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Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East
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171 of 186 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you have time for only one book on the Middle East, purchase this book. Much of the current dispute is a result of the events of the 6 Day War. Mr. Oren's work incudes over 80 pages of footnotes, many referencing recently declassified files and personal interviews with the key players.
Although packed with information, the book is well edited and a relatively easy read - managing to build suspense although the outcome is well known.
No one emerges as a complete hero or a complete villian in Mr. Oren's gripping narrative - a tribute to the balanced, objective nature of the work.
After reading this book, the reader will never view current developments in the Middle East in the same light.
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214 of 239 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2002
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The events of June 1967 have been written about extensively. Never before, however, has a book been published that not only chronicles the six days of the war itself but also the factors which led to it. In this important new work, Michael Oren looks back and comprehensively examines each and every aspect of the conflict.
Oren presents the history from a military, diplomatic, political and cultural perspective. Through the extensive examination of archives, official reports, memoirs and interviews with surviving figures, Oren details the roles played by all the major players from the perspective of, not just the Israelis but the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians as well as the United States and the Soviet Union.
After beginning by presenting a brief synopsis of the Arab-Israeli conflict to that point, Oren describes the series of miscalculations by Nasser that led Egypt into war several years before he intended. A combination of Syrian bellicosity, support of Palestinian terrorist incursions in Northern Israel together with the goading of his unstable general Amer, led Nasser to force the United Nations out of the de-militarized Sinai and to illegally close the Tiran straits to Israeli shipping, tantamount to a declaration of war. As Oren clearly shows, war with Egypt was inevitable the moment the straits were closed. No sovereign nation could ignore a blockade of its shipping.
Oren chronicles Israel's political struggle with the United States and the Soviet Union to permit an appropriate military response to Egypt's provocations.. Despite the clear act of war by Egypt, the Johnson administration, hobbled by Vietnam and fearful of a confrontation with the Soviets, urged Israel to show restraint. Oren describes the agony of Eskhol and the Israeli government in deciding how to attack preemptively without alienating the United States. In the famous meeting between Abba Eban and President Johnson, Johnson practically urged Israel to absorb a first strike. The execrable Charles De Gaulle did overtly demand this. Israeli military doctrine required the preemptive destruction of the enemy air forces. The tension drove Rabin to a temporary breakdown and probably took years off Eskhol's life.
Once the war started with Israel's lightning strike on the Egyptian Air Force, Oren shows how events followed their own trajectory with Jordan drawn in and then Syria and Israel's military objectives changing on a constant basis. Indeed, what becomes clear is that Israel never had any particular political objective other than the elimination of the direct existential threat. Contrary to anti-Israel revisionists, Israel never had any specific designs on the West Bank or even the old city of Jerusalem. Ironically, the decision to conquer the old city of Jerusalem was not made until he last possible moment, even after much of the West Bank was already in Israeli hands.
From the Arab perspective, Oren shows just how and why the war turned into a disaster. The Egyptian forces lacked any semblance of unified command or communications. Nasser's officers were afraid to tell him the truth. While her forces were in full retreat, her air force lying in ruins, Egypt continued to broadcast the basest propaganda that her forces were advancing towards Tel a Viv. Hussein, meanwhile, was trapped by his fear of Nasser and the Syrian radicals into attacking Israel in Jerusalem.
Also fascinating is the extent to which political and diplomatic considerations played a role in military strategy and increased Israeli casualties. For example, Eskhol delayed for so long the decision to take the Golan heights, that the IDF was unable to take the proper preparatory steps which would have included artillery bombardments, air bombings and a night time attack. Instead the brave soldiers of the IDF advanced straight into murderous Syrian fire. This was true for the Jerusalem campaign as well.
Ultimately, the value of this book is that it shows the context of the war. It is easy for revisionists to argue that Israel's conquests of the Golan and the West Bank were not necessary. What Oren shows is that, with the exception of Jerusalem, the Israeli offensives were not for the purpose of expanding Israel's territory but purely for geo-political diplomatic purposes. Once forced to fight, Israel was determined not to be forced to remain within indefensible cease fire lines as she was in 1948. There is no question that Israel's basic war aims were to eliminate the offensive capabilities of the enemies on her border and to force them to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the nature of these regimes made a peaceful solution impossible and more bloodletting would be required.
Oren contrasts the totalitarian Egyptian and Syrian regimes with the raucous Israeli democracy where decisions on basic war strategy were taken by consensus in the famous "pit". Oren makes a point of noting that, despite the general's dismay and outright disgust at Eskhol's restraint (borne of his fear of antagonizing the Soviets and the Americans), never for one moment did they consider disregarding his orders. The hallmark of a true democracy is the subordination of the military to civilian command. Nasser, by contrast, was in constant fear of military overthrow.
