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Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

4.8 11
by Michael B. Oren

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Though it lasted for only six tense days in June, the 1967 Arab-Israeli war never really ended. Every crisis that has ripped through this region in the ensuing decades, from the Yom Kippur War of 1973 to the ongoing intifada, is a direct consequence of those six days of fighting. Michael B. Oren’s magnificent Six Days of War, an


Though it lasted for only six tense days in June, the 1967 Arab-Israeli war never really ended. Every crisis that has ripped through this region in the ensuing decades, from the Yom Kippur War of 1973 to the ongoing intifada, is a direct consequence of those six days of fighting. Michael B. Oren’s magnificent Six Days of War, an internationally acclaimed bestseller, is the first comprehensive account of this epoch-making event.

Writing with a novelist’s command of narrative and a historian’s grasp of fact and motive, Oren reconstructs both the lightning-fast action on the battlefields and the political shocks that electrified the world. Extraordinary personalities—Moshe Dayan and Gamal Abdul Nasser, Lyndon Johnson and Alexei Kosygin—rose and toppled from power as a result of this war; borders were redrawn; daring strategies brilliantly succeeded or disastrously failed in a matter of hours. And the balance of power changed—in the Middle East and in the world. A towering work of history and an enthralling human narrative, Six Days of War is the most important book on the Middle East conflict to appear in a generation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“POWERFUL . . . A HIGHLY READABLE, EVEN GRIPPING ACCOUNT OF THE 1967 CONFLICT . . . [Oren] has woven a seamless narrative out of a staggering variety of diplomatic and military strands.”
— The New York Times

“WITH A REMARKABLY ASSURED STYLE, OREN ELUCIDATES NEARLY EVERY ASPECT OF THE CONFLICT . . . Oren’s [book] will remain the authoritative chronicle of the war. His achievement as a writer and a historian is awesome.”
The Atlantic Monthly

The Washington Post Book World

This book is not only one of the best books on this critical episode in Middle East history; it’s one of the best-written books I’ve read this year, in any genre.”
The Jerusalem Post

“[In] Michael Oren’s richly detailed and lucid account, the familiar story is thrilling once again. . . . What makes this book important is the breadth and depth of the research.”
The New York Times Book Review

The Washington Post

“The definitive history of the Six-Day War . . . [Oren’s] narrative is precise but written with great literary flair. In no one else’s study is there more understanding or more surprise.”
The New Republic

