A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, June 10, 2010

And on the Sixth Day . . .

There was a ceasefire. And on the seventh, the Armies rested. The 1967 war and the occupation lines resulting from it are so central to today's peace process that it is tempting (given the time frame) to evoke the Biblical creation narrative.

June 10, the sixth day of the Six-Day War, gets considerably less attention than some of the others. It's the day of mopping up and wrapping things in a package, played out as much in the United Nations as on the battlefield, which by day six meant only the Golan.

The war had begun on the Egyptian front, and though on day one Israel attacked both the Jordanian and Syrian air forces, they did not move on those fronts on the first day. Once Jordanian artillery opened fire, it gave Israel the opportunity to move against East Jerusalem and to unite the city, a profound religious and nationalist goal. Syria engaged in artillery duels but until the Sinai and West Bank were secure, Israel did not feel free to begin ground operations in the Golan, and there was some concern that a ceasefire would be imposed before it had the opportunity.

At 3 am on June 9, Syria accepted a ceasefire, trying to block an Israeli attack, but it was too late and Israel attacked the Golan. June 9 was the day to ascend the plateau; June 10 the day to occupy. Syria, dug in here more than the other Arab states, gave considerable resistance.

But pressure from the Arab side for a ceasefire was intense. The Arab Armies were beaten and their East Bloc allies were trying to block an even greater disaster. Trying to speed a ceasefire, Radio Damascus announced the fall of the provincial city of Quneitra — which the Israelis knew they had not yet taken. Determined to get Quneitra before a ceasefire kicked in, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol gave the Northern Command four hours to take it, knowing it would take considerable diplomatic skill to prevent an imposed ceasefire before that time.

(The ceasefire as one dimension of battle tactics goes back to the original War of Independence when Israel established the precedent that if a ceasefire is to be "in place" in a certain number of hours, forces should move the front as far and as fast as they can so that the ceasefire solidifies the gains before the enemy can make a countermove.)

Eshkol's deadline was two pm. Quneitra fell at 12:30 pm. A ceasefire was in place on all fronts for 6 pm.

The Six-Day War was over. All that remained was figuring out how to deal with Israel's large newly-occupied territories, and the Arab populations living there. I'll have to get back to you on that: that's what the last 43 years have been about.

There've been other wars; there've been peace treaties; we've gone from Labor Prime Ministers saying "There's no such thing as a Palestinian," to Likud governments negotiating with a Palestinian Authority. There has been progress, particularly in the 90s, but there's little doubt that those six days 43 years ago really are a key to the peace process today, such as it is.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

The war of June 1967 has turned out to be the most important turning point in the Arab-Israeli struggle, I would argue even more important than the 1948 Nakbah. The June War, and the occupation policies which have ensued, changed what had been a geographically limited struggle between two mostly secular national movements into a near global dispute with an ugly religious basis. However difficult it might have been to resolve the dispute between 1948 and 1967, it was more susceptible to compromise than it has since become. Moreover, it has ramifications for US national security way beyond the confines of Israel, Palestine and their near neighbors.