Editor’s Note: To mark Yom Yerushalayim and the 49th anniversary of the Six-Day War, we travel back in time to June 6, 1967, the second day of the war, and the eloquent statement delivered by to the United Nations Security Council by Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban.
I have just come from Jerusalem to tell the Security Council that Israel, by its independent effort and sacrifice, has passed from serious danger to successful resistance.
Two days ago Israel’s condition caused much concern across the humane and friendly world. Israel had reached a somber hour. Let me try to evoke the point at which our fortunes stood.
An army, greater than any force ever assembled in history in Sinai, had massed against Israel’s southern frontier. Egypt had dismissed the United Nations forces which symbolized the international interest in the maintenance of peace in our region. Nasser had provocatively brought five infantry divisions and two armored divisions up to our very gates; 80,000 men and 900 tanks were poised to move.
A special striking force, comprising an armored division with at least 200 tanks, was concentrated against Eilat at the Negev’s southern tip. Here was a clear design to cut the southern Negev off from the main body of our state. For Egypt had openly proclaimed that Eilat did not form part of Israel and had predicted that Israel itself would soon expire.
The proclamation was empty; the prediction now lies in ruin. While the main brunt of the hostile threat was focused on the southern front, an alarming plan of encirclement was under way. With Egypt’s initiative and guidance, Israel was already being strangled in its maritime approaches to the whole eastern half of the world.
For sixteen years, Israel had been illicitly denied passage in the Suez Canal, despite the Security Council’s decision of 1 September 1951. And now the creative enterprise of ten patient years which had opened an international route across the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba had been suddenly and arbitrarily choked. Israel was and is breathing only with a single lung.
Jordan had been intimidated, against its better interest, into joining a defense pact. It is not a defense pact at all: it is an aggressive pact, of which I saw the consequences with my own eyes yesterday in the shells falling upon institutions of health and culture in the city of Jerusalem.
Every house and street in Jerusalem now came into the range of fire as a result of Jordan’s adherence to this pact; so also did the crowded and pathetically narrow coastal strip in which so much of Israel’s life and population is concentrated.
Iraqi troops reinforced Jordanian units in areas immediately facing vital and vulnerable Israel communication centers. Expeditionary forces from Algeria and Kuwait had reached Egyptian territory. Nearly all the Egyptian forces which had been attempting the conquest of the Yemen had been transferred to the coming assault upon Israel. Syrian units, including artillery, overlooked the Israel villages in the Jordan Valley. Terrorist troops came regularly into our territory to kill, plunder and set off explosions; the most recent occasion was five days ago.
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In short, there was peril for Israel wherever it looked. Its manpower had been hastily mobilized. Its economy and commerce were beating with feeble pulses. Its streets were dark and empty. There was an apocalyptic air of approaching peril. And Israel faced this danger alone.
We were buoyed up by an unforgettable surge of public sympathy across the world. The friendly governments expressed the rather ominous hope that Israel would manage to live, but the dominant theme of our condition was danger and solitude.