Israel and World Politics
The Road to Jerusalem
Now that most of the fighting is over, and only sporadic raids and counterraids continue across the River Jordan, the origins of the third Arab-Israeli War are likely to be again obscured by events, as were those of the first (1948) and the second (1956). New blunders blot out old. Arab intransigence continues; the Israelis may yet discover that a great victory, as Nietzsche wrote, may be “for human nature…more difficult to bear than a defeat.” The forces that caused the last war remain. They may soon be responsible for bringing about still another one.
Even last summer, soon after the war, the rapidity and seeming ease of Israel’s victory overshadowed the pre-history of the war, its origins in the tactics of power, and the disastrous interplay between mass psychology and leadership. Now, a year later, the picture is further blurred by current preoccupations: the plight of the innocent refugees, acts of terrorism and sabotage, and their natural consequence of mass arrests and blown-up houses. United Nations Ambassador Gunnar Jarring, wandering from one Near Eastern capital to another, has spent the last six months trying in vain to square the circle. The Arabs say, “Withdrawal first, peace (maybe) later.” The Israelis say, “Peace first, withdrawal (maybe) later.”
Yet, precisely because no settlement seems in sight, it is perhaps of even greater importance to realize what exactly happened last year. Scores of books have been written about the war itself. But to students of politics, indeed to those interested at least in preserving the cease-fire, if not in peace itself, a book on the three or four weeks preceding the last war could be of greater importance than studies of the war itself. Both books under review focus mainly on the pacts, plans, and domestic policies, the fears, prejudices, and miscalculations that helped to bring about, for a few days in June, a war so senseless as to baffle the imagination; and, though it lasted less than six days, a war so fraught with death and tragedy (more than 50,000 dead or injured and about a quarter-million refugees) as to plunge one into permanent despair and disgust over the sheer arrogance, the cupidity and recklessness of politicians.
In the Near East, as elsewhere, it has always been difficult to distinguish with any conviction the true or nearly true from the apparent logic of cause and effect. Events crowd upon circumstances. Propaganda assumes a momentum of its own. Momentary moods can be as important as permanent ideologies. Accidents play a role; they are later endowed with premeditated meaning by leaders anxious to give a clear accounting (as in Nasser’s “resignation” speech of June 9, 1967), and by historians who insist that politicians always have a program but never headaches, fits of anger, insomnia, or pathologically selective memories. The Six Day War seems to have been a special victim of this. In the West, few events since the Spanish Civil War have stirred emotions so profoundly as did this …