What Was the Significance of the 1967 Six-Day War?

Oliver Fletcher

3 mins

13 Dec 2018

Fought between 5 and 10 June 1967, the Six-Day War pitched Israel against a rough alliance of Egypt (then called the United Arab Republic), Syria, and Jordan.

Triggered by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s closing of the strategically and commercially important Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, the war was a decisive success for Israel.

Following a carefully pre-meditated and well-executed strategy, Israeli forces crippled the militaries of all three allied nations, winning a quick victory.

Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser precipitated the Six-Day War by closing the Straits of Tiran. Credit: Stevan Kragujevic

But what were the results of the war, and why was it such a significant conflict, despite its short duration?

Establishing Israel on the world stage

Formed in the aftermath of World War Two, by 1967 Israel was still a relatively young state, with limited standing in global affairs.

The country’s rapid and convincing victory in the Six-Day War changed this status quo, as western powers took notice of Israel’s military capabilities and resolute leadership.

Internally, Israel’s victory also fomented a feeling of national pride and euphoria, and provoked intense patriotism among the Jewish settlers.

The Jewish diaspora abroad also viewed Israel’s victory with pride, and a wave of Zionist sentiment swept through Jewish communities in Europe and North America.

Immigration figures to Israel grew significantly, including from the Soviet Union, where the government was compelled to allow Jews ‘exit visas’ to go and live in Israel.

Territorial reallocation

As a result of the Six-Day War, Israelis gained access to important Jewish holy sites, including the Wailing Wall. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As part of the ceasefire signed on 11 June, Israel occupied significant new territory in the Middle East. This included East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Consequently, Israelis also gained access to previously inaccessible Jewish holy sites, including the Old City of Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall.

The majority of the residents of these annexed territories were Arabs. After the war, Israeli forces displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Arab civilians, the impact of which is still being felt today.

As well as the violence that resulted from these actions, a significant refugee population was also created, which fled into neighbouring countries.

Very few of these migrants were allowed to return to their former homes in Israel, with most seeking refuge in Jordan and Syria.

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Displacement of global Jewish communities and rising anti-semitism

In parallel to the Arab populations displaced by the conflict, the Six-Day War also had the effect of causing the expulsion of many Jews living in majority Arab countries.

From Yemen to Tunisia and Morocco, Jews across the Muslim world faced harassment, persecution, and expulsion, often with very few of their belongings.

The Arab states resented Israel’s victory in the war, to the extent that they were initially unwilling to entertain any form of negotiations with the Israeli government.

Anti-semitic sentiment also grew internationally, with purges taking place in several Communist countries, most notably Poland.

Israeli over-confidence

Israel’s rapid and convincing victory in the Six-Day War has also been credited by historians as encouraging an attitude of superiority among the Israeli armed forces, which influenced later episodes within the wider Arab-Israeli conflict.

In part motivated by the perceived humiliation of the Six-Day War, in October 1973 Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel, triggering the so-called Yom Kippur War.

While Israel was successful in the later Yom Kippur War, early setbacks might have been averted. Credit: IDF Press Archive

Israel’s military were not prepared for such an assault, leading to early setbacks and encouraging additional Arab states to aid the Egyptian and Syrian efforts.

While the Yom Kippur War ultimately ended with an Israeli victory, complacency engendered by the earlier success of the Six-Day War handed the early initiative to the Arab forces.

Main image: Israeli tanks deployed prior to combat in the Six-Day War. Credit: National Photo Collection of Israel