The Arabs, 1967
The flash war in the Middle East brought swift victory to the Israelis, humiliating defeat to the Arabs, but it has done little to settle the long-term issues in that part of the world. A leading American authority on the Arabs here tells why. Professor Badeau, director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia, lived in the Arab world from 1928 to 1953, and again from 1961 until mid-1964, when he was American Ambassador to the United Arab Republic. For seventeen years he was variously a professor, dean, and president at the American University in Cairo.
AS THE dust of battle settled over Sinai after six brief days of fighting, only the spoor of fleeing Arab forces remained to mark the tragic ArabIsraeli conflict of June, 1967. Yet though the victory was swift and irrevocable, it has not yet proved decisive. Will stunning defeat bring the Arabs to their moment of truth, marking the beginning of the end of their hostility toward Israel? Or may it be the end of the beginning of Israel’s existence, ushering in a Hundred Years’ War in which the rising tide of Arab population and resources ultimately will engulf the tiny state? These questions cannot now be answered; much will depend upon the accuracy and realism with which the causes of the recent struggle are appraised and their lessons applied to the future.
In the immediate aftermath of conflict, there has been a tendency to oversimplify and emotionalize the issues, reducing them to terms of innocence and blame which absolve each party from responsibility in its own eyes. To both sides and their supporters, the key lies in “aggression,” that portmanteau word which modern man must eschew since it is not respectable to admit anything but “defensive” military action. Thus the Arabs claim their action was “defensive” since (they maintain) Israel fired the shot and launched the invasion which precipitated war. Israel points to the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba as the casus belli, to which their military action was only a defensive response. Which was the true cause for the outbreak of war?
The answer must be that neither was; what broke out in overt conflict was the surfacing of disputes and policies to which each contestant had long contributed. On their part, the Arabs had persistently underestimated the reality and predictability of Israel’s reaction to nineteen years of unrelenting hostility by the encircling Arab world. Faced with a sustained state of belligerency, the target of constant threats and innuendos, beset with intermittent border raids and terrorist attacks, Israel could not be counted upon to exercise restraint under mounting provocation — as any perceptive Arab leader should have known. No state can acquiesce in a permanent threat to its existence, no government can abdicate its responsibility to protect the lives and property of its citizens from attack. Sustained periods of guerrilla terrorism, such as that which began in the summer of 1966, would inevitably generate a sharp Israeli reaction, and the Arabs have only themselves to blame if they failed to recognize this.
That they consistently underestimated the temper of Israel is due in part to the difference between the credibility of Arab and Israeli statements of intent. The Arab world is highly verbal; words are often ends in themselves and not necessarily forerunners of action. The fact that an Arab leader states a purpose publicly is not an invariable sign that he will carry it out, as the shrill crescendo of verbal inter-Arab warfare during the past few years clearly shows. Too often the Arabs tended to give the same weight to Israeli statements that they gave to their own, to their dismay when prompt action followed.
Moreover, Arab estimates of Israeli intentions were affected by their conviction that the great powers (especially the United States) really controlled the country; hence Israel would not make a major move without foreign support and acquiescence, if not with actual urging. The possibility of Israeli armed action thus went beyond what Israel itself might purpose and be capable of doing, involving estimates of what the West would allow Israel to do. The immediate and universal Arab acceptance of the fiction that American planes assisted Israel in its attack against the U.A.R. was due in part to the belief that Israel could not have undertaken military action without the encouragement and support of the United States — hence it appeared credible that American planes were dispatched to help Israel. This seemed the more logical in view of the long history of American commitments and arms sales to Israel, and the flood of public statements across the years from leading American personalities and politicians giving uncritical support to Israel’s cause.
