The following letter was published in the Oct. 26 Washington Times:
In “Timing right for shift in Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” (Nation, Oct. 15) Claude Salhani writes, “Then 11 years later, Israel launches the Six-Day War, capturing large swathes of Arab lands.”
Israel did not “launch” the 1967 Six-Day War. It was not the aggressor. By June 4, a military alliance of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq mobilized nearly 250,000 troops, 2,000 tanks and 700 aircraft on its borders. After weeks of Arab threats and aggression, Israel – then a country the size of New Jersey with a population of about 2 million – pre-empted encirclement with strikes against Egyptian and Syrian forces.
Did the Arab encirclement mean war? In 1964, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared that “the danger of Israel lies in the very existence of Israel.” Syria simultaneously shelled Israeli farms and towns from the Golan Heights. Syrian attacks grew more intense in 1965 and 1966, as did Egyptian rhetoric. Mr. Nasser stated, “[W]e aim at the destruction of the state of Israel.” Arab terrorist infiltrations and attacks against Israel increased.
By May 1967, Egypt expelled U.N. peacekeeping personnel from the Sinai Peninsula. On May 20, Syrian Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad stressed that “the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.” On May 22, in an act of war, Egypt closed the international Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. On May 28, Mr. Nasser declared that “we will not accept any … coexistence with Israel.”
Israeli forces, after being on high alert for three weeks waiting futilely for international diplomacy to resolve the threat, attacked on June 5. They were not “launching” a war but pre-empting potential annihilation.