Middle East Studies

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


Arab Politics, Palestinian Nationalism and the Six Day War

The Crystallization of Arab Strategy and Nasir's Descent to War, 1957–1967

Professor Moshe Shemesh teaches Middle Eastern studies at Ben-Gurion University, Beer Sheva, and is a Senior research associate at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute, Sede Boker, Israel. His publications include books and articles on the Arab–Israeli conflict and the Palestinian national movement.

The Six Day War was the climax in the deterioration of the Arab–Israeli conflict. The downturn began in 1957 when Nasir began preaching the idea of Arab nationalism, while placing the Palestinian problem at its centre. The decade between the Sinai War and Six Day War was marked by preparations by both sides for an all-out military confrontation which both sides viewed as inevitable. As the Arab states formulated their positions on the conflict’s goals and the ways of attaining them, differences of opinion erupted between Egypt and Syria. Nasir wanted to decide the time and place for the war that would “liberate Filastin”. He was determined to meet Israel on the battlefield only when he was certain that the outcome would mean a decisive Arab victory. He consciously and strategically led Egypt to war, carefully weighing the implications of each political/military step.

This study, based almost exclusively on hitherto unavailable Arab primary sources, sets out the crystallization of Arab strategy to reveal conclusions substantively different from previous scholarly and political–military assessments. Issues dealt with include: the relevance of the Filastin problem as key to understanding the descent to war; the pivotal Syrian water struggle as a key motivating factor; Nasir’s military blunders with respect to advice received from the Egyptian High Command; Nasir’s acceptance of the principle that Egypt had to absorb the first Israeli strike, to be followed by Egypt’s delivery of a second, decisive strike; the “political process” approach to solving the conflict as evidenced by the Khartoum protocols notwithstanding the “1948 refugee problem”; and the Hashemite regime’s response to Palestinians’ heightened national awakening. The enlistment of all the Arab states to Nasir’s moves in May 1967 testifies not only to the president's charismatic leadership, but also to the depths of the 1948 trauma (al-nakba), which lies at the heart of any future compromise or agreement.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-188-7
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $75.00
Release Date: November 2007
Page Extent / Format: 360 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
Illustrated: No


Preface and Outline of the Book
List of Abbreviations

The Arab–Israeli Conflict Escalates, 1957–1963: A Turning Point in the Arab States' Attitudes towards the Palestinian Problem
The Egyptian Strategy
Qasim's Strategy
Jordan's Strategy
The Syrian Ba'th Strategy

Formulation of Arab Strategy in the Israeli–Arab Conflict, 1964–1965: Prelude to the Six Day War
Part I The Intensification of Arab Activity, 1959–1963
The Arab–Israeli Struggle Over Water
Part II The Crystallization of Arab Strategy: Decisions of the First and Second Arab Summit Conferences, 1964

Failure of the Arab Plan for Diverting the River Jordan's Tributaries
Partial Implementation of the Diversion Plan in Lebanon
Syria's Dilemma in Implementing the Diversion Plan
Conference of the Heads of Arab Delegations to the Mixed Armistice Commissions
Failure of the Arab Strategy

The Rise of the Palestinians as a Factor in the Arab–Israeli Conflict
Part I Establishment of the PLO – The Jerusalem Congress, May 1964
The Egyptian Attitude
The Jordanian Stand
Syria's Antithesis
Fatah's Reaction
Palestinian Organizations' Alignment
Part II Jordan's Confrontation with the PLO – National Awakening in the West Bank
Shuqayri's Goals
The Jordanian Conception
The Confrontation
The Palestinians' National Awakening in the West Bank: In the Aftermath of the Samu' Raid
Conclusion: The Struggle for Control of the West Bank and the Fate of the Hashemite Regime

The Fida'iyyun Organizations' Contribution to the Descent to the Six Day War
The Emergence of Fatah
The Egyptian Position
The Change in Egypt's Policy toward Fida'iyyun Activity Syria's Position
Jordan's Dilemma: Between an Israeli Invasion of the West Bank and the Campaign against Fatah
The Impact of the Samu' Raid on Jordan's Participation in the War: A Turning Point

