Although Israel won the 1967 war, tripling its size and seizing essential water resources, it failed to achieve peace with its Arab neighbours. Apart from destabilising regional security, the war also fractured Tel Aviv's relations with Europe. But former IDF commander Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Gershon Hacohen believes Israel's control over the West Bank and the Golan Heights is only an excuse for the EU to snub the Jewish state.
Feeling threatened by the Egyptian-Syrian alliance, as well as the accumulation of troops in Sinai, the closing down of Tiran straits for Israeli vessels and the attempts to divert the water of two of the Jordan River's tributaries away from the Jewish state, Tel Aviv decided that it had no other choice but to launch a preemptive strike on its neighbours.
In the early morning of 5 June 1967, around 200 Israeli planes surprised the Egyptians by assaulting dozens of their airfields, destroying 293 of Egypt's nearly 500 aircraft -- all in under three hours. When that target was achieved, it was the turn of Syria, Iraq and Jordan turn to suffer losses.
Apart from conquering the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from the Egyptians, it took Israel six days to establish its control over Syria's Golan Heights as well as Jordan's West Bank and East Jerusalem, tripling its original size.
But for Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Gershon Hacohen, one of IDF's most celebrated commanders, who wrote extensively on that war, that victory was not a forgone conclusion.
"Although [Israeli] officers were confident that if they went according to the plan, they'd win that war, battles are a mystery that cannot be totally preplanned or calculated. Things can go wrong there."
Luckily for the Israelis, they didn't, with Gershon pinning their success on "the help of God" and Israel's ability to "exploit the mistakes of its enemies"; there were many.
Squeezing the Maximum out of Others' Mistakes
To start off, the Arabs weren't united. Despite their 1958 unity pact, Syria and Egypt were largely suspicious of each other, constantly bickering about which country led the alliance. Distrust has also characterised relations between other Arab nations including Iraq and Jordan, with the latter fearing Baghdad's possible expansion plans.
Their preparedness for war was lacking too. The Egyptian and Syrian armies were mostly weak despite their impressive sizes; they trained less and had a leadership that mostly cared about appeasing the ruling elite and making sure it stayed in power, rather than focusing on polishing the military skills of their soldiers.
Reliance on the Soviet Union's doctrine and weapons didn't improve the Arab nations' chances either, whereas low morale, at least among the Egyptians, who had also been embroiled in a war in Yemen, led to serious losses on the ground.
Unlike them, Israel had planned the war for years and was well-prepared. Over time it had accumulated an impressive arsenal of French and Soviet weapons, and although Paris, the country's main arms supplier, had dropped its alliance with Tel Aviv and favoured the Arab nations, the Jewish state managed to forge a deal with the US, getting access to American HAWK missiles, in addition to West German Patton tanks and other equipment.
Commenting on its preparedness for war, the British defence attache in Tel Aviv assessed in 1967 that the Israeli military was not only well-equipped but also "well-trained, tough and self-reliant," and that its soldiers had "a strong fighting spirit and would willingly go to war in defence of [their] country".
They were well-educated too. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and up until 1967 more than a million Jews have immigrated into the country. Many came from European states known for their excellent education systems, and that "made the weapons and the equipment in their hands much more efficient than in the hands of Egyptian or Syrian soldiers [many of whom lacked the necessary knowledge]", explained Hacohen.
Big Victory or Great Loss?
But despite overwhelming success on the battlefield, a boost in spirit and the establishment of control over water resources, that victory didn't bring peace to the Middle East. Nor did it bring stability.
Shortly after the war, in 1969, the Palestinians, who had been largely divided and weak, managed to establish the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which stepped up its attacks on the Jewish state. Egyptians and Syrians, whose pride has been hurt during the war, also vowed to fight back, launching a devastating attack several years later, in October 1973, a strike that shattered Israel's confidence that it could not be defeated.
"If you look at a war as a story, at the end of which peace prevails, the outcome of the Six Day war can be viewed as a failure. But the truth is that when Israel went to that war, it didn't hope to establish peace. All it wanted was to extinguish the immediate threat posed by the Arabs. In this regard, I think it was a success," Hacohen said.
After Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, Tel Aviv was forced to give its Egyptian territories back, but East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights remained in the hands of the Israelis, who over the course of years built scores of towns and cities across the area.
For the international community, that was a red line. From a country that was perceived as fighting for its survival, Israel has turned into an occupying force that persecuted Palestinians, depriving them of their lands and denying them basic rights.
The situation hasn't changed over the years, with the European bloc still rejecting Israel's claim to the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and calling on Tel Aviv to sit down for talks that would see the return of those lands to their rightful owners.
"The international community will never be able to recognise these areas as part and parcel of the Jewish state," said Hacohen, adding that the Europeans were not guided by their true desire to help the Palestinians but rather by "their largely anti-Semitic views".
"Europeans are against Israel's claims over this land because they are moved by their religious disagreement with the Jewish people. But this is our homeland and we came here not to seek security. We came here because this is where we belong and this is where we will stay."