I will soon begin documenting internal Israeli discussions, and they will overwhelmingly show how eager Israel was to go to war, and how little of a threat they truly deemed any of the Arab states.In the spirit of blogging-brotherhood, I would like to post a passage from Benny Morris that our fledgling colleague will undoubtedly want to include. (Righteous Victims, p. 306):
. . . Secretary-General U Thant unquestioningly accepted Cairo's right to demand the withdrawal: On May 20-21, UNEF withdrew from Sharm ash-Sheikh, and Egyptian troops immediately occupied the site. The UN's compliant response certainly surprised the Israelis. It may also have taken Nasser aback: He may have hoped that the matter would be referred to the Security Council or General Assembly, where it would be turned down--leaving his forces in Sinai, having challenged Israel, but with a UN buffer still firmly place. With the news of U Thant's agreement to the withdrawal, IDF intelligence began changing its tune. Its assessment on May 17 stated: "If UN forces withdraw. . . a new situation could arise, which would give the Egyptian [deployment] an offensive. . . character." Yet the overall Israeli estimate on May 18 remained that war was still "a remote possibility." At this point Nasser appears to have submitted to the momentum of his (or 'Amr's) previous actions. He may have thought that he was on the verge of a major, cost-free political victory. Having already moved six divisions into Sinai and returned at least two brigades from Yemen, on May 21 he declared a general mobilization of the Egyptian army. He appears to have believed--perhaps persuaded by 'Amr--that his army could defeat or at least hold off the IDF; perhaps the war fever of the Cairo crowds, reproduced in a dozen Arab capitals, got the better of his judgment.The following (Righteous Victiims, p. 307) suggests that an Egyptian attack was a very real possibility:
Israeli intelligence still believed that Nasser would halt at the brink, and on the morning of May 22 thought it "unlikely" that he would announce the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. But around noon the same day Nasser visited the Bir Gafgafa air base in Sinai and declared that Egypl was about to do just that, re-creating the situation that Israel had always regarded as a casus belli. 'Amr instructed his units to bar the Gulf of Eilat, from noon on May 23, to all vessels flying the Israeli flag and to all oil tankers boulld for Eilat. That night, just after midnight, the formal announcement was made.
In retrospect this can be seen as the decisive act that made war inevitable though Nasser apparently did not realize it. He was subsequently to imply--as during his speech of May 26 to Arab trade union leaders--that the whole sequence of moves, culminating in the closure of the straits, had been planned to trigger war with Israel, with the ultimate aim of "liberating Palestine." Not the Straits of Tiran but Israel's "existence"was the issue, he said on May 29. Clearly the situation had changed dramatically. At the IDF general staff meeting on the morning of May 23, Yariv declared: "The post-Suez period is over. It is not merely a matter of freedom of navigation. If Israel does not respond to the closure of the Straits, there will be no value to its credibility or to the IDF's deterrent power, because the Arab states will interpret Israel's weakness as an opportunity to assail her security and her very existence." Rabin and the deputy chief of general staff, Gen. Ezer Weizman, agreed.
The Egyptian command on May 24-25 briefly considered and planned a preemptive air offensive against Israeli targets . . . 'Amr apparently issued orders, on May 25, for a massive assault on May 27. The IDF learned of it, and Nasser countermanded the order on May 26, deterred perhaps by American (and possible Soviet) warnings.I now anxiously await further postings and anticipate the emergence of a new, sleek, streamlined, bunk-free Zionism!
Crossposted on Soccer Dad
Update: Looking for a reinvigorated web-experience? Check out the latest editions of Carnival of the Insanitites and Haveil Havalim.