BY: R’ Landa – The voice of Lakewood
For many months, the pages of The Voice of Lakewood served as an arena of battle about the Jews living in the land of Israel and their seemingly miraculous ability to survive and thrive for the better part of the past century. While some letters to the magazine saw clear yad H-shem guiding recent history in the Middle East, particularly in the astounding defense achievements of the tiny country surrounded by powerful, hostile neighbors; others denied anything unusual in Israel’s armed exploits.
Many of these latter letter-writers considered the Jewish victories to be rather humdrum based on a book called The Empty Wagon, by Yaakov Shapiro. Several letters asked the editors of the Voice for an article from Shapiro himself on the topic, particularly with regards to the Six Day War. The magazine complied while accepting Shapiro’s insistence that he enjoy the last word on the subject. While The Voice must honor its commitment to the author, I must not. The debate was triggered by a comment that appeared in my bi-weekly opinion column in The Voice, and unfortunately, Shapiro’s message is too vile as misleading to be left standing. I thank Greater Lakewood for providing an alternative forum for rebutting his twisted facts and mangled history.
The Six Day War: Just the Facts
A great debt of gratitude is owed to Yaakov Shapiro, author of The Empty Wagon: Zionism’s Journey From Identity Crisis to Identity Theft, for clarifying the thought process that leads a religious, G-d fearing Jew to deny His hand in the events of the Six Day War in June 1967. The logic truly eluded incredulous observers who had the misfortune to watch the attempts to explain how religious conviction could birth such an atheistic idea. We tried to follow, in disbelief, the twisted reasoning that led some to deny the obvious hand of Heaven in major events concerning millions of Jewish people (about whom it is stated, ain mazal l’Yisrael) in the land of Israel, (eretz asher tamid einei H-shem elokecha bah), insisting instead that these events were pure happenstance, the result of military planning or hardware or the other rudderless factors.
Never mind that it is one of the cornerstones of our faith that the fates of Jews -individually, certainly nationally- and the land, are governed by pure hashgacha, but in circumstances such as these, the Divine Oversight is plain to see. For these people, their personal disapproval of the granting of divine assistance to apikorsim leads them to commit the very same act of denial.
For this and similar foolishness, we beat our chest on Yom Kippur and confess, kishinu oref. The logic of these arguments itself beggar belief. The letters, declaring allegiance to The Empty Wagon, claim the outcome of the Six Day War was perfectly natural and easily foreseen and predicted, due to the superior training, might, and strategy of the IDF. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that these claims stand up to a fact-check. How does a Jew not see miracles in that, itself? An assessment of the miraculous nature of things must include perspective on the broader picture, not merely one focused cause-and-effect. Their argument is akin to saying, “Well, Purim wasn’t really a miracle. After all, the Jews had a sister in the palace, isn’t it logical that she would be able to lobby on their behalf?” The miracle of Purim is clear when we take a zoomed-out historical view, and trace the confluence of events leading to the ultimate salvation. The same is true when considering that a bedraggled band of refugees and survivors, shunned and excluded by all major world powers, banned from owning weapons, and later from buying them, surrounded by bitter foes and outnumbered more than ten to one, developed within twenty years to the point that it can survive a multi-pronged onslaught, let alone deliver a stunning defeat. This qualifies to be called miraculous, no matter how logical the progression from any one point to another may be.
We use the term “miracle” when something occurs which is so unlikely, so remarkable, that it has never or rarely been seconded in history. Military upsets have occurred. World powers have been defeated by small bands of fighters. But never has a transformation as drastic as the above occurred. (Incidentally, the world’s major martial upsets have all been accomplished by roving guerrilla fighters, never by full- frontal battle. Think Vietnam, Afghanistan, American Revolution, lehavdil, Chanuka.) For the sake of perspective, notice that the “Palestinian refugees” despite billions of dollars of international aid and cooperation, and free governmental utilities and services, have yet to organize into even a rudimentary sustainable society.
