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Week Marks 40th Anniversary of 1967 Middle East War


This week marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War, a six-day conflict that led to Israel's stunning victory over three Arab armies. Analysts say, however, the four decades that followed brought occupation and misery to generations of Palestinians and never led to peace and security for the Jewish state. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has more in this background report from Washington.

On the morning of June 5 1967 Israel launched Operation Focus, with nearly 200 warplanes flying over the Mediterranean to engage in a massive attack on Egyptian airfields.

The assault caught the Egyptians by surprise, destroying virtually all of the country's air force and guaranteeing Israeli air superiority for the remainder of the Six Day War.

Yuval Rabin is the son of Yitzhak Rabin, who at the time was the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and was later assassinated while serving as the country's prime minister.

"I believe the Six Day War was a just war, a war that dramatically changed Israel's position in the region and in the world," said Yuval Rabin. "Yet, it has yet to deliver on its main goal, ensuring our long term sustainability and security within defined and agreed borders."

In the weeks before the war, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser expelled a United Nations force from the Sinai Peninsula and deployed 100,000 troops with nearly 1,000 tanks to the area.

The popular leader of the Pan-Arab movement also announced he would close the Straits of Tiran, which would block Israel's southern access to the rest of the world through the Gulf of Aqaba.

Historians say these moves were in response to what turned out to be a false intelligence report given to the Egyptians by the Soviet Union warning that Israeli troops were massing along the Syrian border and were planning an invasion of that country.

Days before the war, Israeli officials told the United States they had learned of an Egyptian and Syrian plan to launch a war of annihilation against the Jewish state, but U.S. officials said at the time they could not confirm the information.

Michael Bar Zohar, an Israeli historian and author of a book on the Six Day War, says all sides in the conflict misjudged each other.

"What happened before and during the Six Day War, mostly before the Six Day War, was the worst heap of misconceptions, misunderstandings, mistakes and mismanagement that the modern world has known in this time," said Michael Bar Zohar. "Nobody understood anybody."

Historians say in the days before war broke out, both the United States and the Soviet Union warned each other to stay out of the conflict.

Then-U.S. President Lyndon Johnson was viewed as highly supportive of Israel, but also concerned about the war in Southeast Asia.

Samuel Lewis is a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff.

"We were, let us not forget, in Vietnam," said Lewis. "Our preoccupation as a nation was totally focused on Vietnam, just as it is focused on Iraq today."

During the war and with lightening speed, Israeli soldiers captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt. In less than a week, Israel tripled the territory under its control.

In 1979, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt, returning the Sinai. Israel signed a second accord with Jordan in 1994.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria failed to produce any agreement.

The President of the Washington-based Middle East Institute, Wendy Chamberlin, says the concept behind those negotiations is still valid.

"Introduction of land for peace was a significant contribution to the diplomacy that came out of the '67 War and it remains a key element of any Palestinian-Israeli discussion today," said Wendy Chamberlin.

Chamberlin says while the Six Day War did not create Palestinian militants, the defeat of Arab armies and the 40-year Israeli occupation that followed, did lead to the rise of Islamic groups like Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"The '67 War provided the context for indignant Muslims to turn to Islam," she said. "They turned to Islam when the state failed to provide justice, when the U.N. could not enforce its own decisions. Palestinians turned to their religion out of desperation and unhappiness under occupation. They turned to Islam because of the failure of Arab states to protect or advance Palestinian interests or even to help them meet basic human needs."

In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, although it continues to mount incursions into the territory when Palestinian militant groups fire rockets into Israeli territory.

Forty years after the Six Day War, more than 400,000 Jewish settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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