Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Book recommendation: Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Book recommendation: Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael B. Oren

I was in the Yokosuka Naval Hospital in Japan, having been med-evaced from Khe Sanh with appendicitis, when the 1967 Arab-Israeli war took place. The joke went around that Lyndon Johnson called Moshe Dayan and said he’d been fighting in Vietnam for years; how could one win a war in six days? Dayan replied, “Fight Arabs.” This wonderful, richly detailed history, bears out that apocryphal quip.


Oren is an Israeli, but takes a balanced and well-researched approach. He details the political divisions in all governments, Arab, Israeli, US, Russia, and France over the war. His account of the diplomatic maneuvering both before and after the war is as interesting as the account of the fighting.


I came away thinking there were two causes of the war. First, the Soviet Union convinced the Arabs that Israel was massing forces to invade Syria. That independent observers flew the area and said it wasn’t true made no difference. Second, Egypt’s Chief of Staff, ‘Amer, who was almost as powerful as Nassar, wanted war. He had a vastly misplaced confidence in his army and himself.


Only the Arabs couldn’t see they had to lose. Everyone else knew. Poorly trained troops, bad maintenance and logistics and, most of all, officers promoted on the basis of personal loyalty rather than competence assured that outcome. The worst thing was their infinite ability to lie to themselves, each other, their people, their troops and the world. Once they lost, Nassar and other Arab leaders launched the “big lie” that they were defeated by planes from American and British carriers.


And the ‘Arab Street, millions of people who had imbibed Jew-hatred with their mother’s milk, push leaders into actions they would have preferred not to take. That has not changed, and Trump’s getting agreement between the UAW and Israel is a minor miracle.


This fascinating book belong on the shelf of everyone interested in military or middle-eastern history.

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