In June 1967 the state of Israel, less than 20 years old and with a population of just over 2 million, found itself surrounded by Arab nations with a population of over 102 million intent on destroying it. For the 19 years of its existence, Israel had been surrounded by militarily superior nations who refused to recognise its right to exist.
On 1 June 1967 the Iraqi President Abdar-Rahman Aref said:
‘The existence of Israel is a mistake that must be rectified. The clear aim is to wipe Israel off the map.’
The situation seemed hopeless but what ensued was probably the most stunning victory in military history as the tiny state of Israel, standing alone in the world, defeated the assembled might of its enemies in only six days.
Like the Israelis, Latter-day Saints may, at times, feel that they are surrounded by enemies. When we consider that a third of the host of heaven followed Satan in the War in Heaven and that that War continues on the earth today, we know that the enemy arrayed against us is numerous and powerful. However, we have great confidence that the Lord’s kingdom will come off victorious. Elder Dallin H Oakes has said:
‘We are surrounded by challenges on all sides. But with faith in God, we trust the blessings He has promised those who keep His commandments. We have faith in the future, and we are preparing for that future.’ (Preparation for the Second Coming, General Conference, April 2004)
In this blog, I summarise some of the key events in the Six Day War and draw some lessons from the Israeli victory that may help Latter-day Saints in the spiritual battles that we face on a daily basis.
Please note that I do not set out to make any statements or draw any conclusions about the current political situation in the Middle East.
The build up to war
‘By virtue of our natural and intrinsic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, which shall be known as the state of Israel.’ (David Ben Gurion, leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, 14 May 1948)
Zionism (the movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine) emerged in central and eastern Europe in the late 19th century , at a time when the area was controlled, and mismanaged, by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
In 1917, in an attempt to tip the balance of power in the World War by enlisting the support of Jews world-wide (but particularly in the United States), the British government issued the Balfour Declaration:
‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.’ (The Times, 9 November 1917)
After World War 1, Great Britain was given a mandate over the area having seized it from the Ottomans during the war. However, Britain was also dependent on the Arab countries for oil and imposed a virtual ban on Jewish immigration into Palestine. After World War II British forces in Palestine faced escalating violence from Zionist organisations fighting for the right to a homeland. In the face of this opposition and bloody conflict between Jew and Arab, Britain decided to hand the problem over to the United Nations.
United Nations Resolution 181(II) was a plan to partition Palestine into Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem. On 29 November 1947, the resolution was put to a vote in the United Nations General Assembly. The result was 33 to 13 in favour of the resolution, with 10 abstentions.
David Ben Gurion formed a provisional government and Egypt responded immediately with air raids. The British troops left the next day and the Arab armies attacked. As a result of a series of conflicts and truces over the next couple of months the Israelis gained significantly more territory than had been set out in the UN partition plan but, crucially, lost control of Old Jerusalem to King Abdullah of Jordan’s Arab Legion.
For years there was tension between Israel and its neighbours which was punctuated by border skirmishes and terrorist atrocities. In 1966 there had been particularly intense Arab terrorist action against Israel and in 1967 Israel attacked Syrian artillery which was shelling Israeli farmers in Galilee. As part of this action they took down six Syrian fighter planes.
Egypt began to take an increasingly war-like stance towards Israel, making threats through Radio Cairo that it was going to drive the Jews into the sea. Israel feared that an Arab-Israeli war was inevitable.
In May 1967, the UN secretary-general, U Thant, withdrew the UN’s peacekeeping forces from the Suez at the request of Egypt’s leader General Nasser. As the Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban said to the United Nation’s General Council:
‘What is the use of a fire brigade which vanishes from the scene as soon as the first smoke and flames appear?’
By May 26, 1967 Colonel Nasser had 80,000 troops, 1,000 tanks and 200 war planes massed along the Egypt/Israel border in Sinai. On 30 May King Hussein of Jordan unexpectedly signed a defence agreement with President Nasser. The Israelis had believed that Jordan would stay out of any war with Israel. This alliance between Egypt and Jordan represented a ramping up of the threat against Israel; the distance from the Jordanian controlled areas of Jerusalem to the Mediterranean coast was a mere ten miles – the risk was that an Arab attack could immediately cut Israel in two. This would have been catastrophic for the Israelis.
And so, the scene was set for war.
