The Six Day War and the world today Part 3: ( Syria; Jordan and Day Two)

Much of the information about Syria and Jordan has been mentioned in the first two posts.

The situation with the two nations could not have been more different.

Syria was fully a client state of the Soviet Union and considered itself to be in full competition with Egypt for primacy in the Arab world.

Jordan, and its’ leader King Hussein suffered from something of an identity crisis.

Let’s begin here.

While not a psychologist, I believe much of Jordan’s and Hussein’s identity crisis probably had to do with his ascendancy to the throne.

Hussein I bin Talal traveled to Jerusalem in 1951 with his Grandfather King Abdullah. Abdullah was assassinated on the steps of AL Aqsa mosque by a henchman of the former governor of Palestine (an Arab).

Young Hussein was also shot but survived. Hussein’s father Talal was declared King but was removed within a year because of his alleged schizophrenia.

The young Hussein was not old enough to be King so his coronation was delayed for a year until he was 17. This obviously coincides with the period we had been discussing (1952 his coronation) and his ascendancy and early rule occurred during the days of the Suez Crisis.

Hussein’s reign included brutal suppression of the Sunni Arabs now known as Palestinians, the famous Black September. But it also included rapid and impressive gains for Jordanians in most conventional measures of a nations progress: literacy rates, calorie consumption, natal survival rates, etc.

During the time we are discussing he led in what could be called, a schizophrenic fashion. He was the only Arab leader in regular contact with the Israelis, conducting secret negotiations regarding water rights. This was done at the same time that he was trying to outflank Nasser in his anti Israeli credentials.

As discussed in the earlier posts, the Samu incident (the village in which the Israelis entered after the land mine was detonated) and the constant struggle over the water use of the Jordan river.

Worse for the region was his need to prove to the other Arab states that he was equal to their hatred of the Israelis and his maneuvering to prove this.

He was, for lack of a better description, almost macho’d into the full scale mobilization in November of 1966, essentially creating a state of war with Israel.

At the same time, Jordanian military records now available for reading reveal plans for what was known as “Operation Tariq”. This was the plan for the military conquest of West Jerusalem (the new city) and the execution of the entire Jewish population.

The plan was promulgated in 1967.

Nevertheless, as the war approached, Israeli leaders practically begged Hussein not to enter should hostilities break out with Egypt.

Israel appeared to be concerned only with their Southern border and reopening the Straits of Tiran and had no interest in confronting Jordan in what is now known as the West Bank or certainly Jerusalem. As discussed in the earlier post, Israel was highly secular (or so they thought) at the time, so the idea of street fighting in Jerusalem was too much to consider.

Hussein, however, put in with Nasser. This was a recurring theme in his reign. Not dissimilar to his being the only Arab nation to side with Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait.

After the Samu incident and the water disputes of the previous year, Hussein was, apparently, not of a mind to listen to Israeli entreaties to remain out of the Hostilities.

Syria history in the years prior to the war was much more fractured. A French protectorate before WWII, Syria declared its’ independence in 1941 but because of the war did not achieve it until 1944.

There were 20 different governments between 1946 and 1956 although Syria actively participated in the 1948 war against Israel.

The Syrians engaged in numerous actions against their Arab neighbors (again, similar to today) including involvement in the Iraqi coup and constant forays into Jordan to run terrorist raids into Israel.

After the 1956 war, Syria again fell under marshal law and the control of the French and British. In November of that year a pact was signed with the Soviet Union, which is what led to the modernization of the Syrian Armed Forces and the use of the newest Russian technology.

However, it also led to the creation of the United Arab Republic with Egypt. For approximately 3 years (February 1958-1961) Egypt and Syria effectively operated as one political unit with Nasser in charge. In 1961 Syria withdrew and after a period of instability, the Baath party, the socialist party that had begun to dominate middle east politics took over. Efforts at both a tripartite pact with Egypt and Iraq and a bilateral pact with Iraq failed after the Baath party was overthrown in Iraq.

Ultimately, in 1966 another coup took place and a new version of the Baathists took over. The significance here is that Hafez Assad became Defense Minister. He would become President in a bloodless coup in 1970.

The alignment with the Soviets is the critical issue here. Soviet pressure first led to Egyptian control of the Syrian army, but would ultimately lead, at the end of the war to the most significant cold war showdown since the Bay of Pigs.

For some time the Syrians and the Egyptians had engaged in anti Israeli one upmanship ultimately leading to the confrontation with Israel described in yesterdays post.

The Syrians simply felt that they had not been ready and had not learned their lesson with Israeli Mirage’s flying over Damascus only two months earlier.

As mentioned previously, Syria had stated that it would only agree to a ceasefire if the Israeli agriculture stopped. As this is bar and away the richest (at the time perhaps the only) farmland in Israel, this was not realistic, but also sim;y not appropriate (you can’t dictate another countries farming activity!).

So, here we are again, at the brink of war.

Day One, (cont’ ) and Day two.

The Egyptian Air force was effectively wiped out in the first hours of the war on June 5th. Despite repeated entreaties from the Israelis, the Jordanians began shelling Israeli civilians in Western Jerusalem, in what is known as the “new city” i.e not ancient Jerusalem, but the modern city.