The Arab Military Build-Up
The Authority and Status of the UAC and its Commander
Continuing Discussions on the Dispatch of Arab Forces to Jordan
Egypt and the UNEF on the Israeli Border (1965–1966)
The Convening of the ADC in March 1967: Jordan is Again the Center of Discussion
The UAC's Contribution to the Build-up of the Arab Armies
The UAC at the Operational Level
The Failure to Establish a Northern Air Theater
The Arab (UAC) Position on Israel's Nuclear Project
Changes in Jordan's Position on the Eve of War
Conclusion: The Failure to Establish an Arab "Power Center"

Nasir's Steps toward the Six Day War: May 13 to June 5, 1967
Assessing Israel's Intentions
Part I Basic Factors in Syria's Estimation
Deep Fears of an Israeli Attack
The Soviet Factor
The Syrian Attempt to Drag Egypt into a Military Operation – The Cairo Agreement, November 4, 1966
The April 7, 1967 Incident and its Repercussions
The Formulation of Syria's May 12, 1967 Assessment
Part II Nasir and the Arab World March toward War
Strengthening of the Egyptian Commitment to Syria After the April 7, 1967 Incident
In the Wake of Soviet and Syrian Warnings
The First Stage, May 15–17, 1967: Deterrence and the Evacuation of UN Forces
The Second Stage, May 18–22, 1967: The Egyptian Front and the Closing of the Straits
The Third Stage, May 23–28, 1967: Crystallization of the Second-Strike Strategy
The Fourth Stage, May 29–June 5, 1967: Waiting for the First Strike
Part III The Arab Propaganda Campaign
Part IV Conclusion and Evaluation

In the Wake of the Six Day War
The Khartoum Summit, August 29–1 September, 1967: A New Arab Strategy
Conclusion: The Arab–Israeli Conflict between the Nakba and the Naksa – The Emergence of the New Palestinian National Movement

Appendixes: Fatah, Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian Documents, Letters and Operational Orders in Arabic


A valuable contribution to the understanding of Arab politics in the decade before the Six-Day War. Well-referenced and injecting new Iraqi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, and Palestinian documents into the narrative, Shemesh’s book challenges historians’ conventional wisdom. He argues, for example, that the Palestinian issue was far more important to Arab states in the decade before the Six-Day War than earlier historians believed. He also dismisses the idea that the war occurred because Nasser’s recklessness caused events to spin out of control. Rather, Shemesh suggests that the January 1964 Arab summit set the region down the path to war. In 1967, Nasser ‘marched to war open-eyed,’ believing Arab victory to be assured.
... Shemesh also examines both internal Palestinian Arab dynamics and the interplay of Palestinian nationalism within intra-Arab relations of the period. Palestinian fida’i terrorism, for example, changed the dynamics of the Arab fight against Israel. No longer did Arab states alone seek to eliminate Israel on behalf of Palestinian Arabs; Palestinian groups began to take an active role in the fight against Israel. Shemesh argues that while, prior to the Six-Day War, Palestinian terrorism did not gain the prominence that it would in later years, by 1965, fida’i activity along Israel’s borders with Syria and Jordan posed a serious security threat and hastened the war.
…Shemesh reproduces facsimiles ranging from a cover of Fatah’s 1959 monthly Filastinuna; to a 1965 Jordanian military report on acts Palestinian terrorists might perpetrate against Israel; to a 1967 letter from Hafez al-Assad, at the time still Syria’s defense minister, regarding Israeli troop movements … a necessary addition to any serious library or scholar's bookshelf.
Middle East Quarterly

Primarily utilizing Arab primary sources, Shemesh reconstructs the history of the decade preceding the Six Day War between Israel on one side and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria on the other. His reliance on previously unexamined Arab sources leads him to a number of novel conclusions, the most important of which include the notion that the Sinai War (of October 1956) had exacerbated rather than alleviated Arab–Israeli tensions and the Palestinian problem, that Nasir of Egypt was rational in his preparations for the conflict and that responsibility for the military fiasco is primarily attributable to Egyptian Field Marshal Amer, that Egyptian commitment to Palestinian self-determination was strong and not an opportunistic fig leaf, that the emergence of Palestinian nationalism was a major trigger for the conflict, that the defeat of Arab forces in the war prompted the Arab states to decisively turn towards political processes in order to resolve the conflict, and that the Israeli seizure of the West Bank served to strengthen the political regime of Jordan.
Reference & Research Book News

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab.

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.