Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The 1967 war's impact

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

The expanded strategic cooperation between Israel, Saudi Arabia and other ‎pro-U.S. Arab Gulf states in 2017 -- in the face of clear, present and lethal ‎threats posed by Iran's ayatollahs and Islamic terrorism -- has its roots in the ‎June 1967 Six-Day War and the civil war in Yemen during the early 1960s.‎

The impact of the Six-Day War transcended the Arab-Israeli ‎conflict. It highlighted Israel as a unique national security producer for the U.S., ‎extending the strategic hand of the U.S. and upgrading the U.S. posture of ‎deterrence, without requiring U.S. personnel or bases. ‎

In June 1967, the Israeli beachhead delivered a critical geo-strategic bonus to ‎the U.S., while dealing a major setback to the Soviet Union, devastating the military ‎power of the anti-U.S., pro-Soviet Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was fully ‎engaged in his megalomaniacal goal to dominate the Arab world. Nasser ‎transformed Egypt from a conservative pro-Western monarchy (until the 1952 ‎revolution) to a hotbed of anti-U.S., intra-Arab revolutionary fire, which almost ‎consumed the conservative Jordanian Hashemite regime in 1956 and ‎did consume the conservative regimes of Iraq and Yemen in 1958 and 1962. ‎

Supported by the Soviets, Nasser harnessed terrorism, subversion and ‎conventional military means, mostly in Yemen, the Achilles' heel of Saudi ‎Arabia, which he sought to control as a platform to surge into the Arabian ‎Peninsula and bring-down the pro-U.S., oil-producing Arab regimes in ‎Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Nasser ‎aspired to gain control of the vitally strategic straits of Bab-el-Mandeb (Red ‎Sea) and Hormuz (Persian Gulf), which would have dealt the U.S. and the West ‎a major military and economic blow in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Indian ‎Ocean, Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea. ‎

While intra-Arab terrorism and subversion has remained an integral part of the ‎Middle East, the resounding defeat of Nasser in 1967 shattered the regional ‎profile of the Egyptian dictator, forced him to withdraw his substantial military ‎force from Yemen, ended the five-year Egypt-Saudi Arabia war by proxy, and ‎tilted the intra-Arab balance of power against the pro-Soviet radical Arab ‎regimes in favor of the pro-U.S. conservative Arab regimes. ‎

It snatched Saudi King Faisal from the jaws of a potential defeat in Yemen ‎‎-- which could have toppled the House of Saud -- and bolstered the ‎life expectancy of the Saudi royal family, Saudi Arabia's power-projection, ‎Riyadh's intra-Arab prestige, and U.S.-Saudi Arabian strategic cooperation. The ‎same applies to the other pro-U.S. Arab regimes in the Arabian Peninsula.‎

The 1967 war also terminated Nasser's military training of Iranian Arab ‎separatists in Khuzestan (western Iran) and Iranian dissidents, opposing the ‎shah of Iran, who was America's "policeman of the Gulf."‎

Simultaneously, Israel defeated the military force of pro-Soviet Syria -- ‎which was a major Arab power until the 1967 war -- thus denying President Hafez ‎Assad’s regime an opportunity to invade and annex the pro-U.S., militarily ‎inferior Jordan, which Damascus considered part of ‎Greater Syria. Furthermore, a September 1970 Syrian invasion of Jordan -- ‎during the civil war between Jordan's King Hussein and the ‎Palestinians -- was withdrawn after three days due to U.S. mobilization in the ‎Mediterranean Sea, the effective Jordanian military performance, and the ‎deployment of Israeli troops to the Israel-Syria-Jordan border, as well as ‎Israel's readiness to activate its air force (at the request of the U.S. and Jordan).‎

While King Faisal condemned Israel and the U.S. in a fury of talk -- "We ‎consider any state or country supporting or aiding Zionist-Israeli aggression against the ‎Arabs as aggression against us" -- the Saudi walk took a different turn, as ‎highlighted by University of Michigan Professor John Ciorciari. Realizing the ‎regional impact of the Six-Day War, the Saudis extended mere symbolic support to ‎Egypt (dispatching a military brigade that arrived after the war had ‎ended), refrained from switching to any anti-U.S. or nonaligned international ‎bloc, and minimized the economic consequences of the short-lived oil embargo ‎‎(fully lifted on Sept. 2, 1967), focusing on the critical long-term ‎relationship with the U.S. and on the real threat (that had just been crippled by ‎Israel): Arab radicalism and communist penetration.

While proclaiming publicly and feverishly its allegiance to the Palestinian cause, ‎Riyadh -- just like all other Arab capitals -- made it clear that the Palestinian ‎issue was not a crown jewel of the House of Saud (notwithstanding Saudi/Arab ‎rhetoric, which overwhelms most Western policymakers and media), and ‎expelled hundreds of Palestinian activists from the kingdom in order to keep ‎dissent in close check. ‎

Ciorciari submits the following assessment of the U.S. strategic priorities ‎made on May 23, 1967, by Professor Eugene Rostow, special assistant to U.S. President Lyndon ‎Johnson: "The main issue in the Middle East today is whether Nasser, the ‎radical states and their Soviet backers are going to dominate the area. A ‎related issue is whether the U.S. is going to stand up for its friends, the ‎moderates, or back down as a major power in the Middle East." ‎

Will the U.S. foreign policy establishment heed Rostow's assessment, which is as ‎accurate in 2017 as it was in 1967, scrutinize the larger context of U.S.-Israel ‎relations, concentrate on the Arab walk and not on the Arab talk, and focus ‎on top -- and not low -- national security priorities?‎

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