These days Israel celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the victory in the six day war. Triumph 1967 radically changed the situation in the middle East, affecting at the same time and on Israeli society and the Jewish people as a whole. We spoke with former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Knesset member Michael Oren, a well known historian, one of the leading specialists in the six day war, the author of the book «Six days of war».
We used to take victory in the six day war a foregone conclusion. How justified is this view?
Absolutely not justified. Before the war the Israelis believed that the very existence of the state is under threat. Public parks were prepared places for 10 thousand graves, and this was considered insufficient. We were alone, Israel has no allies. The US was friendly, but not the Federal government. France supplying weapons to us, on the eve of the war moved to the other side.
In a society dominated by depression. And the people pressured the government to force it to start a war. The prewar period was very tense, very nervous. Called reservists, and the Israeli economy, at the time mainly agrarian, just stood up. But the mid 60-ies already were a period of economic crisis. No one could have predicted that the outcome of the war would be so.
Whether the Arabs intend to destroy Israel?
The Arab public really demanded to destroy Israel. Among the operational plans of the Arab armies was providing for not only conquest, but destruction. Even the Jordanian army planned to capture Jerusalem corridor and shot residents Mozy and Moshav Beit zait. The Egyptian army was a detailed list of objects that need to be destroyed – including Dimona. It was planned to cut Israel in half and Annex the Negev. The goal of the Syrians was the capture of Haifa.
But if you ask, like whether Arab leaders, particularly Nasser and Hussein, the war, my answer is no. They did not think that the war will begin. Nasser wanted a bloodless victory. He led the struggle for leadership in the Arab world, split into two camps. The radicals, who were supported by USSR, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Algeria. Conservatives: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf States, Morocco. But the camps were split. For example, Syria was at war with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Nasser, who saw himself as a leader of the Arab world was weakened. The intervention in Yemen was a disaster, the economy was in deep crisis, which has caused unrest among the people. Nasser wanted to openly Flex its muscles, not bringing the case before the war. What could be better than to expel the UN forces from Sinai and close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping? A clear victory without firing a shot.
There was a great Soviet role in provoking the war? What he wanted to achieve in Moscow?
I don’t know Russian, but with the translators turned out to be one of the first researchers, who are in the 90-ies in the Soviet archives. There I found some very interesting things. In 1967 the Americans started bombing North Vietnam. The USSR is very strained, and in Moscow, began to look for a place where you can provoke a low-intensity conflict, to ease the pressure on North Vietnam.
The world as a chessboard?
Yes. From the point of view of the Soviet Union, these steps are quite logical. You’re pushing us there, and we are here. You will be distracted, and we get a lot of points. We need to win and that is the winning strategy. I don’t think that USSR wanted a war, but he has added fuel to the fire by spreading rumors about the concentration of the IDF on the Syrian border. Supposedly, Israel is preparing to attack. Egyptian aircraft overflew the border and found that no concentration no. But, nevertheless, the USSR played a significant role in fueling the conflict.
As you have noted, the second superpower, the United States, at that time still not an ally of Israel. What was this conflict from the point of view of the Americans?
He was a problem for them. The Americans bogged down in Vietnam. In 1967 he began a massive anti-war demonstrations. A year later, under public pressure, retired President Lyndon Johnson. The last thing they needed was another hot spot. But let’s not forget that the US had no obligations to Israel. Is that a moral duty, and this is a very abstract concept. So USSR had a lot to win, and the US – a lot to lose.
In your opinion, would Israel solve the problem of the «borders of Auschwitz» if Egypt did not provide a Casus belli?
The main motive of actions of the government was the fear to lose the power of deterrence. Nasser expelled the UN from Sinai, closed the Straits of Tiran, made bellicose statements. If Israel left it unanswered, the potential would be lost.
That is their own Israel would not initiate a war?
I would not. Interestingly, in April 1967, the Israeli military intelligence came to the conclusion that war with the Arab countries will not be before 1970.
On the eve of the six day war, the chief of the General staff, Rabin had a nervous breakdown, and Prime Minister Eshkol stammered live. On the other hand, Moshe Dayan appointed defense Minister, showed a rare self-confidence. Do the leaders of weakness or arrogance?
Appointment arrogant Dayana Minister reassured the public that was in a panic. Escola reluctance was caused by the cold and the fact that the text would be typed and contain the edits by hand. This single incident. But Rabin during the war played no role. He never came to.
If we turn to the protocols, almost all the crucial moments of the war (whether we are talking about Jerusalem or the Golan heights) Rabin no. The dominant figure of the war was Diane. He made all the decisions. While the decision to conquer the Golan was made contrary to the unequivocal prohibition of the government.
A few hours after the government decided not to attack Syria, Diane is calling the commander of the Northern district of dado (major-General David Elazar – approx.ed.), and, to bypass the Prime Minister and the chief of the General staff gives the order to start military action. For this he even wanted to prosecute. But if the winners are not judged, as to prosecute a national hero?
What does Eshkol?
He worked primarily with foreign policy. And his role was very large, especially in regard to Jerusalem. The government of Israel, including religious Ministers, have hesitated to release the Old city, the wailing Wall. And if you look at it not through the prism of today, there was something to fear.
The war was very problematic. Americans from it not in delight, the Soviet Union stands on the side of the enemy. Israel is all alone. The war lasts three days, the victory at this stage is not subject to doubt. Put an end to the Jordanian shelling. Why to conquer the Old city?
There are shrines of all religions. Will the Christian world that the Jews have seized the Holy sepulcher? Will the Muslim world to conquer the al-Aqsa mosque is third in importance holiest Shrine of Islam? We find ourselves in confrontation with the world?
Most strongly against the conquest of the Old city, and it was NRP. Haim-Moshe Shapiro. Religious party initially opposed the war, but especially against the conquest of the Old city.
