The armed conflict which broke out in West Asia in the first week of June 1967, was the third in a series during the last two decades. It once again focused the attention of the world on this sensitive region which threatens to become the starting point of another world war any time. The area is strategically important because international trunk routes connecting the east and the west by air, land, and sea pass through it, and because it has the richest oil deposits in the world. At the same time, forming the trijunction of Asia, Africa, and Europe, it is a bubbling crucible of racial and ideological rivalries with sinister political undertones.
The background of the recent conflict can be traced to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Ever since the Jewish state came into existence, it has been a thorn in the side of the Arabs because they look upon the Jews as usurpers who have, with the help of Britain and the U. S. A., misappropriated a part of Arab country and driven a large number of Arabs from their hearths and homes. Therefore, the Arab states greeted the creation of Israel with a combined attack directed against it. The fighting which was soon brought to a stop through the good offices of the U.N.O. left in its trail several standing causes of irritation like the problem of Arab . refugees, the partition of the holy city of Jerusalem, etc. The bitterness was further accentuated with the passage of time as issues like the precise international boundaries, and the use of the waters of the river Jordan cropped up.
In the fifties, with the coming into power of popular regimes in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and. Algeria, the power-balance in the region underwent a gradual change in favour of Russia from whom the new democracies derived ideological inspiration. With their socialistic leanings, it was obvious that they would not be prepared to toe the western nations’ line for long. The latter, taking note of the increasing Russian influence in the area and feeling concerned about their oil monopolies and rights of passage through West Asia, began forging closer strategic links with their protege, Israel, and started pumping massive arms aid to Tel Aviv. This led the new Arab socialistic republics to look upon Israel as an imperialist dagger aimed at the Arab heart. The western nations’ attempts to drive a wedge between the Arab monarchies in the area like Jordan and South Arabia on the one hand and the democratic Arab states on the other also gave the latter cause for concern.
The worst fears of the nascent Arab democracies were realized when in the wake of the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Britain and France invaded Egypt, with Israel spear-heading the attack. The aggression was so blatant that even the U.S.A. was obliged to join the Soviet Union and other countries of the world in condemning it. The two super-powers.joined hands in the U.N.O. to get it vacated but even then Israel managed to secure some residuary gains like a free passage through the Gulf of Aqaba an Arab waterway. With the induction of a United Nations peace-keeping force to which the international boundaries between the U.A.R. and Israel, the fighting was kept in abeyance for 10 years but embers of the conflict continued to smolder.
The Jordan-Israeli border was kept alive with skirmishes over water installations on the Jordan river. Similarly, trouble continued on the common boundaries between Israel and Syria. In 1956, after an ultra-revolutionary regime had taken over in Damascus, the incidents became more frequent and more serious than merely occasional border skirmishes. Israel threatened to retaliate and began to mass heavy concentrations of troops along the international border. Anticipating trouble, and in order to prevent Israel from further replenishing its’ arms supplies through the Gulf of Aqaba, President Nasser asked the U.N.E.F to withdraw from U.A.R. territory. The force was withdrawn and this brought about a direct confrontation between the U. A. R. and the Israeli forces along the 117-mile common frontier. Nasser declared the Gulf of Aqaba closed to Israeli shipping and this gave the Jews and their supporters the opportunity they were looking for.
That the ensuing conflict had been well anticipated was evident from the massive concentration of US, and British naval forces in the Middle East water long before it started. The Soviet Union also had been, in a bid to strengthen democratic regimes in the region, sending them heavy supplies of sophisticated arms. Thus, with the passage of time, the racial rivalries between the Arab and the Jews had been elevated to the level of a confrontation between the super-powers themselves. It was a natural consequence flowing from the global strategies being followed by them. They had already taken the measure of each other în Europe, were at it in South East Asia, and now appeared to be on the brink of something similar in this region. But in the words of the Economist as their own soldiers. and their ideological honor was not immediately at stake, they did not jump into the fray directly.
As had happened in the Suez crisis, the explosion was sparked off by Israel. It treacherously mounted surprise air-attacks against the Arabs and threw against them large tank forces which rapidly occupied sizable territories of neighboring Arab states the whole of the Sinai peninsula, the western part of Jordan including the city of Jerusalem and a part of the Syrian western regions.
Thus, in a short but sharp war lasting not more than four days, the Arabs were made to lick the dust. The quick defeat they had suffered left them dazed. The main factors which had gone against them were lack of organization and scientific precision. They were also hampered to a great extent by their past differences which had been hastily patched up Juşt on the eve of the conflict. On the other hand, the Israelis, with two-thirds of their men in arms, and imbued with a high sense of patriotism, where a more integrated fighting machine. They also had the advantage of better equipment and more educated and trained people to handle it. The Arabs, however, could not make effective use of the advanced equipment they had obtained from the Soviet Union as well as the U. S. A. because they did not have the men to operate that equipment.
The way the countries of the world reacted to the conflict and its outcome was fairly evident in the direction which the debates on the issue look in the U.N.O. The Soviet Union called for an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly where it tabled a draft resolution condemning Israel’s aggressive action and the continued occupation by Israeli troops of parts of the Territory of the U. A. R., Syria and Jordan. It called for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of those troops from Arab territory occupied by them. The proposal, could not, however, be adopted in the face of opposition from the U.S. A. and the U.K. Another resolution drawn up in similar terms by a group of non-aligned countries met the same fate. All that the world organization could do, besides seeming a cease-fire, was to pass a resolution varying the Israelis not to change the status of Jerusalem. But how far Israel, drunk with victory, is in a mood to implement such resolution was evident from a remark “A resolution has been passed. So what? After all, it is not a tank firing at you”, heard in Tel Aviv.
Even though the Arabs have suffered a tragic defeat, the conflict has also served to strengthen the weak sense of national unity among them. They have yielded neither to anger nor to despair. Instead after a realistic appraisal of the changed realities, they have managed to come closer to each other and reaffirmed their determination to meet in unison the challenge thrown by Israel to their freedom and self-respect, without unduly alienating the western nations with whom they have important economic Ties. Instead of capitulating to their rout, they have kept up their spirit and tried to learn from their defeat. This gives basis and strength for hopes that they are still capable of turning their defeat into victory. The fond hopes entertained in some quarters that the Arabs would not survive à military debacle of this magnitude and that its repercussions would topple the progressive regimes among Arab states, and that as a result some of the other Arab countries would be willing to align themselves with the western powers have been believed. The manner in which Israel is proceeding to consolidate its hold on areas it has come to occupy by force goes to strengthen the suspicion that it is acting as a sentinel for the imperialist powers at the door of the Arabs, a role which is sure to alienate it. More and more from its neighbors with whom it must learn to learn in peace in the interests of its own survival.