Fiftieth anniversary commemorations of Israel’s June 1967 Six-Day war have conveyed popular misgivings about the occupation of historic Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) that it engendered.
Writing in The New York Times, Nathan Thrall quoted a famous exchange between Israeli leaders Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir about the newly conquered territories in which Meir asked Eshkol what he planned to do with the more than one million Arabs now living under Israeli rule. “I get it,” Mr. Eshkol jokingly replied. “You want the dowry [economic benefits], but you don’t like the bride! [Palestinians]” Mrs. Meir responded, “My soul yearns for the dowry, and to let someone else take the bride.”
Transforming Israel into an occupier, the Six-Day war was significant further in christening a special relationship between the United States and Israel which has become increasingly unpopular.
Former Undersecretary of State George S. Ball wrote a 1992 book with his son called The Passionate Attachment which quoted George Washington about the danger of the U.S. pursuing entangling alliances in which “sympathy for the favored nation” would facilitate “the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no common interest exists,” and an “infusing into the enmities of the other,” leading to “participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification….Citizens devoted to the favored nation could mislead public opinion and influence or awe the public councils, with its tools and dupes usurping the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.”
Heeding Mr. Washington’s concern, many in the State Department and CIA had opposed siding with the Zionists in the 1940s out of fear that “hostile Arabs [especially U.S. allies in Saudi Arabia] might deny us access to the petroleum treasures of their country,” as Defense Secretary James Forrestal put it. This led the Truman administration, despite its sympathy for Israel, to impose an arms embargo during the 1948 independence war.
The Eisenhower administration followed Truman by refusing to sell Israel arms during the 1956 Suez conflict in which Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt. Afterwards, Eisenhower forced Israel to return the Sinai, telling a U.S. audience that he feared “we will have turned back the clock of international order” if we “allowed a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of UN disapproval to impose its own conditions on the withdrawal.”
A moderating policy was destined not to endure given how Zionism and its emphasis on Jews as a chosen people reclaiming their lost homeland embodies an ideal deeply embedded in American thought from the earliest years of life in the New World when the Puritans identified with the people of the Old Testament.
Israel’s strategic significance increased furthermore in the 1960s as the Kennedy and Johnson administrations began resisting the Pan-Arab designs of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who wanted to unify the Arab nations under socialism and assert control over the region’s oil.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) rapidly defeated the Egyptian army in the June 1967 Six-Day War, humiliating Nasser who was described afterwards as like “living corpse.”
The Johnson administration did not press for the Israelis to give back their conquered territory, hence weakening the UN which called for the territory’s return under resolution 242 in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
Holding a romantic view of Israel as a frontier state like Texas, President Lyndon B. Johnson was in contact with the number two in the Israeli embassy in Washington during the Six-Day war, having predicted the Israelis would “whip the hell” out of the Arabs.
The Johnson administration provided the IDF with state-of-the-art reconnaissance and navigational systems, sidewinder missiles, armored personnel carriers and infrared-censors capable of detecting moving tanks and trucks. U.S. army personnel under disguise as contract employees helped service planes and provided signals intelligence in secret missions out of the Negev desert. Operating in RF-4C planes whose insignia was painted over to obscure the American presence, they also assisted photograph mapping of Arab troop movements, provided bomb damage assessment and helped jam and ‘cook’ Arab battlefield communications. [see Stephen Green, Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations with Militant Israel. Amana Books, 1987].
Owing to one-sided media coverage, 55 percent of Americans supported Israel in the Six-Day war and only 4 percent the Arabs. Moshe Dayan and his customary eye-patch donned all the major magazine covers, symbolizing the masculine prowess and military astuteness seemingly lacking among American Generals in Vietnam.
Democratic rep. Wayne Hays of Ohio stated that the U.S. should trade four hundred fighter jets for Dayan. These comments foreshadowed the growth of neo-conservatism which sought national regeneration through renewed commitment to military dominance after Vietnam and looked to Israel and Dayan and their manhandling of the Arabs as a model.
Adulation for Israel during the Six-Day war persisted despite the Israeli’s shooting of an American spy ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, with rockets and napalm, some of it American made. Thirty four Liberty crew members were killed and 171 wounded.
The Liberty incident reveals the high levels of secrecy endemic to the U.S.-Israeli alliance and willingness of the U.S. government to cover up even a murderous attack on its own military personnel.
The myth of Israel as a humane and embattled David fighting the Arab Goliath has been debunked in recent years, with world opinion expressing growing sympathy for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation while hoping for a two state solution that recognizes Jewish interests as well.
As commemorations of the Six Day War continue, now is as good time to question the special relationship and whether we have fallen into the trap George Washington warned about.
Dovish Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharrett (1954-1955) wrote in his diary about “the long chain of false incidents and hostilities we have invented,” and “the many clashes we have provoked which cost us so much blood, and on the violation of the law by our men – all of which brought grave disasters and determined the whole course of events and contributed to the security crisis.”
This security crisis and cost in blood applies to Americans as well if we consider the blowback engendered from a military occupation that grew out of a war the U.S. government helped bankroll.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012) and a forthcoming book on U.S. techno-war that looks back critically on U.S.-Israeli weapons sharing and alliance.