Fifty one years have passed since the Six Day War, fifty one years during which Israel has advanced on every front, in economics, technology, its society (it switched from a socialist to a nationalist regime) and, most significantly, in its geo-political situation: Two Arab countries bordering Israel, Jordan and Egypt, signed peace treaties with the Jewish State, and a number of Arab states have relations with Israel behind the scenes. Israel is an honored member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its per capita GNP approaches $40,000 per annum.
Has Israel solved all its problems? Not at all. Israel had to continue to fight for its survival after 1967. It fought a War of Attrition during the years 1968-70, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the First Lebanon War in 1982 and the Second Lebanon War in 2006, fought unending terror between those wars and is now dealing with the massive problem of Iran.
Except that Iran is a war that can be dealt with while, in contrast, the Arab world has still not recovered from the Six Day War, mainly because Arab culture has a hard time dealing with failure and its attendant humiliation. Admitting failure is naturally followed by an inquiry into the reasons for that failure – and by seeking those responsible for it – and also makes it imperative to act so as to prevent another defeat. This process is problematic by definition because, for the most part, the regime holds the responsibility for defeat, and in the 1967 Arab world it was forbidden for citizens to criticize the regime – in this case, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, King Hussein in Jordan and Hafez al Assad in Syria.
Israel started the war with an aerial attack that destroyed the air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syrai on the ground and damaged those of Iraq and Lebanon. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s president, and King Hussein of Jordan could not face the shame and in a telephone conversation decided to announce in the news that it was the American air force that attacked their airbases and destroyed the aircraft. Israel’s Intelligence Services picked up the conversation and broadcast the conversation on Voice of Israel after the Egyptian and Jordanian radio stations reported the “American attack.”
Israel Radio’s broadcast showed up the two dictators as the liars they were and Nasser felt he had to resign as a result of the damage to his credibility. Masses of Egyptians burst into the streets in government-organized demonstrations, and he “gave in to the will of the people” and withdrew his resignation. Three years later Nasser died of heart failure, probably helped by the shame he endured in the Six Day War defeat and the humiliation suffered when Israel broadcast his conversation with King Hussein.
Syria’s president Salah Jadid and its Defense Minister Hafez el Assad, who also commanded the air force, also suffered great humiliation. They were seen as responsible for the defeat because of the fact that one year earlier, in 1966, when they took over the rule of Syria, they got rid of half the army’s officers whom they suspected of disloyalty to the new regime. A large number of officers were sentenced to death, resulting in the Syrian army’s utterly disastrous performance in the war. That defeat was one of the excuses Assad used to remove Jadid from his presidential post in November 1970.
In the Syrian case, Israel brought much shame on Jedid and Assad when it conquered Kuneitra, the capital of the Golan, on June 10th. Israel broadcast a false news report on official Syrian radio, and the announcer – an IDF soldier whose family had immigrated from Syria – declared that Kuneitra had been defeated before the actual battle had even begun. The Syrian forces defending the city heard of its supposed fall and fled without lifting a finger to fight, each one sure he was the only soldier left in the city.
Assad suffered from deep depression that recurred each year on June 10th, caused by the loss of the Golan Heights and the way Kuneitra fell into Israel’s hands. During the 30 years of his reign, Assad failed to recover the Golan for Syria and thus could not restore his lost honor. Old, ill and feeble, he died of heart failure on June 10, 2000.
The Six Day War defeat brought about a lessening of the popularity of the united Arab ideology promoted by Gamal Abdel Nasser and used by him to control other Arab nations in order to create so-called “Arab Unity.” Only Syria was persuaded to join Egypt and form the “United Arab Republic,” which lasted for three years, from 1958 to 1961. All the other Arab rulers realized that “Arab unity” was simply an excuse for Nasser to gain control over their countries and refused to be part of the initiative.
The wane of the Arab unity idea brought about its replacement by an individualistic ideology that saw each Arab state as one that must remain separate and independent. At the same time, it brought about a religious revival as many of the Arab populace looked for religious messages to explain the defeat. Imams and preachers claimed that the two ideologies that had previously guided the Arabs – nationalism in Egypt and Baath socialism in Syria – were inherently anti-religious ideologies because they put the nation and society in the center, while pushing Allah to the sidelines. The defeat, according to the mosque preachers, was the punishment meted out by Allah on those countries because they turned their backs on him.
This religious approach to the Six Day War defeat was a main feature of the Muslim Brotherhood’s exhortations as it tried with all its might to take over Egypt and Syria. It was the rise in the Brotherhood’s popularity that led Nasser and his successor Anwar Sadat to regularly execute leaders of that organization. In Syria, they organized in secret and only rebelled publicly in 1976. Assad fought them mercilessly and put an end to the rebellion with the Hama massacre of February 1982.
Islam’s ascension as a political alternative to secular, modern ideology over the past 50 years is also seen as a result of the Six Day War defeat and the bankruptcy of secular ideologies. That is why the Islamic terror from which the entire world suffers today, can be seen as a belated reaction and indirect result of the Six Day War.
Israel named the war “The Six Day War” in order to emphasize how it took only six days to defeat three Arab nations. Arab media make a point of calling it “The June 1967 War” to make it seem as though the war went on for an entire month, some even making an effort to call it the “1967 War” giving the impression that it went on for an entire year.
Syrian media do not even call it a war, but an example of aggression, because war is waged between two countries while aggression is pitted by one country against another, with only one side doing the fighting. Presenting the war as “aggression” makes it seem as though Syria was not defeated because it did not even wage war.
Up until the Six Day War, Jordan ruled Judea and Samaria, strangling any attempt by its residents to develop nationalistic Palestinian sentiments independent of the Hashemite Kingdom. Liberating these territories from Jordanian occupation freed the Arab populace there from the fear of the Jordanian intelligence network. Israel allowed them to speak, write and publicize the idea of Palestinian nationalist aspirations, just as long as they did not act overtly against Israel. Paradoxically, the Six Day War allowed the Arabs of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to invent the idea of a “Palestinian people” and develop it to the proportions it has reached, to the point where its spokesmen are able to convince the Argentinian soccer team to cancel their planned trip to Jerusalem to play a friendly game against Israel’s team.
On the other hand, the entire idea of “Palestinian nationalism” has been falling apart in front of our eyes, ever since its main proponent – the PLO – signed a peace treaty with Israel in September 1993. The PLO even cooperates with Israel’s security forces in order to stifle other organizations . Hamas destroyed the Palestinian nationalist idea when it carried out a coup in Gaza in June 2007. It seems that the idea was not any stronger than the nationalist Arab idea that was a victim of the Six Day War.
This rather bleak situation has Arabs, stuck on the front lines, running from one modern ideology imported from Europe – and destroyed in the Six Day War – to another, despite the fact that the only form of government that can work in the Arab world is the tribal situation created by the Middle Eastern culture of tribe and desert. The Gulf Emirates are the only success story in the region because each of them is based on one dominant tribe.
It is about time for the Arab world to awaken from its delusions, and put an end, with Western and Russian aid, to the artificial, failed states established in the region by colonial powers. On the physical and ideological ruins of those states the world could create successful, prosperous emirates ruled by the local families, like those in the Gulf.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel National News