Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 30, 1984, Page 7
Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East
By Donald Neff. New York: Linden Press/Simon & Schuster, 1984. 430 pp. $17.95
Reviewed by John N. Gatch, Jr.
Donald Neff has been a reporter and correspondent for various U.S. publications, including Time. A previous book, published in 1981, Warriors at Suez, described the 1956 war in the Middle East. His latest book is a riveting account of the Six-Day War and its bitter aftermath. It is a satisfying combination of popular history and careful scholarship. A great deal of his material comes from documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, supplemented and complemented by interviews with many of the principal actors in the drama. Some of the information is startling even 17 years after the events described.
For example, there is the curious story of Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban's representations during the crucial period between the closure of the Straits of Tiran by Egypt and the outbreak of war. According to Neff, the Israeli government had decided to go on the attack and was confident of victory. Nonetheless, Eban was instructed to tell the highest level of the U.S. government that Israeli intelligence believed the Arab forces would win and asked for a written commitment from the U.S. to come to Israel's assistance militarily. Eban knew the assessment to be a fabrication and the American side found it suspect since it contradicted completely the U.S. assessment. Eban, accordingly, was less than convincing and no formal U.S. commitment was forthcoming. This marked the only real failure in Israeli diplomacy during the whole course of the war and its aftermath, but the failure was, of course, rendered meaningless by the sweeping Israeli victory.
The swift unfolding of developments is particularly well reported: the Israeli attack on the Arab air forces, the thrust into the Sinai, Nasser's breaking of diplomatic relations with the West, the Israeli capture of Jerusalem, the attack on the USS Liberty, the Israeli capture of the Golan Heights, the cease fire, the Soviet involvement, and finally the passage of U.N. Resolution 242.
This reviewer was posted in Kuwait during this period, and by chance visited Cairo in mid-May of that fateful year. He can testify that the author skillfully evokes the prevailing atmosphere characterized by the collective (and totally unrealistic) euphoria of the Arabs as the war approached; the hatred generated by Nasser's big lie concerning American and British participation in Israeli air raids; and the despair when the magnitude of the defeat became fully known. Mirrored on the other side is the triumphant, exultant mood of the Israelis and their supporters in the United States.
A disturbing aspect is the revelation of how closely Israel and its supporters in the United States worked with the highest levels of the U.S. government as U.S. reactions and policies were being decided. Every Israeli request for political or material support was granted except for the aforementioned formal military commitment. A network of prominent American Jews both in and out of government was advising President Johnson at every stage, and was at the same time apparently keeping the Israeli embassy and the Israeli government fully informed of every move contemplated by the United States. The network included the Rostow brothers in the White House and State Department, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Ambassador to the U.N. Arthur Goldberg, Finance Chairman of the Democratic Party Arthur Krim and his wife Mathilde, and Abraham Feinberg, a fundraiser for the Democratic Party. This one-sided barrage of advice made a mockery of any pretense of evenhandedness, as was amply demonstrated when State Department spokesman Bob McCloskey said on the morning of June 5 that "the U.S. position is neutral in word, thought and deed"—a statement which brought howls of outrage from Israel's supporters all across America. This was embarrassing for President Johnson, who was desparately seeking Jewish support to shore up his popularity—rapidly waning as a result of Vietnam.
Another revelation is that King Hussein was given secret assurances by President Johnson and Ambassador Goldberg that the U.S. was committed to Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories within six months of the passage of 242. Seventeen years later with Israel still in place it is no wonder Hussein's patience has finally snapped in recent days.
Mr. Neff's view of the future is bleak. He says if the Arabs and the Israelis "do not soon try to be friends, to be more open-hearted and generous of spirit, more conscious and tolerant of the deep religious stirrings that motivate both peoples, no one can doubt that wars far more horrible than any witnessed in the Middle East await Arabs and Israelis alike." Mr. Neff is saying that if Israel's friends in the United States are to be true friends they must convince both governments that the only way Israel can have lasting security is to settle the Palestine issue on a basis morally and ethically acceptable to the Palestinians and their fellow Arabs. ❑
John N. Gatch, Jr., is a retired U.S. foreign service officer who served in the Middle East during the 1967 war.