Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
At 7:10 a.m. on the morning of June 5, 1967, the first squadrons of Israel’s fighter jets take off for a preemptive strike on Egypt, a move they are cornered into making. All but 12 of their fleet of outdated French planes head west for the Mediterranean, then turn sharply south, diving low to fly 500 miles per hour 60 feet above the waves to avoid radar detection.
“O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!’ For they conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant” (Psalm 83:1-5).
The history of Israel is a history that repeats itself: irrational hatred by her neighbors; miraculous rescue by her God. The Six-Day War whose anniversary we remember in June is the 1967 incarnation of this all-too-familiar paroxysm.
The war lasts a Biblical six days, after which Israel controls 3 1/2 times as much land as a week earlier.
The fuse is lit by a Russian report to Egypt that Israel is amassing troops on Syria’s border with malicious intent. It is a lie. But also the plausible justification Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser needs for blocking the Straits of Tiran from Israeli shipping. He asks the United Nations to evacuate its peacekeeping forces, and Secretary-General U Thant obliges without even consulting the Security Council. Over three weeks, Nasser rushes 100,000 troops, 1,000 artillery cannons, and 900 Soviet-made tanks to Israel’s doorstep in the Sinai. Having failed in 1948 and 1956 to “get rid of Israel, … the dream of every Arab” (Washington Post, July 27, 1959, interview), Nasser is hoping the third time’s a charm.
Israel goes hat in hand to her allies for help. America declines. France says, “Non.” Israel is utterly alone. Realizing that she has been abandoned by her friends, citizens of the Arab world erupt in chants of “Death to Israel.” Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan begin moving forces to Jordan. They have three times as many planes, twice as many soldiers, and four times the tanks of Israel, who begins calling reservists and digging lots of graves in public parks.
“On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:8-9).
Around 7:15 a.m., Jordanian radar operators are alarmed by the number of Israeli planes in the air and send a coded message to warn Egypt. But the Egyptians have changed the code the day before without bothering to notify the Jordanians. Moreover, Arab commanders have chosen this morning for a joint inspection tour and given strict orders that, for their safety, artillery guns not be operational while they are aboard a transport. The IAF steals into Egyptian skies during this one-hour window and destroys two-thirds of the Egyptian state-of-the-art air force in four hours. In two more hours she annihilates the Syrian fleet. A few moments more is all it takes to vaporize Jordan’s air power.
“O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane! Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (Psalm 83:13-18).
The war lasts a Biblical six days, after which Israel controls 3½ times as much land as a week earlier, land she is willing to trade for peace. Russia immediately begins resupplying an unchastened Egypt with 200 MiG fighter jets.
And at a late summer Arab summit in Khartoum, five Arab leaders pledge the Three No’s: “no peace with Israel,” “no negotiations with Israel,” “no recognition of Israel.”