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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Six Day War results still 'good for the Jews'

Each retrospective that I have heard in the media this week that has dealt with the Six Day War - the 40th anniversary of whose outbreak is today on the Gregorian calendar - has included a leftist viewpoint that beats the nation's collective breast for 'occupying' another 'people' and a rightist viewpoint that says that what has happened since the government signed the ill-advised Oslo Accords in 1993 proves that it's impossible to make peace with the 'Palestinians.'

It's not just many Israelis who believe that peace between us and the 'Palestinians' is impossible. A poll on al-Jazeera's English language web site this morning shows that 51.4% of the respondents also believe that lasting peace between Israelis and 'Palestinians' is impossible. Okay, I voted in the poll. But I suspect that most of the people who voted in it are not Israeli Jews.

The argument over the Six Day War is as old as the war itself, and the recriminations intensified after the Yom Kippur War in 1973. If anything, they intensified further after the Lebanon War of 1982 and the signing of the 'Oslo Accords' in 1993 and 1995. Most of those who argue that Israel should not have conquered liberated the territory that it liberated in what was a defensive war in 1967 are revisionists - people who don't accept the traditional view that Israel did all it could have done to prevent war in 1967.

But in recent years, the release of previously secret archives of what actually went on in the days leading up to June 5, 1967 have put the lie to the revisionist view. Historian Michael Oren - rumored to be a classmate of mine at Columbia - published a book a few years ago called Six Days of War: June 1967. Oren was able to gain access to many of those secret documents and he shows clearly what happened and why. He has become the pre-eminent historian of the Six Day War, and I urge those of you who have not read the book already to read it.

In an interview in this morning's JPost, Oren attempts to debunk the revisionist myth that the Arabs didn't really want to destroy the Jewish state in 1967:
"The biggest myth going is that somehow there was not a real and immediate Arab threat, that somehow Israel could have negotiated itself outside the crisis of 1967, and that it wasn't facing an existential threat, or facing any threat at all," said Oren, who is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at Jerusalem's Shalem Center and author of Six Days of War: June 1967. He noted that this was the premise of Tom Segev's book, 1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East. "What's remarkable is that all the people alleging this - not one of them is working from Arabic sources. It's quite extraordinary when you think about it. It's almost as if Israel were living in a universe by itself. It's a deeply solipsistic approach to Middle East history."

What's behind the myth, Oren argued, is "a more pervasive, ongoing effort to show that Israel bears the bulk, if not the sole responsibility, for decades of conflict in the Arab world, and that the Arabs are the aggrieved party.

"It's an attempt to show that Israel basically planned the Six Day War in advance, knowing that it was going to expand territorially. My position is that it was just the opposite. Israel was taken aback by the crisis, unprepared for it and panicked, believing it faced a true existential threat, and did not plan to expand territory.

"It did everything it could to keep Jordan and Syria out of the war. My reading of the Arabic documents show that the Arabs had real plans to attack and destroy the State of Israel."
If Oren correctly describes Tom Segev's view when Segev wrote his book, that view seems to have changed at least somewhat. Writing in today's New York Times, Segev claims that the Israeli cabinet "had determined six months before the Six-Day War that capturing the West Bank would be bad for the country." (Hat Tip: Bagel Blogger)
Recently declassified Israeli government documents show that according to these policy planners, taking over the West Bank would weaken the relative strength of Israel’s Jewish majority, encourage Palestinian nationalism and ultimately lead to violent resistance.

These comprehensive political and strategic discussions began in November 1966 and concluded in January 1967. The participants were representatives of the Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence branch and the Foreign Ministry. The documents they prepared were approved by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and the army’s chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, and therefore reflect Israel’s strategic thinking six months before the war.

