Syrian dictator Hafiz al-Assad – father of Syria’s current dictator, Bashar al-Assad –vowed “a battle of annihilation.” Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Aref said the opportunity must be seized “to wipe Israel off the map … to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948." Ahmed Shukairy, a representative of the then three-year-old Palestine Liberation Organization was asked what would happen to Israelis after the war. “I estimate that none of them will survive," he said.
In response, Israel struck fast and hard. Fighting was intense, but within six days Israel had not only prevailed – it had gained what many military analysts called defensible borders for the first time.
Nevertheless, as noted, the Israelis were willing, even eager, to give up most of what they had gained for a sheet of paper with the word “peace” written on it. “We speak not as conquerors, but as partners,” Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said hopefully.
Eventually, Israel did trade land – the vast Sinai Peninsula – to Egypt in return for a cold peace. And two summers ago, Israel withdrew from Gaza. Palestinian leaders had an opportunity to make Gaza bloom as it never had under occupation -- with new homes and schools, farms and factories. Had they done that, Israel today almost certainly would be relinquishing most of the West Bank as well. Instead, Gaza is now more violent and squalid than ever, a place from which missiles are fired daily at villages inside Israel.
A National Pubic Radio report on the war’s anniversary acknowledged the fact that “Israel no longer occupies the Sinai or Gaza,” but added this spin: that Israel’s “continued hold over the other territories has stymied efforts to bring a comprehensive peace to the Middle East.”
No, the obvious if politically unfashionable truth is that what stymies peace today is what stymied peace forty years ago: the refusal of Arab and Muslim rulers to tolerate a neighbor that is not ruled by Arabs or Muslims; their refusal to accept the idea of self-determination for the Jewish people within their ancient homeland.