Chapter 10: LBJ’s "Passionate Attachment" to Israel
Table of Contents
As some readers may know, the term "passionate attachment" was used by George Washington in his farewell address in 1796. Washington advised citizens of the new republic to renounce any "passionate attachment"(Footnote 23) with another nation, and also to repudiate "inveterate hatred" toward another country. In the Twentieth Century, the United States failed to heed Washington’s warnings on both counts. Shortly after World War II, we developed an "inveterate hatred" of the Soviet Union and formed a "passionate attachment" to Israel, although the latter accelerated dramatically under the Johnson Administration.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the last American president in the Twentieth Century to successfully stand up to the pressures and unyielding annoyances of the Israeli government and its American supporters. Although President Kennedy shared his predecessor’s views intellectually, he entered the White House after an extremely close election. Consequently, he had to assume a more cautious approach.
The Eisenhower administration’s Middle East policy is important for two reasons. First of all, it demonstrated that a strong American president can stand up to Israel. Secondly, it reveals that Lyndon Johnson—then Senate Majority Leader—was Eisenhower’s most influential political adversary regarding Israel.
Two major incidents occurred on Eisenhower’s watch where Israel acted as an aggressor toward its neighbors and toward Palestinians living in the region. The first incident occurred in 1953 and involved Israel’s effort to secretly divert waters of the Jordan. The second incident occurred in 1957 when Israel conspired with France and Britain to attack Egypt and overthrow that country’s leader, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, after he nationalized the Suez Canal in defiance of Israel and the Western powers. In the latter incident, Lyndon Johnson used all of his political muscle as Senate Majority Leader to prevent the UN from imposing sanctions on Israel—the sanctions were fully supported by the Eisenhower administration—for its flagrant disregard for international law. In both instances, Eisenhower forced Israel to behave by temporarily cutting off American aid.
1953: The Jordan River Diversion
Israel secretly planned to use the Palestinian village of Banat Ya’qub for a major water diversion project that would move waters of the Jordan Valley to central Israel and the North Negev. The UN, the US, and the Palestinians who lived in that area were unaware of Israel’s plans. Earlier, the Eisenhower administration had offered to implement an American-sponsored regional water-usage plan, and Israel had promised to cooperate in that effort. But in reality, Israel secretly wanted complete control of the flow of water in the region, despite its commitments to the Americans. Consequently, a dispute ensued over the control of Palestinian territory near Banat Ya’qub.
Unaware of Israel’s hidden agenda, UN Representative, Dr. Ralph Bunche, worked out a truce agreement where disputed lands would be evacuated by Syrian forces. The agreement stipulated that Israel must allow Arab inhabitants to continue farming there. Israel also agreed that it would not occupy the disputed area, but would allow it to be a neutral zone.
Immediately after the Syrian troops withdrew, the Israelis broke their promise and drove the Palestinian farmers from the land. The Syrian troops responded by opening fire to drive out the settlers. Israel responded by complaining that the Syrians had violated the truce and asserted a right to occupy the areas. UN Truce Observers immediately cited Israel as the instigator and essentially stated that the Syrian troops were justified in retaliating against Israel for violating the truce agreement.
The Israelis took the strategy that if they completed the water diversion project at Banat Ya’qub, then the UN would back down because the work simply could not be undone. So the Israelis began working aggressively on the project. They worked non-stop, twenty-four hours a day using searchlights at night to hasten completion. But secrecy was still key. They omitted appropriations for the project from their published budget. In addition, they did not mention it to Americans working with them on other water projects; however, US intelligence soon detected their activity.
President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles realized that Israel had openly deceived them and had no intention of keeping its earlier promise to cooperate in the American-sponsored regional water-usage plan. To show its displeasure, the Eisenhower administration withheld $26 million under the Mutual Security Act and suspended economic aid until Israel agreed to cooperate with UN observers. In addition, President Eisenhower directed the Treasury to prepare an Executive Order removing tax-deductible status from contributions by Jewish Americans to such Zionist organizations as the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). Eisenhower did not make these actions public because he did not want to humiliate the Israelis; however, the Israelis interpreted his magnanimous gesture as a sign of weakness. As a result, they continued work on the project—convinced that the Americans would back down.
Israel’s strategy might have worked had Israel not launched a bloody raid on the village of Kibya on the night of October 14, 1953. In that attack, twenty-five-year-old Ariel Sharon and his three hundred Israeli commandos, known as Force 101, massacred fifty-three Palestinian civilians. According to a UN report, Sharon’s forces drove the villagers into their homes then blew them up.
