- In response to Arab forces massing on its borders in anticipation of a war of annihilation, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike resulting in a swift six-day victory against its Arab neighbours.
- Israel more than tripled its territorial possession and gained control of the Sinai, West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights – and reunited the formerly divided city of Jerusalem.
- The war laid the foundation for the ‘land for peace’ formula.
The Six Day War has had a resounding impact on Israel and the region. In the 1960’s, escalating aggression from Israel’s neighbours significantly contributed to the war’s outbreak. On Israel’s northern border, Syria waged a terror campaign that drew little criticism from the international community. On its southern border, perhaps more importantly, Egypt expelled the UN Emergency Force that had been serving as a buffer in the Sinai. At the time, President Nasser of Egypt declared his motives in no uncertain terms: “As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence”.1 Egypt then closed the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israeli traffic through the Red Sea – an act of war according to US President Johnson.
The US tried to remain neutral amidst the hostilities and conflict, trying to avoid the possibility of war. So much so that when the war broke out, the US refused to arm Israel and imposed an arms embargo on the region. On the other hand, the Arab states received both material and ground support from Russia and Arab nations.
On June 5th, 1967, Israel initiated the war by conducting an air campaign against Egypt – swiftly bombing and crippling the Egyptian air force. Israel had warned Jordan that it would not attack unless Jordan initiated hostilities. Rejecting this warning, Jordanian forces attacked Israeli neighbourhoods in Jerusalem on June 5th. In response, Israeli forces entered the Jordanian-controlled eastern part of the city and, after a series of intense battles, drove out Jordanian forces and liberated the historic Old City.
The aftermath of the war is as significant than the war itself. In addition to reunifying Jerusalem, Israel had effectively tripled the size of the area it controlled, now holding possession of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights. This territorial addition was not part of an expansionist plan, as Israel had the opportunity to capture Cairo, Damascus and Amman, but instead agreed to a ceasefire.
In the wake the war, the UN Security Council issue UNSC Resolution 242, which is the advent of the land-for-peace formula. Resolution 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories seized in the Six Day War only once the Arab leadership provides an end to “all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.2 In calling for a withdrawal, there was a deliberate omission of the words ‘all the’ with respect to withdrawal of territories Israel captured – in the expectation that the extent of withdrawal would be determined by negotiations, without anticipation of total Israeli withdrawal. Since then, Israel has withdrawn from both the Sinai (an area more than twice the size of Israel) and Gaza.
There were further implications of the war. The term “refugee” was now expanded to any Palestinians that fled or were removed from territories captured in the war. Moreover, neighbouring Arab states redoubled their rejection of Israel when in September of 1967, at a meeting of the Arab League in Khartoum, the Arab nations passed the infamous “three no’s” resolution: “no peace, no recognition, no negotiations” vis-à-vis Israel.3
1- Isi Leibler, The Case For Israel, (Australia: The Globe Press, 1972), p. 60.