1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East

Article excerpt

1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, by Tom Segev, translated by Jessica Cohen. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007. 673 pp. $35.00.

The "Six Day War," as Israel coined it in 1967, constituted a major transformative event in the history of Israel and the Middle East at large. Tom Segev's book about this war provides an up-to-date historical account of the IsraeU domestic setting before the war, the political dynamics leading to and through the war, and the new realities and dilemmas following the war.

The book makes important contributions to the history of the war, but these contributions are somewhat handicapped by three main problems. First, the book spans almost six hundred pages, excluding footnotes. The writing is journalistic in style, relying heavily upon direct quotes, which often makes the book feel like a very long newspaper article. The first third of the book provides exhaustingly long mundane, and redundant details of ordinary life in 1966, drawn from letters and diaries, which is likely to deter some readers.

Second, Segev makes far-reaching inferences from selected letters and newspaper articles, arguing that Israelis sank into what he describes as depression, solemn mood, bereavement, distress, sense of helplessness, and similar cognitive attributes. These generalizations often seem overstated and exaggerated in order to justify the incorporation of the first part of the book. Most of the social problems that Segev notes had been constant characteristics of Israeli politics and society since independence. Segev explains that on top of these, Israel also experienced special problems from 1966 until the war, such as an economic recession (following years of prosperity), and the relatively high emigration rate from Israel, but he fails to demonstrate that these factors fed into the general national mood of depression and distress that he reconstructs.

Third and more important, even if one does accept that a widespread psychological depression was building up among the Israeli public in the weeks prior to the war, Segev still does not demonstrate a causal mechanism between these factors and the natural panic that hit the Israeli public after Nasser's threats suddenly turned into action. Segev simply reiterates that"[i]t was not Nasser's threats that had brought this [panic] about-or, at least, not only his threats-but the quicksand of depression that pulled so many people down for so many months" (p. 286). But it remains unclear exactly how and why this prior national depression (if it existed) was a necessary condition for the war. By way of counterfactual argument, it is simply hard to envision that Israelis would have reacted differently even if all the known problems that Segev mentions were absent. Unfortunately, Segev does not differentiate between sentiments pertaining to these larger social factors and the mass panic that ensued after Nasser's moves.

Indeed, these factors are largely forgotten when the book begins discussing the political dynamics that led to war following the Samoa operation (Chapter 3) and especially the border escalation with Syria (Chapter 4). It is here that Segev makes a greater contribution by providing updated records of Israeli government meetings that were not previously published. These include secret communications with King Hussein and Palestinian leaders; power and prestige struggles between Israeli Defense Force generals and Government Ministers, especially with PM Levi Eshkol; and complicated relations with the Johnson administration and the anticipation for a green light from the U. …


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