The Eisenhower administration condemned the raid and, for the first time, publicly revealed that it had already suspended construction funds for Israel’s water supply. Their was a huge backlash against Eisenhower. The US government was denounced by Hadassah, a Jewish charitable organization. An attaché at the Israeli Embassy attempted to divert attention from the water controversy by claiming—in a widely publicized speech—that the Kibya raid was in response to Jordanian aggression. Pro-Israeli congressmen and David Ben-Gurion accused Eisenhower and his advisers of anti-Semitism.
But Eisenhower stood firm and continued to withhold funds from Israel. Fearing a financial burden, Israeli representatives informed President Eisenhower—on October 19—that work had ceased on the water diversion project and that Israel would cooperate with the Security Counsil’s efforts to solve the Jordan River Development problem. Within twenty-four hours, America restored aid to Israel.
Eisenhower demonstrated that Israel responded faster to cutting off the money flow than anything else; however, the Israelis interpreted America’s quick restoration of aid as proof that they could manipulate the superpower by applying adequate pressure. Ultimately, Israel completed the project in a slightly altered manner.1
Nov. 1956: The Suez Crisis
The stage was set for the Suez Crisis in 1955 when the Eisenhower administration began pressuring Israel to demonstrate its commitment to peace in the Middle East.
On February 28, 1955, President Gamal Adbel Nasser made a speech full of warnings against Israeli atrocities. He emphasized a bloody raid on the Gaza Strip by the Israelis, allegedly a retaliation for raids made from Gaza. Nasser was also upset with the United States for denying his request for arms a few months earlier. In his speech he repeated the request for Egypt to buy arms but was ignored.
On September 4, 1955, Egypt announced that it had received a proposal from the Soviet Union for an arms sale. The Eisenhower administration treated this as an idle threat which angered Nasser. As a result, he brokered a cotton-for-arms barter agreement with Czechoslovakia on September 27 in which Egypt received $200 million worth of arms—tanks, MiG planes, artillery, submarines, and small arms.
Israel immediately renewed its joint arms agreement with the United States, France, and Britain. In addition, Israel requested a treaty guaranteeing its security, but it was denied by the Western powers because they knew that Israel’s military strength was vastly superior to the neighboring Arab nations.
On August 26, 1955, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made a speech before the Council of Foreign Relations in New York in which he outlined terms for peace in the Middle East. He stated that the problem of Palestinian refugees could be solved, but Israel should not be expected to assume the full cost. He proposed that Congress approve an international loan to finance the resettlement or repatriating of Palestinian refugees. The loan would also help develop irrigation projects to assist refugees in cultivating their land for growing crops.
The Israelis were somewhat agitated by Dulles’s speech because he mentioned a possible boundary revision. Dulles promptly responded to clarify the American position. He stated in no uncertain terms that if Sharett and Ben-Gurion (Israeli leaders) wanted American diplomatic, political, and military aid, they would have to demonstrate their peaceful intentions by helping resolve the sensitive problems of Palestinian refugees and boundary disputes. On November 9, President Eisenhower—who was in a Denver hospital convalescing from a heart attack—confirmed Dulles’s position in a formal statement made from his hospital bed.2
At that point, it became clear that the United States could no longer be counted on to support Israel’s continuing efforts to expand its borders. Consequently, Israel turned to the European powers for support. Over the next year, trouble began to arise over the Suez Canal.
The Suez Canal is a sea-level waterway running north-south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt to connect the Mediterranean and the Red seas. The canal separates the African continent from Asia, and it provides the shortest seagoing route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans. It is one of the world's most heavily used shipping lanes.3
On July 26, 1956, Egyptian President Nasser angered Israel and the European powers when he nationalized the Suez Canal. He took this bold action because he felt that friends of Israel in America had cheated him out of US aide for the Aswan Dam that Egypt needed for irrigation and power. The dam cost $1.3 billion and Nasser had been given the impression by the Eisenhower administration that US aide would be forthcoming; however, friends of Israel in America pressured the Senate Appropriations Committee into blocking funding for the dam. On July 16, 1956, funding was officially denied—much to the chagrin of President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. To make matters worse, the State Department issued a statement, on July 19, critically appraising Egypt’s international credit. Nasser felt that this was a ruse created by friends of Israel in America, and he responded by seizing control of the canal and nationalizing the Suez Canal Company in order to obtain funds for the dam.4
On October 29, 1956, Israel attacked Egypt and advanced toward the Suez Canal. On November 1, British and French forces also invaded Egypt and began occupation of the canal zone, but growing opposition from President Eisenhower, Secretary of State Dulles, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, and Soviet threats of intervention put an immediate stop to British and French support, but Israeli troops still occupied the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gaza Strip in defiance of a UN resolution.5 Eisenhower was so angered by European involvement in the attack that he telephoned British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and gave him such a tongue-lashing that the Prime Minister was reduced to tears.6 (Footnote 24)
Eisenhower told Dulles: "Foster, you tell’em, goddamn it, we’re going to apply sanctions, we’re going to the United Nations, we’re going to do everything that there is to stop this thing." He later explained, "We just told the Israelis it was absolutely indefensible and that if they expect our support in the Middle East and in maintaining their position, they had better behave… We went to town right away to give them hell."
UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld shared Eisenhower’s view that Israel needed to learn to behave. Consequently, Hammarskjöld and Ben-Gurion engaged in some heated exchanges after the UN Secretary General publicly condemned Israel for its retaliatory actions against Palestinians. In 1956 Ben-Gurion complained that Hammarskjöld’s remarks had encouraged assaults on Israel by Egypt and Jordan. Hammarskjöld replied as follows:
You are convinced that the threat of retaliation has a deterrent effect. I am convinced that it is more of an incitement to individual members of the Arab forces than even what has been said by their own governments. You are convinced that acts of retaliation will stop further incidents. I am convinced that they will lead to further incidents….You believe that this way of creating respect for Israel will pave the way for sound coexistence with the Arab people. I believe that the policy may postpone indefinitely the time for such coexistence…. I think the discussion of this question can be considered closed since you, in spite of previous discouraging experiences, have taken the responsibility of large-scale tests of the correctness of your belief.7
On February 2, 1957, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gaza Strip, but Ben-Gurion refused. Fed up with Israel’s treachery, Eisenhower wrote a strong letter to Ben-Gurion demanding Israel’s withdrawal. Still Ben-Gurion refused.8
Feb. 1957: LBJ Rescued Israel From UN Sanctions
It had been rumored that UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden was quietly pushing for sanctions—with the full support of the Eisenhower administration—against Israel if it continued to maintain troops in the Gulf of Aqaba and Gaza in defiance of US and UN demands for immediate withdrawal. In response, Lyndon Johnson—then Senate Majority Leader—wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles urging the Eisenhower Administration not to support UN sanctions against Israel. Johnson’s letter to Dulles appeared in the New York Times on February 20, 1957. The Senate Majority Leader’s argument was that it was an unfair double-standard to punish a small country like Israel when large countries like the Soviet Union were allowed to openly defy UN resolutions without being punished.9
In addition, Johnson rallied Senate Democrats to oppose Israel sanctions.(Footnote 25) He used partisan politics to pressure Eisenhower into retreating from principle, but Eisenhower stood his ground and kept applying pressure to Israel by cutting off or delaying financial assistance. When Israel began to run out of money, in March 1957, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion finally agreed to withdraw troops from the occupied territories. President Eisenhower triumphed, but Johnson had protected Israel from the humiliation of UN sanctions. Sadly, Eisenhower was the last US president to stand up to the Israeli government and it’s American supporters. At least he proved it could be done.10
Ironically, one of the best accounts of Lyndon Johnson’s involvement in the Suez Crisis was written by Louis Bloomfield in his 1957 book entitled Egypt, Israel and the Gulf of Aqaba. In the ensuing years, Johnson’s involvement in that conflict has been erased from history. Although his pro-Israel stance appeared on the front page of the New York Times on February 20, 1957, his name is not mentioned in Western history books about the Suez Crisis (none that I have found anyway, except Bloomfield’s). The power elite within the book publishing industry have apparently been concealing Johnson’s loyalty to Israel as a means of preventing inquiries by historians, researchers, and investigators about a possible Jewish conspiracy behind the assassination of President Kennedy years later.
This is how Bloomfield described Johnson’s pro-Israel stance during the Suez/Gulf of Aqaba Crisis:
|On February 11th, 1957, Mr. John Foster
Dulles, United States Secretary of State, submitted certain Proposals to the
Israeli Government which were, in effect, that:
"Israel should withdraw her troops from the Gulf of Aqaba region and the Gaza Strip, in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations General Assembly.
The United States should use all its influence to establish the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba as an international waterway for the innocent passage of all nations, including Israel.
