Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Michael Oren’s history of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is searchable online at Amazon. This is the probably the best place to begin researching the history of the modern Middle East, as every ensuing crisis is a direct consequence of this short conflict.

Oren’s work is also available in a well-read audiobook version at Audible.com. Following are a few representative short reviews:

Reviewed by Eliot A. Cohen for Foreign Affairs:

This superior work of scholarship is the best account that will exist for some time of one of the pivotal wars of the twentieth century. The author has created a narrative that does its best to be dispassionate about matters that still elicit more passion than analysis, drawing on archival sources and interviews from all sides. (The Arab side, alas, is thinner than the rest, for fewer records are available.) In Oren’s telling, this conflict was produced by blunder and bravado on the Arab side, and fear and apprehension in the Israeli camp. Interested more in the political and diplomatic events than in military or societal ones, Oren nonetheless delivers a rounded tale. He constructs a gripping account that sheds light not only on the tortured politics of the region but on the broader, troubling question of how politicians may find themselves drawn into a conflict that they have neither anticipated nor desired. Other specialized volumes and works of synthesis and interpretation will appear, but this book will stand for many years.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Bacevich:

The modern Middle East emerged out of three great earthquakes that rocked the region over a period of a half century: the final collapse of the old Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I; the creation of the state of Israel in 1948; and the Six Day War of 1967. In his gripping and provocative new study, Michael Oren, an American and longtime resident of Israel, provides a fresh assessment of the last of these three, the event from which so many of today’s problems in the region are derived. The result is a book as timely as it is brilliant.

The 1967 war is an oft-told tale of high drama and great achievement. But Oren’s purpose in Six Days of War is not simply to affirm the heroic narrative to which almost all Israelis and most Americans subscribe. Basing his findings on multi-archival research, enjoying access to recently declassified documents, having himself interviewed many key political and military figures, Oren offers readers an account of the Six Day War and its origins that is rich in detail, unfailingly readable, and surprisingly even-handed. Beyond that, however, to employ a sometimes suspect term, the book qualifies as an exercise in historical revisionism: although by no means overturning the traditional narrative, the author amends our understanding of the war in ways that help illuminate the present.

Reviewed by law professor Stephen Bainbridge:

As an Army brat who spent much of his formative years in the South, I have a natural interest in military history. In our post-9/11 world, moreover, understanding what’s going on in the Middle East has become essential. The thesis of Michael Oren’s Six Days of War is that the 1967 war shaped – and continues to shape – the central problem of our age. Unlike much military history, Oren’s account focuses to a considerable extent on the diplomatic context. Events at the UN, in Washington and Moscow, as well as Tel Aviv and key Arab capitals, play a significant role. Indeed, the chapters and sections focusing on diplomacy are far easier to grasp than the battle sequences, which assume a knowledge of Middle East geography that many general readers will lack. (I found myself referring to the few maps constantly, but with frustration because many locations mentioned in the text appear on none of the maps.) Oren’s ready acceptance of the Israeli version of the USS Liberty incident will also raise some hackles with many US readers. Having said that, however, I strongly recommend this important analysis of a key turning point in recent history.

Reviewed by John Podhoretz:

Guess who spoke these words, and when: “The United States is the enemy. The United States is the hostile force behind Israel. The United States, O Arabs, is the enemy of all peoples, the killer of life, the shedder of blood, that is preventing you from liquidating Israel.”

There is only one possible choice: Osama bin Laden, of course. The hatred of America, the anti-Semitic rage at Israel, and the hortatory purple rhetoric are all typical of bin Laden’s videotaped rants. But bin Laden was actually ten years old when this speech was recited by an anonymous broadcaster on an Egyptian radio station called Voice of the Arabs.

The date was June 5, 1967. Only hours earlier, the Israeli air force had staged a preemptive strike against the Egyptian air force — destroying most of that nation’s planes, anti-aircraft weapons, and stationary missiles in 90 minutes. And yet, as Michael B. Oren relates in his masterful and thrilling new history, Six Days of War, “Egypt’s propaganda organs, radio and press, continued to boast of extraordinary victories, while according to Jordanian communiques, Israeli forces had been repulsed . . . and thirty-one Israeli planes shot down.”

This was neither wishful thinking nor mere propaganda. The problem in Cairo was that nobody dared speak the truth about what had happened. It was not until 4 p.m. that day — a full seven hours after the decimation – – that Gamel Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s dictator, was given an honest accounting. By this point, Egypt’s field marshal (who was Nasser’s oldest friend) was “either drunk or drugged or both” and issuing insanely contradictory orders. The defense minister, meanwhile, “had a bed moved into his office, then sequestered himself inside.” He would take no phone calls, nor would he respond to the knocks of his subordinates.

Reviewed by Michael Rubner:

Aftershocks of the 1967 earthquake still reverberate throughout the region 35 years later. In the absence of peace with Syria, Israel is still holding on to the Golan Heights. While Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in the wake of the 1979 peace treaty, relations between these erstwhile adversaries have never warmed up. Israel has also annexed East Jerusalem, and remains in effective control of parts of the Gaza Strip and more substantial portions of the West Bank. Although they gained a modicum of political autonomy in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinians who came under Israeli rule in 1967 are still stateless. With accounts of bloody clashes between Israelis and Palestinians dominating the daily headlines, the publication of yet another recounting of the war that reshaped the modern Middle East could not be more timely.