BUT THE Arab action which led to the 1967 conflict had deeper roots. The reasons for sustained Arab hostility toward Israel are more profound and intricate than many Americans allow themselves to believe. Such simple answers as “Arabs hate Jews,” “the backward Arab world fears the existence of a modern and democratic state in its midst,” “the Arabs in general do not feel deeply about Israel, it is their leaders who whip up enmity for their own purposes” not only explain nothing, but are untrue. Such shallow estimates of Arab motivation have led many supporters of Israel to underestimate the depth and stamina of the Arab response and to be oversanguine that a determined display of force will lead to peace. The question is not one of accepting the Arab point of view, but of understanding it, so that approaches and policies will be grounded in realism and not in wishful thinking. If the Arabs have persistently, and to their hurt, underestimated the fact of Israel’s existence and its predictable response to their enmity, Israel and its supporters have as persistently, and to their hurt, underestimated the facts of Arab feelings and the problems Israel’s existence poses for them.
The outbreak of conflict in the spring of 1967, after nine years of relative peace, encapsuled the principal elements in the Arab attitude toward Israel. Its most basic lesson is that Arab hostility is still bitter and ubiquitous after nearly two decades of fruitless struggle. In many ways, 1967 was not a repetition of 1956, when the Egyptian response to Israel’s invasion of its territory was a limited action and did not precipitate general Arab war. It was rather a return to 1948, when the Arabs fought as a group against the existence of Israel as a country. It is this fact which has baffled and angered so many who support Israel. They feel it is irrational and irresponsible for a people to continue hostility so long and in the face of such repeated failure. By this time the Arabs should have made their peace with events and come to terms with what they could not undo. That they have not done so, the argument runs, must be due to an irrational streak in their temperament, to the cynical machinations of their leaders, to irradicable anti-Jewism, or to the scheming of the Soviet Union.
Yet of all people, the Jewish community should understand the tenacity of racial memory and longsustained feeling. Through the years of dispersion, they never forgot Palestine, although it was only since the last century that this steadfastness involved dedication to the re-creation of a Jewish state in the long-remembered homeland.
This is not to say that the factors involved in the Jewish attachment to Israel are precisely the same as those contained in the Arab sense of connection with Palestine. Palestine was not the original historical center of life and religion for the Arabs, as it was for Jewry. The Arabs were not a minority dispersed through many lands, and they did not suffer under discrimination and persecution, as many Jews had. They never faced a threat of racial extinction, as European Jews did under Nazism, in which a national refuge became a matter of life and death for many. Although Palestine had been an Arab land since at least the seventh century and contained important religious sites (both Christian and Muslim), it did not fill the horizon of Arab consciousness, as it did for many Jews. Why then is the Arab connection with Palestine so strong and the sense of outrage at its loss so deep?
The most basic cause is found in the intense Arab reaction against long-continued domination of their destinies by foreign countries. In the fading days of Ottoman rule, the Arab communities of the Middle East were stirred by nationalistic consciousness akin to that involved in the emergence of the Zionist ideal in Jewry. They sought cultural revival, political expression, and community selfhood within the body of the Turkish Empire — a recognition of “Arabistan” as an entity in which the destiny of the Arab people could be achieved. Thwarted in their struggle, some of their principal leaders responded to British promises during the First World War and joined the Allies in the overthrow of Ottoman rule. They did so on the understanding that their national aspirations would be recognized and some form of independent Arab rule achieved.
In recent days there have been repeated references to the statement of Faisal (a principal leader of the Arab Revolt in 1916—1918 and later King of Iraq) that there was no conflict between the aims of Zionism and Arab nationalism. Those who quote it leave out the essential condition which Faisal attached to his statement, that all the promises made to the Arabs should be fulfilled. This was not done; the attempt to create an Arab state was checkmated by France and Great Britain, who carved up the Arab portion of the defunct Ottoman Empire to suit their own purposes. The creation of Iraq, Syria, modern Lebanon, Jordan, and (mandated) Palestine was not a fulfillment of Arab independence, but the parceling out of Arab populations to suit the convenience of the victorious Allied Powers.
