The Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors ends with a United Nations-brokered cease-fire. The outnumbered Israel Defense Forces achieved a swift and decisive victory in the brief war, rolling over the Arab coalition that threatened the Jewish state and more than doubling the amount of territory under Israel’s control. The greatest fruit of victory lay in seizing the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan; thousands of Jews wept while bent in prayer at the Second Temple’s Western Wall.
Increased tensions and skirmishes along Israel’s northern border with Syria were the immediate cause of the third Arab-Israeli war. In 1967, Syria intensified its bombardment of Israeli settlements across the border, and Israel struck back by shooting down six Syrian MiG fighters. After Syria alleged in May 1967 that Israel was massing troops along the border, Egypt mobilized its forces and demanded the withdrawal of the U.N. Emergency Force from the Israel-Egypt cease-fire lines of the 1956 conflict. The U.N. peacekeepers left on May 19, and three days later Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. On May 30, Jordan signed a mutual-defense treaty with Egypt and Syria, and other Arab states, including Iraq, Kuwait, and Algeria, sent troop contingents to join the Arab coalition against Israel.
With every sign of a pan-Arab attack in the works, Israel’s government on June 4 authorized its armed forces to launch a surprise preemptive strike. On June 5, the Six-Day War began with an Israeli assault against Arab air power. In a brilliant attack, the Israeli air force caught the formidable Egyptian air force on the ground and largely destroyed the Arabs’ most powerful weapon. The Israeli air force then turned against the lesser air forces of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, and by the end of the day had decisively won air superiority.
Beginning on June 5, Israel focused the main effort of its ground forces against Egypt’s Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. In a lightning attack, the Israelis burst through the Egyptian lines and across the Sinai. The Egyptians fought resolutely but were outflanked by the Israelis and decimated in lethal air attacks. By June 8, the Egyptian forces were defeated, and Israel held the Gaza Strip and the Sinai to the Suez Canal.
Meanwhile, to the east of Israel, Jordan began shelling its Jewish neighbor on June 5, provoking a rapid and overwhelming response from Israeli forces. Israel overran the West Bank and on June 7 captured the Old City of East Jerusalem. The chief chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces blew a ram’s horn at the Western Wall to announce the reunification of East Jerusalem with the Israeli-administered western sector.
To the north, Israel bombarded Syria’s fortified Golan Heights for two days before launching a tank and infantry assault on June 9. After a day of fierce fighting, the Syrians began a retreat from the Golan Heights on June 10. On June 11, a U.N.-brokered cease-fire took effect throughout the three combat zones, and the Six-Day War was at an end. Israel had more than doubled its size in the six days of fighting.
The U.N. Security Council called for a withdrawal from all the occupied regions, but Israel declined, permanently annexing East Jerusalem and setting up military administrations in the occupied territories. Israel let it be known that Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai would be returned in exchange for Arab recognition of the right of Israel to exist and guarantees against future attack. Arab leaders, stinging from their defeat, met in August to discuss the future of the Middle East. They decided upon a policy of no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition of Israel, and made plans to zealously defend the rights of Palestinian Arabs in the occupied territories.
Egypt, however, would eventually negotiate and make peace with Israel, and in 1982 the Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in exchange for full diplomatic recognition of Israel. Egypt and Jordan later gave up their respective claims to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to the Palestinians, who beginning in the 1990s opened “land for peace” talks with Israel. The East Bank territory has since been returned to Jordan. In 2005, Israel left the Gaza Strip. Still, a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement remains elusive.