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Shlomo Gazit
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Jordan's General Ihsan Shurdon, former Chief of Jordanian airforce
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


by Rhonda Spivak, posted May 26, 2011

[Editor's note: This article which was written five years just before the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War on June 5, 2007 is being reprinted now as the 45th anniversary of the War approaches.]

“There was a great panic and a horrible atmosphere in the Israel before the six-day-war broke out… but not in the army.  We felt confident….There was panic and fears that there would be 10,000 dead on our side…but I promised that there would be fewer than 500 dead.  In the end there were 350 Israeli soldiers who were killed,” said  Major General (res.)  Shlomo Gazit, former Head of Military Intelligence in the I.D.F. in 1967.

 Gazit was one of a number of military experts who spoke at the International Conference on the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day- War at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya that I recently attended.

Although the army had confidence, it still worried “about the lack of deterrence and it knew it couldn’t sustain a long war”, said Gazit.

“.. The accuracy of Israeli intelligence was a key component in 1967 military victory. Without the intelligence we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did,” said Gazit, who now serves as a Senior-Research Associate with the Jaffee Center of Strategic Studies.

In the days leading up to the war, Gazit recalls meeting with a Soviet Jew who had been jailed in Siberia and had a good knowledge of Russia to discuss its potential involvement in the conflict. “He told me that  Russia will be willing to wipe Israel off the map.  They even would use nuclear weapons…I didn’t change my mind based on the intelligence we had…But still, I didn’t sleep well that night. ”

According to Gazit, “the Russians may have thought that Nasser, [the Egyptian leader] was going to settle down…[and not trigger a war]  But the Nasser of  1967 was in a bad place within the Arab world.  They felt he was a paper tiger and that he didn’t help other Arab nations. He decided to send forces into Sinai.”

In Gazit’s view , one of the factors that ultimately led to the six day war was Israel’s “building of the national water carrier”, which sent water to the north and south and “made the Arabs realize that Israel had an economic basis to exist, such that they began thinking about preparing for war.”

Gazit’s presentation was followed by that of Jordanian Lieutenant General Ihsan Shurdom, who came to Israel from Amman specifically for the conference.  Shurdom, who was born in Amman in 1938, joined the Royal Jordanian Air Force in 1959, and was appointed chief of the Jordanian air force in 1983.  On retiring from the air force in 1993, he served as an Advisor to King Hussein for a year, and since then has been active in Arab-Israeli dialogue. In introducing Shurdom to the conference, Ze’ev Schiff, military commentator form Ha’aretz said” Too bad he doesn’t come more often to visit us.”

Shurdom began his remarks by saying that the 1967 war was caused by the “the continuous rejection by the Arabs of the Zionist entity.”
In his view, the Israeli diversion of the river Jordan was one factor that ultimately led to  Jordan’s fateful decision to enter the war. “When Israel began diverting the waters of the Jordan river from the Galilee to the Negev, Jordan feared that this would increase the saline content of the water and would injure Jordanian farmland.  The fear in Jordan was that we would lose more than 50% of our farmland, and we also feared that more water would be diverted to the Negev away from Jordanian farmland,” Shurdom said.

In analyzing other significant factors that cause Jordan to entered the war, Shurdom  added  “Palestinian refugees living in Jordan [since the 1948 war] had not assimilated and Syria and Egypt were encouraging them to be discontented…King [Hussein] believed that if he didn’t participate in the war  in 1967 that there would be an upheaval in Jordan. He feared upheaval in the street.  Due to the propaganda of Egypt and Syria, King Hussein felt that Israel would enter and take over Jordanian territory…. Jordanians concluded that their weakness made them an easy target for Israel.”

“The decision to enter the war was a catastrophe for Jordan… Over 7000 Jordanians lost their lives, Jordan lost 40% of its G.N.P, 90% of its tourist income and the war resulted in 300,000 extra [Palestinian] refugees coming to Jordan,” Sherdom noted.  “I believe that the results of this war continue to influence our daily lives,” he concluded.

After his presentation, I had an opportunity to speak with Shurdom while he smoked a cigarette. I asked whether he thought that Israel ought to negotiate with Hamas, or to continue its boycott.  He answered that Israel would have “to engage Hamas”.  Shurdom, who advocates a two state solution, said he was “interested in the idea of a hudna [ an Arabic term meaning temporary truce or calm], which could become “a long term truce.”  But, he added “we need a people to people peace, not just a government to government peace.”  

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.