THE Arabs never forgot this. It was the Great Betrayal of their national cause, the incontestable proof that the West meant to divide and rule them in its own interests. After two decades of sharp struggle between individual nationalisms in Arab countries and their Western masters, the Second World War came to erode imperial ties and create a new organ of international action. Arab nationalism took new hope and looked forward to becoming at last the master of its own destiny.
It was at this juncture that the creation of Israel was forced on the Arab world. The plea that Nazi persecution justified the creation did not move the Arabs, since these persecutions were the product of anti-Semitism in the Western world and not in the Middle East, where Arab-Jewish relations had been remarkably good. “It was the West which persecuted the Jews,” said the Arabs; “now they want to get rid of their problem by pushing it off on us and using our land.”
But the Arabs did not see Israel simply as a device of the West to rid itself of an unconscionable problem at the expense of another people. It was for them a tactic of fading imperial power to continue its control of Arab destinies. The position of the British in Arab lands was rapidly and irrevocably fading; now they sought to bolster up their weakness by creating Israel as a Western bridgehead, confronting the Arab world with a situation which would trouble and divide it. In the ensuing attack on the new state, the Arabs were not so much responding to the existence of Israel per se as to a long history of foreign control, domination, and manipulation at the hands of the great powers. Israel became, and has remained, the symbol of the Arab national struggle against foreign control.
This reaction was not merely a psychological fact of the Arab mind; it stemmed from and was given content by the process through which Israel came into being. The United Nations did not consult the wishes of the majority community in Palestine (the Arabs were nearly two thirds of the population) in regard to their political future. On the basis of Jewish ownership of some 23 percent of the total cultivatable land area of the country, Israel was given nearly 40 percent of Palestine. The vote in the United Nations which created the state came only after long debate and was due in part (the Arabs allege, with some justification) to the Western bloc and the pressure it was able to mount on client states. The Arabs have always maintained that the United Nations did not have the authority under its charter to dispose of their territory, especially without regard to the wishes of the inhabitants. They can only see that Israel was rammed down their throats by the same forces which so long had manipulated their national life.
Perhaps the Arabs should forget all this after nineteen years of fruitless struggle and recognize that history seldom moves to right past wrongs; but they have not, and they will not. After all, two decades is a short span in the thirteen centuries of Arab history; Palestine has been lost to the Arabs before and ultimately regained — it could happen again. The inherent superiority of Arab resources (presently thirty times the population of Israel and eight times its gross national product), the growing modernization of Arab life, the rising power of the non-Western world in international affairs, and the legitimacy of their aspirations make the Arabs feel that time is on their side more than it is on Israel’s.
Moreover, the Arabs read Israel’s policies since its founding as proof that it intends to be a law unto itself, not bound by the international community to which it owes its existence. On the eve of the creation of the new state, the Zionist radical underground launched a series of unprovoked attacks on certain Arab territories to force their inclusion within Israel, although they did not lie within the borders created by the United Nations resolution — a fact which has been acknowledged with some gratitude by Israeli leaders. In recent years, Israel has been deliberately uncooperative with the United Nations Mixed Armistice Commission, refusing to participate in many of its meetings. After the 1956 attack on Egypt, Israel categorically refused the United Nations’ request to station a new peacekeeping force (UNEF) on its soil, although Egypt accepted for its own territory in the Gaza Strip. The demilitarized zones, created by the Armistice Agreement which ended the 1948 fighting, have been a cause of continuing dispute. Repeatedly Israel has attempted to extend agriculture and land reclamation into these areas, over the Arab insistence that this violated their status quo under the agreement. This was one reason for the intermittent clashes along the Syrian border which led to the 1966—1967 Syrian hostility. In Arab eyes, this record gave the image of an aggressive Israel, only accepting United Nations controls and operations when they served its own purposes.
