The short hot summer of 1967 saw history jolted off course with a violence so abrupt and stunning that the explosion was over almost before the shock-waves broke. It took just 50 hours to redraw the Middle Eastern map, to turn the balance of power upside down, to send many thousand of people to kingdom come - some in a flash; thousands more in the lingering despair of the desert.
It was probably the most sensationally swift, surgical, complete and pitiless campaign in the records of war. Those of us who saw it are only now beginning to understand how it was done.
The "Middle East problem", it seemed, has always been with us, and perhaps always will, since it involves the bitterest and most intractable of passions, rooted in riches, race, and religion. For the last generation it had festered. For 19 years the new State of Israel, some three million strong, had lived surrounded on three sides by 50 million Arabs whose rulers were united by, and only by, the implacable and proclaimed intention of destroying their neighbour. Israel was denounced as a "Western abscess", a "tool of Imperialism" and the rest, but the base of its crime, in Arab eyes, was that it was Jewish, and that it multiplied and prospered among thousand of dispossessed Palestinian refugees.
The mad story of the Five Days War** (sic) began some weeks before. President Gamel Abdel Nasser of the United Arab Republic, determined to reassert his leadership of the Arab world, dismissed the troops of the United Nations emergency force which had held the ring on the Egypt-Israel border since the Suez campaign in 1956, and massed his own armies in the Sinai and Gaza Strip. Simultaneously he took over a remote flyspeck called Sharm-el-Sheikh, notable for nothing in human annals except that its guns command the strait opening the gulf that is Israel's only back door and access to Africa and Asia.
Then overnight Israel was bottled up on all sides but one: the Mediterranean. For a while, astonishingly, nothing happened. It seemed that for once Israel had steeled itself to a very unfamiliar quality: patience. There was now no-fire-eating Ben Gurion in charge, but the moderate an compromising Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. The Middle East simmered, but did not boil.
Those of us who were waiting on the edge cooled off. ... Perhaps nobody will ever really know who fired the first shot. Israel announced that an Egyptian attack had been repulsed. Not many people too this as other than a rationalisation. A tiny embattled country like Israel could not possibly fight a defensive war. Only pre-emptive action could make sense to a soldier...
- extract from Daily Express Photonews Special, July 1967 - James Cameron, credited as the main reporter.
** at the time of publication the official name for the war had not been established.