- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Six-Day War in 1967, waged 40 years ago this week, was a spectacular victory for Israel — and a humiliating defeat for three Arab countries. It changed the geopolitical map of the Middle East and its impact is felt to this day.

Egypt lost Gaza and the entire Sinai Peninsula, Syria lost the Golan Heights, and Jordan lost East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It was also a perfect war for a Newsweek foreign correspondent on a six-day Monday through Saturday news cycle.

This reporter spent the first two days with Israeli forces sweeping through Egyptian-held Gaza and then chasing 100,000 fleeing Egyptian troops back to the Suez Canal; followed by two days with the lead Israeli tank unit blasting its way down the West Bank from Jenin to Nablus to link up with an Israeli armored brigade barreling north from Jerusalem; and a finale, just in time for the weekly magazine deadline, watching Israelis fight their way up the Golan Heights.

In Rome the Friday before the war, we heard Secretary of State Dean Rusk on radio say he didn’t think war was in the cards. Just appointed Defense Minister Moshe Dayan added, “War clouds are breaking up.” Yet Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser had already kicked the U.N. emergency force from Sinai; blockaded the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, closing Elath, the country’s only access to the east; signed a mutual defense pact with Jordan; moved 100,000 troops into Sinai, along with 900 tanks, 1,100 APCs, and 1,000 artillery tubes — and then challenged Israel to fight. There was a feeling of impending doom in Israel.

At an Israeli Embassy reception the same evening, we asked Ambassador Ehud Avriel, “Whether Dayan’s optimistic statement meant what I think it meant?” “And what’s that?” said Mr. Avriel. “That this is a bit of strategic deception and that I should get to Tel Aviv on the next flight,” we answered. The ambassador nodded assent.

When we landed in Tel Aviv less than 20 hours before Israel’s pre-emptive attack, 12 British journalists were boarding flights back to London. Their Fleet Street Editors had decided the crisis was over.

At dawn next morning, the entire Israeli Air Force — 220 fighter bombers except for 12 assigned to Israeli air space — took off to crater the runways at every Egyptian air force base while Egyptian pilots were in their mess halls for breakfast. On their next pass, they bombed and strafed Egyptian aircraft unable to take off, destroying Nasser’s entire air force of 350 Soviet-supplied planes — to 46 of their own.

Jordan’s King Hussein got sucked in to the war with a phone call from Nasser telling him to look at his radar and he would see scores of Egyptian planes on their way to attack Israel. These were Israeli aircraft returning to base.

By the sixth day of the Six-Day War, Israeli Defense forces were in position with no resistance on main roads to the three enemy capitals — Cairo, Damascus and Amman. At war’s end, in the bar of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the hero of the hour Dayan was telling us Israel would soon startle the world again by demonstrating it was not interested in territorial aggrandizement and, in a spirit of victorious magnanimity, would soon return all the occupied territories — except east Jerusalem.

This was not to be. Sinai was not returned until after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which we covered on the Egyptian side. For those less magnanimous than Dayan, which was the majority of the political class, the Six-Day War was another battle in the 1948 War of Independence. The unjust partition dictated by the armistice agreements was now erased by Israel’s conquest of Judea and Samaria, i.e., the West Bank.

Israel lost no time planting flags and new settlements in the West Bank — about 145 of them now inhabited by 240,000 Jewish settlers. Another 185,000 moved into Arab East Jerusalem. The now occupied Palestinians also got a new leader after the 1967 war. Yasser Arafat succeeded the ineffectual Ahmed Shukeiri in 1967. More a tactician than strategist, Arafat led the Palestinian Liberation Organization through mortifying defeats in Jordan (1970) and Lebanon (1982), two intifadas against Israel, a Palestinian Authority (which recovered sovereignty over seven West Bank towns and cities), and a Nobel Peace Prize (1994), which he shared with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Arafat died in 2004, pretty much a spent force, as the more radical Hamas took over.

Today, a settlement that would produce a “contiguous and viable” Palestinian state is more remote than ever. But it will keep a lot of diplomats busy in the quest for an unattainable objective.

Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem who is now a columnist for Ha’aretz, says, “No paradigm of military occupation can reflect the Bantustans created in the occupied territories, which separate a free and flourishing population that enjoys a gross domestic product [GDP] of $26,000 per capita from a dominated population that is unable to shape its own future and whose GDP is $1,500 per capita.”

Half the occupied Palestinian areas “have essentially been annexed,” adds Mr. Benvenisti, “leaving the occupied population with disconnected lands and no viable existence. Only a strategy of annexation and permanent rule can explain the vast settlement enterprise and the enormous investment in infrastructure, estimated at more than $10 billion.”

A weak Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, barely ticking over at an all-time Israeli low of 4 percent, is not about to facilitate a Hamas-dominated Palestinian state. And hard-lining Benyamin Netanyahu, his likely successor in the next elections (which theoretically need not be called till 2010, but will most likely be held much sooner), is not known for tender feelings toward Palestinians.

There is now an imposing, solid 420-mile long, 200-foot wide and in some sections 28-foot high wall physically separating Jews and Palestinians. Most Israeli settlements are sheltered behind the barrier. They sit astride the aquifer that runs north-south. The coming water shortages — some experts say, water wars — are seldom mentioned.

“For the first time since the tragic encounter began more than a century ago,” writes Mr. Benvenisti, “the Jews are giving the Arabs a divorce — and turning their backs, erasing them from their consciousness, imprisoning them behind impenetrable walls.”

Nor is there much love lost between wealthy Arab oil states and Palestinians, looked upon as dangerous revolutionaries. Between Mr. Benvenisti’s cards-on-the-table and Arab advice to coexist peacefully with Israel, Hamas knows the former precludes the latter.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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