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?
Posted by Jason Gold-Editor at 5/24/2017 07:30:00 AM