Back To CourseHistory 107: World Conflicts Since 1900
8 chapters | 73 lessons
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Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.
In 1967, a grown man planned the murder of his 19-year-old neighbor, convincing two other adults to assist. But the teenager got wind of the plan. Instead of waiting for the attack, the teenager burst into the man's home and thrashed him. When he returned back to his own place, the two conspirators were breaking through his windows; the teenager fought back and sent them running for their own lives. During their retreat, the teenager picked up some of their belongings they had dropped and kept them for his own.
It's a true story. The teenager was Israel. Egypt was the adult who plotted Israel's destruction, and the conspirators were Syria and Jordan. Which of them was in the wrong here? The international community has been debating this question for nearly half a century. Let's go back a little and look at the steps leading up to the murder plot.
On May 14, 1948, United Nations Resolution 181 went into effect, creating the sovereign nation of Israel from the former British Mandate of Palestine. The following day, five Arab neighbors invaded. Israel defended itself, losing only the Gaza Strip to Egypt and the West Bank of the Jordan River, including the 'old city' of Jerusalem, to Jordan. For the next 19 years, Israel faced hundreds of deadly conflicts with its neighbors over its own right to exist, its increasing military power, and the status of non-Jewish residents and refugees.
Throughout this time frame, the United States was concerned about increasing Soviet power and influence in the Arab states and began arming Israel. Meanwhile, many of the Arab nations were bickering among themselves. Egyptian leader Gamal Nasser asserted his intentions to unify the Arab nations, but Saudi Arabia and Jordan resisted his efforts to gain control. Syria criticized Egypt for its lack of leadership against Israel.
But in a May 1967 speech, Nasser defended himself, claiming, 'We were waiting for the day when we would be fully prepared and confident of being able to adopt strong measures if we were to enter the battle with Israel… Recently we felt we are strong enough, that if we were to enter a battle with Israel, with God's help, we could triumph… The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.'
Abruptly, Nasser expelled UN peacekeepers that had been stationed in the Sinai since the Suez Crisis, and then moved tens of thousands of men, tanks, and artillery to his border with Israel the following day. Three days later, on May 22, he blockaded all ships bound for Israel through the Straits of Tiran. Now, a decade earlier, U.S. President Eisenhower had promised that the United States would treat another closure of the Straits of Tiran as an act of war. But while President Johnson did condemn the illegal blockade in 1967, he failed to generate international help in ending it.
Nasser's boldness made him a hero. There were celebrations in the streets throughout the Arab world, and nations that had been at each other's throats were suddenly unified in their single purpose of destroying Israel. Over the next ten days, nearly a quarter million Arab troops marched toward Israel. Oil-producing nations agreed to boycott any nation that defended Israel. The U.S. warned Israel to wait.
But on June 5, 1967, Israel decided it couldn't wait for help or diplomacy any longer. Israel launched a surprise attack on Egypt's air force, crippling the largest and most modern of the Arab fleets. Simultaneously, Israel sent its army to confront Egyptian troops. Within just four days, Israel had routed Egypt and taken control of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula.
President Nasser falsely reported to his allies that he was winning, convincing Jordan to strike Israel near its own border the same day. By nightfall, Israel had decimated Jordan's air force. Within three days, Israel defeated Jordan's army, pushing them out of the West Bank completely. Of special significance to Israel was the recapture of Jerusalem and the Western Wall of Solomon's temple - the first time that Jews had been in control of their holy site in more than 2,000 years.
Nasser's false reports also convinced Syria to strike, opening a third front on June 5. Israel intercepted Syrian planes and repelled ground forces and, by evening, had destroyed about two-thirds of Syria's air force. Syria abandoned its intended invasion, resorting to mortar attacks on Jewish towns near its border. By day five, Israel had taken possession of the Golan Heights.
The United States worked frantically to secure ceasefire agreements, fearing that the Soviet Union might intervene to save its Arab allies. Three separate, though similar, resolutions were drafted in the UN, proposing a full military withdrawal, that Israel relinquish newly-occupied territories, and that Arab countries give Israel diplomatic recognition. Basically, the international community wanted to put boundaries back to the way they had been for 19 years but get the Arab nations to accept that Israel had a right to exist. The Arab nations rejected the first two proposals outright. A third, UN Security Council Resolution 242, has been accepted at different times by most of the parties, though each has interpreted the conditions differently.
The war that lasted just six days had far-reaching consequences. The Israelis themselves were relieved, surprised, and emboldened. The conviction that a miracle had saved them helped define Jewish nationalism. The Israeli victory also helped unite Arab nations. Following the ceasefire agreements, eight Arab heads of state met to formulate a plan for the future. On September 1, 1967, they signed the Khartoum Resolutions, pledging that until Israel withdrew from the territories it gained in the Six-Day War, there would be 'no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.'
Though Israel fought another destructive war in 1973 with its Arab neighbors, the biggest threat since 1967 comes from Palestinian guerrilla forces. A quarter million newly displaced Palestinians joined the ranks of refugees from the 1948 war. These non-Jewish residents in Israeli territories began to cement their own concept of nationalism. In fact, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected Resolution 242 outright since it does not acknowledge their sovereignty.
Let's review. Tension had been building in the Middle East ever since Israel's independence in 1948. But when Egyptian president Gamal Nasser asserted his intentions to destroy Israel and then took steps to implement his plan, Israel took the first shot on June 5, 1967. Syria and Jordan opened fronts at their borders, but within six days, Israel alone had defeated all of them, reclaimed land taken by Jordan and Egypt in 1948, and seized territory from Syria.
The Israeli victory cemented nationalism on three fronts: Israeli, pan-Arab, and Palestinian. The attempts at peace following the Six-Day War have formed the basis of international diplomacy in the region ever since.
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Back To CourseHistory 107: World Conflicts Since 1900
8 chapters | 73 lessons