The Six-Day War
June 5–10, 1967
Eli E. Hertz | June 6, 2013
Arab Losses Caused by Unlawful Acts of Aggression in 1967
In June 1967, the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attacked Israel with the clear purpose expressed by Egypt’s President: “Destruction of Israel.” At the end of what is now known as the Six-Day War, Israel, against all odds, was victorious and in possession of the territories of the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights.
International law makes a clear distinction between defensive wars and wars of aggression. Egypt’s blockade of the waterway known as the Strait of Tiran, which prevented access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat, was an act of aggression that led to the Six-Day War in 1967. More than six decades after the 1948 War and four decades since the 1967 Six-Day War, it is hard to imagine the dire circumstances Israel faced and the price it paid to fend off its neighbors’ attacks.
In 1967, the combined Arab armies had approximately 465,000 troops, more than 2,880 tanks and 810 aircrafts, preparing to attack Israel at once. Israel, faced with the imminent threat of obliteration, was forced to invoke its right of self-defense, a basic tenet of international law, enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Israel launched a surprised pre-emptive air strike against Egypt on June 5, 1967.
Who Starts Wars Does Matter
UN Charter Article 51 clearly recognizes “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations” by anyone.
Arabs would like the world to believe that in 1967, Israel simply woke-up one morning and invaded them, and therefore Israel’s control of the Golan Heights, West Bank and Sinai is the illicit fruit of an illegal act – like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991.
Arab leaders ‘bundle’ the countries who fought Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War into one “entity” in order to cloud the issues. They point to Israel’s surprise pre-emptive attack on Egypt as an act of unlawful aggression, and add that this “unlawful aggression” prevents Israel from claiming the Territories under international law.
Professor, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, past President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) states the following facts:
“The facts of the June 1967 Six Day War demonstrate that Israel reacted defensively against the threat and use of force against her by her Arab neighbors. This is indicated by the fact that Israel responded to Egypt’s prior closure of the Straits of Tiran, its proclamation of a blockade of the Israeli port of Eilat, and the manifest threat of the UAR’s use of force inherent in its massing of troops in Sinai, coupled with its ejection of United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). It is indicated by the fact that, upon Israeli responsive action against the UAR, Jordan initiated hostilities against Israel. It is suggested as well by the fact that, despite the most intense efforts by the Arab States and their supporters, led by the Premier of the Soviet Union, to gain condemnation of Israel as an aggressor by the hospitable organs of the United Nations, those efforts were decisively defeated. The conclusion to which these facts lead is that the Israeli conquest of Arab and Arab-held territory was defensive rather than aggressive conquest.”
Egypt in 1967
Before Israel’s pre-emptive and surprise attack on the Egyptian Air Force, a series of belligerent acts by the Arab state justified Israel’s resort to arms in self-defense in accordance with the Law of Nations.
The Egyptians were responsible for:
– The expulsion of UN peacekeepers from Sinai – stationed there since 1956 to act as a buffer when Israel withdrew from Sinai;
– The closure of Israel’s outlet from the Red Sea in defiance of the Geneva Conference of 1958 on free navigation “through straits used for international navigation between one part of the high seas and … the territorial sea of a foreign nation” (For 16 years Egypt illegally blocked Israeli use of the Suez Canal);
– The failure of the international community to break the blockade; and
– The massing of Egyptian forces in Sinai and moving them toward Israel’s border.
In 1956, when Egypt provoked Israel by blockading the Red Sea – crippling her ability to conduct sea trade with Africa and the Far East – the major Western powers negotiated Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, and agreed that Israel’s rights would be reserved under Article 51 of the UN Charter if Egypt staged future raids and blockades against Israel.
In 1967, Egypt’s closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships before June 5, was an unlawful act of aggression. The Israeli response was a lawful act of self-defense under Article 51 and UN General Assembly Resolution 3314.
Israel’s enemies and critics ignore or conveniently forget the facts, as Arabs and their sympathizers continue to blame Israel for ‘starting’ the 1967 war.
Were the acts by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1967 against Israel aggressive enough to warrant Israel’s exercise of her right to self-defense?
