Former BBC Middle East correspondent Bowen carefully reassembles the geopolitical dynamics of one week that triggered embittered conflict for decades—and still counting.
Bowen’s comprehensive account layers the intrigue and deceptions of international diplomacy with the dogged determination of the Israelis to achieve their own definition of security in a hostile environment. Among the figures who emerge from a Machiavellian web of prewar maneuvering are Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser, whose hubris based on nonexistent military superiority approached the Shakespearean, and King Hussein of Jordan, ultimately used and abused by ally and enemy alike, whose self-admonition (“That’s what I get for being so stupid”) rang out in an aftermath of utter pathos for the Arab cause. The Israeli strategists, amazingly able to cloak a military juggernaut even from their own citizenry, barefacedly lied about being attacked; the US administration (President Lyndon B. Johnson along with hardened Cold War vets like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy) winked, nodded, and went along. The Soviets, asleep at the UN chessboard, missed an opportunity to pounce on American vacillation and redraw the postwar map in favor of their Arab clients. But the euphoria that arrived within the first few hours of a war in which Israeli air superiority immediately tilted the balance was already tinged with foreboding. Bowen suggests that administration of the vast new territories it was allowed to retain (with the famous ambiguities inherent in the UN’s affirming resolution) left Israel “mired in an unwinnable colonial war” with its millions of new Arab subjects. Following the 1995 assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin (“one of the most effective acts of political violence in modern history”) and a rush of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, “The violence of the occupation has given [Palestinian extremists] a prominence they would otherwise not have.”
Reference-level account of inevitability tinged by intriguing what-ifs.