Preserve the Memory of 1967
by Jonathan Rosenblum
June 6, 2007
The Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center sponsored a remarkable panel discussion last week on the Six-Day War and its global impact. Most of the panelists focused on the ongoing consequences of the war.
Michael Oren, author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Middle East
, gave a riveting account of the tense weeks leading up to the outbreak of war and of the war itself. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol emerged as the hero of Oren's account. Eshkol's insistence on restraining the IDF until it was clear to all that Israel had no choice but to strike, while giving the IDF the maximum time to prepare for the battle ahead, remains for Oren a model for Israeli leaders.
Natan Sharansky described the impact of Israel 's lightning victory on Soviet Jewry. The war gave rise to the demands of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel and ultimately helped bring down the mighty Soviet Empire, when the West linked linked diplomatic relations to the Soviet grant of human rights, including the right to emigrate, in the Helsinki Accords.
Yossi Klein Halevi traced the impact of the Six-Day War on world Jewry. By raising the specter of another Holocaust within a quarter century, May 1967 forced world Jewry to realize how much Israel meant to it. At the same time, the dramatic Israeli victory paved the way for other Jews to turn away from Israel. Resentful at being deprived of their status as victims, at precisely that historical moment when victimization had suddenly become a badge of honor, some Jewish intellectuals came to despise Israel.
UNLIKE THE OTHER SPEAKERS, Professor Martin Kramer addressed the imaginary, not real, consequences of the Six-Day War. The Israeli conquest of Judea and Samaria gave rise, according to one entire school of historical interpretation, to both Islamism and the chronic instability of the Middle East. It is the primordial wound that grips the Arab psyche.
The crucial event in the rise of Islamism, however, was not the 1967 Arab defeat, but the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, a non-Arab country that did not even participate in the 1967 war. For the leaders of the Islamic revolution, the great historical wrong that needed righting was not the Israeli occupation, but the CIA-engineered overthrow of Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1954 and his replacement by the Shah.
The second great event nurturing the jihadist impulse was the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in 1981 by the Muslim mujahadeen. The Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan gave rise to a historical narrative of Islamic ascendancy. The ideology of foreigners, like Osama bin Laden, who came to fight with the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, did not develop in the wake of the Six-Day War, but was based on that of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which came to prominence in the 1920s and '30s, long before the state of Israel was born.
The dramatic Arab defeat in 1967 did discredit the then regnant secular ideologies in the Arab world – Nasserism and Baathism – and in that sense cleared the ground for the rise of Islamism. But, ironically, it was the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel in 1977, not the defeat of 1967, which finally nailed the coffin on secular pan-Arabism.
Nor did the Israeli victory destabilize the Middle East. If anything, the opposite is true. The Arab failure to destroy the nascent state of Israel in 1948 led to a series of coups in Syria, the assassination of King Abdullah of Jordan, and the 1952 officer's coup in Egypt. Since 1967, however, all three countries have, in effect, become virtual hereditary monarchies, with power passed from father to son. Only Lebanon grew more unstable after 1967, and it did not even participate in the war.
According to Kramer, the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria entered into an implicit pact with their people that they would not again lead them into war. In this reading, the Yom Kippur War was not a repeat of the 1967 Arab attempt to annihilate Israel, but a war initiated with the limited goal of regaining a measure of Arab honor. The end of the 1973 war, with Israel on the outskirts of Cairo and Damascus, only served to reinforce the lesson of 1967 that attempts to regain Palestine would only lead to destruction of the aggressor.
THE INCREASING INSTABILITY OF THE MIDDLE EAST today owes not so much to the trauma inflicted on the Arab psyche by 1967, as to the fading memory of 1967. Most of the citizens of the Arab states surrounding Israel were not even born in 1967. And even among those who were, there is a growing sense that Israel is no longer capable of repeating its dazzling victory in the Six-Day War.
The ability of Hizbullah's local militia to fight the IDF to a standstill and keep residents of the North in underground bunkers for a month last summer contributed greatly to the fading memory of Israel's dramatic 1967 victory. And the sight of the citizens of Sderot forced to evacuate the town under a rain of Kassams for which Israel has no obvious or ready response could put that memory to rest for good.
Newspaper reports last week of IDF intelligence chief Yuval Diskin warning the cabinet of the dangers of a ground invasion of Gaza handed another victory, without even a fight, to those who are convinced that they can make life so unbearable for Israelis that they will all run away. After the Winograd Commission report, no one would deny that Diskin had a duty to warn the cabinet of the potential costs and risks of a ground invasion of Gaza.
But the way his comments leaked to the press made it seem as if the IDF would be devastated by the booby-trapped tunnels, legions of suicide bombers, and militias laying in wait for it. Hamas no doubt read the press reports as an admission that the IDF has not corrected any of the failures of last summer, and cannot even defeat a far less well-armed and trained enemy than it faced last summer.
That message signals to our enemies that the post-1967 era is over, and can only turn the region into far more unstable and dangerous place to live.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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