Peter Worthington: 6 days that changed the world





Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the start of Israel's six-day war with Egypt -- a war that changed history in the Middle East, and led to many of today's problems.

I was in Cairo for the war, reporting for the old Toronto Telegram. Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser had ordered UN peacekeepers out of Egypt, had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and all signs indicated that Egypt and Syria (with reluctant support from Jordan's King Hussein) planned to attack and eliminate Israel once and for all.

Anticipating war, the Tely had sent me to Cairo. I was in my hotel room at the Nile Hilton that sunny June morning, trying to make a phone call, when the distinct crump-crump sound of explosions could be heard from the direction of the airport. From my window I could see a column of smoke rising in the distance. I had heard planes overhead, but didn't connect the two.

A hysterical maid rushed into my room babbling: "It's started! It's started!" Israeli planes had attacked the airport. The war was on.

I grabbed my Olivetti portable and rushed to the lobby, heading for the cable office to file a story -- hopefully to catch the morning deadline in Toronto. It would have to be "colour", as no facts were available.

In the streets there was chaos. I composed as I headed to the cable office. Street loudspeakers blared news of the attack -- 27 Israeli planes had been shot down, gloated the announcer.

Minutes later, the loudspeakers revised the news -- 42 Israeli planes had been shot down. By the time I reached the cable office, the number had risen to 75 planes shot down. Then 127 Israeli bombers had been destroyed.

The propaganda overstatements indicated disaster for Egypt.

A cynical taxi driver, muttered that it was another miracle for Nasser -- "Nine planes attacked the airport and we shot down 13!"

In times of peril, Egyptian propaganda was prone to exaggeration -- rather as Saddam Hussein's cartoonish information minister insisted no American troops were in Baghdad when American troops were all over Baghdad....

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