April 21, 2024
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Hashem and the Six Day War

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Jachter presents a chapter from his upcoming book, “Reason to Believe,” in honor of Yom Yerushalayim.

Similar to Israel’s remarkable and unanticipated establishment, most believing Jews perceive Israel’s stunning victory in the Six Day War as another demonstration of Hashem’s omniscient hand guiding the course of Jewish history. The result of this war was so implausible that the manifest conclusion is (as we recite during Hallel, Tehillim 118:23), “Mei’eit Hashem hayetah zot,” that this could have been only from Hashem.

A typical expression of this attitude is presented in Lawrence Kelemen’s “Permission to Believe” (pp. 79-81):

In 1967, an impatient [Egyptian President] Nasser violated the truce (from the 1956 War between Egypt and Israel) by moving 100,000 troops into the Sinai. On May 19, he ordered the withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeeping units, which complied instantly. On May 22, Nasser blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba, and eight days later he signed a military pact with King Hussein of Jordan. The same day, under Jordanian guidance, Iraqi forces took positions on the Israeli-Jordanian border.

On June 5, reacting to intelligence reports that war was again imminent, Israel launched a preemptive strike. In a single day, it destroyed [almost] the entire Egyptian air force. Jordan and Syria both declared war. In six days, Israel defeated all three armies, each larger than the size of its own. The Israelis retook Sinai, captured [the old city of] Jerusalem [and the West Bank] and Syria’s Golan Heights. To this day, many military experts are at a loss to explain the Jews’ 1967 victory.

Rav Berel Wein recounts a stirring story illustrating this point. A West Point general once remarked that though the United States Military Academy studies wars fought throughout the world, it does not study the Six Day War because West Point is interested in strategy and tactics, not miracles. Indeed, Rav Yehuda Amital recounted that before the Six Day War there were American Jewish leaders who pleaded with the Israeli government to evacuate the children from Israel, since the annihilation of Israel was expected. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel had designated public parks as burial sites, with over 80,000 deaths expected. The dramatic and highly unexpected turn of events instantly took us “from darkness to light.” As in the time of Esther and Mordechai, “The Jews experienced great light and joy” (Esther 8:16).

We would like to point to some of the specific evidence of Hashem’s hand in the Six Day War, based on Dr. Michael Oren’s authoritative work “Six Days of War” and an insight of the Vilna Gaon. As seen in the events leading to the creation of the State of Israel, we can perceive the hand of God when our enemies act inexplicably foolish. Similarly, in Sefer Shoftim Ch. 3, the Moabite king Eglon and his team of bodyguards foolishly permitted a representative of a conquered nation, Ehud, to speak privately with Eglon. This left Eglon exposed to attack, defenseless. In addition, the Moabite security guards did not properly check Ehud for weapons, enabling him to sneak in the weapon he used to kill Eglon, thereby ending Moabite rule over part of Israel.

Let us now examine some of the foolish actions of the Arab leadership before and during the Six Day War, in an effort to perceive how Hashem was hiding behind the latticework ensuring our victory against all odds. We should clarify that Dr. Oren does not highlight the role of Hashem in the Six Day War, as his work is solely secular. We seek to supplement his excellent book by reiterating that when so many favorable coincidences occur, reason dictates that success should be attributed to Hashem.

The Egyptian Leadership Before the War

The most well-known fiasco was the Egyptian air force leaving almost all of its planes outside their hangars, fully exposed to Israeli attack. Michael Oren (p. 171) records, “Though proposals for constructing concrete hangars had been submitted by the air force and approved, none had ever been implemented.” There were many more Egyptian blunders, such as the shocking disorganization of the Egyptian army as it mobilized for an attack on Israel (pp. 159-160):

Thousands of [Egyptian] reservists continued to arrive without equipment or food or a sense of either place or purpose. A report prepared by the army’s planning wing concluded that Egypt needed another six months at least to shore up its Sinai defenses for battle, but the recommendation went unheeded and perhaps even unread. Instead, chaos reigned. General Tawfiq ‘Abd al-Nabi….arrived in Sinai to take command of an antitank brigade, only to find that he had no artillery, no mortars and only seven tanks borrowed from another unit. His soldiers, moreover, knew nothing of tank warfare. Dozens of units had been exhausted, their vehicles worn out, transferring back and forth across the desert.