THIS image was sharpened by the one problem which, more than any other aspect of the existence of Israel, has stirred Arab resentment and fanned the embers of Arab hostility — the plight of the Arab refugee. As a result of the founding of Israel, over one million Arab inhabitants of Palestine became refugees in neighboring countries. Nearly a quarter of the original refugee group fled their country before the British forces were withdrawn and Israel came into being. The remaining three quarters were uprooted during the hostilities and the period when the cease-fire was being negotiated. One of the first actions of the United Nations after the 1948 conflict was to call for the return of these refugees to their homes; on December 11, 1948, the General Assembly adopted a resolution stating “that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for the loss and damage to property.”
This resolution was repeatedly reaffirmed, yet Israel did not take steps to implement it, the Israeli view being that it would discuss the refugee problem only in the context of a general peace settlement. The Arabs have maintained that the right of people to return to and reside on their own property is a basic human right, not subject to collateral conditions, and cite the UN resolution in defense of this.
Israel and some of its supporters have countered this claim by maintaining that the refugees left voluntarily, being lured from their homes by provocative Arab broadcasts which promised that they would return in triumph once victory had been won. There is no dependable historical evidence that this counterclaim was true; tapes allegedly recording such broadcasts have been cited, but never produced for impartial inspection. The fact is that most of the refugees fled because they were afraid, afraid of being caught between the lines of battle, afraid of terrorist raids by the Zionist underground such as that which destroyed the village of Dar Yassin on April 9, 1948, in which some 250 unarmed Arabs were massacred. Yet, regardless of the reasons for flight, the Arabs (and apparently the United Nations) have taken the view that a man has a right to return to his home no matter what the reason for his leaving — so long (as the UN resolution stated) as he intends to live peacefully with his neighbors.
This tragic situation has left in the heart of the Arab world a mass of dislocated and bitter people, dependent on international charity for their existence, taxing the resources of the countries to which they have fled, and nursing a deep sense of grievance against those who now occupy their homes. Movements like the Palestine Liberation Organization and leaders like Ahmed Shukairy are not due so much to the calculated policy of Arab states as to the festering sore of the refugee camps. The failure of Israel to show any concern for this problem, to make any serious attempt to carry out the United Nations resolution, or even to admit a responsibility toward the refugees which it could not presently implement because of its own security problem is read by the Arabs as proof that Israel is basically anti-Arab.
Admittedly, these Arab views of Israel are partial, emotional, not taking into account Israel’s own problems and the problem Israel itself was created to solve. The dispassionate political analyst will not read the situation either as the Arab or as the Israeli does. Both Arab and Israeli motives are mixed, and both highlight the factors which favor their cause and neglect those which weaken it. But Arab feelings are genuine, deep, founded upon a case which cannot be summarily dismissed as simply irrational hatred or political maneuver. This case and the feelings it engenders are a fundamental cause of the 1967 conflict; without taking full account of them, any explanation of Arab actions is partial and misleading.
IT IS still too early to establish a definitive account of all that transpired in precipitating the outbreak of hostilities in June, 1967, but there are certain general factors affecting the Arab action which are clear. One was the continuing effect on Egypt and the Arab world of the 1956 Israeli invasion of Egypt. Because this was followed by ten years of relative (if uneasy) calm, it has largely been forgotten in the West, but Egypt and President Nasser did not forget it. From that bitter experience, the military and political leadership of Egypt drew three conclusions.
The first was that Israel would “try it again” when a propitious opportunity for military action offered itself. In the winter and spring of 1967, the U.A.R. and Syria believed they had evidence that Israel might be preparing for another round. In response to continued border raids, Premier Eshkol gave public warning in the Knesset that Israel might take drastic action, hinting at a military retaliation against Syria. This warning was given unusual weight by the Syrians and Egyptians because of the Israeli punitive action against the Jordanian village of el Sammu in November, 1956. To Eshkol’s warning was added the fact that at the annual parade in Jerusalem on Israel’s Independence Day, some heavy military equipment was conspicuously absent — could it be massed on the borders of Syria for an attack? The suspicion was confirmed when the Soviets apparently reported to the Syrians in late April or early May that their intelligence had detected an Israeli armed concentration on the Syrian border. It is not possible to know whether this was a complete fabrication or rested upon some hard evidence; the important thing is that it confirmed Syrian and Egyptian fears. Shortly thereafter both the Syrian and Egyptian intelligence claimed that they had independent confirmation of the Soviet report.
