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The Six Day War lasted between June 5 and 10, 1967 and is commonly referred to as the Third Arab-Israeli War. It involved Israel and Arabian states made up of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Several decisive events occurred in the months immediately prior to the war. One of the turning points was the cross-border battle between Syria and Israel. Another significant event that happened immediately before the beginning of the war was the occupation of Sinai by Egyptian troops. Other vital events that reflected a turning point prior to the hostilities included the sending away of the United Nations peacekeepers from Egypt, the decision to close the Straits of Tiran, and the events in Israel emerging from the media and members of the public. International institutions such as the UN watched as the war took place. More so, countries such as the United States of America were blamed to have taken a partisan position mostly supporting Israel during the war. However, the war would have been prevented in the case if the Suez Crisis could be resolved effectively.
Moreover, the delay by the United Nations to intervene at the right time encouraged the decisive events that led to the undesirable Six Day War, which displaced many Palestinians and catalyzed the persecution of the minority Jews in the Arab world.
Five Most Decisive Events Prior to Hostilities
The first significant decisive event that occurred in the months prior to the hostilities was the cross-border battle between Syria and Israel. Smith (2012, p. 233) asserts that the cross-border battle between Israel and Syria re-emerged on April 7, 1967, when Syria opened fire against Israel. Israel was quick to respond to the attack escalating the animosity further as it brought in heavy weapons such as heavy mortars, artillery, and machine guns. Initially, the dispute was mainly related to the demand for cultivation rights in the southeast zone of Lake Tiberius. Persistent attacks negated relationships between Syria and Israel and set a perfect ground for future hostilities. The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) tried to stop the conflicts through an amicable agreement, but Syria rejected its demands. However, the intervention of the Soviet Union led to the attainment of a temporal agreement between the two countries. Tension continued at the border, as Israel emphasized that it would not hesitate to utilize its air power in case of any other conflicts. It was a decisive event for a serious war to come.
The second turning point was the occupation of Sinai by Egyptian troops. It happened in May, when the Soviet Union informed Egypt that Israel had organized its troops and was ready to cause violence in Syria. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian President, reacted promptly as he also took the initiative of sending his troops to Sinai to ensure Syria was defended from any attack by Israel. Ben-Ami (2006, p. 125) agrees that Egypt’s action to go ahead of Israel with the aim of thwarting its attack on Syria led to increased animosity between the two countries. In fact, Israel stated that it was not going to engage in any violence at that moment as Egyptian troops were in a better defensive position compared to their troops. Accordingly, Egypt defended the presence of its troops in Sinai with the emphasis that it had entered a mutual defense act that expressly mandated it to come to Syria’s defense. Both countries did not engage in any form of war at that time, but the tension was gradually evolving hence setting up a perfect ground for the June War.
The third decisive event, which occurred prior to the hostilities, was the sudden removal of the United Nations peacekeepers from Egypt. In May, the United Arab Republic Chief of Staff ordered the exit of the United Nations Emergency Force through a letter. Many Egyptians were shocked with the decision, but Nasser moved on with it. The lack of UN peacekeepers at the Egyptian and Israeli border exposed both countries by creating more room for attacks. It was easier to attack each of these countries. Israel pointed out that it did not want any peacekeepers as they would have prevented it from responding to violent attacks on its border. The elimination of the UN peacekeepers set the field wide open for the war since the negotiations between the two countries could no longer take place. Tension continued to grow between the two countries as they both held hardline positions on matters related to peace.
The fourth decisive event prior to the war was the closure of the Straits of Tiran on May 22, 1967. Apart from the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers, Egypt went ahead to close the Straits of Tiran to ships bearing Israeli flags. Ben-Ami (2006, p. 143) opines that Israel was not contended with the decision because 90% of its oil passed through the Straits of Tiran. Gamal Abdel Nasser held a firm position on the matter and insisted that Israel flags cannot be allowed to pass there. He also insisted that any further attack on Syria would spark an overall Arab reaction. Those in support of Egypt’s decision to close the Straits of Tiran point out that the action was justified as Arab states were yet to sign the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone. On the other hand, opponents affirm that the action was undesirable and unlawful because the matter had been widely discussed at the General Assembly as Israel had withdrawn from Sinai after the Suez Crisis.
