The first session today addressed the regional and wider global environment in the run-up to and during the conflict. The first speaker was Abdelhamid Siyam, a scholar based at Rutgers University in New Jersey, whose paper focused on the question of the “inevitability” of the war. Siyam explored the role played by the Sinai-based United Nations Emergency Forces (UNEF), and then-Secretary General U Thant, in dealing with Egypt. Specifically, Siyam pondered the question of how “inevitable” Arab, and particularly Egyptian, involvement was in the war. Given that it was President Nasser had asked the UNEF forces to abandon the Sinai Peninsula at some point, could war have been avoided?
On the same panel, Osama Abu Irshaid’s was focused on the June, 1967 War as seen through declassified documents held by the Lyndon Byrd Johnson Administration. Abu Irshaid laid to rest a widely circulated assertion that US Air Force planes provided direct assistance to Israel in June, 1967: as Abu Irshaid pointed out, there was no official evidence from the United States that this was the case. Instead, said Abu Irshaid, the LBJ White House was more interested in establishing a Cold War balance of powers in the Eastern Mediterranean. With time, Abu Irshaid said, this evolved into the “land for peace” formula which continues to inform global diplomacy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Immediately after Abu Irshaid’s discussions of US documents on the June, 1967 war Arab Russologist Makhmud El-Khamzeh offered his perspective on documents in the official Soviet archive. El-Khamzeh began by reminding the audience of Stalin’s early enthusiasm for the State of Israel, which he felt would become a socialist utopia “stuck in the side of British imperialism”. Although El-Khamzeh stressed that the documents coming from Moscow were limited compared to those released by official Western sources, El-Khamzeh pointed out that reports released by Moscow were invaluable in understanding the internal divisions within the Arab ruling regimes, as a factor in leading to the war and in the speed of the Arab defeat. The Russian analysis of these internal divisions within Arab governments is what informed, said El-Khamzeh, Moscow’s sparing attitude in the sharing of both intelligence information and weapons systems with its nominal Arab allies.
Closing that session was Qatar University’s Mahjoob Zweiri, whose paper focused on relations between Iran’s Pahlavi-led government and Israel in 1967. Zweiri pointed out that that the Shah’s fondness for Israel became a bone of contention for the country’s clerical political opposition. One of them, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, translated a book on the Palestinian cause in the 1960s before becoming the President of Iran.
A second session focused on Israeli decision-making in the run-up to and during the War. Mahmoud Muhareb, an ACRPS Researcher with a deep knowledge of Israeli affairs, pointed out the convoluted steps involved in Tel Aviv’s decision to attack. Muhareb also made clear that the momentum for war came from a generation of young military officers, such as Moshe Dayan, and against the judgement of more senior statesmen who counseled peace. In his analysis, Muhareb held that the 1967 War was a means for Israel to entrench the original aims of the Zionist project, involving the conquest of all of Palestine—and that the alignment of the opportunity to do that provided the final motive to take action.
Speaking on the same panel was Yasser Djazaerly, whose paper analyzed a number of Israeli sources. Specifically, Djazaerly focused on how a number of Israeli writers—including Tom Segev, Michael Oren and Yossi HaLevi—employed the same biblical myth of an Israeli David defeating an Arab Goliath during the 1967 War. Djazaerly also offered a survey of how this mindset impacted the behavior of the Israeli state in the aftermath of the fighting.
The third and final session on Day Two of the meeting was given over to studying the repercussions of the War throughout the wider Arab region. In it, Abdulwahab El-Affendi offered a discussion of how the defeat of the June, 1967 War left a scar on wider Arab thinking and self-confidence. El-Affendi also pointed out how a number of explanations for Arab defeat which were in wide circulation turned the tables by placing the blame on the Arab peoples, and not the leaders. By blaming defeat in the war on flaws deeply inherent in the “Arab psyche”, says El-Affnedi, political leaders such as Egypt’s Nasser and his military generals were let off the hook.
On the same panel, Mohanad Solaiman gave a survey of the intra-Arab diplomatic machinations which preceded the war, as well as the outcomes of the Fourth Arab Summit in Khartoum, which reflected how defeated on the battlefield changed the balance of power between competing conservative and radical camps within the Arab region. The final panelist to speak on Sunday was Nizar Ayoub, whose intervention focused on the implications of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. Ayoub focused on the deep-rooted drivers of the Israeli conquest of the Golan, with the Zionist leadership first attempting to add the Hauran Plain and the Golan Heights—two regions with vital water resources—to their purview while Britain still had its Mandate on Palestine.