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The Six-Day War (1967)


The Six-Day War

The Six-Day War was a short-lived conflict that erupted on 5th June 1967 between Israel and the coalition of Arab nations, including Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The roots of this military confrontation can be traced to the establishment of Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948, which led to disputes over borders and water rights in the region. Over the years, growing Arab nationalism resulted in increasingly more clashes between Syria and Israel, prompting Syria and Egypt to form a military pact, later joined by Jordan and Iraq. As a prelude to war, Egypt demanded the removal of the United Nations Emergency Forces (UNEF) from the Sinai Peninsula. These requests were fulfilled, and on 23rd May 1967, Egypt renewed a blockade on Israeli shipping through the Strait of Tiran. In the meantime, Egypt had already started to amass the army in the Sinai Peninsula, allegedly due to false information from the Soviet Union that Israel was mobilizing its reservists with the intent to attack Syria. In a short series of events, Egypt informed Jordan and Syria about this news, and they started to move their forces toward Israel’s border. That prompted the Israelis to establish a national unity government on 1st June 1967 and launch a preemptive attack against an enemy on 5th June 1967. The pre-emptive attack began with the Israeli Air Force striking the Egyptian airfields and dismantling its air defense within the early hours of the conflict, guaranteeing the Israelis complete air dominance for the rest of the war. Soon after that, Jordan and Syria began an attack on the opposite front. However, despite being significantly outnumbered, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took control of the Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal, the entire West Bank of the River Jordan, and part of the Golan Heights within less than a week. With the IDF staging an overwhelming victory, Jordan and Egypt accepted the ceasefire on 8th June 1967, and Syria on 10th June 1967. Consequently, Israel expanded its territory, which became a subject of many future negotiations and was deemed “inadmissible” by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. During the brief duration of the conflict, Israel suffered approximately 800 casualties, while its adversaries are estimated to have lost as many as 15,000 troops. 


Additional context:

  • The Six-Day War catalyzed a shift in the Palestinian national movement towards armed struggle and the prominence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
  • The Israeli victory was attributed to its superior military strategy, training, and intelligence despite being outnumbered by the combined forces of the opposing Arab states.
  • Israel's control of strategic waterways, including the access to the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aqaba, became a pivotal point in its national security policy post-war.


USS Liberty incident 

In a tragic and very controversial event, on 8th June 1967, Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats attacked the United States Navy ship USS Liberty, which was located in the international waters north of the Sinai peninsula. Thirty-four United States service members were killed in the attack by Israeli soldiers, and after the incident, Israel’s government claimed this to be the result of mistaken identity. These claims are, however, widely disputed due to the emergence of an audiotape that recorded the communication between the Israeli fighter jet pilot and the Israeli command tower shortly before the strike. 


United Nations Security Council Resolution 242

In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the United Nations Security adopted United Nations Council Resolution 242 on 22nd November 1967. Some of the document’s key provisions include the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the newly conquered territories, and the need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the region. Both Israelis and Arabs accepted the resolution, albeit with different interpretations. Israel interprets it as allowing for some modifications of borders for security purposes and Arabs as the entire withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territory. 


The Fourth Geneva Convention

The legality of Israel’s occupation has been disputed for decades, with critics saying that it violates provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, often citing Article 49: “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive. Nevertheless, the Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand. Such evacuations may not involve the displacement of protected persons outside the bounds of the occupied territory except when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement. Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased. The Occupying Power undertaking such transfers or evacuations shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to receive the protected persons, that the removals are effected in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and that members of the same family are not separated. The Protecting Power shall be informed of any transfers and evacuations as soon as they have taken place. The Occupying Power shall not detain protected persons in an area particularly exposed to the dangers of war unless the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand. The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”[2]

  1. United Nations Resolution 242 (1967)
  2. Geneva Convention on Civilians (IV): "Article 49 - Deportations, transfers, evacuations"