They were afraid that the IDF will go to the Wall, sounds the shofar, and then Israel will have to cede the Old city. And it will be too deep a wound. So it is better to stay on mount nebo and not to enter the Promised Land.
First for the liberation of the Old city were made by Menachem begin, entered on the eve of war in the government of national unity. On this Eshkol the Yiddish he said, «Cleverly invented». They say, that’s all we need.
When the Marines Mota Gur is the mount of olives and look over the Old town from the top down, Eshkol addresses the king Hussein – channels of communication continued: «My soldiers surrounded the Old city, but if you agree to immediate cease-fire, kicked out of Jordan and Egyptian officers agree to start peace negotiations with Israel – the IDF will not enter Old town».
For the first time in two thousand years the leader of the Jewish state could establish control over the Old city, but is willing to abandon it for the sake of peace with the Arab state. But Hussein is not responsible – and in just two hours, the IDF occupies the Old town.
How did begin, for the first time included in the government?
In my view, very responsibly. He voted against the conquest of the Golan heights. There fears were not in the opening of the third front this time military action on two other fronts is almost over. It was the fact that the Syrian regime was close to the Soviet Union, even to a greater extent than that of Egypt. And the government feared that the Soviet Union will not sit idly by.
This generation was scarred – the War for independence, operation «Kadesh», the Holocaust… And one of his main fears was the fear of Soviet intervention. Panic and fear of the Soviet army. Even I, a member of the Lebanon war, remember that. In 1982 feared Soviet intervention. At some point there was a rumor that the «Russians were coming», and I remember the fear…
By the way, in 1967, the fears were justified. The Soviet squadron out to sea, and if the war lasted longer than six days…
It is known that in 1968, to the shores of Israel was sent a nuclear submarine with nuclear cruise missiles, in the event that Israel would cross the «red line»…
And the armies have a tendency to cross them. In 1967, he was ordered not to go to the Suez canal, but the IDF came to him – simply due to the offensive outburst. From the first day of basic training, soldiers are taught to attack. So that we could take and Damascus. Beirut, by the way, it just happened. Begin, who sat in a Soviet prison, was very afraid of the Russians. So he was against the seizure of the Golan.
Why after the liberation of Jerusalem, the word Mota Gur’s «the Temple mount is in our hands» remained a slogan, not filled with real content?
By itself, this phrase is the result of two millennia of Galut. In our hands, in the hands of the IDF. These are the words that the Jewish people wanted to hear two thousand years.
But the-that the Temple mount remained in Muslim hands.
Yes and no. It was a decision Diane, maybe not the best. On the Temple mount was raised the Israeli flag, but Diane tells him to take off. Comes chief military Rabbi Shlomo mountain and offers to blow up the mosques on the Temple mount – of course, did not.
Diane and the government with him came to the conclusion that in Jerusalem shrines are required to respect the status quo. This applies not only to the Temple mount, and Church of the Holy sepulchre. In addition, the Waqf in 1967 – today Foundation. He bowed his head before the Israeli authorities and did not make problems. Israel also recognized the special status of the Jordanian state, which was part of the anti-Israeli coalition.
How the release has become – in the eyes of the society – occupation? Why after 50 years after the six day war, its outcome is causing such a heated argument?
Because of the Palestinians. Regarding the Golan heights, no such disputes. There is Israeli law, since 1981, is the sovereign territory of Israel. Control over the Golan does not threaten the Jewish character of the state. Under our control there are 2.5 million Palestinians – and this is after in 2005 we withdrew from the Gaza strip. Judea and Samaria is the homeland of the Jewish people, but the international community recognizes these territories are occupied.
How much has changed Israeli society in the result of the six day war?
Let’s start with the Israeli power. After the war and the Yom Kippur war, the Arab countries realized that using conventional military means Israel can’t win. Since 1973, we have fought against armies of the Arab countries. This is a huge achievement compared to the War for independence, when the Egyptian army stopped only 30 kilometers from tel Aviv, when Jerusalem was under siege. With the military threat was over.
Began the expulsion of the USSR from the Middle East, what is called Pax Americana. Became possible strategic Alliance between the us and the United States. Today, perhaps, any other country the US has no such close relationship. Israel has received military aid worth $ 40 billion.
Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council, which established the principle of «peace in exchange for territories» has allowed us to make peace with Egypt, and he, in turn, led to peace with Jordan. Israel had the opportunity to invest in technological development, in infrastructure. Radically changed the relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
I know that in Riga in 1967 Latvians greeted the Jews with the victory.
Most strongly the six-day war impact on Soviet Jews. As they say the prisoners of Zion, that victory gave them the strength to speak out against the regime, which is not self-evident. Liberation movement of Soviet Jews became a significant factor in the fall of the Soviet Union and led to the repatriation of a million Jews. Aliya gave to Israel a huge boost, but the beginning was in 1967.
But the war had changed and the Palestinians. To her about the Palestinians, no one spoke. The conflict was the Arab-Israeli, has gradually become a Palestinian-Israeli. One of the Central issues of the visit of the President of the United States Donald trump will be the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace process. But a visit to the trump, and the Palestinians – the result of the six day war.
When you look at what is happening now in the Arab world, which is better: Sharm al-Sheikh without peace or peace without Sharm al-Sheikh?
Diane said it, because they thought control of Sharm al-Sheikh pledge to Israel’s security. Now that sounds imperialist: we are not going to abandon conquests in the name of peace. But he had something else in mind. Peace and security are inextricably linked. No government of Israel, whether right or left, won’t sign a peace Treaty that threatens the security of the state. No one will prevent in Judea and Samaria an independent Palestine, which will become a new Gaza or the stronghold of the «Islamic state».
Interviewed By Paul Vyhdorchyk