Oren's dispassionate analysis reveals the positive and negative roles played by the major players in the drama. The Mercurial Moshe Dyan does not come across as positively as his reputation would suggest. His inscrutable nature would endanger Israel in 1973. Eskhol is fully exonerated. Indeed, when the full story is revealed, it is difficult to think of another Israeli political figure better suited to deal with the myriad of competing considerations. Nasser comes across as more deluded and broken than evil. Hussein appears to be a victim of forces beyond his control. The Soviets are revealed in all their villainy. This book is destined to be a true classic. It will be to the Six Day War what "O Jerusalem" is to the War for Independence. It is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Israel.
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111 of 123 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Michael Oren's book is a gripping account of the Six-Day War, one that is clear from his extensive research, no one wanted. Oren shows the complex issues that moved the Egypt and Israel into a deadly tragedy. Putting the Six-Day War into his vast Cold War context illuminates the impotence of the Superpowers, the incompetence of Egypt and Syria, and the dangerous gamble Israel took when launching its necessary strike.
Oren gives us as many perspectives as he can; American, Russian, Israeli, Eqyptian, Jordanian, English participants all have their say. The brilliance of this book is not just Oren's gripping account of the war, but his making the reader understand the incredible pressure that Nasser, King Hussein, and Levi Eshkol were under. This book made me feel some sympathy for the Egyptians, poorly-led, sacrificed to Nasser's macho posturing and cronyism, to Cold war cant, and massive poverty.
What is chilling about this book is that nearly forty years later, not much has changed, as Oren points out.
Readers of Tom Clancy will find real people and real tragedy more gripping than fake heroics; no heros here, just survivors.
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58 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Michael Oren's Six Days of War is one of the most exhaustively, minutely researched books I have ever read, a most flattering remark if one takes into account the innate investigative difficulties of the matter at hand. Objective, straightforward and an easy read, the book nevertheless leaves the spirit wanting for more strategic and tactical detail and for many more pages to read. It is that good.

The history-conscious reader will go beyond the common analogy of tiny Greece versus the Persian empire to find interesting parallels with the 1936 Spanish Civil War in the sanctimoniously neutral behavior of the three Western powers, always ready to put pressure on Israel to accept Arab demands by negating her the most basic armaments, as opposed to the massive rearming of Egypt and Syria by the Soviets before, during and immediately after the war. In fact, Israel was able to maintain parity with Egypt only because of the unbelievably large amounts of untouched war material abandoned by Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians while retreating. There are even parallels with Europe in 1914, the Arab leadership making miscalculations just as big as those of Austria. Some of these miscalculations, and the absurd comicality of the power struggle among Arab leaders being such that at times one cannot help but think of the Three Stooges parody of Hitler (Nasser), Goering (Field Marshal Amer) and Goebbels (King Hussein), especially when their bickering led to three military decisions that sealed the fate of the Egyptian army and the war. First, King Hussein made unprovoked moves toward war that forced Israel to preempt in order to avoid a two-front war; second, Egypt switched from the defensive deployment indicated in the carefully developed Soviet Plan Conqueror to the offensive deployment required by Amer's improvised Operation Dawn; and third, Egypt, at the last minute, stopped their own preemptive attack against Israel. This put Egypt's military in the worst possible position, having to bear the full brunt of the Israeli offensive with inadequate defensive preparations. In an extreme way, of course, most of the above point to the essential differences in the political decision-making process between democratic and dictatorial regimes, a basic and important historical lesson in itself.

Among the many invaluable facts and tips in the book that help understand the modern, if still byzantine, Middle East, here are a few: when you thought you had heard the worst about UN incompetence or of anti-Israeli bias in Europe, here comes Secretary General U Thant practically endorsing the Egyptian closing of the Tiran Straits and waiting several days before going to Cairo to meet Nasser until "his horoscope said it was propitious for him to travel." The despicable behavior of De Gaulle, who reneges on France's historical role of armament supplier to Israel and practically accuses Israel of aggression even before the first shot is fired, all for better relations with the Arab world. The heavy Soviet and Arab influence on, British support of, and US appeasement and meekness on Security Council Resolution 242, the linchpin for any future peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict; the absolute worthlessness of "good faith" agreements and documents when the world has to decide between little, insignificant Israel and the many and oil-rich Arab States, a proof that Israel has to go alone, no matter what, when her security is compromised. The inexplicable timidity of the current US policy vis-à-vis terror-supporting, bellicose and deceitful Syria, one almost undistinguishable from the realist American policy of 1967 that was forced by the facts of Vietnam and the confrontation with the Soviet Union. Even Saddam Hussein could well say that the outrage at his gassing of Iranians and Kurds is hypocritical, because he was just imitating the great and world-admired Arab leader Nasser, who repeatedly poison-gassed thousands of Yemenis and Saudis himself. Last but not least, Arab imams, leaders and intellectuals, yesterday and today, telling lies to their peoples and inculcating them with the most extreme and irrational hatred towards Israel.