There was general agreement that it would be to Israel’s advantage for King Hussein of Jordan, whose country controlled the West Bank, to remain in power: he had, in effect, accepted Israel’s existence, so Israel naturally had an interest in strengthening his regime.
Segev may be correct that six months before the war the government had decided that it would not be to its advantage to take control of Judea and Samaria, but then even during the war itself, much of the government was not interested in taking control over Judea and Samaria and the entire government urged King Hussein to stay out of the war. I actually found Segev's next paragraph interesting and surprising:
Hussein was also endeavoring to unify the West Bank with the East Bank and was encouraging West Bank Palestinians to migrate to the east. Over the preceding 15 years, the number of Palestinians who had left the West Bank for the east had reached 200,000. Moreover, approximately 100,000 Palestinians had left Jordan altogether. Hussein’s effort to integrate Palestinians was “a positive phenomenon from Israel’s point of view,” concluded the final position paper that emerged from that winter’s discussions. Hussein was acting to eradicate the Palestinian question, and this was an excellent reason not to take the West Bank away from him.
So much for those who think that Jordan isn't the 'Palestinian' state.

Segev claims that once the Jordanians attacked the Israeli part of Jerusalem on the first day of the conflict "all reason was forgotten." Segev admits that "some retaliation" was called for, but says that the IDF "went too far." Segev apparently advocates chasing bullies off and allowing them to regroup. That's a formula for continued harassment from the bullies, who cannot understand that they have lost until they are soundly defeated. In fact, we see that emanating from Gaza today.

While Segev may not believe any more that the war was pre-meditated, his views on other aspects of the war have not changed:
Their emotions propelled the Israelis to act against their national interest. It may have been a series of threatening moves taken by Egypt, or it may have been the intoxication of victory, but in view of the results of the war there was indeed no justification for the panic that had preceded it, nor for the euphoria that took hold after it, which is what makes the story of Israel in 1967 so difficult to comprehend.
I've already noted above that based upon a review of Arab sources, Oren believes that the panic was justified. Now let's let Oren debunk Segev's second myth: that Israel's taking control of Judea and Samaria was "against their natural interest:"
"The United States, which previously regarded Israel as a friendly country but one that impaired its relations with the Arab world, suddenly realized that the Jewish state was in fact a regional superpower," he said. "The US subsequently forged an alliance with Israel that has remained ever since."

The first person to recognize that the war had dramatically changed the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, according to Oren, was US president Lyndon Johnson, who initiated a peace plan later embodied in UN Security Council Resolution 242.

"You can actually see 242 coming out of Johnson's head on June 5, 1967, including the notion that Israel would not have to return to the 1967 borders," Oren said. "Johnson is saying that particularly the West Bank border is not a defensible border; it's only eight miles across to the sea, and Israel should not have to go back to that border."

The war, Oren said, marked "the emergence for the first time of a US-Israel strategic relationship, as the Johnson administration wakes up on June 12, 1967, and says, 'Oh my God, we've got a regional superpower on our hands. We can't afford not to have it as an ally.'"
Oren cites several other good things that came to Israel as a result of the Six Day War:
"And yet it was also the 1967 war that inaugurated the peace process," he said. "UN Resolution 242, enacted in its wake, remains the cornerstone of all negotiations and created the conditions for Palestinian self-rule. The current Arab League peace plan calls for 'full Israeli withdrawal' to the June 4, 1967, lines, and the 'road map' plan endorsed by the United States and much of the international community provides for the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

"None of this would be possible if the West Bank and Gaza were still occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, as they were in 1967, and if the Arab world were still consumed with how best to make war, rather than peace, with Israel."

The war also "vastly enhanced" Israel's relationship with Jewish communities abroad, Oren said.

"Before the war, some of the leading Jewish organizations in the US were reserved, if not distant, in their relationship with Israel," he said. "But as Arab armies massed on Israel's borders, Diaspora Jews confronted the possibility of witnessing a second Holocaust within a single generation, and later reveled in the joy of Israel's success.

"Many were inspired by the reunification of the State of Israel with the biblical Land of Israel, with Bethlehem, Hebron and above all, Jerusalem.

"Contributions poured into Israel, enabling it to strengthen its economy and its ability to absorb new immigrants, and American Jewish organizations lobbied for its defense."
I would add to Oren's list the fact that Israel's principle water sources are the Banyas River and the aqueducts underneath Samaria, both of which came under Israeli control as a result of the Six Day War. Indeed, as Oren himself documents in the book, the Syrians had attempted to divert the Banyas and impair Israel's water supply shortly before the war started.

