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 déjà 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.