What would have happened had Israel lost the 1967 Six Day War?

The shadow of the seventh day continues to hover over the future of Israel

Contact Editor
Giulio Meotti,

giulio meott
giulio meott
צילום: עצמי


For 50 years, the Arabs tried to erase the consequences of that incredible war. For 50 years, the world has tried to force Israel to turn its back on those terribile days. 

On May 16, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser ordered the UN Interposition Force to get out of the Sinai peninsula, the force which for ten years had preserved calm between Egypt and Israel. The United Nations obeyed, and at that point Nasser imposed the naval blockade of the only Israeli southern coastline, the port of Eilat, a real act of war.

During those three endless weeks, US President Lyndon Johnson tried to gather a convoy of ships from different countries that would challenge the blockade. But the attempt failed miserably. Egypt, already a military ally of Syria, struck an emergency military pact with Jordan, Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, who began sending military contingents to participate in the upcoming fight. 

As troops and armored men lurked on all Israeli borders, radio and television broadcasts from every Arab capital announced the upcoming final war to exterminate the Israeli Jews. “We will destroy Israel and its inhabitants”, proclaimed Egyptian general Ahmad Shuqayri - and for the survivors, if there are any, ships are ready to deport them”.

Europe betrayed Israel.  And in the face of the pro-Arab choice of Charles de Gaulle, a man like Daniel Mayer did not hesitate to declare: “I am ashamed of being French”. 

For Israel, the waiting was terrible. Aharon Appelfeld recalls that among Israelis survivors of the Shoah “the talking about deportations, punitive actions, trains”, while Cairo's radio broadcasted hymns, slogans and songs in which they dreamed of throwing “Jews into the sea” was unbearable.

“What are you waiting for?”, Hanna Zemer, deputy director of the daily Davar, asked then prime minister Levi Eskhol. He replied in Yiddish: “Blut vet sich giessen vie vasser”. The blood will flow like water. There was talk of bombing of Israeli cities, a whole generation of soldiers swept away, and a popular jester said that a sign was hanging at Lod International Airport, urging the last person to leave the country to “kindly turn off the lights”.

The Israeli army, made up of citizens, had to mobilize all the reserves. Israeli society was completely blocked and the economy began to become crippled. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin had a nervous collapse.

Israel begged King Hussein of Jordan to keep out of the conflict. But Hussein could not resist the temptation to take part in the fight. He took part, and lost.

In May of that year, Israel was in a precarious position. It was not the country that is today. Only 19 years earlier, the Jewish State had barely survived its War of Independence. In that war, 5 Arab armies had simultaneously invaded the territory in an attempt to prevent the birth of a Jewish State.

Meanwhile, Israel underwent terrorist attacks on three borders: at the northern border of Israel, from the Golan Heights, Syrians regularly bombarded Jewish communities in the underlying valley; from the south to the east, Arab terrorists from the Gaza Strip under Egyptian control and Jordanian terrorists infiltrated through the border regularly, carrying out attacks on civilians that killed more than 400 Israelis over the course of 19 years.

At its narrowest point, Israel was only 14 kilometers wide and was vulnerable to an attack by Jordan that could cut the country in half. Its water supply was also under threat. Starting from 1964, the Syrians had been trying to divert the vital water source of Israel.

For the Arab world, the borders of Israel were nothing but the point where the war was suspended, to be resumed at any time. That moment was approaching.

Nasser had concentrated tanks in the Sinai, perfecting the series of fortines, casemates, walkways. Arabs and Israelis knew exactly what they were supposed to do.


Critics of Israel should recall that in 1967 the alternative to victory for Israel would have been the execution of the Arab states' genocide threats.
Instead, there was a  surprise and it was showy. With massive use of aviation, Rabin destroyed Arab power in less than two hours. After the closure of the Tiran Strait to Israeli ships, after a series of incursions from Syria and Jordan, the first Israeli planes took off at 7:10 one day in early June. They flew low, often at no more than 15 feet from the ground, to avoid the radar. At 10:35 that morning Motti Hod, Commander of IDF Military Aviation, told Rabin, Chief of Staff, that “the Egyptian air force has ceased to exist”. 

