The Six-Day War

From the Six-Day War to the Yom Kippur War and Its Aftermath (1967–1975)

The Six-Day War of June 1967 was a major watershed in the history of Israel, of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and of the Middle East. It altered the geography of the region, changed military and political perceptions, and triggered an intensified international effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict with expanded U.S. involvement.

Throughout the period between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the focal point was the effort to achieve a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to secure a just and lasting peace based on UN Security Council Resolution 242. Although some of the efforts were promising, peace was not achieved and there was little movement in that direction.

The 1969–70 War of Attrition, formally launched by Egypt against Israel along the Suez Canal in April 1969, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War marked the fourth and fifth rounds of conflict between Israel and the Arabs. It was also in this period that a restructured PLO emerged under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and posed new challenges to Israel.

The Six-Day War

On June 5, 1967, war broke out between Israel and Egypt and was followed shortly by a general Arab-Israeli confrontation. Israel launched a preemptive strike against Egypt on the morning of June 5. The Israeli action was taken in the context of a crisis situation that included assertions of belligerent intent on the part of Israel’s Arab neighbors. In the weeks leading up to June 5, Israel found itself surrounded by large armies mobilizing in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.

The combined military forces on these three fronts gave Israel a distinct disadvantage in military readiness. In the face of these overwhelming odds, Israel planned to strike the Egyptian air force while still on the ground: On the morning of June 5, it destroyed Egypt’s air force in hours. Later that morning, the ground war began.

Columns of Israeli tanks and artillery blasted into the Sinai, and Egypt’s army soon crumbled. In the Arab world, however, the story told by the state-controlled media was quite different. Arab sources spoke of Arab successes and Israeli defeats.

Despite Egypt’s losses, Nasser convinced King Hussein of Jordan to join in the defense of Arab allies. Jordanian forces began shelling Israeli positions in Jerusalem. Israelis responded by surrounding and taking the Old City of Jerusalem and made gains elsewhere in Jerusalem and in the West Bank, which had been under Jordan’s control under the terms of the 1949 Israel-Jordan armistice agreement.

Israel sought to avoid conflict with Jordan. Prime Minister Eshkol sent King Hussein a message stating that Israel would take no actions against him if he ceased hostile activities. Jordan, however, received misinformation of Arab victories emanating from Cairo and pressed forward. Israeli paratroopers entered the old city through the Lion Gate and took control of the Temple Mount. The entire city of Jerusalem has been in Israeli hands ever since.

Midway through the war, Egypt’s Nasser sought to excuse its poor position by claiming that the United States had entered the war on the side of Israel. On day four, the Israeli air force mistakenly attacked a U.S. intelligence ship near its coast, the Liberty, killing 34 Americans and wounding 171. The next day hostilities broke out with Syria, and on the last day, June 10, the Israeli army captured the Golan Heights. In six days, Israel’s defense forces had successfully pushed back the Egyptians in Sinai, the Jordanians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the Syrians on the Golan Heights.