Academic journal article The Historian

Retaliatory Raids as an Accelerating Factor Leading to the Six-Day War

Academic journal article The Historian

Retaliatory Raids as an Accelerating Factor Leading to the Six-Day War

Article excerpt

IN THE THREE years preceding the Six-Day War of 1967, Israeli retaliatory raids against its Arab neighbors grew. Not only did the intensity of the raids increase, so did their severity. Retaliatory raids played a core role in Israel's strategy after the signing of the armistice agreements between it and its neighbors in 1948-49. The Israeli government viewed retaliatory raids as a deterrent mechanism against hostile elements that infiltrated Israeli territory to carry out sabotage and terrorist acts. They also served as an enforcement mechanism designed to press the governments in neighboring Arab states to take steps to prevent incursions from their territory. They sought to make retaliatory actions more effective by sowing sufficiently unbearable damage upon Israel's neighbors to force them to reconsider the advantages they could reap from cross-border incursions into Israel. (1) At the same time, policy makers, the heads of the army, and Israeli political leaders were aware that the retaliatory actions could not eradicate hostile actions entirely; they could only restrain or curtail their scope. Moshe Dayan, the chief of staff prior to and following the Suez Crisis of 1956, said that while the Israeli government could not prevent murders and damage to property, it could set the price for the bloodshed, a price that would be too high for the Arabs to pay. Members of the government, including moderates such as the presiding prime minister and foreign minister at the time, Moshe Sharett, did not see any alternative to retaliatory raids, thinking that without them the lives of Israeli citizens would simply become unbearable. (2)

Yet, escalating the scope and frequency of the retaliatory raid not only failed to deter the other side, it actually propelled the growth in intensity of Arab attacks on Israel. (3) In the final analysis, Israeli retaliatory actions did not achieve their objectives and only exacerbated Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors. In consequence, the raids produced a vicious circle where acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks against Israel prompted the Israeli government to respond across the board with retaliatory raids. These in turn prompted the Arabs to continue their attacks and acts of sabotage. As a response, the retaliatory raids then aggravated the situation prior to the Suez Crisis and, in the end, culminated in war. (4)

Views differ regarding the circumstances which led to the war of 1967. The Israeli scholar Shlomo Aronson maintained that after having received information that Israel was on the brink of manufacturing an atomic bomb, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser felt compelled to take action to prevent Israel from carrying out its nuclear design. (5) Avi Cohen, the Israeli military historian, suggested that the main reason for the outbreak of the Six-Day war was the frequent use of Israeli air power against the Syrians prior to June 1967. (6) Isabella Ginor contended that the Soviet warning to Egypt about Israeli troop concentration on the Syrian border in May 1967 was deliberate disinformation, part of a plan to elicit Egyptian action that would provoke an Israeli reaction. Soviet military intervention against the aggressor was intended to follow and was prepared well in advance. (7)

Others blamed Israel for dragging the region into the war. The journalist David Hirst assumed that Israel's congenital militancy pushed it toward such a war. In a sense, needed the war. Israel was suffering the most severe economic crisis of its existence with unemployment standing at 20 percent. Even worse, emigration had begun to exceed immigration. (8)

Avner Yaniv, Ami Gluska, and Avi Shlaim have a different perspective. They analyzed the relationship between the Israeli government and the military establishment. Levi Eshkol, a moderate with weak leadership skills, became prime minister in 1963. Subsequently, defense and military policy were conducted by "activists" in the military establishment and in the government. …

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