Six Day War: The Victory and The Lie
The Victory and The Lie:
Four Decades after the Six-Day War a Soviet Lie and local Mismanagement threaten to deprive Israel of its Victory
1 June 2007
Copyright by the author
Commemorating the Six day War is a valuable practice because it encourages us to draw comparisons between the past and the present. While we may observe the anniversary of this war annually, every decade which passes provides a distinct perspective, and for this reason, the fortieth anniversary of this dramatic historical event is all the more meaningful.
But before we consider the present, let us look back two decades. On the war's twentieth anniversary in 1987, Israel Television, -- there was only one channel then, -- organized a panel of the generals who had won the war. The late Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of Staff in 1967, presided over this group. In this discussion, only one basic thought emerged and it was repeated over and over: the war had brought Israel strategic depth (omek astrategi, to use the exact term).
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, this was the end of an era. These men, the military and political elite of Israel, evaluated the situation in spatial but not human terms. They did not grasp that one day the inhabitants of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza might have a will of their own. They lacked the imagination to envisage unforeseen possibilities. In their capacity as military strategists they simply overlooked the human dimension. They assumed that the secure world of May 1987 would go on forever, which explains why, just six months later, the outbreak of the Intifada caught them by complete surprise. They were unprepared for the challenge of asymmetrical war, low intensity conflict, a type of political warfare which appealed to world opinion through the intensive use of the media. Because they never quite understood this type of warfare, these men failed to cope with it.
In retrospect, the twentieth anniversary of the Six Day War represents a dividing line between an age when the country's security could be assured mainly through military force, when the political part of the equation which included world opinion was marginal. Since then, the mix has gradually changed. For years, there had been some awareness of this reality, although it was not uppermost in people's thoughts.
Today, four decades after the event, recent scholarship has dramatically improved our understanding of the Six-Day War and its political context. Two Israeli researchers, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez recently examined the policy of the Soviet Union in the Six-Day War. They published their findings in their new book, Foxbats over Dimona; The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six Day War [Ataleifim beshmei Dimona, hahimur hagarini shel Brit HaMoatsoth be-Milchemeth Sheshet ha-Yomim.] They found that "the Soviets had prepared a marine landing, with air support, on Israel's shores, which was not only planned but actually set in motion; they had readied strategic bombers and nuclear-armed naval forces to strike ." Their main target was the nuclear reactor in Dimona, and their real objective, although they did not say so openly, was to end the existence of Israel. It was in this context that Ginor and Remez presented their conclusion that the "Six-Day War was definitely not premeditated by Israel for expansionist purposes. Rather, it resulted from a successful Soviet-Arab attempt to provoke Israel into a preemptive strike." The Soviet plan was to provoke Israel into making the first move, framing it in the role of aggressor, in order to provide the pretext for a massive intervention. When the Israel bombed the Egyptian airfields, it foiled the Soviet strategy.
Ginor and Remez give further evidence in support of their interpretation. "According to the not unfriendly account of India's delegate at the United Nations, on 5 June the Security Council's deliberations were complicated 'by the Soviet demands that [it] should condemn Israel's aggression' as a condition for any cease-fire." Separately, Dore Gold pointed out that the Soviet Union attempted unsuccessfully to get both the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations to condemn Israel as the aggressor. In due course, the Soviets transformed the proposition that Israel was the aggressor into the centerpiece of their own propaganda campaign in which the East Bloc also participated. One contemporary example may be found in the East German newspaper Neues Deutschland of 9 August 1968: "The new Israeli acts of aggression prove the urgency which in the Declaration of the Communist and workers' parties of the Socialist countries confirms the demand for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied Arab territories. This demand is the voice of the people."
Reacting to the East German propaganda campaign, Simon Wiesenthal in a press conference, held in Vienna on September 6, 1968, pointed out that the propagandists who participated in this campaign had once served the Third Reich and were actually using Nazi terminology in their campaign against Israel. He said that this campaign was characterized by "aggression, wrongful accusation, and unlimited exaggeration."
In addition to the Soviet efforts, one must also recall France's negative contribution. On 25 November 1967, at his semi-annual press conference, General de Gaulle not only attacked the State of Israel but also the Jewish people. He was careful to state that Egypt which created the "vexatious affair of Aqaba" but added that this move gave the Israelis the opportunity for which they waited, and they now became the conquerors. De Gaulle did not use the actual word "aggressor," but the meaning of his comments was abundantly clear. His infamous description of the Jewish people will always be remembered: "an elite people, self-assured and domineering." Raymond Aron, who defined himself as a French citizen who did not want to break his links with the other Jews in the world or with Israelis, observed in his essay, De Gaulle, Israel and the Jews, that the outcome of de Gaulle's brutal language was to make the public expression of antisemitism acceptable in postwar Europe: " General de Gaulle has knowingly and deliberately initiated a new phase of Jewish history and perhaps of antisemitism. Everything has once again become possible; everything is beginning over again ."
The above information explains the origin of the lie that Israel is an aggressor, the motives of the perpetrators, in this case the Soviet Union, and, after the fact, the East Bloc and France. It follows also that in a war of self defense, Israel had a good reason take the territories and in the absence of a final settlement still has a valid reason to hold onto them. A defensive response to aggression is completely different from a war of conquest, and the use of the term "occupation," as it is widely understood is inappropriate. A challenging question is why certain parties chose to buy into this lie, although they knew the truth.
This failure is embodied in the fact that forty years after Israel's victory, the Arab League tried to lay down its terms in the form of a "peace initiative," and that Israeli leadership was unable to give a clear response. In an interview with Der Spiegel Online 13 April 2007, for example, Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League identified the essential issues as "that of the withdrawal to the borders of June 4, 1967, as demanded by the United Nations, and the question of the Palestinian refugees." His implied assumption is that Israel was the aggressor in the Six Day War and should not be rewarded. For those who do not know history, such a claim may even seem credible. Accordingly, those Israeli politicians who advocate forgetting our history have harmed the state. They have weakened the public's collective memory and confused its understanding of the present. More significantly, by refusing to articulate Israel's position they left a void which others could fill and deprived the state of an excellent moral and legal case. As a consequence, even Israelis who should know better have begun to believe the lie of Israel the aggressor, and this is what propaganda is all about.
Today, in the year 2007, the confusion resulting from the original Soviet propaganda campaign now impedes the ability of the government to safeguard the fruits of the 1967 victory. Nonetheless, there are some major differences between the situation of 1987 and the present. One is that in 1987 the generals may have understood strategy but not politics. Today, forty years later, an impartial judicial committee of investigation determined that the leadership of the present generation, both generals and politicians, have failed to demonstrate competence in either domain.
Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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