Tom Segev: Offers fresh look at 6-Day War





As Israelis celebrate the 40th anniversary of their speedy triumph over hostile neighbours, both internal and external critics are questioning the Six Day War's justification, let alone its results. The pivotal moral question regards Israel's decision to launch its pre-emptive air raid, which destroyed Egypt's air force on June 5, 1967. Did Israel act rashly? Did the attack reflect a delusional anxiety rather than a realistic threat assessment?

In 2002, historian Michael Oren's majestic Six Days of War emphasized the miscalculations that triggered this unwanted war. Nevertheless, after examining Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, American and Soviet sources, along with Israeli archives, Oren concluded that Israel's leaders had no choice but to attack.

Those who condemn Israel's decision generally minimize Arab leaders' genocidal threats, the skirmishes with Syria and Egypt's decision to blockade Israel's southernmost port after dismissing the United Nations buffer force on its border with Israel.

And indeed, in his sweeping, gripping and contrarian book examining 1967, Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev censures Israel by focusing too narrowly on Israel. Rooting the conflict in the country's economic, social and psychic crisis of confidence in 1966, Segev paints a devastating portrait of a small, insecure society, exorcising inner demons by overreacting to external demons. "Obviously," he concludes, "Israel was too weak to avoid war."

The author of provocative looks at British Mandatory Palestine, Israel in 1949 and the Holocaust's lasting impact on Israelis, Segev is an indefatigable researcher and a master storyteller. This book, published two years ago in Hebrew, and ably translated into English by Jessica Cohen, shifts effectively, lyrically, from Israelis' everyday experiences to their politicians' power struggles. With his eye for the evocative detail, Segev describes the quaint Israeli practice of positioning one's telephone in the entrance hall, so neighbours could share the precious phone without invading each other's privacy too much. With his knack for personalizing experiences millions shared, Segev vividly incorporates firsthand accounts, including the war diaries of Private Yehoshua Bar Dayan and the letters of a U.S.-born Jerusalemite, Edith Ezrachi. And with his critical flair, Segev punctures what remains of the myth of Israel's sabra superman; he joins several other modern chroniclers in depicting Moshe Dayan as a mercurial, showboating, Machiavellian cad....



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