David and Goliath
‘ The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are stationed on the borders of Israel…Behind them stand the armies of Iraq, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole of the Arab nation…The Arabs are ready for the fray. The hour of decision has arrived.’ (Gamel Abded Nasser, President of Egypt, 30 May 1967)
In this completely uneven confrontation the Israel’s forces were completely outnumbered by those of its opponents. Israel had an army of 50-60,000 but only 10-12,000 of these were full time soldiers, the rest were National Service men. The Arab nations had a combined army of 575,000.
For a number of years Israel had had difficulty buying weapons. In the 1950s she had bought arms from France but that supply had dried up when De Gaulle came to power. Israel largely stood alone on the world stage. Meanwhile the Soviet Union was supplying huge amounts of military hardware to the Arab nations. At the outbreak of the war Israel had 800 tanks while the Arab nations had 2,504; Israel had 300 combat aircraft, the Arabs 957; the Israeli Navy had 8 vessels (including 1 submarine which was unable to submerge), the Egyptian Navy had 81 vessels.
The Israeli General Tal said:
‘We knew that we would be fighting forces whose equipment was superior both in quality and quantity to our own. For its size the Egyptian Army is probably the richest in the world, after the US Army.’
We too are in a war. A war that has been going on since the premortal existence. Then it was called the War in Heaven. Then the battleground moved to this earth. We too may feel that we are surrounded by enemies. When we consider that a third of the host of heaven followed Satan in the War in Heaven and that that War continues on the earth today, we know that the enemy arrayed against us is numerous and powerful. I believe that we can draw some lessons from the Israeli victory in the Six Day War that may help us in the spiritual battles that we face.
How did Israel pull off this amazing victory?
In May 1967 the Israelis had an army of 50-60000 men but they were able to put into the field an army of 264,000 composed of farmers, greengrocers, taxi drivers and business men. 4 out of 5 of the army in the 6 day war were actually civilians.
In October 2012 the Church had a front line army of 58,000 full time missionaries – by December 2014 this had increased to over 85,000. But the Lord needs all of us to be enlisted, be we farmer, green grocer, taxi driver or business man, till the conflict is over. We call this every member a missionary.
The Lord has declared that missionary work is the responsibility of every member: ‘Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbour’ (D&C 88:81)”
Henry B. Eyring said:
That command and warning of danger was given to those called as missionaries at the start of the Restoration. But the duty to warn our neighbor falls on all of us who have accepted the covenant of baptism. We are to talk with nonmember friends and relatives about the gospel. Our purpose is to invite them to be taught by the full-time missionaries who are called and set apart to teach…
The Israelis also used women in the front line as radio operators, intelligence staff and as nurses. General Yoffe commander of one of the Israeli divisions in the Sinai said
‘When the men see the women enduring the same heat, flies, discomfort and exhaustion that they are, it spurs them to battle on and endure the sufferings and deprivations of war with even greater determination.’
President Monson’s 2012 announcement has led to a noticeable increase in the number of sister missionaries.
The mood in Israel before the 6 day war was one of cool confidence. They knew that they were outnumbered in troops; they knew that they were outnumbered in quantity and quality of equipment. Nevertheless they never had any doubt of the outcome.
Elder Dallin H Oakes spoke of the confidence that Latter-day Saints feel in knowing that they are on the Lord’s side:
“We are surrounded by challenges on all sides. But with faith in God, we trust the blessings He has promised those who keep His commandments. We have faith in the future, and we are preparing for that future. To borrow a metaphor from the familiar word of athletic competitions, we do not know when this game will end, and we do not know the final score, but we do know that when the game finally ends, our team wins. We will continue to go forward til the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the great Jehovah shall say “The work is done”.”
‘Fly on, attack the enemy, pursue him to ruination, draw his fangs, scatter him in the wilderness, so that the people of Israel may live in peace in our land and the future generation be secured.’ (Battle order issued to the Israeli Air Force by Brigadier-General Mordechai Hod)
Early in the morning of 5 June 1967 Israel went to war and the Israeli Air Force effectively won the war within the first 80 minutes when they destroyed over 300 Egyptian planes and gained control of the sky.
For 80 minutes without let up the Israeli Air Force pounded the Egyptian air fields. Then after a 10 minute break, there followed a further 80 minutes of Israeli air strikes. In these two hours and 50 minutes the Israelis destroyed the offensive potential of the Egyptian Air Force and effectively broke its back as a fighting force.