Meanwhile the United States should do everything it could to see that United Nations troops replaced the Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip and that that area should become a kind of de facto United Nations trusteeship where United Nations officials would watch and if possible stop any fighting between Israel and Egypt."
Subsequent discussion between the United States Secretary of State and Mr. Abba Eban did not bring about the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from these two areas and rumours began to circulate in the American press that the Afro-Asian bloc would introduce resolutions calling for economic and military sanctions to force Israel to comply with the withdrawal resolutions.
On February 19th, 1957, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader, wrote to Mr. John Foster Dulles urging that the United States oppose imposing of economic sanctions against Israel by the United Nations. The letter was endorsed by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
(Louis Bloomfield, Egypt, Israel, and the Gulf of Aqaba, p. 152)
Jul. 2, 1957: Senator Kennedy Made a Controversial Speech About Algeria
On July 2, 1957, John F. Kennedy—then a US Senator—made a speech, "Facing Facts on Algeria," which denounced France’s colonial occupation of Algeria and the brutality of the French-Algerian War. The speech also demonstrated an understanding of Indochina that would likely have prevented him from escalating US military involvement in Vietnam had he not been killed.
Historian Richard Mahoney summarized the speech and events that preceded and followed it:
Early in 1957, Kennedy decided to make a major critique of the [Eisenhower] administration’s position on France’s colonial war in Algeria. By 1957, the French had committed over 500,000 troops to the effort to suppress the nationalist rebellion. Torture, atrocity, and terror on both sides had turned the pride of France’s empire into a chamber of horrors. …the Eisenhower administration had been maintaining a policy of strict silence in Algeria – at least until Kennedy’s attack, which The New York Times called "the most comprehensive and outspoken arraignment of Western policy toward Algeria yet presented by an American in public office."
On July 2, 1957, Kennedy accused the Eisenhower administration of courting disaster in Algeria. He charged that Eisenhower’s policy of non-involvement in Africa and Asia was really made up of "tepid encouragement and moralizations to both sides, cautious neutrality on all the real issues, and a restatement of our obvious dependence upon our European friends, and our obvious dedication nevertheless to the principles of self-determination, and our obvious desire not to become involved." The result, Kennedy said, was that, "We have deceived ourselves into believing that we have thus pleased both sides and displeased no one … when, in truth, we have earned the suspicion of all."
The previous decade had proven that the tide of nationalism in the Third World – from Indochina to India to Indonesia – was "irresistible," Kennedy declared. It was time for France to face the fact that Algeria had to be freed. When would the West learn, he asked, that colonies "are like fruit that cling to the tree only till they ripen?" Didn’t the French debacle in Indochina, which ended at Dien Bien Phu, serve as a warning of what lay ahead for France in Algeria if something were not done?
[Referring to lessons that should have been learned from France’s Indochina debacle, Kennedy stated,]
"Did that tragic episode not teach us whether France likes it or not, admits it or not, or has our support or not, that their overseas territories are sooner or later, one by one, going to break free and look with suspicion on the Western nations who impeded their steps to independence? … Nationalism in Africa cannot be evaluated purely in terms of the historical and legal niceties argued by the French and thus far accepted by the State Department. National self-identification frequently takes place by quick combustion which the rain of repression simply cannot extinguish."
In the United States, a storm of protest greeted Kennedy’s address on "Facing Facts on Algeria." President Eisenhower complained about "young men getting up and shouting about things." Secretary [of State John Foster] Dulles commented acidly that if the senator wanted to tilt against colonialism, perhaps he might concentrate on the communist variety. Most prominent Democrats were equally scornful. Adlai Stevenson dismissed Kennedy’s speech as "terrible." Dean Acheson described the speech as "foolish words that wound … a dispirited ally."
In France, the speech provoked an even more furious outcry. Paris’s largest daily, "Le Figaro," remarked: "It is shameful that our business is so badly directed that we are forced to endure such idiocies." U.S. News and World Report noted that "An American has unified France – against himself!" Responding to Kennedy’s speech, French President Rene Coty told the French Senate that France would "never negotiate with cutthroats since independence would give the 1,200,000 Europeans living in Algeria one alternative – leaving their homeland or living at the mercy of fanaticism." French Defense Minister Andre Morice publicly wondered whether Kennedy was "having nightmares." Talk of independence, Morice said, "will cost many more innocent lives," Harvard historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. reported to Kennedy from Paris that summer that "Algeria is beginning to poison France."