San Jose Mercury News

Vito F Sinisi
As the Middle East reels from wave after wave of terrorist attacks and seemingly endless reprisals, Michael B. Oren, an acknowledged expert on that troubled region, takes us back to the events of "Six-Day War" of June 1967 and shows how what transpired then deeply affects what is happening there now.
Publishers Weekly
This is the most complete history to date of the Six Day War of 1967, in which Israel entered and began its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While no account can be definitive until Arab archives open, Oren, a Princeton-trained senior fellow at Jerusalem's Shalem Center who has served as director of Israel's department of inter-religious affairs and as an adviser to Israel's U.N. delegation, utilizes newly available archival sources and a spectrum of interviews with participants, including many Arabs, to fill gaps and correct misconceptions. Further, Six Days of War is an attack on "post-Zionism": the school of politics and history that casts Israel as the author of policies that intentionally promote the destuction of Palestine as a separate entity and of Palestinians as a people, not least through the occupation that began with the 1967 War. By contrast, Oren convincingly establishes in an often engrossing narrative the reactive, contingent nature of Israeli policy during both the crisis preceding the conflict and the war itself. As Prime Minister Levi Eshkol held the Israeli Defense Forces in check that May, Operation Dawn, an Egyptian plan for a preemptive strike against Israel, came within hours of implementation. It was canceled only because Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser feared it had been compromised. Israel's decision to seek its own security in arms was finally triggered, Oren shows, by Jordan's late accession to the hostile coalition dominated by Egypt and Syria. Geographically, the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule and occupation, cut Israel nearly in half. The military risk to Israel was unacceptable, Oren makes clear, in the context of a U.S. enmeshed in Vietnam and a West unwilling to act even in support of the status quo. Far from being a product of strategic calculation, Oren further argues, occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was also contingent: the consequence of a victory so rapid and one-sided that even Israel's generals found it difficult to believe it was happening. Israel, having proved it could not be defeated militarily and now possessing something to trade, hoped for comprehensive peace negotiations in a rational-actor model. Oren notes that some initiatives for peace did in fact develop. He seems, however, trying to convince himself along with his readers. Oren puts what he sees as Israel's enduring weaknesses in relief: not arrogance, but self-doubt, self-analysis and self-criticism, all carried to near-suicidal degrees in 1967. Arab policy, by contrast, featured a confident commitment to erasing Israel from the map. The Six Day War shook that confidence, he finds, but did not alter the commitment. About the nature of Israeli policy since the war, the book says little, but finds that "for all its military conquests, Israel was still incapable of imposing the peace it craved." Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In perhaps one of the most valuable recent works on this subject, Oren, a scholar and Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem, details events from the Six Day War known in the Arab world as Al-Naksah (the setback) or simply the June war. The book's value lies in its focus and extensive documentation of multilingual resources, including archives, newspapers, reports, books, interviews, and Internet sites. In addition, Oren covers the international, regional, and domestic implications of the war and uses maps to illustrate the geographical changes and military strategies. Many books, e.g., Ahron Bregman's Israel's War: 1947-1993, Tibi Bassam's Conflict and War in the Middle East, 1967-91, and Eric Hammel's Six Days in June, cover a broader period, rely heavily on analysis, or fall short of objectivity. While Oren also recounts some necessary historical context for understanding the war's catalysts and discussing its aftermath, he primarily focuses on the pivotal six days of conflict, dedicating a full chapter for each day. Predictably, the most controversial information is his new findings on an Egyptian top-secret plan that came very close to eradicating Israel's army and nuclear power plant. While this is an essential addition for academic libraries, the book's exhaustive documentary style makes it a lesser candidate for public libraries. Ethan Pullman, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thoroughgoing analysis of the events that combusted 35 years ago to produce a maelstrom in the Middle East. Readers comparing historian Oren's thesis to current headlines may feel a certain sense of deja vu. He traces the origins of the Six-Day War of 1967 to several causes that were in no way resolved by the conflict, and underlines one of its effects-the Israeli conquest of the Sinai peninsula and the West Bank-that remains a subject of controversy today. One of those causes was resurgent nationalism in the Arab world's "postcolonial, revolutionary period," when Egyptian president Nasser attempted to play the Soviet Union off against the US, and to craft a military and political union of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt; Nasser's United Arab Republic soon collapsed, but among the unintended consequences of the destabilization were the rise of the Assad regime in Syria and, eventually, Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Another was a sudden upsurge of Palestinian nationalist activity, leading to the formation of groups such as al-Fatah and the PLO. Still another was internal conflict in Israel over whether and how to accommodate the demands of its neighbors. Slowly taking shape throughout the early and mid-1960s, these conditions "created an atmosphere of extreme flammability," Oren writes. "In such an atmosphere, it would not take much-a terrorist attack, a reprisal raid-to unleash a process of unbridled escalation, a chain reaction of dare and counterdare, gamble and miscalculation, all leading inexorably to war." Of course, that is exactly what happened, and Oren's narrative traces the military course of the war and its political aftermath, including lingering tensions in US-Israeli relations following the (accidental, in Oren's view) Israeli attack on the US naval vessel Liberty. Careful and well documented: Oren (Senior Fellow/Shalem Center, Jerusalem) finds fault on all sides of the conflict, which is sure to earn him critics everywhere he turns. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the history of the troubled region.

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MORE THAN TWO YEARS HAVE PASSED since the outbreak of the latest Middle Eastern turmoil, and there is still no cease-fire in sight. Called by Palestinians the al-Aqsa Intifada, and by the Israelis the “disturbances,” the “events,” or, simply, the Palestinian terror, the violence that erupted in September 2000, and which has raged ever since, is in every sense a war. No less than in 1948 and 1967, Arabs and Israelis are today once again battling over the final disposition of the area known in Arabic as Filastin and in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael—the Land of Israel. As in the processes leading up to previous Arab-Israeli confrontations, mounting violence between Palestinians and Israelis threatens to set the entire region ablaze.

