Anwar Muhammad: Comments on Nasser and the Six-Day War
In Harb beela Banadeeq: Akhtar Mooajahah bain Al-Arab wa Is faeel (War without guns: the most dangerous confrontation between the Arabs and Israel), Anwar Muhammad, an Egyptian political commentator and historian specializing in the history of the confrontation between Arab states and Israel, uses presidential archives, press releases, and interviews of Egyptian presidents to research Israel's existence, Palestine's self-determination, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.1
I have translated portions of Muhammad's work that focus on former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and that have military significance. To gain an appreciation of Arab nationalism, the reader should understand that Islamic militants are trying to revive the language of pan-Arabism with the slogans of pan-Islamic unity.
Such language demonstrates that Nasser's strategic thinking and legacy have not entirely disappeared from the Middle East; therefore, we should study Middle Eastern writings to gain insight into how to combat pan-Arabist terror groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade of the Palestinian Al-Fatah movement.
Egypt has played a pivotal role in shaping Arab attitudes toward Israel. Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel's Knesset (parliament) in 1977 paved the way for many Arab leaders to deal with Israel through negotiation and mutual understanding.
Nasser's First Encounter with Israel
Nasser's first real encounter with Israeli forces occurred when he was with the 6th Mechanized Infantry Brigade during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Haganah forces in the Falujah Pocket surrounded his unit on 31 October 1948, and an Israeli armored vehicle, waving a flag of truce, approached the surrounded Egyptians.
Nasser and Egyptian commanding officer General Said Taha negotiated with the Israelis a face-saving withdrawal for the Egyptian 6th Infantry Brigade back to the main force in Gaza. The Israelis wanted to exchange their dead to ensure proper burial. Israeli Colonel Yigal Alon had ordered the lines of communication to continue, which eventually led to a cease-fire and withdrawal of forces over the course of several months.
Nasser developed a professional relationship with Yaroham Cohen, an Israeli liaison to Egypt. During their visits, Nasser asked Cohen many questions and was keenly interested in the history, tactics, and psychological warfare underground that Jewish groups were using to frustrate British forces. British domination over their respective countries gave them a common enemy.
Communication between the two broke down in late December 1948, however, when Egypt unsuccessfully tried to break the siege of the Falujah pocket. In January 1949, the Israelis exchanged their dead and delivered Red Cross packages and letters to prisoners on both sides, and as a result of political negotiations, Nasser and his 5,000 troops were able to return to Egypt in late February 1949.
Nasser's discussions with Cohen taught him how to organize discontented elements of Egyptian society, including Muslim fundamentalists, and how to create cells in the Egyptian officer corps to foment a coup against Egyptian monarch King Farouk I. Nasser's last encounter with Cohen was in 1950, when Nasser was sent to identify burial sites of the Israeli dead.
How much Cohen influenced Nasser is not clear. What is clear is that Nasser had detested the Egyptian monarchy before the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. In Egypt's Liberation: The Philosophy of the Revolution, Nasser describes historical events beginning with the 1882 Urabi Revolt and ending with the events that occurred in 1942 when Cairo's British Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson, surrounded the Abdine Palace with tanks to force a government on King Farouk.2
Egyptian archives reveal that Nasser encountered Cohen at a time when Nasser blamed the Egyptian army's humiliation directly on the monarchy and only indirectly on the Israelis. …