In Algeria itself, feeling among the European colonists against the speech ran so high that French authorities warned American newsmen and residents to stay off the streets to avoid reprisals. Two days after the speech a bomb exploded outside the American consulate in Algiers. The French Resident Minister in Algiers, Robert Lacoste, called the bomb "a Communist joke" and challenged Kennedy to come to Algeria. The senator declined.
…Practically no one in the American foreign-policy establishment regarded the Algeria speech as anything more than a partisan political blast designed to attract attention. But foreign correspondents such as Alistair Cooke of the Manchester Guardian and Henri Pierre of Le Monde recognized what their American counterparts had not – that Kennedy knew what he was talking about on Third World issues. In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, Pierre wrote: "Strangely enough, as a Frenchman I feel that on the whole Mr. Kennedy is more to be commended than blamed for his forthright, frank and provocative speech."
Although Le Monde opposed Kennedy’s call for Algerian independence, it identified the senator as one of the few serious students of history in American politics: "The most striking point of the speech of Mr. Kennedy is the important documentation it revealed and his thorough knowledge of the French milieu."
(Richard Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa, pp. 19-22)
Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Algeria
In his 1957 speech about Algeria, "Senator" Kennedy was highly critical of the Eisenhower administration; however, the political dynamic involved must be considered. Kennedy’s views about Israel and the Middle East in general were closer to Eisenhower’s than Johnson’s. Having stated that, it is significant to understand that Kennedy’s public endorsement of an independent Algeria was a subtle criticism of Israel. It is widely known that Israel opposed Algeria’s independence because it (Israel) wanted to oppress or dominate all Muslim/Arab states. Although Eisenhower had not publicly supported Algerian independence, it seems plausible that he may have agreed with Kennedy but lacked the political courage to denounce France as the young Senator had boldly done in his speech. Upon reflection, Eisenhower may have secretly admired Kennedy for publicly denouncing America’s World War II ally. After all, France had recently betrayed Eisenhower by secretly conniving with Israel and Britain to attack Egypt after President Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal.(Footnote 26)
Kennedy surely understood how much he and Eisenhower agreed on Middle Eastern issues, but Eisenhower belonged to the opposing political party; and Kennedy and Johnson both had their eyes on the White House in the upcoming 1960 presidential campaign. Consequently, one of Kennedy’s objectives when making the Algerian speech was likely to differentiate himself from the sitting Republican President and his Democratic adversary, Johnson. Although Kennedy and Johnson held opposing views about Israel, they could not openly criticize each other because they were both Democrats. But since Eisenhower was a Republican, it made sense politically for a Democratic Senator to criticize him for not supporting Algerian independence. The speech also sent a message to informed political observers that unlike Johnson, Kennedy would not be a minion for Israel if elected president.
Even more important, Kennedy’s Algerian speech made the front page of the New York Times which put him in the same league as Senate Majority Leader Johnson. Recall that Johnson had made the front page of the New York Times five months earlier (Feb. 1957) for opposing Eisenhower’s efforts to place UN sanctions on Israel in the wake of that country’s failed attempt to seize land from Egypt and overthrow Nasser in the Suez Crisis of 1956 and 57.
Jun. 5, 1967: The Six Day War
Ten years after the Suez Crisis, Israel attacked Egypt again; but this time with success. The event is known as the Six Day War which began on June 5, 1967. Things had changed a great deal over the ten years leading up to the Six Day War. Israel’s most influential adversaries had either died or left public office. Eisenhower had retired years earlier and was in failing health. John Foster Dulles had died of cancer in 1959. Dag Hammarskjöld had been killed in a mysterious plane crash in the Congolese province of Katanga in 1961. President Kennedy of course had been assassinated in Dallas in 1963. And Israel’s old ally, Lyndon Johnson, had become Commander-in-Chief of the United States. In July of 1965, President Johnson had appointed Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg as US ambassador to the UN. Goldberg—a Jew and ardent supporter of Israel—replaced Adlai Stevenson as US delegate to the UN after Stevenson died suddenly of a heart attack on July 14, 1965.(Footnote 27) The Yemen War had been eroding Arab unity since the conflict began in 1962.(Footnote 28) By 1967, Egyptian forces had suffered heavy losses and were weakened after five years of military involvement in the Yemen War.
Whether these events were random or planned is anyone’s guess, but they were definitely advantageous to Israel by the time the Six Day War occurred in 1967.