In many respects, the current fighting resembles the civil war in Palestine that broke out in November 1947, following the UN’s decision to partition the country into independent Jewish and Arab states. The Zionist leadership accepted the notion of territorial compromise, but the Arabs of Palestine saw no reason to forfeit what they considered their exclusive national rights, and determined to block the partition with attacks against Jewish settlements, road systems, and neighborhoods. Other Arab forces, most prominently those associated with the militant Muslim Brotherhood, aided the Palestinian Arabs from across the border. The Jews, for their part, initially showed restraint, but in
April 1948, fearing annihilation, they too went to war. Subsequently, dozens of
Arab villages and towns were destroyed, their populations displaced, and their leaders either killed or rendered ineffective. But the Palestinians’ defeat generated sympathy throughout the Arab world and intensified the pressure on Arab leaders to intervene against the Jews. The result came one month later with the advent of the first Arab-Israeli war.

A remarkably similar process occurred more than fifty years later, in the latter half of 2000, when the Clinton Administration again proposed to partition the land between the Palestinians and the Jews. Specifically, the United
States called for the creation of a Palestinian state in virtually all of the West
Bank and the entire Gaza Strip—Israeli settlements would either be removed or concentrated in blocks—with its capital in East Jerusalem. A small number of Palestinian refugees would be repatriated to Israel; the rest were to receive compensation. The Palestinian state would live side by side with Israel in relations of full peace, but while Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak approved the formula, the Palestinian Authority under its president, Yasser Arafat, rejected it. Rather, Arafat demanded the return of all the refugees—a move that, if implemented,
would have created a Palestinian majority in Israel. As in 1947–48, the issue was not merely the borders of the Jewish state, but its very existence.

The Palestinians consequently embarked on an armed offensive using tactics reminiscent of those employed in 1947–48—roadside ambushes, snipers,
and car bombs—together with the innovation of suicide bombers. Militant Islamic elements once more played a prominent role in the campaign. At first,
Israel’s reaction was again restrained, but as casualties rapidly mounted, the
IDF finally struck back. In April 2002, Israeli forces reoccupied much of the
West Bank, causing extensive damage to Palestinian cities and villages, and killing or isolating many Palestinian leaders. As in 1948, the Palestinians’ plight aroused sympathy in neighboring Arab countries and placed pressure on their leaders to intercede. Soon Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon were launching rockets into northern Israel; the Syrian army went on high alert, as did units in
Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. Israel mobilized its reserves. The region careered toward yet another Arab-Israeli war.

The fighting in 2000–2002 recalled not only the events of 1947–48 but,
even more poignantly, those of 1967. That war, this book asserts, was the result of a series of incidents triggered by Palestinian guerrilla raids and Israel’s retaliations against them. Today, more than three decades later, the Middle
East is still in the grips of a context of conflict in which a single spark can ignite a regional conflagration. Such a spark was kindled in September 2000, when
Ariel Sharon, then head of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, paid a visit to the
Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, in Jerusalem.

Though the visit had been cleared with the Palestinian Authority, many
Palestinians viewed it as a provocation and protested against it violently. Firing on the rioters, Israeli forces provided the pretext for launching an intifada, or popular uprising, named after the Haram’s al-Aqsa mosque. Mass demonstrations of Palestinian youths soon escalated into armed attacks against Israeli targets, most of them civilian, and increasingly fierce countermeasures by Israel.
Israeli reprisals in turn instigated unrest in adjacent Arab countries. The
“street” was once again agitating—a déjà vu of 1967—and Arab rulers had little choice but to act.

Unlike in 1948 and 1967, however, war between Arabs and Israelis did not erupt in 2002. Though the region has remained in many ways unchanged, several fundamental transformations nevertheless have combined to mitigate the dangers of war.

There is, firstly, the existence of peace treaties between Israel and Egypt and
Israel and Jordan. In spite of their failure to bring about any true reconciliation between their signatories, these agreements have nonetheless provided the nations with open channels of communication and venues for reducing tensions.
Another change is the emergence of the U.S.-Israeli alliance that not only guarantees
Israel a decisive military edge over its enemies, but also affords Washington far-reaching influence over Israeli actions. Finally, there is the nonconventional weaponry now in the arsenals of virtually every Middle Eastern state, which has sharply elevated the stakes in any Arab-Israeli confrontation.

Yet for every change curtailing the chances of war, another could equally contribute to its outbreak. Absent today is the peculiar stability engendered by the Cold War, of a rational counterpart whom the U.S. president might hotline in a crisis, and superpower constraints over key regional players such as Iraq,
Iran, and Syria. The once neat division between Arab radicals and Arab conservatives has been replaced by internal fissures within each Arab country—between each regime and its domestic, often Islamic, opposition—and even the lines in the Arab-Israeli conflict have become obscured. Most destabilizing,
arguably, is the growth of terrorist organizations, global in outlook and adamant in their theology, transcending all borders and contemptuous of any attempt to restrain them.