The answer can be found on the official website of the Jordanian Government14 under the heading “The Disaster of 1967.” It describes the events of the days prior to June 5, 1967 and clearly indicates that Jordan, at least, expected Egypt to launch the offensive war against Israel. Israel did not enter the West Bank until it was first attacked by Jordan:
“On May 16, Nasser shocked the world by asking the United Nations to withdraw its forces from Sinai. To the surprise of many, his request was honored two days later. Moreover, the Egyptian president closed the Straits of Tiran on May 22. Sensing that war was now likely, [And] … in response to the Israeli attack [on the Egyptian Air Force], Jordanian forces launched an offensive into Israel, but were soon driven back as the Israeli forces counterattacked into the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.”
In fact, Jordan was an illegal occupier of the West Bank from 1948 to 1967, and the undisputable aggressor in the Six-Day War of 1967. Thus, Israel acted lawfully by exercising its right of self-defense when it redeemed and legally occupied Judea and Samaria, known also as the West Bank.
Israel had clarified to Jordan through UN diplomatic channels that it should stay out of the war. It stated simply: “We shall not attack any country unless it opens war on us.” King Hussein of Jordan sent a reply via the UN envoy that “since Israel had attacked Egypt, [Israel] would receive his reply by air” – a message that came in the form of Jordanian air raids on civilian and military targets, shelling Jerusalem with mortars and long-range artillery on Ben-Gurion Airport, then extending the front to shelling Israel’s “narrow hips” under the mistaken belief that the Arabs were winning. Had Jordan heeded Israel’s message of peace instead of Egypt’s lies that the Arabs were winning the war, the Hashemite Kingdom could have remained neutral in the conflict, and Eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank would have remained in Jordan’s possession. Jordan was far from a ‘minor player’ in the Arabs’ war of aggression as their narrative implies. I srael lost 183 soldiers in battle with Jordanian forces.
Judge Sir Elihu Lauterpacht wrote in 1968, just one year after the 1967 Six-Day War:
“On 5th June, 1967, Jordan deliberately overthrew the Armistice Agreement by attacking the Israeli-held part of Jerusalem. There was no question of this Jordanian action being a reaction to any Israeli attack. It took place not with-standing explicit Israeli assurances, conveyed to King Hussein through the U.N. Commander, that if Jordan did not attack Israel, Israel would not attack Jordan. Although the charge of aggression is freely made against Israel in relation to the Six-Days War the fact remains that the two attempts made in the General Assembly in June-July 1967 to secure the condemnation of Israel as an aggressor failed. A clear and striking majority of the members of the U.N. voted against the proposition that Israel was an aggressor.”
Judge Schwebel’s writings lead to the conclusion that under international law, Israel is permitted to stay in the West Bank as long as it is necessary to her self-defense.
Defensive Wars and Wars of Aggression
International law makes a clear distinction between defensive wars and wars of aggression. All of Israel’s wars with its Arab neighbors were in self-defense.
Judge Schwebel, wrote in What Weight to Conquest:
“(a) a state [Israel] acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defense;
“(b) as condition of its withdrawal from such territory, that State may require the institution of security measures reasonably designed to ensure that that territory shall not again be used to mount a threat or use of force against it of such a nature as to justify exercise of self-defense;
“(c) Where the prior holder of territory [Jordan] had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title. “… as between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt.”
UN “Inadmissibility of the Acquisition of Territory by Force”
Most UN General Assembly Resolutions regarding Israel read at the start: “Aware of the established principle of international law on the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force.”
Judge Schwebel, explains that the principle of “acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible” must be read together with other principles: “… namely, that no legal right shall spring from a wrong, and the Charter principle that the Members of the United Nations shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”
Simply stated: Arab illegal aggression against the territorial integrity and political independence of Israel can not and should not be rewarded. Judge Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice, argued in 1968 that:
“… Territorial change cannot properly take place as a result of the ‘unlawful’ use of force. But to omit the word ‘unlawful’ is to change the substantive content of the rule and to turn an important safeguard of legal principle into an aggressor’s charter. For if force can never be used to effect lawful territory change, then, if territory has once changed hands as a result of the unlawful use of force, the illegitimacy of the position thus established is sterilized by the prohibition upon the use of force to restore the lawful sovereign. This cannot be regarded as reasonable or correct.”
Professor Julius Stone, a leading authority on the Law of Nations, stated:
“Territorial Rights Under International Law. … By their [Arab countries] armed attacks against the State of Israel in 1948, 1967, and 1973, and by various acts of belligerency throughout this period, these Arab states flouted their basic obligations as United Nations members to refrain from threat or use of force against Israel’s territorial integrity and political independence. These acts were in flagrant violation inter alia [among other things] of Article 2(4) and paragraphs (1), (2), and (3) of the same article.”