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August 2023

The Six Day War 

By Randolph S. Churchill and Winston S. Churchill

Heinemann

The book “The six-day war” was written in the year of the six-day war, 1967, two years after the death of the wartime prime-minister Winston Churchill. The authors are the son of Winston Churchill, Randolph and his grandson, also named Winston Churchill. Randolph followed the crisis from the UK whilst Winston was in the Middle East and collected some primary sources. The book shows its age as many events that have come to pass are speculated upon. The book is interesting as it captures the attitude that prevailed at the time, especially, from a western perspective. The book starts with a brief history of Israel and previous tensions in the area following the dissolution of the British Mandate. This historical recollection includes the 1956 Suez crisis, when a British, French and Israeli force attacked Egypt and was forced to retreat by the UN and the USA. This event was crucial in the unprecedented popularity of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser who was subsequently perceived as leader of the Arab world. Then, the events leading to the outbreak of the war are described, namely the closing of the Straits of Tiran and the expulsion of the UN troops on the Egyptian border. The closing of the straits by Egypt was of great importance as this sea route was crucial to Israel’s oil supplies through the port of Eilat. The war broke out on Monday the 5th of June 1967 when the Israelis launched a surprise attack. The reason that Israel attacked was not only to use the element of surprise, but also due to the fact that her army was made up of civilians who were mobilised; Israel did not have the luxury of leaving its soldiers stationed in the desert waiting for an attack. The first move of the Israelis was to attack the Egyptian Air Force. This attack destroyed over 300 Egyptian aircraft protecting Israel from strategic bombing and ensuring that Egyptian troops did not receive any air support. After the air attack, Israeli formation under generals Tal, Yoffe and Sharon poured into Sinai, breaking through Egyptian garrisons at El-Arish and Abu-Ageila. Within days, Israel had captured Sharm El-Sheikh and reached the Suez Canal. This victory knocked Egypt out of the war and opened up the Straits of Tiran. As the Israeli army attacked Egypt, they fended off an attack by Jordan and counterattacked, taking the West Bank of Jordan and the Jordanian part of Jerusalem. Another successful action fought towards the end of the war was the Israeli capture of the Syrian Golan Heights which had harassed Israeli settlements in the valley below with artillery fire. The military action was followed by an uneasy cease-fire, but no official settlement. Nasser resigned, but popular outcry led to him remaining in power whilst the Arab countries enforced an oil embargo against the West, which they believed had helped Israel. Overall, the book is interesting because it explores the 1967 conflict without reference to subsequent events. This approach leaves questions, especially about the fate of the territory captured by Israel and the long term reaction of the Arabs to defeat. As one would expect, the Arab world felt humiliated and tried to reverse Israeli gains with the 1973 Yom-Kippur war where they were again defeated. However, Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1982 after peace talks. The Golan Heights are effectively annexed by Israel while the fate of the West Bank and the Gaza strip is well known (the regions are administered by the Palestinian Authority and tensions remain very high). The book relies mainly on Israeli sources, and, thus, gives a more Israel-centric perspective, albeit averting obvious bias. The book has an annex on the BBC covering of the conflict and is interested in the media coverage of the conflict. According to the authors, western media covered international efforts to ensure free navigation in the Tiran Straits instead of focusing on the crisis which was breaking out and led to war. The BBC is also criticised for being over-zealous with its attempt to give both sides air time, the repeated use of certain commentators (Peter Mayhew), reduced radio coverage in Arabic and lack of war film on the news. All in all, the book is very interesting, especially when one takes into account that it was written in 1967; however, further reading and research is required to build a broader and more objective picture.

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