Syria launched Operation Rashid for the bombardment of northern Israel: 12 of its MIGs hit the Jewish villages in Galilee, including the first established Kibbutz Deganya. Iraqi hunters hit the valley of Jezreel, including the village of Moshe Dayan, Nahalal. A Topolov-16 from Iraq attacked Afula before being shot down. Israel's eastern front caught fire, material damage was minimal, but the psychological impact was enormous for the Jews.

The battlefront in Jerusalem was opened. Arab legions launched 6,000 shells on Jewish Jerusalem, starting with Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and Mount Scopus. The Knesset and the Prime Minister's residence were also hit. Over 900 buildings were damaged, including the Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, where the famous windows of the artist Marc Chagall were removed but suffered cracks and a hole blasted in one of them. The roof of the Dormition church on Mount Zion was also hit. More than a thousand civilians were injured, 150 seriously, 20 of them died.

The rest is a well known story. Jerusalem was unified under Israeli control, Gaza and Judea and Samaria ended up under Israeli administration, the Golan was ripped off from Syria.

Critics of Israel should recall that in 1967 the alternative to victory for Israel would have been the execution of the Arab states' genocide threats, repeated over and over by their broadcasters.

If Israel had lost the Six Day War? Two years after the conflict, an extraordinary novel tried to imagine that. It was written by Robert Littell, Richard Chesnoff and Edward Klein. It is titled “If Israel Lost the War”. 

The novel originated from a question: “And if the Egyptians had destroyed the Israeli aviation?”. The three authors were told by Golda Meir: “Imagine if Nasser hit ours first. What would have happened?”. In fact, the victory was entirely due to the success of the attack on Egyptian airplanes on the morning of June 5th. It was a wager of incredible proportions. Israel launched almost all of its 200 aircraft in this mission, exposing the front. If they were intercepted and destroyed, there would be 12 aircraft left to Israel to defend its territory - its cities and its inhabitants - from the 900 aircraft of Arab military aviation.

The novel was written in 1969. Two years had passed since the war, but the neighbors of Israel were already speaking of war and hatred once again. Nasser claimed that the Israelis had to return to the last inch of the territory conquered during the war. Syria simply demanded Israel’s destruction. In Baghdad, the government organized popular festivals around the hanging of Jews. 

The novel opens with the image of a column of tanks and trucks of the Israeli army up in smoke, thousands of Israeli soldiers made prisoners of war, Israeli civilians massacred. 300 of 385 Israeli planes having just been demolished. The homes of many Israeli cities are empty, and abandoned cars line the streets. The Israeli government evacuates Jerusalem. 200,000 Israelis have been killed in the defense of their eternal capital. US President Lyndon Johnson declares: “The United States is proud of having avoided the Third World War”.

A poll comes out: 72 percent of Americans express “sympathy” for Israel, but “little obligation” to intervene. Sirhan Sirhan doesn’t assassinate Robert Kennedy, but decides to return to Jordan to celebrate the destruction of the Jewish State. Kennedy defeats Richard Nixon.

Israeli women are raped, Nazi war criminals called to manage the Palestinian population, which does not gain any independence. Israel, defeated, is torn apart and divided between Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Arab-Islamic occupiers issue decree number 1223: deportation of all Israeli Jews born abroad. The American Congress accepts 17,500 immigrants from Israel. Jewish masses crow the airport and the ports. It is the beginning of a new diaspora.

The book ends with the Egyptian Nasser’s helicopter flying over the ruins of Tel Aviv and Moshe Dayan executed. But there is also a note of hope: Yigal Allon, who had directed the Jewish militia under  the British Mandate, is already organizing the first meeting for clandestine guerrillas on the shores of Lake Galilee under the rule of Syria. A scenario that seems more realistic now that when the novel came out.

The shadow of the seventh day continues to hover over the future of Israel. Just think of the film “2048” by director Yaron Kaftori. Israel no longer exists. There is a librarian in Berlin who cares for the “Zionist culture memorial”, a former Israeli has opened a restaurant in Canada, another has stopped in Cyprus.

A video was released in 2008 for celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Jewish State. Israelis standing in front of their barbecues on Independence Day werer filmed while answering the question: “How will the centennial birthday be?”. 

It will be prosperous and great. But never forget the threats Israel, the Western front in the Islamic world, faces every day.