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The last significant event leading to the hostilities was the reaction of Israel triggered by the public and media pressure on the government. Khalidi (2006, p. 112) asserts that the increasing Arab rhetoric led to pressure from the public and media for government action. The most fundamental issue was the closure of the Straits of Tiran. Increased pressure necessitated Israel to attack the Straits of Tiran in May, hence setting the ground for war between the two countries. Nasser responded to these attacks with tanks and air power hence aggravating the entire situation. In fact, it is termed as the beginning of the Six Day War.
Could the Intervention by the U.N and the U.S. or Any Other Entity Prevent the Outbreak of the War?
Early interventions by the U.N, U.S. or any other entity would have played an instrumental role in preventing the outbreak of the war. According to Smith (2012, p. 145), they would have identified the key areas of contention between Israel, Egypt, and Syria hence helping to prevent the outbreak of the war. For instance, they would have taken advantage of the closure of the Straits of Tiran to come up with a solution to the overall problems leading to the war. They would have prevented the war by handling the matters in the most effective manner possible that reflects justice for both parties involved in the matter.
More so, they would have stayed at the borders of both Egypt and Israel to avoid any form of aggression between the two countries in a fair manner using their peacekeeping missions. Khalidi (2006, p. 130) reiterates that the war was motivated by the withdrawal of UNEF, hence leaving a void at the borders. The countries found it easier to attack each other once they realized that there was no barrier to their ambitions. For instance, Israel was immediate to launch attacks on Syria, Egypt, and Jordan immediately after UNEF had been withdrawn from the region. Therefore, there was room to contain the situation by maintaining peacekeepers in the region. They would have made a difference with their intervention in the matter and would have mitigated the escalation of the conflict.
On the other hand, opponents argue that the intervention by the U.N and the U.S. would not have prevented the outbreak of the war because of the suspicions that existed relating to the party they supported in the war. Egypt felt that the U.S. was on the side of Israel hence complicating the situation. Other European countries such as the U.K and Netherlands would not have prevented the war because they tended to lean on Israel’s side. On the other hand, Israel felt that the U.N was protecting Egypt and did not agree to the peace treaty relating to the Straits of Tiran. Therefore, it was difficult to come up with a solution to the problem.
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The Time the Intervention Should Have Taken Place
Smith (2012, p. 86) affirms that the perfect time for the U.N intervention to prevent the outbreak of the war was during the Suez Crisis. It is clear that the Suez Crisis had a role in the emergence of the Six Day War. They would have ensured that everyone complied with the border rules that had been agreed upon during the negotiations that had taken place. Ben-Ami (2006, p. 176) insists that the United Nations should have intervened in the war through a stronger group of peacekeepers to ensure that violence emanating from either side was effectively handled to stop the escalation of animosity among the countries. The intervention by the U.S. and the U.N should have come earlier when there were opportunities to occupy the borders and ensure that genuine agreements were reached by both parties. For instance, the intervention should have taken place initially by addressing the border issues between Syria and Israel and ensuring peaceful coexistence in the region. Smith (2012, p. 420) is of the view that both Israel and Egypt should have also been advised to keep off Sinai to avoid the rise of tension between the two countries. The U.N should have taken the initiative to control the area and ensure benefits of the Suez Canal were shared in line with the initial agreements.
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In conclusion, the Six Day War was indicative of the aggression between the Arab states and Israel. Events such as the border conflict between Israel and Syria in April set the road clear for increased tension that led to the war. Everyone looked forward to retaliating the incoming attacks. The Six Day War is significant because it played an instrumental role in spawning special relationships between Israel and the United States of America. The war set the foundation of the relationships that are being enjoyed currently as the U.S. appeared to support Israel in its course to win the war against Arab states. More so, it is significant because it reshaped the political landscape of the Middle East and defined the new borders. It has been crucial in reducing the violence between different countries across the region. The Six Day War strongly relates to the current happenings in the Middle East, as seen in different crises including the West Bank crisis, Gaza, Golan, and East Jerusalem crisis. All these are still embedded on the war and provide further avenues for understanding the border differences and any form of suggested solutions that might be necessary to address the matter fully.
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