So swift and decisive was the Israeli strike that President Nasser of Egypt could not believe that Israel had the capability to do what it had done:
‘The enemy attacked at one go all the military and civil airfields in the United Arab Republic. This meant he was relying on something more than his normal strength to protect his skies from any retaliation from us… It can be said without fear of exaggeration that the enemy was operating an air force three times its normal strength.’
This was not by chance. 16 years planning had gone into those initial 80 minutes. General Hod, the head of the Israeli Air Force said
‘We lived with the plan, we slept on the plan, we ate the plan. Constantly we perfected it.’
We too have a plan that guarantees victory – the plan of salvation. This is a plan that was set out before the foundation of the world, a plan that is perfect and will perfect us, a plan that we all signed up to in the premortal existence. Part of that plan is that we would come here to the earth in the last days when the battle is fiercest and the need for heroes is great and we would build the kingdom of God. Through the Abrahamic covenant we have covenanted that we will share the gospel with our fellow man.
The battle for air supremacy won, the focus of the war turned to a desert battle. The Israeli troops had arrived at the desert in tanks, trucks, buses, milk wagons, delivery vans, laundry vans, ice cream vans. Israeli children had been told to cover them with mud to camouflage them and make them look a little military. However, the mud fell off in the baking sun and the motley array of vehicles entered the war in their work a day colours. An Israeli Air Force Colonel who was in charge of the air strikes against ground forces in Sinai said afterwards:
‘We did not make many mistakes in identifying our own vehicles from the air. Whenever we saw an ice cream wagon, a hot dog van or milk trucks, we knew they could only be ours’
This exemplifies that the Arab forces weren’t just fighting the Israeli army – they were fighting the whole Israeli people.
Perhaps the Israeli’s greatest strength was that they knew what they were fighting for. Every one realized that defeat for Israel would mean the end of her existence as a state and the annihilation of her people. Golda Meir called this their secret weapon Ein brera – no alternative.
We know that we shall be victorious through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The atonement of Jesus Christ is the plan – it is the gospel – there is no alternative. Jacob tells us what would have become of us without the Saviour’s victory over sin:
2 Nephi 9:9 And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
Their country not a battlefield
Another factor was that because of the small size of Israel, the Israelis knew that they could not afford to let their own country be the battlefield.
Our wards should not be a battlefield where member contends against member or is critical of leadership. We must be united and strong. We must make sure that our homes are strong that we don’t let enemy forces in the form of inappropriate films, books, newspapers and music in. We also need to keep our hearts and minds clean and pure.
Because the majority of Israel’s army were civilians, Israel could not maintain a constant state of readiness for war without being economically crippled. Nor could she stand the army down and send them back to the factories, offices and fields. At this time of crisis, the Israeli public demanded that the government bring back the military hero General Moshe Dayan who had commanded Israel’s forces during the 1956 Suez crisis. They had confidence that he would make the correct decision whether to fight or wait.
We have confidence in our leaders. Each year, at General Conference, Stake Conference and Ward Conference we get the opportunity to express that confidence as we sustain them and commit ourselves to follow and support the.
It was the custom of the Israeli tank commanders to fight with their turrets open. This was, obviously, a dangerous tactic but it meant that the commanders had a clear view of the battle. In the same spirit, officers had a tradition of leading their men into battle with a shout of Aharai! (After me!)
Michael B Oren writes:
‘Highly informal – saluting and marching were rare – the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) placed its emphasis on speed, improvisation, and a flexibility of command in which even junior officers could make on-the-spot, far-reaching decisions.’
One of the distinctive features of the church is its leadership structure. Local leaders are given the authority to administer their stewardships without constantly referring back to Salt Lake City. They receive the revelation and inspiration that they need to fulfil their assignments. And with no lay clergy, our leaders, both men and women, are truly at the front line and leading by example.
We need to ensure that we participate in the victory promised by Elder Oakes by doing the things that our leaders ask of us. In the words of modern revelation:
“Be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).
In the gospel of John we read that at the tomb of Lazarus Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Take ye away the stone!’ Before the act of raising Lazarus could be performed, the disciples had their part to do. Christ could have removed the stone with a word. It would have been very easy for him to have commanded it to roll away; and it would have obeyed his voice, as the dead Lazarus did when he called him back to life. But the Lord wanted the disciples to be a part of the raising of Lazarus. The disciples had not only to take away the stone; but after Christ had raised Lazarus they had to ‘loose him, and let him go.’
It is the same with the gospel. God could easily win the war without our help but that is not his way. He wants to use us in the work.