These countervailing changes, coupled with the continuing friction surrounding nondemocratic Middle Eastern regimes and Arab resistance to the very idea of a Jewish state, might have set the stage for an Arab-Israeli war bigger and possibly more destructive than those of 1948 and 1967. Instead, war in 2002 was averted by the timely intervention of the United States. As tensions in the region spiraled toward an explosion, President George W. Bush strongly advised Syria to rein in its Hezbollah allies and told the Palestinian
Authority that its support of terror was totally unacceptable to Americans. At the same time, Washington publicly recognized Israel’s right to defend itself and convinced Israelis that they did not stand alone. Bush’s actions—admonishing the Arabs and reassuring the Israelis—were precisely those that Lyndon
B. Johnson failed to take in 1967, and in 2002 they succeeded in containing, if not defusing, the crisis.

Like Johnson, Bush was engaged in an international struggle with an implacable enemy—no longer communism, of course, but Islamic extremism—
but rather than tie his hands as Vietnam once had Johnson’s, America’s new conflict impelled George Bush to act. The events of September 11, 2001, spurred a radical departure from long-standing American policies toward the Middle East.
Having become the victim of large-scale Arab terror, the administration voiced newfound empathy for Israel and its struggle against suicide bombers and gunmen,
and went so far as to identify Israel’s enemies—Hamas and Islamic Jihad—
as America’s. Moreover, in declaring war against international terrorism, in dispatching its soldiers thousands of miles to fight in Afghanistan and, avowedly,
in Iraq, Washington could hardly deny Israel the ability to strike back in the West Bank and Gaza, its own backyard. Concomitantly, American leaders expressed severe reservations regarding the Arab states, even toward their traditional allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, citizens of which were heavily implicated in 9/11. Relations between the U.S. and the Arab world were further strained by the Arabs’ reluctance to support a military effort to invade Iraq and oust its dictator, Saddam Hussein.

The success of Bush’s effort to rally an anti-Saddam coalition is not, as of this writing, guaranteed. Numerous obstacles, domestic and foreign, stand in the president’s way. Nor is it certain whether the toppling of Saddam will install democracy or merely another dictatorship in Iraq, or whether war in the gulf will ultimately enhance or further impair the area’s stability. One fact,
alone, is incontestable: that the Middle East remains a flash point of multilateral confrontation, a source of seemingly intractable controversies, and a powder keg that the slightest spark could ignite. A context of conflict continues to seize the region, demanding of its leaders almost constant displays of both courage and caution.

November 2002

Meet the Author

Michael B. Oren is the author of The Origins of the Second Arab-Israeli War, and has written extensively on Middle Eastern history and diplomatic affairs. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in Middle East studies. He has served as Director of Israel’s Department of Inter-Religious Affairs in the government of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and as an adviser to the Israeli delegation to the United Nations. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

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Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MorningDan More than 1 year ago
So well written and so thorough! An important reflection of today's events.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the few books that provides both sides of the story in a non biased way. You will read one paragraph and learn more than from reading most books. GREAT WRITER
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bookloverdlMO More than 1 year ago
You go along with the troops in the struggle to overcome. The book is interesting easy to read.
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Beirut768 More than 1 year ago
There is a fundamental difference between `armistice' and `peace'.
Armistice is military.
Peace is political.
((It is strange to see that those who wanted to lend their names to `peace between Israel/Arabs, have been killed. (!!!) Sadat - Rabin - and even Arafat whose sudden demise is still questionable.))

However, just one point of clarification: going back in history to the November 29th. 1947 UN Partition Plan of Palestine to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict, it is worth mentioning that the Arabs did indeed accept Partition.

The irony is that they (Arabs) have not had the audacity to declare it openly.

Arab delegations worked and attended meetings the gist of which had been the `Partition Plan', but never echoed their acceptance, with concern, to significant number of the Palestinian population, most of all to Hajj Amine Husseini and his supporters.

Whereas the `Jews' (there was no Israel per se in 1947) while publicly and vocally advocated their support for `Partition', actually worked against it and fought in 1948 with full force and got more than prescribed in the UN Resolution 181.