Six Days in June (2007)

Six Days in June (Directed by Ilan Ziv, WGBH, 2007) This is the definitive documentary on the 1967 Six-Day War whose aftermath has resulted in the Arab-Israeli imbroglio that exists up to this day. Most remarkable are the interviews with key, as well as ordinary, individuals who were involved in these events in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Moscow, Washington, Syria, and Palestine. Their frank accounts of how events unfolded, together with news and home movies, provide, in two hours, authoritative insights into the key personalities, the Cold War implications, and how the Arabs were stunned by the magnitude of their defeat.

The story commences with President Nasser’s decision to remove the UN Peacekeeping Force from Sinai. UN officials realized that the blocking of Israel sea access through the Strait of Tiran was a likely prelude to war. Once UN forces left, Nasser seemed intent on an Arab showdown with Israel.

In retrospect, the desperate efforts by Israel Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to avoid a pre-emptive strike seem surprising. He repeatedly defied pressure from his military and unsuccessfully sought American assurance that the U. S. would assure Israel free passage through the strait. Ultimately the military prevailed and an activist general, Moshe Dayan, was named defense minister.

Concurrently, Nasser raised the military stakes by obliging Jordan’s King Hussein to come to Cairo and place his army under Egyptian command. Nasser was also seeking, without success, Moscow support for an attack on Israel. Nasser’s bellicosity resulted in Israeli’s pre-emptive military attack on June 5th. Israeli defense leaders were concerned that Israel’s survival was at stake.

Israeli massive air strikes virtually destroyed the Egyptian air force in a few hours. While Israeli embargoed any war information for over a day, fearing initiatives for an immediate cease fire, Egypt filled the air waves with false stories of devastating Israeli losses. Jordan, Egypt’s last-minute ally, found itself alone in the battle for Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Eshkol was pushed into the background as Defense Minister Dayan seized control of Israeli operations. Events changed so rapidly that, often, commanders in the field were authorized to take their own initiatives. The Egyptian army swiftly started to crumble and the Jordanians, after stiff initial fighting, fell back. Dayan, at the time, expressed a lack of interest in Jerusalem’s Old City and preferred to stop his troops before they reached the Suez Canal.

Meanwhile, Nasser was desperately seeking direct Soviet involvement and the Soviets were sending military supplies and pre-positioning planes and ships for possible direct involvement. President Johnson, in a hot line exchange with his Moscow counterpart, expressed desire for a ‘timely cease fire,’ but did not apply immediate pressure on the Israelis. Commentators said that this was the most dangerous Cold War confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As the Egyptian army was in flight, the Jordanian military neutralized, and Israel was in control of Jerusalem and most of the Sinai, the pressure for a cease fire escalated. Dayan, in response to heavy Syrian artillery attacks, decided to launch a swift assault deep into Syria with an objective of seizing the Golan Heights before a UN-supervised cease fire took effect. In six days Israel had more than doubled its size.

Initially, Israel seemed ready to exchange land for peace as part of an Arab-Israeli negotiated settlement. A major sticking point was Jerusalem because of its historical Jewish heritage. In retrospect, this might have been an opportunity to reach some pragmatic accommodation of the issues that had festered since the UN Palestine resolution of 1947. The humiliating Arab military defeat scotched this possibility.
Nasser, who had speciously claimed that U. S. and British planes had joined in the Israeli attack, rather incongruously emerged as an Arab hero. At an Arab summit meeting in Khartoum late in 1967 the Arab leaders unanimously agreed “No, no, no” to the three possible negotiating points that might have triggered Arab-Israeli discussions.

This superb documentary concludes with an epilogue on the aftermath of these six days in June. While Jordan and Egypt have signed agreements with Israel, the prospects for a “Palestinian settlement’ remain dim. The number of displaced Palestinians has more than doubled over the past forty years, while Israel has permitted hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers to occupy captured territories.

Despite heavy reliance on once-secret archives and the apparent frankness of the American and Israeli interviewees, there was no mention of why Israeli planes and motor torpedo boats repeatedly attacked the U. S. S. Liberty, a well-marked American naval ship, resulting in 54 dead and 171 wounded U. S. government personnel. (See USS Liberty Survivors: Our Story).

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