Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War, by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez. New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press, 2007. xiii + 218 pages. Notes to p. 264. Works cited to p. 273. Index to p. 287. $26.
Reviewed by Mark N. Katz
Ginor and Remez argue in this book that the Soviet Union played a much larger role in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War than has been recognized previously. Far from seeking to avoid the outbreak of this war or being surprised by its occurrence, Ginor and Remez claim that Moscow deliberately provoked an Israeli attack on Egypt. Further, it did so in the expectation that Egyptian forces would be able to resist this Israeli attack and then (along with Syrian and Jordanian forces) launch an attack of their own that would either lead to a protracted conflict or overwhelm Israel. With the United States already bogged down in Vietnam, the Soviets calculated that Washington would do little to help an Israel that struck first - or to prevent Soviet forces from destroying Israeli nuclear facilities in and around Dimona (thus preventing Israel from acquiring nuclear weapons) and otherwise becoming directly involved in the conflict.
I was highly skeptical about these bold claims when I began reading this book. "Moscow made us do it" seemed to be too neat an explanation for Israel's actions in 1967. Long before reaching the book's end, though, I became convinced that Ginor and Remez have gotten it right. Their argument is based on, among other sources, a careful study of Soviet documents - many of which have only recently come to light - as well as interviews with former Soviet officials and servicemen who participated in the June 1967 events. Since the book's publication in June 2007, many of these individuals have confirmed in the Russian press what they told Ginor and Remez. One of the authors' most startling claims - that Soviet pilots flew the USSR's then most advanced military aircraft (the MiG-25 "Foxbat") over Dimona in May 1967 was subsequently confirmed by the chief spokesman for the Russian Air Force.
Further, Ginor and Remez's description of Moscow's behavior in 1967 is consistent with how it has behaved on other occasions. Whether it was Cuba in 1962, the Arab-Israeli arena in 1967, Afghanistan in 1978, Chechnya in 1994, Georgia since 2003, or elsewhere, Moscow has routinely overestimated its strength as well as that of its allies, contemptuously underestimated the strength of its adversaries, and assumed that it could cleverly control the outcome of crises that they initiated. …