The Six-Day War of 1967: Causes & Timeline

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  • 0:01 A Murder Plot
  • 0:58 Egypt Threatens Israel
  • 3:54 Israel Strikes First
  • 6:14 Effects of the Six-Day War
  • 7:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

An Egyptian plot in 1967 to destroy Israel backfired when Israel struck first, destroying the forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and taking possession of new territory. The Six-Day War also cemented Israeli, pan-Arab, and Palestinian nationalism.

A Murder Plot

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.

Egypt Threatens Israel

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.

Israel Strikes First

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.

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