By the end of Day 2, the total decimation of Egypt’s army had Ariel Sharon chasing the Egyptians through the Sinai with his tank divisions and Nasser and King Hussein beginning to discuss the misinformation campaign alleging that it was not Israel that had defeated them, but rather that the United States had secretly entered the war.

It seems that Nasser was so desperate to believe this, he even tried to sell it to his Soviet sponsors who were so disgusted that they dismissed this out of hand. It was, of course, a total fiction.

However, in the Arab world today, this myth is believed as fact.

In the North, Syrian shelling had increased and The IDF began moving to control the Golan. This would become the focus in Day 4 through 6 (really 7) of the war.

Most interestingly at this time was that Assad announced to the world that not only had the Syrian Air Force decimated the IAF, but that the Syrians, in fact, had started the war.

He told these lies to enhance the Syrian perception in the Arab world as the country responsible for the death of the “Zionist entity”.

Diplomatic activity the world over was rushing to deal with the situation.

President Johnson, apparently had understood what the course of the war would be and the now famous Resolution 242 reflects almost exactly what Johnson perceived to be the desired outcome of the war, what is now known as “Land for Peace”.

However, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had great fear of Soviet intervention. The infamous Hot Line to Moscow was used on the first day, and seventeen additional calls would be made during the war.

Johnson ordered the 6th fleet to remain in Crete and suspended all military shipments to all Middle East Nations.

Fighting in the Sinai proceeded as common history indicates, largely an Israeli route with the only question being would Israel continue to Cairo.

The war started with no designs by Israeli other than to repel an Egyptian attack. So, initially, this was not discussed. In fact, Defense Minister Dayan had ordered no entry into Gaza, but shelling from the area precipitated entry there as well.

However, the fighting with Jordan in the West Bank was difficult. As described in yesterdays post, the Hashemites believe they are the direct descendants of Muhammed and that they are the rightful protectors of Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock.

As such, they fought with ferocity. Stories of incredible hand to hand battles in this area are numerous.

In the north, the Israeli advance against the Syrians was also rapid, but again, there were no battle plans here. It was a defensive posture in nature and initially advances stopped well short of today’s border.

As the second day ended, Israel had made significant progress toward the old city. With the almost incredible defeat of Egypt in the first 48 hours, this would become the principal focus of the war for days 2-3.

It was on the second day, that many of the famous battles for the high ground in the New City took place. Ammunition Hill, now an Israeli shrine to both the IDF and the Jordanians who fell there, took place on June 6th.

The Israelis on the second day, took control of the Nablus Road and proceeded to the rear of the old city toward the Mount of Olives and Hebrew University. This was to cut off a Jordanian retreat. They also liberated many of the neighborhood and villages in the surrounding hills.

By the end of day two, the idea of a liberation of the old city was possible.

Moshe Dayan did not want any part of it.

In fact, he was quoted at the time as saying why do we want to be saddled with that. “I want none of that Vatican.” Prime Minister Eshkol was faced with another decision. His hear lay with the farmers in the North, but how could he tell Jewish soldiers, now surrounding the old city, not to try and liberate the holiest site in Judaism, as they stood just yards from it. (Note: the Southern Gates of the old city, are alternately less than 1/2 mile and literally on top of the Temple Mount.)

[B]Eshkol decided, and announced, that they would take the old city and convene the leaders of all the sites and guarantee Israel’s respect for their authority over their shrines.[/B]

However, Dayan was making decisions on the ground, and he resisted the call to liberate the old city.
At this point. President Abba Eban, was dispatched on a torturous journey to the UN, through Greece (no international flights were leaving) to try and forestall UN action for a short time to allow the natural conclusion of military action.

The first attempt at UN action failed at this time as the Egyptians rejected the American – Soviet compromise. In fact, the Egyptian Ambassador repeated the “big lie” of American and British involvement. The Israeli’s were overjoyed and secretly felt that Nasser was now their biggest ally.

Israel had made significant pushes throughout the West Bank. Hussein desperately called the Americans to create a cease fire. The Old City was surrounded.

The Israelis told the Americans that either Hussein was lying, or he had lost control of his troops because of the ferocity of the fighting.

It was at this point, when the Americans told Hussein to either get control of his troops or stop fighting that the infamous phone call to Nasser took place.

Nasser said to Hussein “Will we say that the US and Britain are attacking or just the US?” Hussein responded “United States and England”.

Nasser ended the call, after plans were made on a joint announcement, to continue fighting.

Hussein continued to vacillate, and was ready to let Nasser decide what to do.

He waited and finally later that night, Nasser called and admitted what was already known. Hussein had driven down into the Jordan valley by himself to see his troops in full retreat. Now, with Nasser’s admission of the futility of the Egyptian cause, he was given permission to retreat. The order was given.

When the Jordanians agreed to the compromise cease fire in the UN, he began to reconsider. He could continue to fight until the cease fire took effect in order to hold onto as much land as possible.

Finally, at 2:20 the next morning, June 7th, Hussein phoned Nasser to inform him of his decision to continue fighting.

The little King, so ridiculed by other Arab rulers, could now be the hero of the Arab world, holding out against the Zionist entity.

And the world held it’s breath, as Jerusalem stood poised.

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