The Six Day War was a watershed event that transformed Israel from a small nation into a colonial empire. Although Israel became a nation in 1948, it expanded dramatically after the Six Day War. Israel took from the Arabs—through military force—the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, the Jordanian territory west of the Jordan River known as the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, on the Israeli-Syrian border.11 In addition to acquiring new land, Israel gained control of an additional 900,000 Arabs who became the discontented subjects of the new Israeli empire. Since 1967, the number of Arabs under Israel’s military control has grown to over 1.75 million.12
Amnesty International has documented Israel’s inhumane treatment of its Palestinian subjects citing arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees, destroying or sealing the homes of Arab suspects and their relatives, confiscating land, destroying crops, and diverting precious water from thirsty Palestinians in the desert to fill the swimming pools and water the lawns of Israeli settlers.13 This conduct is condoned, embraced, and encouraged by the United States through its steadfast financial and military support of Israel. Today, US tax payers spend approximately $3 billion annually to subsidize, support, and arm Israel. Although Israel is a wealthy country by western standards, it receives the highest amount of American foreign aid money, 28 percent.14
Jewish scholars Michael Kazin and Maurice Isserman described in their book, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, the passion ignited within American Jews by the Six Day War. They wrote the following:
|The swift, complete victory was followed by a long and wrenching occupation of Palestinian lands. For many American Jews, the 1967 conflict awakened and inspired passions that did much to transform the meaning of their identity. No longer was Israel just a reason for Jewish pride, a desert miracle of orange groves and thriving kibbutzes, whose creation was romanticized in Exodus-a popular novel and film of the late '50s and early '60s. Israel was now the homeland of fellow Jews who had fought alone for their survival and were resigned to living in perpetual danger. The threat came not just from Arab militants but from communist powers, their Third World allies, and a good many American leftists who were eager to prove their "anti-imperialist" credentials. In the face of extinction, Israel became "the ultimate reality in the life of every Jew living today," as a young professor at Brandeis University put it, "In dealing with those who oppose Israel, we are not reasonable and we are not rational. Nor should we be."15|
Those are troubling words, but they reflect the true agenda of those who support the Jewish state of Israel.
Background on the Six Day War
Understanding the Six Day War requires some background regarding the politics of the Middle East in 1967. The following men were heads of state for the countries involved in the Six Day War:
|Nation||Head of State|
|Egypt||President Gamal Abdel Nasser|
|Sryia||General Salah al-Jadid|
|Jordan||King Hussein [ibn Talal]|
|Israel||Prime Minister Levi Eshkol|
|US||President Lyndon Baines Johnson|
|USSR||Chairman Aleksey Nikolayevich Kosygin|
|UN||Secretary General U Thant (of Burma, now Myanmar)|
Egyptian President Nasser was a key figure in Middle Eastern affairs for seventeen years. In 1954 he became prime minister of Egypt, and in 1956 he became that country’s president—remaining in that position until his sudden death in 1970.16 Nasser had been Israel’s primary enemy because he was a charismatic Muslim leader who advocated Arab unity (also known as pan-Arabism).
Egypt has no oil of any consequence, but it has a more advanced culture than the other oil-producing Arab nations. It was the home of one of the principal civilizations of the ancient Middle East. It is also one of the earliest urban and literate societies.17 Consequently, the other Arab nations have historically looked to Egypt for leadership.
The original antagonist of Israel in the Six Day War was Syria, led by General Salah al-Jadid, head of the Ba‘th regime.18 Although Syria—under the Ba‘th regime—was an aggressive enemy of Israel, Syria’s erratic behavior toward other Arab nations actually helped Israel. In fact, Israel used Syrian raids along the its border as a pretext for attacking Egypt and starting the Six Day War.
In March 1963 Ba‘thist supporters seized power from the "secessionist" regime in a military coup. With the Ba‘th in power, Nasser had three Arab nations against him. Those nations were Saudi Arabia and Jordan (because they supported the ousted Imam in the Yemen war) and Syria.