Moreover, before the Israeli preemptive strike, the Egyptians—unbeknownst to the Israelis (who, however, suspected that an attack was imminent but were still pursuing diplomatic solutions to the crisis), Americans and even Soviets—were planning an attack on Israel, which they code-named “Operation Dawn” (Oren pp. 92-97). The Israelis communicated their fears of an attack to the Americans who informed the Soviet leaders. The Soviets, in turn, communicated this message to Nasser who erroneously concluded this was proof that the Israelis had accessed Egyptian secrets and compromised them. Nasser canceled the offensive only 15 minutes before it was scheduled to begin, when Egyptian pilots were already in their planes (Oren pp.119-121).

Oren concludes: “The Egyptian offensive was all but dead, struck down by a chance (emphasis added) intervention just short of the H-hour.” Believing Jews do not see this as mere happenstance, but as divine intervention allowing Israel to take control of the crisis with a preemptive strike, rather than be forced to react to an Egyptian attack.

Egyptian Leadership During the War

On the first day of the war, as Israeli warplanes were on their way to destroy the Egyptian planes, the Jordanians (who possessed the most sophisticated radar facility in the Middle East) detected the Israeli attack and communicated the information to the Egyptian defense minister. The Jordanian communication, however, was indecipherable, since (Oren p. 172):

[t]he Egyptians had changed their encoding frequencies the previous day, but without updating the Jordanians… But even if those messages could have been read, the Egyptian defense minister was not present to read them. He had gone to bed only a few hours before [the Israeli attack], leaving strict orders not to be disturbed. Similarly absent were the officers in charge of decoding and the air operations chief… Air force intelligence also reported extensively on the Israeli attack, but the officers at the Supreme Headquarters…ignored them.

The mishaps continued on the second day of the war. The Egyptian leadership (Oren p. 214) understood the situation as far more desperate than it truly was. “Rather than rallying their still extensive forces, digging in during the day and counterattacking at night when the Israeli Air Force’s edge was blunted, Egypt’s leaders ordered a wholesale and wildly disorganized retreat.”

The Jordanian Leadership

Dr. Oren (p. 244) writes that King Hussein of Jordan ignored personal pleas from Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to end the fighting twice in the course of the war. Hussein’s recalcitrance lost Jordan the entire West Bank. Oren (p. 185) explains that Hussein was led astray by Egyptian President Nasser who lied to the Jordanian monarch by reporting massive Israeli losses and the destruction of Israeli airfields. Hussein ignored reports from outside sources that, in reality, the Egyptian air force was annihilated (Oren p. 188). It should be emphasized that King Hussein was a wise leader who ruled Jordan from 1953 until his natural death in 1999. Hussein shrewdly overcame many existential threats to Jordan as well as numerous assassination attempts. Israelis are fond of saying that King Hussein of Jordan made only two mistakes: attacking Israel in 1967 and refraining from invading Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War when we barely survived a two-front attack by Egypt and Syria. Israel, which was woefully unprepared for the 1973 war, would likely not have survived if Jordan had attacked during that terrible war. This behavior is eerily reminiscent of the behavior of Nachash, the king of Ammon (note that the Jordanian capital is the ancient city of Amman), who attacked us unsuccessfully when King Shaul was rising to power (Shmuel I Ch. 11). Nachash, however, failed to attack us when King Shaul’s forces were utterly destroyed in Shmuel I Ch. 28.

Excellent timing worked in favor of the Israeli air force when it found Jordanian fighter planes on the ground refueling. The Israelis were able to eliminate the Jordanian air force within minutes on the first day of the war.

By the third day of the war (Oren p. 247), “Jordanian forces were in total disarray, abandoning vehicles in their rush to reach the East Bank and safety.” The Jordanians, for example, had abandoned 40 Patton tanks in pristine condition.
Oren (p. 258) records that despite Jordanian soldiers’ “courage and determination,” they lost due to their commanders’ inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Oren (p. 225) also writes that Hussein’s “passions obfuscated reality” and made poor choices.

The Syrian Leadership

The Syrian leadership also made stunning errors both before and after the war. An example is how the Syrians failed to recognize damage done to their armed forces by Eli Cohen, a famous Israeli spy. Cohen worked in Syria where he developed close relationships with the political and military hierarchy and became the chief adviser to the minister of defense. He was eventually exposed and executed in Syria in 1965. The intelligence he gathered is claimed to have been an important factor in Israel’s success in the Six Day War. His most famous achievement was when he toured the Golan Heights and collected intelligence on the Syrian fortifications there. Pretending to have concern for the Syrian soldiers exposed to the sun, Cohen had eucalyptus trees planted at every position. The trees were used as targeting markers by the Israeli military during the war. It is particularly shocking that in the more than two years between the arrest of Eli Cohen and the Six Day War, the Syrians did not recognize the problem the eucalyptus trees created for them!

