Charles Krauthammer

There has hardly been an Arab peace plan in the past 40 years -- including the current Saudi version -- that does not demand a return to the status quo of June 4, 1967. Why is that date so sacred? Because it was the day before the outbreak of the Six Day War in which Israel scored one of the most stunning victories of the 20th century. The Arabs have spent four decades trying to undo its consequences.

The real anniversary of the war should be now, three weeks earlier. On May 16, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser demanded the evacuation from the Sinai Peninsula of the U.N. buffer force that had kept Israel and Egypt at peace for 10 years. The U.N. complied, at which point Nasser imposed a naval blockade of Israel's only outlet to the south, the port of Eilat -- an open act of war.

How Egypt came to this reckless provocation is a complicated tale (chronicled in Michael Oren's magisterial history ``Six Days of War'') of aggressive intent compounded with fateful disinformation. An urgent and false Soviet warning that Israel was preparing to attack Syria led to a cascade of intra-Arab maneuvers that in turn led Nasser, the champion of pan-Arabism, to mortally confront Israel with a remilitarized Sinai and a southern blockade.

Why is this still important? Because that three-week period between May 16 and June 5 helps explain Israel's 40-year reluctance to give up the fruits of the Six Day War -- the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza -- in return for paper guarantees of peace. Israel had similar guarantees from the 1956 Suez War, after which it evacuated the Sinai in return for that U.N. buffer force and for assurances from the Western powers of free passage through the Straits of Tiran.

All this disappeared with a wave of Nasser's hand. During those three interminable weeks, President Lyndon Johnson tried to rustle up an armada of countries to run the blockade and open Israel's south. The effort failed dismally.

It is hard to exaggerate what it was like for Israel in those three weeks. Egypt, already in an alliance with Syria, formed an emergency military pact with Jordan. Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco began sending forces to join the coming fight. With troops and armor massing on Israel's every frontier, jubilant broadcasts in every Arab capital hailed the imminent final war for the extermination of Israel. ``We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants,'' declared PLO head Ahmed Shuqayri, ``and as for the survivors -- if there are any -- the boats are ready to deport them.''


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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