So Empty Wagon readers made no sense to the rest of us. It called to mind the visual painted by Rav Yonasan Eibushutz –when asked about the multitudes following other belief systems– of hundreds of people following a blind man purportedly out of the forest. However, now, kudos to Yaakov Shapiro’s contribution to The Voice, we can understand their position. You see, Shapiro and his cult believe that the Six Day War was the product of Israeli aggression, a battle picked by them for their own political, economic, or even personal gains. Were that to be true, certainly, it would be no miracle. It would be just plain bullying of millions of innocent Arabs. The question, then, is whether or not Shapiro is right. Who started the aggression?
This may come as a surprise to you, but I am no fan of the political entity that is the State of Israel, Having lived there for 12 years, I am grateful for its hospitality, but experienced much religious persecution there. It is far from a fair, evenhanded government. I am also no fan of Zionism, and I agree with Shapiro’s assertion (in his book) that Herzlian Zionism can fairly be blamed for many terrible calamities, including the Holocaust.
Yet I am a great fan of the truth, and of kvod shamayim. And intend to speak in defense of both. Shapiro suggests that “Israel went to war… whether [it was because] they believed Egypt would attack or whether they wanted to embarrass [Egyptian President Gamal Abdul] Nasser and weaken him politically; or to reopen the Straits of Tiran that Egypt closed; or to weaken Russia’s influence in the region, etc.” Later, he writes that “Israel had no reason to go to war and could settle the Straits of Tiran problem diplomatically… but wanted war anyway.” Shapiro claims that Israeli chest-thumping generals chose war so as not to seem weak, or lose headlines, and that Minister Yigal Allon “proposed inventing a pretext to allow Israel to claim that the Egyptians had started the war,” and that toward that end “the Mossad suggested sending a ship through the Straits so that the Egyptians would attack it.”
Fact Check: These badly mangled shadows of facts are only vaguely reminiscent of truth, containing just enough reality to make them seem plausible. What they are a faithful rendition of, however, are the Arab states’ revisionist history of the events of 1967. As we can still see today, the Arabs dominate Israel on the propaganda front, and put forth a completely fabricated version of events, both during as they are occurring and afterward.
Following the crushing defeat in 1967, the Arab revisionist history machine kicked into high gear to do what they do best- win the political battle with alternate facts that are not within shouting distance of the truth.
And sadly, Shapiro has lapped it all up. Of course, Shapiro would level the same accusation against the truth, much as Nasser did. So let us present the independently verifiable facts on the topic, and allow the reader to decide. Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser was never content to rule Egypt, his unabashed goals were always to rule the entire Arab world. To that end, he formed a joint country with Syria called the United Arab Republic in February 1958.
Yet, in the mid-1960s, Nasser’s megalomaniacal dreams were struggling. He was losing political capital with the Arab countries as successful terror attacks against Israel were frequently launched from other Arab countries, 14 in the first half of May 1967 alone. English news correspondent Winston S. Churchill records all this in his book The Six Day War, published in late 1967. Churchill writes, “Nasser was engaged in a struggle to establish and maintain his own position as leader of the Arab world. Why it was asked, were there so little terrorist activities against Israel from bases in Egypt. … He wanted to silence his critics and reassert his flagging leadership of the Arab world.
Nasser moved to regain clout by picking a fight with Israel.” And it worked wonderfully – until he lost. In a style reminiscent of Hitler’s, thirty years prior, Nasser began a series of moves, pausing after each one to look around and see if the world would react. When the nations proved indifferent, he moved to the next.
On May 15, unprovoked, Nasser moved 100,000 troops, 250 armored vehicles, and many advanced Russian artillery units to the border with Israel, violating a prior treaty and demilitarized zone. The world did nothing, so Nasser ordered the UN peacekeeping force, placed in Egypt specifically to avoid another war, to go home. UN Secretary-General U Thant complied without a word of protest. By May 19, Israel found itself facing a powerful army, with no UNEF forces in sight. Next, Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, blocking all energy shipments and much more to Israel. By international treaty, blocking maritime shipping routes to a sovereign nation is considered an act of war.
