- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The problems afflicting the Israelis and Palestinians today, as well as the major issues between Israel and Syria, can directly be attributed to the events of May and June 1967 that led up to the Six Day War between Israel and all of her Arab neighbors in the Arab world with the exception of Lebanon. In that conflict, Israel won a fabulous operational and tactical victory in which she virtually eliminated the Arab threats to her borders and expanded the size of the territory she occupied by a factor of three. But from a long-term perspective, the conflict bore bitter fruit.
The humiliations inflicted on the losing Arab states would fester for years and spawn future conflicts. Likewise, the problems of ruling a largely hostile population of defeated Palestinians has presented the Israelis no end of moral and political turmoil, which has resulted in the crisis in the region today.
In his study of the 1967 conflict, "Six Days of War," Michael B. Oren does a good job of documenting the roots of that war and paving the road to understanding the mess that Israelis, Arabs and the rest of the world face today in the region. This is not a pretty story. On the Arab side, it depicts a duplicitous group of would-be allies more interested in their own internal machinations than in a common cause. The embattled Israelis are depicted as being challenged by a political system that was, and still is, hobbled by infighting and personal animosity.
The difference between the Israelis and the Arabs in the Six Day War is that the Israelis had crafted a competent military machine and the Arabs had not. The war in 1967 was a conflict of tactical actions that eventually dictated strategy. This is almost a total reversal of the notion of Clausewitz that "war is a continuation of policy by other means."
In 1985, while on active duty with the Marine Corps, I was occasionally detailed to escort Yitzhak Rabin on his visits to the United States. Rabin was then the Israeli defense minister. The Marine Corps had been assigned to coordinate his visits and security, and I acted as the Marine Corps lead. One day, on a long cross-country flight, I asked Rabin about his role in the Six Day War. Over the course of the next two hours, I got a lecture in tactics and the military operational art that was probably worth two years in a professional military school. What Rabin told me in that session squares precisely with Mr. Oren's account, except for the incident of Rabin's near-mental breakdown, in the weeks of crisis leading up to the war, which the minister understandably did not touch on. Mr. Oren chronicles this incident , as well as several on the Arab side that have not been well-reported in English before.
The Arab orchestration, if it can be called that, of the war and the events that led to it was done at the hands of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Most readers under 40 probably will not remember Nasser, but he was once the recognized leader of the Arab world. He led a coalition that looked formidable on paper, but one that was plagued by divisions that still befuddle the Arab world today. Casual readers may be challenged by Mr. Oren's detailed account of these divisions, but they go a long way toward understanding the challenges that still confront the Arabs today as they try to deal with each other, the Israelis and the Americans.
If the Israeli leadership in the conflict and the crisis that led up to it were to receive an American military fitness report, the block designated as "strategic vision" would be marked as "not observed." The remarkable Israeli performance in the war was a series of improvised tactical and operational triumphs by an army that thrived on improvisation. These victories gave the Israeli political leadership strategic opportunities that they had not foreseen and were largely unprepared to deal with.
The Israelis gained a Middle East empire, including uncontested control of Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights by accident. Most of the rest of the story for the last 35 years has been one of improvisation rather than strategic vision. We are now seeing the fruits of that shortsighted approach.
Mr. Oren does a particularly good job of debunking the notion that the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty toward the end of the conflict was deliberate. Anyone who has ever participated in a screw-up in a large military operation will understand how the Liberty incident occurred as Mr. Oren meticulously documents it. Good people armed with incomplete information often make tragic decisions.
The author is a noted Mideast scholar. Although he is associated with the Israeli government as an adviser to its U.N. delegation, his account is balanced and critical of blunders made by both sides.

Gary Anderson served as a U.N. Military observer in the Middle East. He is the director of the National Center for Unconventional Thought at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.


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