Imagine if you awoke to the chilling news that residents of a neighboring city, armed to the teeth and outnumbering you 100 to 1, had surrounded your community. Further, their leader threatened "total war, which will result in the extermination of your existence."
Forty years ago in May, this was precisely the nightmare faced by the fathers and mothers and students and shopkeepers of Israel so threatened by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of his day.
On May 18, 1967, United Nations Secretary-General U Thant had bowed to Nasser's demands and withdrawn the U.N. Emergency Force that had been in place in Sinai and the Gaza Strip since 1956. Two days later, Syrian Defense Minister (later, President) Hafez Assad announced that "I... believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation."
The proverbial straw was Egypt's closure of the Straits of Tiran along the northwestern border of Saudi Arabia on May 22. The blockade cut off Israel's primary maritime supply route with Asia and its supply of oil from Iran. That the blockade violated international law was obvious, but Israel remained alone in confronting its antagonists.
At the end of May, Nasser announced that "[t]he armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel... while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation."
Then, as now, the "whole Arab nation" dwarfed Israel, whose total Jewish population was less than 2.4 million. If you've never done so, pull out an atlas and take a look at a map of the area. The tiny sliver of land that runs along a portion of the eastern Mediterranean is Israel. It is surrounded on all landward sides by the gargantuan "Arab nation." For Israelis in 1967, it seemed impossible to stop their enemies from driving them into the sea.
Unless Israel engaged in a proactive defense. On the morning of June 5, 1967, with options evaporating like dew in the Jerusalem sun, Israel gambled for its survival. Nearly the entire Israeli air force was deployed to attack airfields in Egypt, then in Jordan and Syria, with only a token force left behind to defend the homeland. This was an all-or-nothing effort, and would have been judged extremely foolhardy, even suicidal, except that it worked: Israel effectively destroyed its enemies' air forces on the ground.
By June 10, after fierce and bloody fighting, Israel had taken the Sinai from Egypt in the South, the Golan Heights from Syria in the Northeast (from whence Syria had bombarded Jewish settlers in Israel for years), and recovered its ancient capital in Jerusalem from Jordan, which had used the area in front of the Western Wall as a sort of municipal dump.
Though it accomplished miracles in six days, the tiny country paid a very dear price for its survival. Calculated in numbers proportionate to America's population, 98,000 Israeli soldiers were killed (more than twice the total U.S. battle deaths in the nine years of the Vietnam War) and about 215,000 wounded.
Today we can see that the Six-Day War was prologue to the current war between Islamofascism and the West.
The intense, irrational, Islamo-Arabic hatred of the West has festered for decades, if not centuries. The prosperous, democratic example that Israel represents is especially aggravating, particularly in a region where many leaders supported the Nazis in World War II. Years before the horrors of September 11, 2001, Americans watching the 1972 Olympics on TV witnessed the brutality of Arab terrorism "up close and personal," when black-hooded Palestinians broke into the Olympic Village and kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
The intractable resolve of the Islamists and their utter contempt for our way of life was evidenced decades ago by their predecessors, the pan-Arabists. Only six years after a mortifying defeat, and almost exactly one year after the Munich massacre, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar.
This time, Israel was taken by surprise as the Arabs deployed massive amounts of war munitions supplied by the Soviet Union. With Israel's prospects for survival looking very grim, another miracle was needed. At the eleventh hour, President Nixon sent planeloads of military munitions to resupply Israel's dangerously depleted stocks, and these supplies, combined with Israeli grit and courage, turned the tide. Most American Jews are unaware that the much-maligned Richard Nixon helped save Israel.
Today, when a Mideast rogue like Mr. Ahmadinejad declares his intentions, we ignore the plain meaning of that declaration to our very great peril. In '67, the Arabs announced precisely what they wanted to do to Israel (and had been threatening for the preceding 20 years). Israel's survival depended upon its timely and forceful response. Forty years later, the Islamofascists and their terrorist minions work not only to destroy Israel, but also, under Iran's lead, to bring down the West as well. If we dither, we'll lose.
Many non-Jewish Americans I've spoken with (and some Jewish-Americans) who were not alive during the Nazi era cannot fathom such intense hostility. Why can't everyone just get along? The Jews must have done something to provoke them.
Indeed they did: 5 million Jews woke up in Israel this morning, thank God.
SAMUEL R. LEWIS
Samuel R. Lewis writes on current and future events and authors Mensch Press, a column for UPI's Religion and Spirituality.com.