Many will scoff at the idea that Israel was preparing to repeat its 1956 maneuver, or had any aggressive intent toward its neighboring Arab states. What is important is not the fact, but the belief in Syrian and Egyptian minds. Given the experience of a sudden Israeli attack eleven years earlier, which obviously had been well planned, it is not surprising that the Arabs were prepared to believe the worst. This belief did not concern Israel alone; it also included Arab estimates of Western policy. In 1956, Israel had been aided and abetted by France and Great Britain, the full story of whose complicity is just beginning to be revealed.
In 1967 it seemed to the Egyptians that Great Britain and the United States might be urging Israel on in its alleged aggressive policies. Britain and the U.A.R. had long been involved in a confrontation in South Arabia, where Egypt was supporting the most radical wing of the Aden national struggle. Ameriean-Egyptian relations had steadily deteriorated since 1965; American aid to the U.A.R. had virtually ceased, and by the winter of 1967 President Nasser believed that the United States had written off the U.A.R. in its Arab policies and was determined to undermine his position. On several occasions he and other senior members of his government expressed the conviction that a “confrontation” between the two countries was inevitable. Given the American connection with Israel and the memory of the carefully concealed Anglo-French involvement in the 1956 affair, it seemed plausible that behind Israel’s disquieting statements and (reported) military movements lay Anglo-American conniving.
A SECOND lesson drawn from the 1956 experience was that never again could Egypt afford to be caught with its armed forces unmobilized in the face of a possible invasion. The 1956 attack caught the Egyptian Army completely unprepared — although the crescendo of border incidents should have warned them of the possibility of a major Israeli response. Defeated once by unpreparedness (as they saw it), they would not run the risk of a second experience. The development of the Egyptian Army after 1956, with its better training and larger supply of advanced weapons, gave confidence that if the army were in position, it could prevent an aggressive action, perhaps even carry war into Israeli territory. At the same time, mobilization would serve to warn Israel and those allegedly behind it that the U.A.R. was on to the game and would not be caught napping this time.
But in mobilizing, it is doubtful that the U.A.R. felt it ran too great a risk of actual conflict, for the third lesson it drew from 1956 was that the world community would not allow another war between Israel and the Arabs. President Nasser freely expressed this conviction on a number of occasions, saying that since the world community had stopped Israel in its attack against the Arabs in 1956, it would also stop an Arab attack against Israel, giving this as one reason why he opposed plans for a general Arab-Israeli war.
Despite the usual flood of bellicose statements, it does not appear on the basis of information now available that the U.A.R. was planning to attack Israel out of hand. It seems rather to have responded to what it considered the possibility of Israeli action by taking the step of complete and challenging mobilization on Israel’s borders, believing that it could do so with safety on the basis of its own military strength and the probability that international forces would restrain Israel and find some way out of the situation short of war.
It may be argued that President Nasser’s request for the withdrawal of UNEF from the Gaza Strip makes this view invalid, his true object being to get the United Nations out of the way so that he could attack Israel. No conclusive judgment can yet be given on this, but there is evidence which suggests that the U.A.R. did not expect or plan for the complete dismounting of the UN peacekeeping operation. From his standpoint, Secretary-General U Thant acted correctly; no UN peace force could remain on the soil of a host country over that country’s objection. Moreover, it seems to have been the Secretary-General’s conviction that unless a peacekeeping force had full freedom to exercise its function, it must be withdrawn, both to protect the UN from blame of ineffectiveness for which it was not responsible, and to secure freedom for future peacekeeping operations in other situations. Additionally, Yugoslavia and India appeared to be considering the withdrawal of their contingents from UNEF.
Despite these conditions and the logic they imposed on the situation, it appears that the U.A.R. was taken by surprise by the instant and complete dispersal of UNEF. Apparently President Nasser expected that the observers would be withdrawn from the borders to Gaza, then the matter carried back to the UN with delaying diplomatic tactics which might result in some compromise solution.
