Note: This is the third in our daily re-created coverage of the Six-Day War, which will run through Saturday, June 10. Prior posts: 50th Anniversary of Six-Day War: The Eve of WarSix-Day War Day 1 — War Begins; Six-Day War Day 2 — At the Gates of Jerusalem’s Old City; Six-Day War Day 3—“The Temple Mount is in Our Hands”.

On this fourth day of the war pitting Israel against a coalition of Arab armies, the Jewish state has managed to avert near certain annihilation.

Israel’s defense forces are now fully in control of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)—important territory from both a historical and strategical standpoint.

Along with the eastern front, the IDF has also neutralized the threat from Egypt in the South. Israel’s advance to the Suez Canal has tonight finally convinced President Gamal Abdel Nasser to accept a cease-fire.

It’s an unprecedented outcome, but this war isn’t over yet.

Syria is still relentlessly bombing from the north. There’s been no decision to retake the Golan, but it’s clear that Israel will soon need to stop these attacks to relieve the beleaguered communities in range of Syrian artillery.

Sinai Fighting: 10,000 Egyptians Dead

After a quick advance during the night, IDF soldiers have reached the Suez Canal. All approaches to the West were blocked and Egypt’s armed forces attempting to reach the canal were ambushed and attacked in the Gidi and Mitleh passes.

On the way to the canal, IDF armored forces defeated the Egyptian Armored forces in a battle that we’re now learning resulted in thousands of Armored Corps casualties on the Egyptian side. Many thousands more Egyptian soldiers are now stranded in the desert—with no access to supplies.

At 9:30pm Egypt announced its agreement to a cease-fire.

IDF Major-General of the Southern Command, Shayke Gavish provided details from the battlefield:

The IDF destroyed 600 tanks. 100 functioning Egyptian tanks were captured. Approximately 10,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed, and 3000 captured. IDF losses in the Sinai: 275 dead, 800 soldiers injured, and 61 tanks hit.”

Raphael “Raful” Eitan, commander of the Paratrooper Brigade was badly wounded by a bullet to the head when he was leading his forces toward the canal. He was swiftly evacuated to a hospital where doctors say he will recover. Col. Aharon Davidi replaced him at the front and led the troops in the final battle on the southern front.

Israel Captures Hebron

As we reported over the last three days, Israeli forces counterattacked Jordan in response to its shelling of west Jerusalem and King Hussein’s misguided decision to join Nasser’s collapsing bandwagon (Lebanon’s Prime Minister made the much wiser decision last night not to join in the fight).

So today Israel consolidated control of the territory it captured (for centuries the place has been known as Judea and Samaria to everyone but the Jordanians, who keep insisting on calling it the West Bank)

The place is of vital necessity for Israel’s security.

For the past 19 years, Israel at her narrowest point was just 9 miles wide—leaving the Jewish state’s coastal cities vulnerable to Jordanian artillery. Now, with an extra 44 miles added to its width, these towns and cities can be much more easily defended in the future.

[Credit: Jerusalem U | You Tube]

But this isn’t just about military calculations.

The amazing return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland and ancestral home is also deeply meaningful to Israelis and to Jews across the planet. Jews had a continuous presence in this place for 3,000 years—so it’s great to have it back.

This is especially true when it comes to the ancient Jewish city of Hebron, which the IDF took today.

We’re hearing rumors that the government may offer to return the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for peace and may even be willing to return much of the now liberated Judea and Samaria to Jordan in what some in the cabinet are terming a “land for peace” deal. But we highly doubt that these offers will come to anything. They’ll be rejected by the Arab states and their League out of hand—just as all peace offers have been in the past.

We predict that Israel’s defeated Arab neighbors won’t be ready any time soon to talk peace. Instead, they’ll say: no to peace, no to recognition, and no to negotiations.

So until the Arabs are ready for peace, Israel should ensure that its people are well-protected. Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria should be built for defensive purposes to reduce the possibility of a future Arab invasion.

Communities where Jews have been slaughtered and expelled—like Hebron—must also be reconstituted.

Until 1929, Hebron had one of if not the oldest continuous Jewish communities in the world, dating back several hundred years at least. On August 23, 1929, the Arabs attacked the Jews of Hebron along with numerous other Jewish communities.

But in Hebron it was particularly vicious.

It was a blood frenzy in which the Jews were set upon with particular glee and slaughtered with knives, machetes and anything else available.

So, Hebron holds special meaning religiously, and historically. Israel’s government now has the opportunity to make sure that it’s a place where Jews can once again live and raise their families, and worship freely as they did for generations.

At the same time, Israel can work to improve the abysmal living conditions of the Arabs who live in Hebron, and the some 600,000 who live in other parts of the captured territories.

Today, we heard that teams of IDF troops working to establish control in east Jerusalem are discovering horribly sub-standard housing and sanitation in the Muslim quarter and other Arab neighborhoods:

[Muslim Quarter of Old City, Jerusalem | June 8, 1967 | IDF archives]

It’s becoming tragically clear that the Jordanians didn’t only spend the last 19 years destroying Jewish heritage in the area under their control—they also left east Jerusalem an impoverished backwater and the Arabs in their “West Bank” bereft of all the modicums of modern life.

So while the future of Gaza and Judea and Samaria remains disputed, for now Israel’s control of these territories will vastly improve the economy, education, health and human services.

Among the first orders of business: establishing new educational opportunities. It’s truly shameful that for nearly 20 years Jordan’s education ministry refused to support higher education for the people living there, and that not even a single college or university exists.

