The great irony of the Six-Day War of 1967 was that it began with a hoax – a piece of faulty Soviet intelligence given to the Egyptians. On May 13, the Soviet ambassador to Cairo informed the Egyptians that Israel was massing “10 to 12 brigades” on the Syrian border in preparation for a big push against the radical regime in Damascus. In response to that Soviet report, Nasser mobilized his troops on May 14 and dispatched them into the Sinai. The casus belli would come on May 22, when Nasser announced the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. Euphoria gripped the Arab world; Nasser hadn’t fired a shot, but great gains had come his way. On May 30, King Hussein of Jordan rushed to Cairo to place his army under Egyptian command. At the remove of four decades, we should not overdo the importance of that Soviet report about the phantom Israeli brigades. At the heart of the war lay the willful Arab refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy and statehood. Israel’s victory in 1967 delivered a message: that the state that had fought its way into the world in 1948 is there to stay.
Contributing Editor Fouad Ajami is Majid Khadduri professor of Middle East studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author, most recently, of The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq.