It was 40 years ago today
The Israelis made the Arabs pay
Killed their air force while it's on the ground
Egypt hardly even fired a round
So let me introduce to you
A war that's gone on all these years
Colonel Yitzhak's Only Jews Club Band
To coincide with the 40th anniversaries of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the start of the Six-Day War, I've recorded a concept album. Colonel Yitzhak's Only Jews Club Band is available at finer falafel and kebab shops, and Starbucks.
The Six-Day War was a monumental pivot point in Middle East history. No single event since the founding of Israel in 1948 has done more to shape modern politics. Here's what happened.
First the Earth cooled, then the dinosaurs came. Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, then Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and in 1948 the Jewish state of Israel was founded in the Middle East over the objection of Arabs.
After two previous wars, and a number of smaller skirmishes that did not settle the conflict, tensions were high between Arabs and Israelis in 1967. Tensions between Syria and Israel, especially so. The two countries exchanged fire several times in 1967. Israelis were mad at Syria for supporting Palestinian fighters, among other things. Syria was mad at Israel for being there.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Israel, Egypt was ratcheting up its rhetoric about destroying Israel. Egypt was led at the time by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser fashioned himself as the leader of all Arabs, not just Egyptian Arabs.
Then, as now, talking trash about Israel was a crowd-pleasing talking point among Middle East leaders. Nasser spoke loudly and frequently in 1967 about how Arabs planned to destroy Israel.
After Syria and Egypt formally allied themselves against Israel, Nasser took a series of steps that further alarmed Israeli leaders. He ejected United Nations peacekeepers from Sinai and moved in Egyptian troops (Sinai is the Egyptian desert peninsula on Israel's southern border). On May 22, Nasser blockaded the Straits of Tiran, closing off Israel's access to the Red Sea from its southern port city, Eilat.
Though not an attack in the high-explosive, infantry-advance sense, blockading a port is an act of war. Whether Egypt intended to escalate the ongoing conflict into a full-on war is debatable. The bottom line, nevertheless, is Egypt pushed Israel hard enough in May 1967 that, in June, Israeli leaders decided it was a good idea to push back. Hard.
On the morning of June 5, 1967, Israel launched a bold and massive surprise air raid on Egypt. Bold and massive because 95 percent of Israel's front-line aircraft took part in the first wave of the attack. By 9 a.m., the Egyptian air force was all but destroyed on the runway. By about 11 a.m., a second Israeli wave hit. Of Egypt's 419 military aircraft, 304 were destroyed by about noon, along with the eight air bases from which Egypt could hit Israel.
With air supremacy theirs, Israel's ground forces advanced. From Egypt, Israel captured Gaza and the entire Sinai peninsula. From Syria, Israel captured a hilly area on the border between the two nations called the Golan Heights. And after King Hussein of Jordan's forces opened fire on Israeli positions, Israel took from Jordan the eastern half of Jerusalem and all of Jordan's land on the west bank of the Jordan River.
Though Hussein was allied with Egypt, he wanted to avoid a war with Israel because he didn't believe the Arab nations were strong enough to defeat Israel just yet. He was convinced to join in at the last minute because of Egyptian propaganda. Despite the overwhelming and obvious thumping Egypt took on the first morning of fighting, Egyptian state media broadcast falsely that Egypt had thwarted the Israeli attack and, in fact, were on the offensive. Believing he'd be entering the war on the winning side, Hussein ordered his forces to engage. D'oh!
Next week, I'll explain how the war still affects the world today. And, yes, I do think it's funny that my explanation will go on longer than the war.
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