In April 1967 Syrian bombardments of Israeli villages had been intensified. When the Israeli Air Force shot down six Syrian MiG planes in reprisal, Egypt mobilized its forces near the Sinai border.19 Egypt had a mutual defense agreement with the Syrians, who now felt themselves in danger. As an advocate of pan-Arabism, Nasser felt obliged to help Syria. He ordered part of the Egyptian Army to move into Sinai. He thought that the presence of Egyptian forces would discourage the Israelis from attacking Syria. It was a purely defensive move designed to draw off Israeli forces from Syria. If Israel had attacked Syria, then the Egyptian Army would have carried out operations in support of the Syrians. But no offensive operations against Israel were consider.20
A standoff between Egypt and Israel ensued, and tensions mounted between the superpowers. The Soviet Union supported Egypt and the United States supported Israel. This raced the stakes considerably because it introduced the possibility of nuclear war.21
Historians now know that Israel secretly launched an attack against Egypt, but lied about it claiming that Nasser had launched the attack first. In fact Israeli Prime Minister Menachem
Begin made this admission in a speech on August 8, 1982 before the National Defense College in Jerusalem. He stated that the Six Day War was not a "war of necessity" but rather a "war of choice… Nasser did not attack us. We decided to attack him."22 This was a major admission by Begin.
On June 3, 1967, just two days before the Israelis attacked, the United States sent the aircraft carrier Intrepid through the Suez Canal with all its planes lined up on deck. Nasser thought this was an unnecessary show of force. The Egyptian people became furious. They lined the bank of the Canal and threw old shoes at the carrier. At the same time the Sixth Fleet flexed its muscles and prepared for a war situation. It was an excessive show of force by the United States.23
After Israel’s victory, Nasser was disgusted with Johnson. He felt that Johnson was dishonest and had colluded with Israel to strike first and blame it on Egypt. He was suspicious of America’s UN ambassador Arthur Goldberg, an ardent Zionist. Goldberg had immediately backed Israel in the UN when it claimed that Egypt "fired the first shot." Nasser accused Johnson of collusion, broke off diplomatic relations with the United States, and ordered all Americans out of Egypt. Several other Arab states did the same. Soon Johnson, already angered by the charge of collusion, had to watch the humiliating spectacle of twenty-four thousand American men, women, and children being thrown out of the Middle East. Johnson never forgot and never forgave.24
After Egypt’s humiliating defeat in the Six Day War, Nasser attempted to resign, but massive street demonstrations and a vote of confidence by the National Assembly induced him to remain in office. The Soviet Union immediately began replacing all the destroyed war equipment and installed surface-to-air missiles along the Suez as a cover for Egypt’s artillery installations.25
An important footnote to the Six Day War is an incident that occurred in Yemen months earlier. In early 1967, fighting in Yemen still continued. One day there was shooting in Taiz (in Yemen). Direction finders indicated that two bazooka shots came from the headquarters of the United States Point Four Aid Program—which was the CIA's cover organization. Yemeni government forces attacked the building and arrested the four people inside. The safes were opened and an enormous number of documents were found and subsequently photographed by Egyptian intelligence experts.(Footnote 29) The United States was furious at the attack on the building and demanded the documents. They were returned three weeks later, but by that time their secrets were known. Many people within the United States military became extremely hostile toward Nasser because of this event. Some believe the Six Day War was a form of retribution.26
UN Resolution 242
Within six months after the Six Day War, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 242 which called for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." In theory the UN should enforce the resolution itself, but unfortunately, reality is much different. The sad truth is the UN is unable to enforce much of anything without the support of the United States, and the United States has maintained a "passionate attachment" to Israel ever since President Johnson was in office.
Ironically, Resolution 242 was issued on the fourth anniversary of President Kennedy’s death, November 22, 1967.27 It is an extremely important document because virtually all disputes between Israel and the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states could be resolved by its enforcement.
In addition, the Israelis managed to secure ambiguous, legalistic wording for Resolution 242 which makes even more difficult to enforce;28 however, the resolution remains a highly sensitive area for American presidents and politicians to roam. The following is the entire text of the resolution:
|The Security Council,
Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,
Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,
Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,
1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:
(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;
2. Affirms further the necessity
(a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
(b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;
(c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;
3. Requests the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;
4. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representative as soon as possible.
(UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967)
Jun. 8, 1967: Israel Attacked the USS Liberty
In the midst of the Six Day War, Israel attacked the USS Liberty spy vessel killing 34 American sailors and wounding 75.
George Ball wrote a riveting account of Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. Ball’s comments are significant because he was undersecretary of state in the Johnson and Kennedy administrations. The following text is an excerpt from Ball’s book, The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement With Israel, 1947 to the Present:
During the [Six Day] War, Israel attacked the USS Liberty. The Liberty was an American intelligence-gathering vessel, then cruising in international waters near Egypt and reading the radio transmissions on both sides. It flew the American flag and was painted in US Navy colors, complete with number and name.
