The Six Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East by Guy Laron - review by David Pryce-Jones

David Pryce-Jones

Shock and Awe

The Six Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East

By

Yale University Press 368pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

The Six Day War of June 1967 seemed at the time to be an existential crisis for the State of Israel. Members of the press corps in Jerusalem (I was one of them) wondered if we were about to witness a second Holocaust and what that would mean for the rest of humanity. I remember a red-eyed Israeli major general asserting that the government’s inactivity was a death sentence for the country. Nobody expected an Israeli victory so overwhelming that it is still studied in staff colleges.

Most of those with decisive roles in that crisis have written memoirs and there are also first-rate, day-by-day accounts of the campaign. Israel today has a raft of ‘post-Zionist’ academics and journalists, for whom everything the country has done is a standing moral reproach. Writing more in sorrow than in anger, Guy Laron takes a different approach, examining how and why the war occurred at all. A lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he bases his narrative on Israeli sources, supplemented with material from American, Arab and Soviet archives. In his view, presidents, generals and ambassadors were engaged in a perpetual merry-go-round of self-importance, misunderstanding and stupidity. Damn fools one and all, their collective damnfoolery caused the Six Day War.

Political and psychological limitations were certainly on display in the early 1960s, when Israel and Syria began disputing a small strip of no-man’s-land that was of little economic value. In April 1967, this dispute escalated from skirmishes between armoured tractors to aerial dogfights, in which the Syrians lost twelve

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