[Birzeit University | established 1975]

The Attack on the USS Liberty: a Tragic Accident

This afternoon, in a tragic accident, four Israeli Mirage and Mystere fighter planes and several torpedo boats mistakenly targeted a U.S. surveillance ship sailing offshore believing it to be an Egyptian enemy destroyer.

The USS Liberty was struck by torpedoes, canon shells and rockets, with the vessel suffering extreme damage. Some 800 holes are now in its hull.

[USS Liberty | June 8, 1967 | Credit: You Tube]

We’ve received word that 34 sailors have been killed and 171 wounded.  

Apologies came in immediately from Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (“Please accept my profound condolences and convey my sympathy to all the bereaved families”) and Foreign Minister Abba Eban (“I am deeply mortified and grieved by the tragic accident involving the lives and safety of Americans”).

The Israeli chargé d’affaires in Washington, Efraim Evron, a personal friend of President Johnson’s noted:

I grieve with you over the lives that were lost, and share in the sorrow of the parents, wives and children of the men who died in this cruel twist of fate”.

We have also heard that the Israel is admirably offering to fully compensate the victims and their families.

Apparently both Johnson and Israel’s leaders are relieved that it wasn’t a Soviet ship. Johnson expressed “strong dismay” but also thanked Israel for a speedy notification and for offering immediate assistance to the crew after realizing that it had made a horrible mistake.

So, here’s what we know about this tragic accident:

The incident began with the ill-conceived decision to send the Liberty to the crisis-torn Middle East, a mere half-mile beyond Egyptian waters, in an area not used by commercial shipping and which Egypt’s President Nasser had declared off-limits to neutral vessels.

The Americans also didn’t agree to Chief of Staff Rabin’s request for the identification of all U.S. ships in the area, or to the request for a strategic liaison between Israel and the Sixth Fleet.

The Liberty’s dispatchers failed to inform the U.S. attaché in Tel Aviv of its presence near the war zone. These mistakes were compounded by the U.S. Navy’s communications system—even after it was hit, the Americans had difficulty locating the ship. If the U.S. didn’t know exactly where the Liberty was, it seems unreasonable to expect that the Israelis, in the thick of battle, should have been able to locate it.

But the Israelis, too, committed their own share of fateful errors, chief among them the erroneous reports of a bombardment from sea at El-Arish.

Future investigations will likely reveal poor organization and sloppy execution, and breakdowns in communications between the Israeli navy and air force stemming from inadequate command structure and the immense pressures of a multi-front war.

Of course, to these factors must be added Israel’s current sensitivity about its coastal defenses, and exhaustion after four days of uninterrupted combat. In our view, none of this amounts to any kind of gross negligence though.

It seems clear in our mind that all these elements combined to create a tragic “friendly fire” incident. Once the information about this week’s Middle East conflict is declassified and investigations into the attack by both the Israeli and U.S. governments are concluded, they will likely confirm that the attack was the result of an “interlocking of errors” that led to a case of mistaken identity.

We find it hard to believe that Israel knowingly attacked this ship with malice.

[USS Liberty | Credit: Wikipedia]

The IDF would’ve had nothing to gain by deliberately opening fire on a vessel of a superpower ally. And if Israel had really wanted to attack the Liberty it would’ve done so at night—not in broad daylight—and it wouldn’t have halted its fire, or offered its crew any assistance.

Rumors that we’re hearing about Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin wanting the ship “out of the way” so that the IDF could keep its plan to attack the Golan Heights concealed are also just plan loopy.

Israel isn’t hiding its preparations for a large-scale offensive on Syria (likely, we think, to begin tomorrow). U.S. officials in Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. are being kept fully informed about it.

Our sense is that the IDF General Staff is holding back on the northern front because it fears Soviet intervention—not American opposition.

In sum, Israel didn’t maliciously attack the Liberty. When the archives are opened and the documents declassified, we’re sure they’ll show that Israel didn’t even know about the presence of Liberty, wasn’t troubled by it, and certainly didn’t see it as worthy of attack.

Nonetheless, in the future we suspect that the attack on the Liberty will be a favorite topic of Israel’s harshest critics who will undoubtedly repeatedly point to it as further evidence of the Jewish state’s chronic malevolence.

Conclusion

Just weeks ago, the leaders of Israel’s neighboring states and Ahmed Shukairy, the chairman of the recently created Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), were clamoring to eliminate Israel and the Jews from the Middle East.

“D-Day is approaching,” proclaimed Shukairy in fiery sermons on May 27th and June 1st:

The Arabs have waited 19 years for this and will not flinch…We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants…As for the survivors—if there are any—the boats are ready to deport them.”

In a broadcast several weeks before this war broke out, Syria’s government proclaimed: “The Arab people’s decision is unfaltering: to wipe Israel off the face of the map.”

Iraq’s President Abdel Rahman Aref reiterated the sentiment, saying he welcomed war as an “opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948.” And on Egyptian radio stations, officials vowed that “The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”

Israel’s victory no doubt comes as a huge surprise to these war-mongers, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to disseminate today their vile propaganda:

[Credit: Elder of Ziyon]

Bottom line: For the foreseeable future, Israel’s neighbors will likely continue to speak of the Jewish state’s existence as a “humiliation to be expunged.” So until Arab leaders are ready for peace, Israel should protect her fundamental security needs in this week’s captured territories; enable those Jews who were expelled before and during the 1948 war to reestablish their historic communities; and do what it can to normalize life for the Palestinian people.

h/t: Jewish Virtual Library; The Jerusalem Post; Honest Reporting; Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman