05 June 2007 by Published in: General musings 6 comments

Forty years ago today, the Israel Defense Forces launched the ultimate blitzkrieg. In a matter of a few hours, the Israeli Air Force, in a lightning surprise preemptive strike, destroyed more than 400 Arab aircraft, with the majority of them being destroyed on the ground of their airbases. From that moment forward, the Israelis had virtually uncontested control of the skies. The Israeli army not only defeated three Arab countries in just six days, it completely humiliated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Hoping to gain a buffer zone to protect it from Arab fedayeen raids and to give the country a protective buffer from hostile enemies surrounding the country of Israel, the IDF seized control of the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank, including Jerusalem, from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Desert from Egypt. Along the way, the Israelis proved that Soviet weapons were not so fearsome as portrayed, and they also demonstrated the superiority of Western ordnance and weaponry. With their stunning victory, the Israelis more than doubled the total land mass of the State of Israel, gave it buffers from the hostile Arab states surrounding it, and took on a huge Palestinian refugee population in the process, thus sewing the seeds for decades of political misery.

The scope of the Israeli victory was stunning, as was the absolute nature of the Arab defeat, which was complete and utter. It was, without doubt, the IDF’s finest moment.

At the same time, Israel’s greatest moment of triumph has proved to be its biggest problem. For one thing, the victory in the Six Day War made the IDF overconfident, and it was caught by surprise in October 1973 and nearly defeated by determined attacks by Syria and Egypt. Only hard, determined fighting by a desperate IDF kept Prime Minister Golda Meir from employing tactical nuclear weapons. That overconfidence continues to this day; one need only study the debacle of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon last summer to try to silence Hezbollah for an example.

Further, the occupied territories have been nothing but a thorn in the side of one Israeli regime after another. Two intifadas have followed, terrorism has become standard operating procedure, radical Islam has gained a foothold, and the great Israeli victory made the Yom Kippur War of 1973 inevitable. In a stunning juxtaposition, that great moment of triumph for the Israelis has turned into the biggest thorn in their collective side and has caused years and years of strife. While Egypt and Jordan eventually made peace with Israel, it took the Yom Kippur War for it to happen, and it cost the lives of Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin, both assassinated by radical citizens of their own countries opposed to peacemaking. It has made Syria an even more intransigent enemy of Israel, and has caused organizations like Hamas–sworn to the destruciton of the Jewish state–to gain extensive popular following among the Palestinian refugees and sympathy on the rest of the Arab street. The phenomenon of the suicide bomber has its roots in the conflict over the occupied territories. One might even say that the attacks of 9/11 have their roots in the Six Day War, since radical Islam’s use of terrorism as a weapon stems directly from the loss of the occupied territories.

Thus, the Six Day War, which provides some really useful and remarkable tactical lessons for the military historian, also provides a classic study of how war impacts geopolitics, and that those geopolitics can have far-reaching and unforeseen consequences.

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  1. Wed 06th Jun 2007 at 11:18 am

    Eric interesting post …the “phenomenon of the suicide bomber has its roots in the conflict over the occupied territories” probably started in WWII on the islands leading to Japan. I have a diary (transcription) by a soldier who fought in the Pacific, and specifically Okinawa where he describes Japanese woman wondering into their camps, strapped with explosives and detonating themselves. This was surprising to the Americans and killed a lot of marines at first. As we know a lot of civilians died on Okinawa as the Japanese feared being captured when told by their ideological frenzied government that Americans killed prisoners. Hardly the case, but propaganda and ideology can do that. The Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide, and part of that was getting them (mainly woman) to become suicide bombers. Just FYI….

  2. Wed 06th Jun 2007 at 11:19 am

    I meant to write “women” and “wandering” .. sorry typing too fast…

  3. Ann
    Wed 06th Jun 2007 at 2:10 pm

    interesting reading keep on with your great work

  4. Scott Smart
    Wed 06th Jun 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Worth reading Israeli historian Van Creveld for insights into these wars and the current situation

  5. Wed 06th Jun 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks, guys. I’ve long been intrigued by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and actually took a course on the subject in college. I’ve read a lot on it.

    Chris, thanks for pointing that out. I knew that, but I’d completely forgotten about it, and just didn’t associate the two episodes. You’re correct, though.


  6. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 07th Jun 2007 at 11:44 am

    Consider if you will that at the end of the War of Secession, both Lincoln and Grant (as well as Sherman) feared that the people of the South would wage the same type of war that has been waged in the Middle East since the creation of Israel in 1948. Of course, the Palestinians have had help (of a sorts) from their ‘Arab neighbors’, but the fact is, short of extermination, this type of war cannot be won; both Lincoln and Grant admitted as much and Sherman put his fears of that scenario in a letter to Grant.

    Furthermore, the South could have waged this type of war. The people were certainly were no WORSE off than the Palestinians and perhaps they had more cause to do so given the documented suffering inflicted especially upon non-combatants in the South by the armies of the Union which did not happen to the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis.

    If Lee had given the word, there were many if not most Confederate officers and men who would have continued to wage war using the same tactics as the various ‘irregular’ commands had used throughout the South DURING the war. Certainly, Mosby’s famous 43rd was at the apex of its strength at the time of Appomattox, something that made it more difficult for Mosby to deal with the problems of the fall of Lee’s army and Richmond and his position vis a vie the Yankees. As well, Jefferson Davis who had fled the Capitol and was still at large had already called for the South to initiate this type of resistance to the occupying forces of the conqueror rather than just accept defeat, occupation and colonization. Finally, in a contemporary newspaper account, a reporter claimed that Davis had made Mosby a Brigadier General and ordered him to take command not only of all remaining troops in Virginia that had not laid down their arms, but of all civilians willing to engage in a ‘black flag’ strategy against the occupiers. Frankly, one has to wonder just how long the citizens of the ‘victorious Union’ would have been willing to continue to spill the blood of their men in the attempt to force ‘reunion’ on the eleven states of the Confederacy! On the other hand, it would have been far more difficult to adopt the policy of genocide (as was articulated by General Sherman) towards white Southerners that was inflicted on the Plains Indians simply BECAUSE they were white.

    The scars of the conflict as it happened still remain and are still remembered with no great fondness by many in the South. How much worse would the situation have been if the type of warfare we see in the Middle East (and earlier in places like Ireland and colonial Africa) had been waged by the eleven states of the Confederacy after Appomattox? It may be that this nation owes Robert E. Lee a larger debt than it is willing to admit because of his refusal to adopt a strategy of guerrilla warfare against the occupiers. However, parenthetically, it is fortunate that Lee did not know what ‘reconstruction’ would bring to the South. As it was, he is quoted as saying shortly before his death that if he HAD known what was going to happen to Virginia and the South at the hands of the occupying forces, he and his men would have fought to the death before surrendering at Appomattox (see below) – and wouldn’t that have been a nice bit of history to appear in the books!

    “Governor, if I had foreseen the use those people designed to make of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with my brave men, my sword in my right hand.”

    General Lee to Governor Stockdale at the Greenbrier, White Sulpher Springs, Summer 1870

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