Thursday, June 7, 2007

The real lesson of the Six-Day War: some different "what-ifs"

By Shmuel Rosner - Slate Magazine:

Near the end of a May 23 [1967 Senate] session, two weeks before the war began, Sen. Wayne Morse, D-Ore., declared: "We have to make the other free nations understand the relation of freedom in this matter, because if they do get into a war, then you have got totalitarianism seeking to drive this country into oblivion." He was referring to the reluctance of the international community to intervene in a way that would make it clear to Egypt that blocking the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping was an unacceptable act of aggression. ...

Egypt defied international law and previous agreements when it closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. President Johnson toyed with the idea of sending an international naval convoy to break the Egyptian blockade, but there were no enthusiastic takers for this idea. The United Nations, terrified of Nasser, quickly pulled out the forces separating Egypt and Israel, much to the annoyance of Rusk and Johnson. The lesson Nasser learned from this was quite understandable. 'As of today,' he declared, 'there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the U.N. about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.'

So, in the game of what-ifs that everyone seems to want to play on the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, this is the possibility that is really worthy of more consideration: What would have happened if the world had acted more decisively to prevent Nasser from violating his commitments? What would he have done if the United Nations had made it clear that such acts and statements would be met with a show of resilience and even force? In short: What would have happened if the world had been more attentive to Sen. Morse's wisdom and advice? Could the miseries of both the war and the occupation have been avoided?

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