Weird History How Israel Won The Six-Day War  

Stephan Roget
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The formation of the Israeli state in the wake of WWII incited such dramatic and longstanding unrest in the region, any mention of the "Arab-Israeli War" naturally raises the question: which one? While there have been numerous flashpoints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, none has had quite the intensity, or the long-term impact, of the Six-Day War. This summer war forever changed the balance of power in the Middle East, and set up the region for decades of fiery conflict that continued into the 21st century. The battle was fought between Israel and Jordan, Egypt, and Syria from June 5, 1967 to June 10, 1967. It established Israel as the nation state with borders most countries recognize in 2018. And it did all that in just six days.

Any summary of the Six-Day War is going to reflect an absolutely dominating victory by Israel over their Arabic neighbors, but that’s only a small part of the story. The history behind the war, the way in which it was executed, and the consequences that have unfolded from it, have all combined to make the prospect of peace in the Middle East seem forever out of reach.

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Photo: Government Press Office of Israel/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Whole Thing Started Over A False Soviet Report


The Six-Day War was catastrophic in terms of ongoing world peace, and it all started thanks to a false Soviet report some historians believe was a deliberate attempt to “stir the pot.” On May 13, 1967, the Soviets warned the Egyptians that Israel was amassing troops on their border with Syria, and were about to launch an attack.

Having already been criticized for his failure to support his allies, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser didn't hesitate to mass his own troops and kick out UN peacekeepers, which set the stage for the Six-Day War. Some contend the Soviets were intentionally instigating conflict in the Middle East so the United States had another international mess to worry about in the midst of the Vietnam War.

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Photo: Government Press Office of Israel/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Numbers Alone Prove How Devastating A Loss It Was For Arab Nations


Numbers can often paint a stark image of history, and that’s definitely true of the Six-Day War. Israel lost about 800 of their troops, whereas Egypt had up to 15,000 casualties and saw thousands of other soldiers captured. Things weren’t any better for Egypt’s allies. In total, the Arab states lost tens of thousands of troops, and hundreds of tanks and aircraft. The Israelis, on the other hand, lost a relatively small portion of their armed forces and a few dozen planes.

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Photo: Government Press Office of Israel/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The War Really Did Last For Just Six Days


With the Egyptians bringing their troops to the Israel border – due to a warning from the Soviets – under the assumption there would soon be a strike, Syria began to prepare themselves.

Whether the Israelis truly believed the Egyptian massing of troops posed a legitimate threat is hotly debated, but they certainly hopped on the opportunity to launch a preemptive strike. In the end, air superiority was the only thing Israel needed to win the war. Using fighter planes, and no bombers, the Israelis launched a June 5 surprise attack against Egyptian airbases, devastating their air force before it left the ground. The Egyptians never recovered from this shock and awe campaign, quickly retreating when a ground invasion followed. The other Arab nations quickly followed suit in retreat, and the whole thing was over in, literally, six days.

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Photo:  Golasso/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Six-Day War Changed The Face Of Religion In The Middle East


The Six-Day War didn't just change politics in the Middle East, it actually managed to change how religion was practiced in the region. For Israel, which was initially populated largely by secular Jews, the nearly uncontested victory was seen as a miracle, and a resurgence of “Messianic” Judaism and religious Zionism resulted. Israelis saw themselves as the chosen people, residing in rightful possession of the Holy Land.

Belief in Islam, as well, intensified partly as a result of the Six-Day War. A complex combination of other factors went into this resurgence, including increased poverty, the prevalence of extremists, and a clear enemy of a different religion. The overall increase in fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East cannot be blamed entirely on the Six-Day War, but it was certainly a factor.