A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

June 22-23.1967: Closing the Straits of Tiran

If there was a turning point in the tense weeks preceding the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, it was surely the closing of the Strait of Tiran on May 22-23, 1967. In 1956-57, at the end of the Suez War, Israel refused to withdraw its troops from Sinai unless Egypt guaranteed free passage of the Gulf of Aqaba (the only access to Israel’s port of Eilat) and that the border be guarded by the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). After Nasser ordered UNEF out of Sinai and Gaza, pressure increased to close the Strait.

Israel immediately made it clear that any closure of the Strait would violate the right of innocent passage under international law and would be considered an act of war. On May 23 much of the worlf realized that, intentionally or not, Nasser had provided Israel with the casus belli it needed to justify first strike.

Foreign Minister Abba Eban was on a series of peace missions to the UN and Western Europe. Some historians have suggested that Eban, in his effort to win support, may have underplayed Israel’s willingness to strike first, leading others to underestimate the urgency of the crisis.

Rhe US under Lyndon Johnson came up with a bright (?) idea of forming an intentional flotilla codenamed Operation Flotilla. It would take a while to assemble. There would not be time.

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