During the war, the Syrians inexplicably retreated in many instances (although in certain areas they offered fierce resistance). Oren (p. 295) records scenes where Israeli soldiers fired at Syrian tanks, which turned out to be abandoned. Oren writes:

The Syrians were blowing up their own bunkers, burning documents, and retreating en masse. With their forward communications cut, unwilling to take charge at the front, Syrian commanders had lost all control over the battlefield. Yet, even they were nonplussed when Radio Damascus broadcast that Quneitra (the Syrian headquarters on the Golan Heights) had fallen.

A Syrian officer recalled, “The forces that were supposed to block the enemy’s advance pulled out without authorization, without coordination. We knew nothing, and had no choice but to fall back” (Oren p. 301).

When the Syrian government tried to correct the mistaken Quneitra announcement by declaring that Syrian soldiers were still fighting there, the message came too late. The Syrian army was in full flight, abandoning its heavy equipment, jamming the roads. Soviet advisers exhorted the troops to remain at their posts, and orders were issued to shoot deserters on sight. All such efforts proved futile, however; the Soviets were ignored while the commanders charged with executing deserters had themselves abandoned the field. Believing that the entire Golan had already fallen, driven by rumors of Israelis wielding nuclear weapons, some 4,000 Syrian soldiers sought refuge in Jordan, and 3,000 in Lebanon.

Indeed, one of Hashem’s methods of assisting us is to bring fear upon our enemies (see Vayikra 26:8, Yehoshua 2:10, and Shoftim 7:14 and 21). This was certainly in evidence on all three fronts during the Six Day War.

The Soviet Leadership

One of Israel’s greatest fears was the possibility of Soviet intervention when they launched their preemptive attack. While Israel could grapple with its neighbors, the Soviet superpower presented unrivaled challenges. Moreover, the American government did not respond to an Israeli request for military assistance in the event of direct Soviet intervention in the war (Oren p. 299). This frightening scenario was resolved, shockingly, by a Soviet failure to assist Arab nations in any substantial manner in their fight against Israel, despite its allies’ dramatic losses. Oren (p. 296) explains that there was an internal dispute within the Soviet leadership as to whether to confront the United States in the Middle East. “That quarrel, together with the slow pace of Soviet decision-making—the government met only once weekly, on Thursdays (the war began on Sunday)—had all but paralyzed Soviet diplomacy in the first days of the crisis.”

Dr. Oren records (pp. 296-297), “Not only were the Arabs disillusioned with Moscow, but also its allies in Eastern Europe. They were exasperated with Soviet mishandling of this crisis and, to the degree they could, told them so at a summit of Warsaw Pact countries on June 10 [1967].”

Conclusion

Once, while walking in the forest, though deep in thought and meditation, the Ba’al Shem Tov heard a child crying. Following the cry, the Ba’al Shem Tov finally found a little boy, frightened and shivering in the dark. “Why are you here in the forest all by yourself?” he asked the child gently. Looking into the man’s kind face, the child was calmed. “I was playing hide-and-seek with my friends. I waited and waited for them to find my hiding place but none of them discovered it. Now it is dark and they have all gone home! I am alone and frightened.” With that, the boy began to sob sorrowfully once more. “Do not cry, little boy; I will bring you home,” comforted the Ba’al Shem Tov.

The Ba’al Shem Tov explained that this incident is truly a metaphor for God and the Jews. Since our beginning as a people, we have actively searched for God and sought out a meaningful relationship with Him. Even when we were exiled from our land and God was forced to “hide” Himself, we still sincerely searched for Him.

But now, God, like the lost child, cries: “I wait and wait for you to look for Me, to find the inherent Godliness and holiness in everything you do. But it seems you have become tired of the search. In the darkness of today’s world, in the confusion of the forest of your mundane lives and material aspiration, you have all gone home and I am alone.”

The attribution of our astonishing victory during the Six Day War to the subtle hand of Hashem coordinating the circumstances to lean in our favor, should inspire us to sincerely thank Hashem on Yom Yerushalayim. More important, it should enthuse us to search for Hashem’s understated activities. The Torah promises that if we sincerely make the proper search for Him, we will find Him (Devarim 4:29).

By Rabbi Haim (Howard) Jachter

Rabbi Haim (Howard) Jachter is rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.

 

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