That this did not happen seems to have been an important element in the outbreak of conflict. Once the UNEF force was withdrawn from the Strait of Tiran, the Egyptian Army naturally replaced it. In Egyptian eyes this returned the Gulf of Aqaba to its pre-1956 position. The chief gain Israel had made from 1956 was the opening of the Gulf of Aqaba, which became the symbol to the Egyptians of their defeat and the unwarranted “fruit of aggression” on the part of Israel. The temptation was too strong to be resisted. Encouraged by plaudits from the Arab world, Nasser moved to erase the last blot from the Egyptian scutcheon and return his country’s sovereignty over its own territory to what it had been before the Israeli attack in 1956.
IN ALL this it is clear that the Egyptians were badly misled when they assumed that the world of 1967 was so like the world of 1956 that hostilities would be prevented by international action. American-Soviet cooperation was not possible, as it had been eleven years earlier. The Soviets were under pressure from their dispute with China and at odds with the United States over Vietnam. The problems of the NATO alliance, with the defection of France and the weakening of the British position, made united Western action highly improbable — as American failure to rally support against the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba showed. Israel had strengthened its political and foreign policy selfdetermination and had increased its military power. 1967 was not 1956, and it was a calamitous miscalculation to assume that Arabs could confront Israel with impunity behind the shield of an expected international intervention.
While the memory of 1956 and the lessons the Arabs drew from it formed the general framework for their actions in 1967, there were at least two other important factors involved. The first was the relationship between the U.A.R. and Syria. After the dissolution of the Egyptian-Syrian union in 1961, the two countries entered a period of intermittent cold war and revolutionary rivalry. Syria has always felt that it was the wellspring of Arab unity, and its Baath Party saw itself as the original and true delineator of Arab socialism. Nasser’s claims to Arab leadership and socialist pioneering did not sit well with the Syrians, who resented what had happened to them under the United Arab Republic. Part of Syria’s proprietary sense of Arab unity was expressed by its uncompromising stand against Israel; of all Arab countries, Syria was the most consistently provocative in its Israeli policies.
Syria was a problem to the U.A.R. Its stand against Israel could not be openly repudiated, nor its claim to revolutionary socialism written off. After some five years of tension, the U.A.R. moved (partly under Soviet prodding) to plaster over its differences with Syria, and in the fall of 1966, entered into a defensive alliance with Damascus. On the surface this appeared to be a move against Israel, but in fact it was partly a device through which the U.A.R. hoped to restrain Syrian adventures which might embroil the U.A.R. in an unplanned and undesired conflict. This objective was also present in the earlier formation of the Unified Military Command, a device by which the U.A.R. hoped to have some influence in the military planning of other Arab states as a partial guarantee against their unilateral action.
During the growing tension between Syria and Israel in the winter of 1967, the U.A.R. was relatively quiet, but after the major air battle in the early spring, when the Syrians were badly defeated, Syria pressed the U.A.R. to honor its commitment. Credibility is as important to the U.A.R. as it is to the United States, and Nasser either had to repudiate his undertaking or to fulfill it. Given the circumstance already described, and certain special Egyptian problems presently to be discussed, the U.A.R. threw in its lot with Syria, and to a measure, became a captive of that country’s aggressive antiIsrael policies. That Nasser did this was due in part to his conviction that the U.A.R. military establishment could stand up against Israel should conflict break out.
This is only one illustration of how the Palestine problem has been a continuing factor in inter-Arab politics. This is the one issue on which no Arab leader can turn his back without risking his position, either in his own country or in the Arab world. Bourguiba was able to take a soft line toward Israel without imperiling his domestic position, but he paid for it by losing influence among his Arab neighbors.