Segev, on the other hand, goes for lamenting Israel's position to the positively delusional:
But peace with the Palestinians has not come one inch closer. As a result more and more Israelis realize today that Israel gained absolutely nothing from the conquest of the Palestinian territories. Speculating again in hindsight — Israel may have been better off giving up the West Bank and East Jerusalem without peace than signing the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan while keeping these territories. Forty years of oppression and Palestinian terrorism, both extremely cruel, have undermined Israel’s Jewish and democratic foundations. With about 400,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and with extreme Islamism as a driving force among the Palestinians, the conflict has become infinitely more difficult to solve.
The conflict is not solvable. But then it never was solvable. What Segev won't - cannot - acknowledge is that there is no chance that the 'Palestinians' and the Arab world that created them will accept any Jewish state in the Middle East. As fellow blogger Yisrael Medad writes:
Could we not ask what would have happened had the Arabs accepted the territorial compromise plan of the United Nations in 1947? And would the answer be no refugees, on either side; no establishment of the PLO and its terror apparatus; no denial of Jewish rights to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem until the city was united, again, in 1967 but rather the beginnings of peace?
Of course we could ask it. But the answer would be the same: The Arabs won't accept any compromise. They wouldn't in 1947, they wouldn't in 2000 at Camp David and they won't today. And none of us should expect that reality to change anytime in the foreseeable future.

I see no reason why we should not believe the Arabs' - and the rest of the world's - own words. In this morning's editorial, the Post quotes some of those words in the days leading up to June 5, 1967:
By June 5, 1967, Egypt had about 210,000, Syria 63,000 and Jordan 55,000 soldiers - a total of 328,000 men - poised to wipe Israel off the map. A few days before, foreign minister Abba Eban noted in his diary in London, "The British radio and television, which I turned on briefly before retiring, were full of sympathy for Israel, but they had a distinctly funereal air."

Israel had secretly asked the US to provide 20,000 gas masks. An internal Pentagon memo approving the request noted, "All concerned (including the Israelis) recognize that the number of masks involved is too small to do much good and that by themselves could not assure adequate protection against the type of gas which may be used. This would be essentially a psychological gesture."

At a press conference on May 28, Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser said, "The existence of Israel is in itself an aggression… We will not accept any…coexistence with Israel... Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel… The war with Israel is in effect since 1948."

On May 31 the Egyptian newspaper Al Akhbar reported, "Under the terms of the military agreement signed with Jordan, Jordanian artillery, coordinated with the forces of Egypt and Syria, is in a position to cut Israel in two at Kalkilya, where Israeli territory between the Jordan armistice line and the Mediterranean Sea is only 12 kilometers wide."

On June 1, Ahmed Shukairy, the PLO representative in Jordanian Jerusalem, responded as follows when asked what would happen to Israelis if there was a war: "Those who survive will remain in Palestine. I estimate that none of them will survive."
If anything, the lesson of the Six Day War ought to be to listen to what the Arabs say and act upon it, because if we don't act upon it, they will. The first place that applies is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinadinnerjacket, who said on Sunday that the 'countdown to Israel's destruction has begun.'

Because of the reality in which we live, the Six Day War's results are 'good for the Jews' regardless of what might have been had Israel not liberated the disputed territories. The war's results should ensure the existence of a State of Israel so long as we are not foolish enough to undo them. They were also nothing short of miraculous. As the Gemara says in Tractate Taanith when discussing the issue of whether one should pray for rain to stop when there is "too much" rain in a dry country like Israel, one should never say that one has too many blessings. God favored the Jewish people this week forty years ago. We can only hope and pray that He will continue to do so.


At 1:22 AM, Blogger Rosey said...

Wow. Nice Post.

At 4:25 AM, Blogger therapydoc said...

I don't understand how NPR can quote Michael Oren on Thursday and on Friday be so ant-Israel-HATE-those-settlers.

Could it be money?


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