Syria, which had a recent mutual defense treaty signed with Egypt, had announced it would block 35% of Israel’s water supply from flowing to its National Water Carrier, also legally an act of war. On May 29, Jordan’s King Hussein flew to Cairo and signed a defense pact with his former bitter enemy, Nasser. Hussein went as far as to place all his forces under the command of Nasser’s Chief of Staff, General Mortagi. Syria then announced “full combat readiness.” The following day, President Aref of Iraq, moved troops, tanks, and planes close to bases in Jordan. Kuwait mobilized its troops to participate in the action, Lebanon committed its forces to Nasser, and Saudi King Faisal announced that his forces would join the aggression. PLA leader Ahmed Shukeiry placed 8000 men under Nasser. General mobilization was proclaimed by Sudan and Algiers. Even the government of India proclaimed support for Nasser.
Sabre-rattling by the Arab media and leaders continued in earnest. Mortagi proclaimed that there was about to be a “…holy war to reclaim the plundered soil of Palestine.” On May 26, Nasser said, “Our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.” Saudi Ambassador Ahmed Shukeiri declared there would be a conflagration, and “no Jews would survive.” Throngs of people marched in Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus, chanting, “Death to the Jews!” “Throw the Jews into the sea!” and “Slaughter, slaughter, slaughter!” Egyptian media published cartoons of its men plundering Israeli towns. One depicted a hand stabbing a magen david, signed “Nile Oils and Soaps Company,” a clear reference to Nazi atrocities. Even Pope Kyrillos VI of the Egyptian Coptic Church chimed in, supporting “all steps to regain Palestine from those who crucified….”
Shapiro claims Israel could have had a diplomatic solution. But the facts are that despite the forest of guns pointing at it from all sides, Israel tried every diplomatic angle possible to avoid war. As Shapiro notes, Foreign Minister Abba Eban visited France, London, and Washington for support, but was rebuffed by all three. France was Israel’s main ally until that point, and the only country in the world that would sell it planes and arms. Yet French President De Gaulle indicated that he would support the Arabs from now on, and warned Eban that if Israel fired first it would never purchase another bullet from his country.
London was sympathetic, but Prime Minister Wilson did nothing. President Johnson was full of friendly bluster, but had spent far too much political capital in Vietnam to support Israel. The little country was alone. Eban pointed out that the closure of the Straits of Tiran was illegal and an act of war, and asked for help from the three countries that had signed a pact in 1956 to keep the Straits open, but all ignored him. DeGaulle said, “1956 is not 1967.”
London and Washington proclaimed that the blockage of the Straits of Tiran was illegal, but refused to do much to stop it. Nasser had warned them that any country that interfered would be prevented from using the Suez Canal. President Johnson (not Israel) came up with the idea to send ships through the Egyptian blockade to draw fire and see if the Egyptians were serious. Johnson called it the Red Sea Regatta Plan, and attempted to assemble an international flotilla; but even that plan failed to generate interest from the world’s maritime powers, and it sunk. Russia? The Soviets armed, trained, and supported Egypt and Syria. Shapiro suggests Israel plotted the war in order to reduce Russian influence on the region, nothing could be further from the truth. Russia wanted the war, it could only increase its influence. Johnson asked Russia to appease Nasser, who depended on Russia for arms, but Russia ignored him. In fact, they had stoked the war with patently false reports to Cairo about Israeli troop movements near Syria. Russia knew the war was a win-win for them; If Egypt won, their guy increased in power, if it lost, it would be more dependent on Russia than ever. And so it was.