This leads to the second factor in U.A.R. actions other than the impact of 1956 — the particular problems Egypt was facing in its relations with the Arab world. After the Syrian defection in 1961 and President Nasser’s growing stalemate in Yemen, Egyptian reputation steadily eroded. King Faisal’s adroit diplomacy checkmated tlie U.A.R. on a number of occasions, the Unified Military Command, which Egypt had sponsored, began to break up, divisions within the Arab League were so sharp that it was impossible to hold a proposed chief-of-states conference to consider common Arab problems. Thus the U.A.R. found itself increasingly isolated from many of its neighbors.
The issue went far beyond President Nasser’s personal leadership. As the largest Arab state, Egyptian influence in recent years has been a constant and natural factor in Arab politics; no plans for concerted Arab action could be made without Egyptian concurrence and participation. As the possessor of the area’s largest armed force, the center of revolutionary change, and the most active Arab state in international affairs, the U.A.R. could not be shoved aside without generating a sharp reaction.
This reaction did not create the recent ArabIsraeli clash as a cynical maneuver to regain lost influence. As has been made clear, the elements of the crisis were all present in the situation and in the Arab suspicions of Israel’s intent. But as the crisis developed, it seems clear that the U.A.R. saw in it an opportunity to reassert its “natural” leadership and this in connection with the one issue which most unites the Arabs. If a clash with Israel seemed imminent, the U.A.R. could not stand aloof from it or afford (with its large military force) to be halfhearted in its involvement. This does not mean that Egypt decided to launch an overt and aggressive attack on Israel at the head of united Arab armies. There is good reason to believe that President Nasser was pursuing a political rather than a military objective, and believed that a determined stand against what he and the Arabs felt to be the threat of Israeli action might force the United Nations to review the situation and institute a settlement more favorable to the Arabs. This was a return to the 1948 situation rather than to 1956; what was sought was not simply to curtail possible Israeli invasion, but to reopen the entire question of Palestine, including the refugees, in the hope that some new UN resolutions might result.
It is not yet possible accurately to assess the degree and form of Soviet responsibility for Arab actions. Apparently the Egyptians did not consult or clear with the Soviets when they closed the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Soviets did not support this action in their speeches at the Security Council. It has been claimed that Russian technicians participated in Syrian military action; if so, the number was small. There is no evidence that Russian personnel assisted the Egyptians.
It seems clear that the Soviets saw in the mounting tension between the Arabs and Israel an opportunity to increase their influence in the Arab world and to embarrass the United States while its attention was absorbed in Vietnam. In general, Soviet objectives have been served by keeping the ArabIsraeli dispute simmering, but not allowing it to come to a boil. To settle the conflict would increase the stability of the area, which the Soviets do not want; to push it to overt conflict would imperil their large investment in some Arab lands and risk the danger of a global confrontation.
Here the Russians seem to have miscalculated as badly as the Arabs. They apparently assumed that the United States could and would control Israel on the brink of conflict, throwing the matter into the United Nations, where they could wage a prolonged diplomatic campaign in support of the Arabs. Part of their miscalculation seems to have been based on unrealistic estimates of Arab strength, which, if it could not defeat Israel (as any competent Soviet military analyst must have known), could at least stand off an attack until international intervention carried the matter from the battlefield to the debates of the United Nations.
Had UN intervention developed, the U.A.R. would have had a political triumph which would have restored its waning leadership, set forward the unity of the Arab world, and alleviated some of the deep frustrations which the Arab-Israeli impasse had created. This was one reason why President Nasser was willing to play the game of brinkmanship in the Gulf of Aqaba and on the southern borders of Israel, setting the stage for an Israeli response while continuing to believe that the worst would not happen.
But the worst did happen; the Arabs miscalculated their own military strength, the ability of the international community to intervene, and the determination of Israel to use direct military measures. The stunning defeat which followed has made that clear beyond all doubt; what it has not made clear is that any of the basic forces involved in the Arab reaction to Israel’s presence has changed or been obliterated. That is the problem of the future, and any course of action which assumes that the recent war has settled the long-term issue will be unrealistic and unproductive.