War of Attrition
During the mid-1960s, tensions between the Arab states and Israel increased. In November 1966, Egypt and Syria signed a five-year defense pact. In the same month, Israeli forces crossed into the West Bank of Jordan to destroy the village of As Samu in retaliation for increasing Palestinian guerrilla raids. In 1967 Israeli leaders repeatedly threatened to invade Syria and overthrow the Syrian government if guerrilla raids across the Syrian border did not stop. In April 1967, there were serious Israeli-Syrian air clashes over Syrian air space. Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol warned that Damascus could be occupied if necessary.
The Soviet Union warned Egypt that they had information that the Israelis had mobilized two brigades on the frontier. Nasser reacted by sending troops to the Israeli border, and Syria followed suit. The claim has been made that Nasser believed that the presence of Egyptian troops would deter the Israelis from attacking Syria. Israel responded by deploying its own forces. It was clear that it would be difficult for Egypt to come to Syria's aid according to the terms of their agreement because of an obstacle--the presence of UNEF troops, stationed on the Egyptian side of the Egyptian-Israeli border since the 1956 War. A great deal of pressure to remove the troops had been put on Nasser by Arab critics such as King Hussein of Jordan and Crown Prince Faisal (Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud) of Saudi Arabia, who accused him of not living up to his responsibilities as an Arab leader. He was accused of failing to match words with deeds and of hiding behind the UN shield rather than thinking about liberating the Palestinian homeland.
On May 16, Nasser made the move that led inexorably to war. He asked the UN to remove the UNEF from the Egyptian-Israeli frontier in Sinai. Once the UNEF was withdrawn, Nasser declared he was closing the Strait of Tiran, which connects the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, to Israeli shipping--a threat he never carried out. Israel, for its part, regarded the withdrawal of the UNEF troops as a hostile act and the closing of the strait as a casus belli. Meanwhile, Jordan and Iraq signed defense agreements with Egypt.
Field Marshal Amir, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, and Shams ad Din Badran, the minister of defense, urged Nasser to strike first, saying the Egyptian army was strong enough to win. The Soviet Union and the United States urged Nasser not to go to war. Nasser publicly denied that Egypt would strike first and spoke of a negotiated peace if the Palestinians were allowed to return to their homeland and of a possible compromise over the Strait of Tiran.
On the morning of June 5, Israel launched a full-scale attack on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In three hours, at least 300 of Egypt's 430 combat aircraft were destroyed, many on the ground as the pilots did not have time to take off. Israeli ground forces started a lightning strike into Sinai and by June 8 had reached the Suez Canal. On that day, both sides accepted a UN Security Council call for a cease-fire. By June 11, the Arab defeat was total; Israel now held all of historic Palestine, including the Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, as well as Sinai and part of the Golan Heights of Syria.
Egypt's losses in the war were enormous: approximately 10,000 soldiers and 1,500 officers killed, 5,000 soldiers and 500 officers captured, 80 percent of military equipment destroyed. Sinai was under Israeli control, and the Suez Canal was blocked and closed to shipping.
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