By Nizar Sakhnini
Israeli plans for expansion during the Suez Canal War of 1956 were dashed as a result of the adamant stand by U.S. President Eisenhower. The Zionist leadership, however, did not abandon their greed for more Arab lands and had to wait for a more accommodating American President. The new opportunity was provided in 1967.
Israel made threats against Syria following a border incident in April 1967 during which 6 Syrian MIGs were shot down. On 12 May, Israel threatened reprisals against Syrians if they continued to support Fatah attacks on Israel. These attacks were no more than insignificant border harassment, which did not pose any threat to Israel and could have been dealt with through the Mixed Armistice Commission.
In order to be able to support Syria in case of an Israeli aggression, Gamal Abdul Nasser moved Egyptian troops into the Sinai on 14 May and subsequently requested withdrawal of the UNEF from Sinai, Gaza and Sharm-el-Sheik. UNEF withdrew on 18 May and Egyptian troops moved in and the Straits of Tiran were closed to Israeli shipping on 23 May.
UN Secretary General, U Thant, visited Cairo for mediation and recommended moratorium in the Straits of Tiran and a renewed diplomatic effort to solve the crisis. Egypt agreed and Israel rejected these proposals.
The U.S. also tried at mediation and Nasser agreed to send his vice-president to Washington to explore a diplomatic settlement. The meeting did not happen because Israel launched its offensive, which broke a pledge given to the U.S. President at the end of May not to take a unilateral action before two weeks. There was a good chance to de-escalate the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, stated, “We were shocked…and angry as hell when the Israelis launched the surprise offensive. They attacked on a Monday, knowing that on Wednesday the Egyptian vice president would arrive in Washington to talk about re-opening the Strait of Tiran. We might not have succeeded in getting Egypt to reopen the strait, but it was a real possibility.” (1)
On 5 June Israel attacked and destroyed Egyptian air force bases and advance positions in Sinai, occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, all of Sinai and the Golan Heights, and all of Jerusalem in what became to be known as the ‘Six-Day War’.
Yitzhak Rabin, chief of staff of the Israeli army, stated: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it” (2)
Menachem Begin, who was a cabinet minister in June 1967, stated, while addressing Israel’s National Defence College on 8 August 1982, “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with our selves. We decided to attack him”. (3)
Moshe Dayan admitted in 1976 that Israel took the Golan Heights out of sheer greed. He said of the Israeli settlers who eventually moved into the Golan, “They thought about the land of the Golan. I know what went on. I saw them and I spoke with them. They didn’t even try to hide their lust for that soil. That’s what guided them.” According to Dayan, “Eighty percent of the incidents worked like this: We would send tractors to plow in an area of little use, in a demilitarized zone, knowing ahead of time that the Syrians would shoot. If they didn’t start shooting, we would tell the tractors to advance until the Syrians would get aggravated and start shooting. We used artillery and later the air force became involved.” (4)
As in 1948, Israel used the war as a cover for another round of ethnic cleansing. About 250,000 were displaced, but most of the inhabitants of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza stayed put and did not leave their homes in spite of all kinds of oppression and brutality used against them.
The newly occupied Arab territories were placed under a military government as in 1948. However, Palestinians in the newly occupied territories were not granted the Israeli citizenship in view of the demographic ‘disaster’ of adding large numbers of Arabs to the Jewish State. They were treated in a much more brutal, humiliating and inhumane way in order to force them to leave their country on their own.
(1) Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, London/New York: Verso, 1995, p. 129.
(2) Le Monde, Feb. 28, 1968.
(3) The New York Times, Aug. 21, 1982.
(4) Boston Globe, May 2, 1997, Israel took Golan out of greed, Dayan says; Ex-defense chief describes tactics of a land grab.