Six days in June: Prelude to war

 

“Our path to Palestine will not be covered with a red carpet or with yellow sand. Our path to Palestine will be covered with blood… In order that we may liberate Palestine, the Arab nation must unite, the Arab armies must unite, and a unified plan of action must be established” – Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1965.

It had been nineteen years since the 1948 War of Independence, and during this time the tiny nation of Israel; settled predominantly by the survivors of the worst anti-Semite pogrom in recent history had fought for, and ultimately won for themselves and their children, some breathing space.

The land which had been so bitterly fought over represented more than just a place to call home.

It represented a return to a way of life in a homeland where the Jewish people could be born, live, love, worship, die and ultimately be buried. And while the United Nations had passed a resolution recognising Israel’s right to exist, this would have amounted to nothing if this desperate struggle for survival had been lost.

But the tensions caused by this return had not gone away.

To the north, east, south and west, Israel found itself surrounded by Arab states, all armed with a burning desire for revenge and an ultimate final reckoning.

The fulcrum point of this enmity was to be found in a narrow strip of water, the Straits of Tiran. Israel depended upon this tiny sea passage for access to the Red Sea, Suez Canal and ports beyond.

The simmering tensions upon Israel’s borders exacerbated this reliance even more, and it was the closure of these waters to Israeli traffic in 1967 which brought about the ‘casus belli’ for war.

But why now?

The mistrust between Israel and its neighbours had simmered for years and the relationship with Gamal Abdul Nasser, Egypt’s popular leader, was seen as being reflective of the overall attitude of the Arab World.

Nasser represented a new passion and energy amongst Muslim’s for a strengthening of not just traditional values, but also a renaissance of Arab pride and emerging sovereignty, from years of foreign domination in the Middle East.

Nasser’s embrace of Marxist principles (however pragmatic they may have been) nevertheless placed Egypt and its closest regional ally Syria into the Soviet sphere of influence, and like any benefactor, the U.S.S.R had much to say when exerting its own wishes and desires upon such a strategically important area of the globe.

It was the Soviet Union’s whispering in the ear of Nasser, like a modern-day Iago, which only added to the paranoia in his mind. This poison would drip down further, into the ears of the Egyptian generals, creating an atmosphere primed for anything.

Nasser’s own anxiety shifted between worrying about his erstwhile neighbour to the east, and his own generals’ activities at home.

According to Soviet intelligence sources, there had been a build-up of Israeli troops on the border with Syria and the recent hostilities over the skies of Damascus, where several Arab aircraft had been shot down, had only added fuel to an already simmering fire.

Even when this information turned out to be inaccurate, the wheels had already been set in motion.

The people in the streets of Cairo were calling for a final showdown with the foreign impostor, and Nasser found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

He had only one real practical political option open for his survival.

Only absolute and complete commitment to wiping Israel from the face of the planet would suffice.

After all, Egypt had won through in 1956, why not again?

So despite most of Egypt’s best troops being unavailable due to them fighting a war in Aden: on May the 14th, Nasser committed what troops he had at his disposal into the Sinai, briefed his generals and politely asked the United Nations Emergency Force stationed there to kindly leave.

When asked by the United Nations Force commander, Indar Jit Rikhye, whether this was the wisest move, the Egyptian commander in the field told him that this could be discussed further next week in Tel Aviv, over a cup of tea.


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