How the Six-Day War Changed the Middle East

How the Six-Day War Changed the Middle East

Egypt's disorganization and Jordan's outdated weaponry made it possible for Israel to dominate the battlefield.

Israeli ground forces had dealt the Arab forces of three neighboring countries a decisive blow and had conquered the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank (i.e., Judea and Samaria) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Outcomes and Consequences

Israel’s victory was impressive in every perspective. The IDF had destroyed hundreds of enemy aircrafts and tanks. The conquered territories provided Israel with ample strategic gains. Most importantly, Israel acquired strategic depth for the first time in its history. The Golan Heights had always presented the Syrian artillery with a high ground enabling the shelling of Israel’s territory. The same applies to the West Bank where Jordanian artillery had threatened Israel’s center. Furthermore, the conquest of the West Bank allowed Israel a much more efficient control of the Jordanian border along the river Jordan and the Dead Sea. The conquest of the Sinai Peninsula presented Israel with a buffer zone to its most dangerous enemy, Egypt. Additionally, the Sinai secured Israel’s control of the Straits of Tiran. The occupied territories also offered access to more water resources: with the conquest of the Golan Heights, Israel settled the dispute for the Kinneret and the headwaters of the river Jordan in her favor. Also, the large underground water resources in Judea and Samaria were now under Israeli control.

The Six-Day War changed the Middle East. Israel’s occupation of the Sinai Peninsula led to two further wars with Egypt (1968–70 and 1973). Eventually, however, Jerusalem made peace with Cairo by negotiating a gradual withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai (1979–82). Thus, with the militarily most capable Arab state being “neutralized” in that way, Israel’s other neighbors were no longer able to attack directly.

Already shortly after the fighting ended, Israel de facto annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City with the Western Wall. Because of its vital strategic value, Israel also annexed the Golan Heights (de iure in 1981). The West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip were governed by an Israeli military and later civil administration. In the context of the Oslo Accords (1993–95), the newly established Palestinian Authority took control of the major Arab population centers. Whereas Jerusalem withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, more than half of the West Bank is still administered by Israel. Israel’s annexations and settlements in administered areas burden Israeli relations to many states and constitute core issues of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict until today.

Marcel Serr is a political scientist and historian from Germany. He lived in Jerusalem 2012–2017 and served as assistant director at the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem (2014–2017). Currently, Marcel is an independent researcher and freelance writer. His research focuses on Israel’s security and defence policy.

Image: Israeli Mirage IIIC. Marcel Serr/Used by permission