Six Days of War

By Benjamin Schwarz

July 2002 ATLANTIC

Six-Day WarTo produce Six Days of War, his account of the Six-Day War the historian Michael B. Oren drew on thousands of pages of previously classified documents in Israeli, U.S., Russian, and British archives, and on interviews with diplomats, decision-makers, and commanders in Washington, Moscow, Jerusalem, Cairo, Amman, and Damascus. With a remarkably assured style, Oren elucidates nearly every aspect of the conflict—the historical background, the strategic and domestic political context (in Israel and in the Arab world), the diplomatic negotiations in Washington and the UN, the military and political deliberations within Israel and the Arab capitals, and the air operations and often desperate and bloody ground battles. Most successfully, Oren dramatically and cleanly depicts the combination of self-doubt, hubris, and dread that accompanied Tel Aviv’s decision to go to war, and the confusing and contingent nature of Israeli military and political calculations in the midst of the conflict. In writing his strategic chronicle, Oren has also drawn the most penetrating and subtle assessment of the Israeli mind that I’ve encountered. Despite his no doubt sincere assurances that his is an objective account, Oren plainly takes the Israeli side, and his book refutes revisionist historians’ interpretations of the 1967 war as a deliberate act of Israeli expansionism. Nevertheless, Oren is far too honest a scholar to treat Israel as a plucky David; he depicts Tel Aviv’s military and political leaders as largely cunning and opportunistic realists (his pen portraits are elegant and revealing). Unless and until Egypt, Syria, and Jordan open their archives, Oren’s will remain the authoritative chronicle of the war. His achievement as a writer and a historian is awesome.

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