On the fourth day of the war [June 8, 1967], with both Jordan and Egypt routed, the Israelis turned their attention to Syria, the original cause of all this trouble. Guns mounted on the Golan Heights had subjected Galilee to sporadic bombardment for years and the Israelis had every intention of capturing those Heights before hostilities were over. Meanwhile, the United Nations had adopted a cease-fire resolution and they feared there might not be enough time to accomplish this objective without, as it were, going into overnight.
The Liberty’s presence and function were known to Israeli leaders. They presumably thought it vital that the Liberty be prevented from informing Washington of their intentions to violate any cease-fire before they had completed their occupation of the Golan. Their solution was brutal and direct.
Israel aircraft determined the exact location of the ship and undertook a combined air-naval attack. Apprised of Israel’s plans from various sources, the US Navy Department faced a delicate problem. Due regard for the lives of America’s naval personnel should have impelled the Navy to urge the State Department to warn off Israel in no uncertain terms; meanwhile, the Navy have alerted the Liberty to its danger and dispatched ships or planes for its protection. But none of these actions was taken in time.
There has, for years, been a continuing argument about the tragic lapse. Some say that a warning to Israel might have exposed U.S. sources of secret intelligence. Whatever the motive, the President or one of his aides took the decision to risk the ship and its crew, and merely ordered them, without explanation, to steam west at top speed. Unhappily, that notice was too little and taken too late. Israeli ships and planes attacked, killing 34 American sailors, wounding 75, and leaving 821 rocket and machine-gun holes in the Liberty. It was only when the Israelis were preparing to board the ship that American planes belatedly appeared from the west and forced them to retire.
The sequel was unedifying. The [Johnson] administration tried vigorously to downplay the whole matter. Although it silenced the crew, casualties to the sailors and damage to the ship could not possibly be concealed. Thus, an elaborate charade was performed. The United States complained pro forma to Israel, which reacted by blaming the victims. The ship, they rejoined, had not been clearly marked but looked like an Arab ship—which was definitely untrue. Nor did the Israelis even pretend that they had queried the American Embassy in Tel Aviv regarding the status of the well-marked ship. In the end, the Israelis tendered a reluctant and graceless apology; indemnities for the victims and damaged ship were both parsimonious and slow in coming. The sordid affair has still not been erased from the history books; an organization of devoted survivors has kept the cause alive over the years by publishing a newsletter and holding well-advertised meetings.
Yet the ultimate lesson of the Liberty attack had far more effect on policy in Israel than America. Israel’s leaders concluded that nothing they might do would offend the Americans to the point of reprisal. If America’s leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seemed that their American friends would let them get away with almost anything.
(George Ball, The Passionate Attachment, pp. 57 - 58)
Arthur Goldberg, UN Point Man
As previously stated, Adlai Stevenson died suddenly of a heart attack on July 14, 1965.29 Until his untimely death, Stevenson had represented the United States in the UN. Arthur Goldberg was a Supreme Court Justice appointed by Kennedy to a traditionally Jewish slot in the high court.(Footnote 30) At President Johnson’s request, Goldberg resigned from his position as Supreme Court justice to take the lower position of US ambassador to the UN.30 This was an extraordinary move.
Goldberg was an interesting figure. In addition to serving on the Supreme Court and as a UN diplomat, he had an impressive background in the world of espionage. During World War II, he worked with Haganah and OSS in Palestine.
After the events of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a military spy agency and precursor to the CIA.31 New York attorney William Donovan was appointed to run the newly formed agency. With Donovan in charge of the OSS, Roosevelt had created the first civilian-run spy organization in modern US history. Donovan immediately recruited another New York attorney, Allen Dulles, to help establish the organization. Goldberg was given the rank of major and he assisted Donovan and Dulles establish an OSS field office in New York. Shortly thereafter, Goldberg became—for all intents and purposes—an international spy working for the OSS. He was assigned various spy missions in Sweden, Germany, Spain, and Morocco.32
With the experience he acquired in espionage, he returned to Washington, DC and created an intelligence gathering operation. After that, he was sent on a secret mission in Palestine where he met with leaders of the illegal army of Jewish settlers, Haganah. This operation meant a great deal to Goldberg personally because he had become a Zionist rather late in life. The Haganah worked with him to coordinate a joint OSS-Haganah parachute mission into Italy to gather critical intelligence information. After the Palestine encounter, Goldberg was sent to London to recruit anti-Nazi Germans, who had been captured as spies when the allies invaded France.33
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