Distracted by Vietnam, unwilling to antagonize the Arabs, and the proud recent recipient of lifetime season tickets from the NFL, Johnson backed away. He had his intelligence community issue an assessment that Israel could hold its own in the war, and went to bed. The Arab world was openly preparing to destroy the Jews, and the rest of the world was playing baseball. Jews around the world were reliving the Holocaust. And Shapiro would have you believe this was all an Israeli plot. Shapiro says Israel knew that “the Egyptian army would need 18 months to two years to prepare for war.” No one else seems to think so. Churchill writes that “From the beginning of 1967 it was in Nasser’s power to provoke an attack on whatever date suited.” On May 26, Nasser announced: “We are ready now for a war with Israel.” Cairo Radio proclaimed, “The Arab people is firmly proclaimed to wipe Israel off the map.”
Perhaps there was optimism in Israel about its chances against Egypt, but by June 3, the tiny country was facing the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Algiers, Lebanon, and the PLA. At Israel’s birth, just 9 miles separated Jordanian forces from the Mediterranean Sea. It could snap Israel easily in two and plunder the pieces at will. Israel had a standing army of 12,000 men, and could muster reservist soldiers, greengrocers, and taxi drivers, up to 264,000. The Arab forces committed to the war totaled over 574,000 men, 207,000 of which were standing army. The only Israeli source for tanks was England, which would only sell outdated tanks no longer useful to the British Army. Israel had 800 of these, facing 2500 of the best tanks the Soviets could press upon the Arab nations. The IAF was flying the only planes it could buy from France (it should be noted that even the US refused to sell weapons to Israel at the time). It had 300 aircraft, primarily the French Mirage, the outdated Mystere, and a light model jet designed for training missions only, used only by Israel in action, called the Vatour. It was facing 850 of the most expensive fighting aircraft Russia could provide, including MiG 19s, MiG 21s, and Tu16s. And of course, hanging over everything was the penultimate threat- that Russia itself would get involved. No amount of training and strategy could make up for these skewed amounts of manpower, equipment, and technology.
Israel begged the US for arms, but were rejected. De Gaulle changed his mind and banned all French arms sales to Israel, effective immediately. He knew the Arabs would win, and was already seeking to ingratiate himself with them. Jews around the globe were Israel’s only ally. Fear gripped the scattered nation, they saw another Holocaust on the doorstep. Shapiro says it was all a carefully orchestrated Israeli hoax. The panic that gripped Jews around the globe was orchestrated by Israel? People didn’t go to work, didn’t do a thing, stayed glued to their radios for days, because of an elaborate hoax? Many mortgaged their homes, donated their life savings to the country, for a joke?
According to Shapiro, Israeli leaders were sitting comfortably and confidently. “The claim that Israel was fighting for its survival was a bluff… everyone knew there was no threat. They spread fear to get support for a pre-emptive strike,” Shapiro would have us believe. Yet on May 28, IDF Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin suffered a nervous breakdown, collapsed, and was hospitalized. On May 29, Prime Minister Eshkol made a radio address, asking the nation to be strong; but Eshkol’s voice broke during the speech and he stammered his way through it. Perhaps that was also a planned hoax. It certainly sunk Eshkol’s career. Gold Meir made a speech at a bond drive, and she was one tough old lady, went to tears during her presentation. So rattled were the officials that they formed a national unity government, bringing arch political enemies Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin into the coalition with high portfolios. Begin even reached out to his arch-enemy, the man who tried to assassinate him, David Ben-Gurion. In another event that Shapiro calls an elaborate hoax, Israel prepared for mass casualties. Ramat Gan Stadium was consecrated as a burial ground for 40,000 people. Other mass graves were prepared. Hotels were cleared and converted to massive hospitals. Schools were made into bomb shelters, and plans were made to ship all Israeli children to Europe for safety. These are cold, hard, researchable facts. Was there an existential threat to Israel? Was the survival of the Jews in Israel a clear yad H-shem? Was the most lopsided preponderance of forces and military hardware in history, followed by the most lopsided results of war in recent memory – with the smaller army victorious, as galui a nes nistar as can be?
The many thousands of Israeli secularists who ordered tefillin in June of 1967 seemed to think so.
What do you think?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of GreaterLakewood.