2003 planes ready for action. War seemed inevitable.

Bad diplomacy
  • Israeli public anxiety and frustration increased while diplomats tried to diffuse the crisis. Israeli attempts to negotiate the opening of the Straits with Egyptian Vice-President Zakariya Muhieddin in Washington in June 3 failed due to increasingly hostile rhetoric from all belligerents. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was forced to hand over the defence portfolio to the Minister of Defence, Moshe Dayan who then took the decision to go to war. It was clear that if Israel did not strike first, the Arabs would.

Outline of course of the war - what happened?
  • On June 5 1967 Israel launched a pre-emptive attack and the Israeli air force destroyed 304 Egyptian, 53 Syrian and 28 Jordanian aircraft, mostly on the ground.
  • The IDF crossed into the Sinai and into the West Bank.
  • Syria, Jordan and Egypt counter-attacked the same day and the three Arab states became embroiled in a land battle with the Jewish state, which continued until June 10.
  • The battle on the West Bank ended when Israel captured East Jerusalem on June 7 1967 and troops moved to the Jordan River before King Hussein of Jordan agreed to cease-fire later in the day.
  • Syrian-Israeli fighting did not even start until June 9, yet "shortly after the ninth, Syria, which had contributed so much to the crisis and nothing to the conflict" also agreed to a cease fire.
  • The war with Egypt ended when Israeli forces occupied Sharm al-Sheikh and reached the Suez Canal.
  • Having lost 2,000 soldiers in the fighting with Israel and another 10,000 in the retreat, Egypt had no choice but to agree to a cease-fire on June 8 1967.
  • The war left Israel in control of Jordan's West Bank, Egypt's Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip, and Syria's Golan Heights. Israel's air superiority was the most important factor in Israel's victory, followed closely by the lack of Arab coordination which enabled Israel to deal separately with Egypt, Jordan and Syria rather than having to fight a genuine three-frontal war.

Major consequences of 1967:
  • Israel emerged from the war victorious and had increased its territory threefold and became the dominant power in the region.
  • Nasser had been resoundingly defeated and was no longer considered as the main threat and Nasser saw his claim to leadership of the Arab world greatly reduced.
  • The more radical Ba’thi regime in Syria started to emerge as Israel’s main regional rival, ultimately resulting in a Syrian-Israeli arms race, which in turn, provided opportunity for greater superpower involvement.
  • The prestige of the Soviet Union, as Egypt’s and Syria’s ally, had also been damaged, while the United States started to see Israel as a valuable asset in the region through which to counter Soviet influence.
  • Pan-Arabism started to decline and the Israeli victory contributed to the to the re-focusing on particularistic Palestinian nationalism as well as placing the Palestinians back on the international agenda.
  • The Six Day War also provided the international community once again with the opportunity to attempt the conclusion of a regional settlement. The result of numerous sessions was UN Security Council Resolution 242 which emphasized "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of the territory by war" and acknowledged "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 acts of force."
  • Resolution 242 embodied all those key elements which had to be addressed for conflict resolution: recognition, inadmissibility of acquiring territory by war, freedom from acts of force, peace and the Palestinian refugee problem. The Arabs insisted that 242 called for Israel to withdrawal from all territories, while Israel insisted it had to hold onto some of the territories in order to live within secure boundaries. This created further division between Israel and the Arab states on how to proceed.
  • Opposition to territorial compromise was only expressed by the Israel party Herut and the National Religious Party. "The Israelis seemed increasingly reluctant to accept a formula which would require their complete withdrawal from territories occupied in war, even if their objectives of secure frontiers, non-belligerency and freedom of navigation were conceded."
  • The Arab Summit in Khartoum in September 1967 decided the debate in favor of the hard-liners that advocated a continuation of the conflict in order to liberate all of Palestine: No peace with, no recognition of, and no negotiation with, Israel.

Historiography - different interpretations of this topic?

Evegny Pyrlin, the Head of the Egypt Department of the Soviet Foreign Ministry at that time claims that Soviet decision-makers believed "that even if the war was not won by our side - the Egyptians - a war would be to our political advantage because the Egyptians would have demonstrated their ability to fight our weapons and with our military and political support."

Possible Question 4 formulations

Using the sources and your own knowledge, analyse the reasons behind the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in 1967.

Using the sources and your own knowledge, analyse to what extent was pan-arabism responsible for the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in 1967.


Schulze, pp. 32 - 38. external image 51hg-fXlLbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpg