According to many if not most history books, the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors was the product of circumstances and miscalculations, and thus entirely preventable. The two sides, in this view, stumbled into conflict—neither one acting out of a strategic plan that involved war with the other. But, writes Efraim Karsh, the evidence suggests that Gamal Abdel Nasser, then president of Egypt, took a series of deliberate steps—sending two divisions into the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula, expelling UN peacekeepers from the area, and then closing the Straits of Tiran—fully aware that his actions were likely to provoke a war and likewise aware that reports of an Israeli troop build-up on the Syrian border were false. Karsh explains:
[T]he Arab-Israeli conflict’s general cause—rejection of Israel’s very existence—combined with the particular causes to make war inevitable. . . . [Afterward], Nasser would doggedly shrug off responsibility for the defeat by feigning victimhood and emphatically denying any intention to attack Israel. This claim was quickly endorsed by numerous Western apologists eager to absolve him of any culpability for the war, in what was to become the standard Arab and Western historiography of the conflict. Some went so far in the effort to exculpate Nasser as to portray him as a mindless creature thriving on hollow rhetoric and malleable in the extreme. . . .
Aside from doing a great injustice to Nasser—the charismatic dictator who had ruled Egypt with a heavy hand for over a decade and mesmerized tens of millions throughout the Arabic-speaking world—this description has little basis in reality. As evidenced both by Nasser’s escalatory behavior during the crisis and by captured military documents revealing elaborate plans for an invasion of Israel, the Egyptian president did not stumble into war but orchestrated it with open eyes. He steadily raised his sights in accordance with the vicissitudes of the crisis until he set them on the ultimate pan-Arab objective: the decisive defeat of Israel and, if possible, its destruction.
The June 1967 war was a direct corollary of pan-Arabism’s delusions of grandeur, triggered by the foremost champion of this ideology and directed against its foremost nemesis.