In his new history of the 1967 conflict, Guy Laron claims to upend previous scholarship by arguing that the conflict was precipitated by war-mongering generals in Egypt, Syria, and Israel; in the last case, these militarists were in cahoots with “settlers” with whom they shared an obsession with territorial expansion. Meanwhile, the pressure of economic problems in Egypt and Israel left President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol without the political clout to rein in their respective generals. Reviewing the book, Uri Bar-Joseph finds it disorganized, crammed with “too much information about too many irrelevant issues,” and “filled with factual errors,” some of which “show an alarming lack of expertise.” But the book’s real problem lies elsewhere:
Laron’s principal contribution is to advance a narrative so poorly substantiated as to border on conspiracy theory. . . . [It] is based on a biased selection of previously published sources, mostly in Hebrew and thus beyond the independent assessment of most American and European scholars. Anyone familiar with the documentary evidence will instantly recognize his account as groundless. . . .
After Israel was compelled to withdraw from the Sinai in 1957, there was a consensus within the military that acquiring territory was no longer a viable option. . . . [T]he IDF’s goal was simply to compel Syria to stop providing a base for Palestinian terrorists. . . .
But if Israel had no plans to occupy and annex the Golan Heights, why did the IDF prepare only offensive plans for a possible war against Syria? . . . [T]he answer has far less to do with territorial expansion than with Israel’s military doctrine. Due to the country’s small size and severe lack of strategic depth before the 1967 war, this doctrine called for preemptive strikes and, whenever possible, immediately taking the fight into enemy territory. . . .
[Meanwhile], Egyptian accounts reveal that Nasser’s generals also believed that they were not ready for war and objected to [his decision] to close the Straits of Tiran.
In short, what led to war was not the aims of Israeli and Egyptian generals but the Egyptian president’s decision to close the straits and remilitarize the Sinai.