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Israel - Territory Occupied in the 6-Day War



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Israel - The 6-Day War






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Tension began developing between Israel and Arab countries in the 1960s. Israel began to implement its National Water Carrier plan, which pumps water from the Sea of Galilee to irrigate south and central Israel. The project was in accordance with a plan proposed by US envoy Eric Johnston in 1955, and agreed to by Arab engineers. Arab governments refused to participate however.  In several summit conferences beginning in 1964, Arab leaders decided on establishment of the PLO, declared their resolve to destroy Israel, and decided to divert the sources of the Jordan river that feed the Sea of Galilee, to prevent Israel from implementing the water carrier plan. The Syrians and Lebanese began to implement the diversions. Israel responded by firing on the tractors and equipment doing the work in Syria. This was followed by Israeli attempts to cultivate the demilitarized zones (DMZ) as provided in the armistice agreements. Israel was within its rights according to the armistice agreements, but Moshe Dayan claimed many years later that 80% of the incidents were deliberately provoked. The Syrians responded by firing in the DMZs (Click here for a map of the demilitarized zones). When Israelis responded in force, Syria began shelling Israeli towns in the north, and the conflict escalated into air strikes.  The USSR was intent on protecting the new Ba'athist pro-Soviet government of Syria, and represented to the Syrians and Egyptians that Israel was preparing to attack Syria. As tension rose, Syria appealed to Egypt, believing the claim of the USSR that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border. The claim was false and was denied by the UN.

Against this background, in Mid-May, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser again closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and dismissed the UN peace force from the Sinai Peninsula. The United States failed to live up to its guarantees of freedom of the waterways to Israel. A torrent of bellicose rhetoric issued from Arab capitals and in the UN. At the UN, PLO Chairman Ahmed Shukhairy announced that "if it will be our privilege to strike the first blow" the PLO would expel from Palestine all Zionists who had arrived after 1917 and eliminate the state of Israel. Nasser said on May 27, "Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight." On May 28,  he added: "We will not accept any...coexistence with Israel...Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel....The war with Israel is in effect since 1948."

US and Israel assessments were that Israel would win any war handily, despite the huge superiority in armor, aircraft, and troops favoring the combined forces of the Arab countries. On paper, Israel had almost as many aircraft as the Egyptians, but the Israeli aircraft were mostly old, and even the Super-Mirages were no match for the Mig-21 fighters acquired by Egypt from the USSR. On paper, the IDF had a huge number of "tanks." However, while Syrians and Egyptians were equipped with late model Soviet heavy tanks, most of the Israeli "tanks" were in fact tiny French AMX anti-tank vehicles, and the heavy tanks were refurbished WWII Sherman tanks fitted with diesel engines.  The Israeli and Jewish public, and some in the government, believed that there was a mortal threat to Israel.

Israel certainly did not want war. Ben Gurion berated Chief of Staff Itzhak Rabin for making aggressive moves that had, according to him, escalated the conflict and gotten Israel into trouble. At first, President Johnson promised an international flotilla, and warned Israel not to attack on its own. However, the US was unable to initiate any international action, and reversed its position, hinting broadly that Israel would have to handle the problem itself.

Israel attacked the Egyptians beginning on June 5, 1967. In the first hours of the war, Israel destroyed over 400 enemy aircraft to achieve total air superiority. Israeli troops quickly conquered the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza. Jordanian artillery began firing at Jerusalem on the first day of the war, and then the Jordan Legion advanced and took over the headquarters of the UN (Governor's house - Armon Hanatziv ) in Jerusalem. After warning King Hussein repeatedly to cease fire, Israel conquered the West Bank and Jerusalem. During the first days of the war, Syrian artillery based in the Golan Heights pounded civilian targets in northern Israel. After dealing with Egypt, Israel decided to conquer the Golan heights, despite opposition and doubts of some in the government, including Moshe Dayan, who had been appointed defense minister. Israel agreed to a cease fire on June 11, 1967. UN Resolution 242 called for negotiations of a permanent peace between the parties, and for Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967. The map at right shows the territories conquered in 1967.

Ami Isseroff

More History   In a nutshell: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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The areas shown in bright green (Sinai, Golan Heights, Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem) were occupied by Israel during the 6-day war. Israel has since returned all of Sinai to Egypt in return for peace. Most of Gaza is currently under the jurisdiction of the autonomous Palestinian Authority (2002). Parts of the West Bank (see Map of Israel and Palestinian territories following Oslo II) had been ceded to the Palestinian authority, but these areas are currently re-occupied by Israel. Following the 6 day war, Israel began building settlements in these areas. Click for a map of the settlements.

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