On June 5th, at 7:10 A.M., Israeli fighter jets launched an early-morning air assault on Egypt’s airfields, effectively destroying Nasser’s Air Force on the ground and, in just a few hours, deciding the course of the war. On the sixth and the seventh, Israel, exploiting its dominance of the skies, shattered Egypt’s ground forces. The six days of fighting between Israel and the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria is the most straightforward aspect of the drama. In just a hundred and thirty-two hours, Israel captured the Sinai and Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the holy sites and the Old City, from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria––twenty-six thousand square miles of additional territory. At first, Radio Cairo assured listeners that the Egyptians were winning great battles against the Israelis. Nasser’s deputy and eventual successor, Anwar Sadat, who knew the truth, took a nighttime walk in his Cairo neighborhood, “dazed and brokenhearted,” as he wrote in his memoirs, and saw people dancing in the streets to celebrate their “victory.” Nasser’s dream of a pan-Arab nation, of eliminating Israel, was finished. “If I had known the Army wasn’t ready,” Nasser said, “I wouldn’t have gone to war. I’m a chess player.” (Nasser and Eshkol both died within the next few years.) Egypt lost more than fifteen thousand men in the war, Israel about eight hundred. Rabin wrote in his memoirs that the Israelis easily could have taken Cairo, Amman, and Damascus.
So profound was the Israeli national delirium in the days and weeks after the war that it was impossible for most Israelis to think straight about the long-term consequences of retaining conquered territory. After being told that the state was in mortal danger, Israel was now in possession of Biblical Israel—the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, all of Jerusalem, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, and many other such sites scattered throughout the West Bank. Once the Old City was secured, on the third day of the war, Dayan, the most theatrical of all Israeli commanders, flew by helicopter to Jerusalem and staged his arrival in the manner of General Allenby, the British general who took Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917. “We have returned to the most holy of our places,” Dayan declared. “We have returned, never to part from them again.” ( more from New Yorker )
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