An Analysis of the Six-Day War from One of Israel’s Great Minds—and Its Relevance, 65 Years On

On Friday, the eminent Israeli political philosopher, diplomat, and public intellectual Shlomo Avineri died at the age ninety. An expert on the thought of G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx, Avineri wrote several books on the history of both Zionism and socialism, as well as numerous articles on contemporary Israeli affairs. The essay quoted below was published in March 1968, and examines the lessons and aftermath of the Six-Day War. It begins with an assessment of Israeli (and Western) misreadings of Arab intentions that today sounds eerily familiar.

In 1956, the IDF scored a military victory over Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt in the Sinai, after which the U.S. forced it to give up its gains. For the next ten years, there was relative peace, until Nasser, and his Syrian allies, surprised everyone by making aggressive and threatening moves, leading to Israel’s spectacular preemptive strike in 1967:

Prior to the rapid political deterioration, and the equally rapid military escalation, of late May and early June 1967, most Israeli observers were convinced that although the basic tensions of the Israeli-Arab conflict were far from having been resolved, a more or less dependable, long-term stalemate had emerged in the Middle East. Ever since the Sinai campaign of 1956, according to these observers, an undeclared, pragmatic normalization had set in, as a result not of negotiations and treaties but of mutual recognition based on a balance of terror similar to the one prevailing between the United States and the Soviet Union.

[Although] Radio Cairo exhorted the Arabs to unite and reform in order to push the Jews into the sea, relaxed Nasserologists in Jerusalem were patiently pointing out that such rhetoric should not be interpreted as a call to a Holy War against Israel; rather, it represented a shrewdly calculated act of statesmanship on the part of Nasser, who, it was argued, was shifting his position toward a greater concentration on internal issues and was not about to plunge into precipitate foreign adventures. Most Israelis, then, felt that even though the day was still distant on which swords could be beaten into ploughshares, the Arab world nevertheless was slowly, painfully beginning to recognize Israel as a fact of life.

All this sounds awfully like the Israeli government’s pre-October 7 determination that Hamas had been deterred. To this, Avineri added another observation, about the “independent force of rhetoric in the Arab world.” This force does much to explain the behavior then and now of Jordan, a country at peace with the Jewish state—indeed dependent on the IDF for its security—and strategically opposed to Hamas, that has done nothing but condemn Israel since the Hamas invasion:

Nasser, it is true, played a very cautious political game in his relations with Israel in the period from 1956 to 1967, but his caution was unaccompanied by any diminution in the violence of his anti-Israel rhetoric; and it seems that when the chips were down, the Arab world was found lacking in the internal societal mechanisms necessary to prevent the takeover of politics by rhetorical outbursts.

As tempers began to rise, one feat of rhetoric followed another; pro-Western Jordan [also] became as belligerent in egging Nasser on as “leftist” Syria.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Gamal Abdel Nasser, Israeli history, Jordan, Six-Day War

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security