To be fair, I found quite a few unexpected typos and several misspellings of well known military words such as Tupolev, Vautour, Durandal.

A most recommended book.
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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Six Days of War" is a good book (but not great) that is written with a military historian's tone. Michael Oren has a long history in the Israeli government and with the IDF which will lead many to instinctively shout that the book must be biased per se. But for such a contentious topic, Oren does a great job of giving as unbiased an account as possible of the Six-Day War and the events that led up to it.
The book is really only about 350 pages, with nearly 150 more of notes and bibliographical information concerning interviews and other works cited by the author. Most of these 350 pages, nearly the entire first half of them, deal solely with the tug-of-war diplomacy between the United States, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the Soviet Union that dominated the weeks before the eventual beginning of the battles. This is where Oren's hyper-objectivity, although necessary, starts to sap the life out of an otherwise exciting and historically momentous time. But Oren gets through this long lead-in and then rapidly recounts the major events of the quick war in fairly thorough detail. Its with recounting these military tactics and strategies that Oren is clearly at his best.
This book is a well-researched account of a war that radically changed the balance of power in the Middle East, and Oren should be applauded for being as objective (to a fault) as humanly possible.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The 1967 Middle East War - known as "The Six Day War" by most Western's and known as "The June War", "The Setback" or "The Disaster" by Arabs - is still considered to be unfinished business to many Arab and Muslims around the World to this very day. Michael B. Oren did a superb job of telling the story in a logical manner - beginning with "setting the context for the war", "the catalyst", and then a "day-by-day blow-by-blow re-telling of the fastest war in history to that date. There are non-stop anecdotes (from both the Israeli and Arab point of views) which made the story much more absorbing. Michael is Jewish, but did the best he could to remain unbias. I would imagine that pro-Arab readers will experience this book very much like an American would experience a re-telling of Vietnam - mistake after mistake (both political and military) that cost the lives of men willing to die for their country. However, pro-Arabs readers will find direct (and quite candid) quotes of many Arabs (politicians and military) involved in the conflict. If the story is at all bias - it can be attributed to the fact that the Arab nations have NOT de-classified (and probably never will) the occurances leading-up-to, during, and following those six fateful days in June 1967. Michael had to piece together the story from the sources available to him. I could not put this book down. I read it in four nights. I am 32 and was not even alive during this war and wanted to know more than simply "Israel won." This book helped me understand the "why, when, how, & who" that I never knew. Did you know that most of the Israeli arms and ALL of the air force fighters were provided by France? Did you know that America bent over backward NOT siding with Israel so as not to damage our standing with the Arab community? Did you know that Nasser (Egyptian President) - when in Day 2 he realized that Israel had already destroyed 60% of his air force - lied and told the Arab World that America had directly helped Israel? Buy this book, read it thoroughly, and talk to people about it! Great job Michael!
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book sets a new standard for political histories, combining archives in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the USSR, the US, and the UN to give a detailed account of the six-day-war from the perspectives of all participants. Syria is represented to a lesser extent, probably because the state is simply not open with its material. It is still mysterious (1) why Syria held back its troops after Israel initiated the war with Egypt, (2) why Israeli aerial photos showed troop evacuations from the Golan on the fourth day of the war, and (3) why the Golan fell so readily when every factor seemed to favor the Syrians. There is still a book to be written if the Syrian archives are ever available.
Oren can't be faulted for what he can't get, though. The book does a superb job of analyzing the motives and events of the war. His level of access to the Egyptian sources is stunning -- I had a whole new picture of Nasser by the end of the book. Oren writes with precision and nuance, and he understands the political angles. Deliberations in Egypt, Israel, the UN, and Jordan are recounted in a blow-by-blow that really opens up the implications of each decision. Though the book is packed with information, it's not overloaded. This is a top-quality book, one that will keep you up at night reading it.
Contrary to the impression some reviewers have given, this is not an Israeli-biased whitewash. Oren is clear that the Syrian front was opened largely for purposes of expansionism (to secure Jordan headwaters as much as to silence gun emplacements), and that though the Israeli command was more organized than the DAR's, important decisions, like the decisions to sieze east Jerusalem, to take the west bank, and to take the Golan were arbitrarily made on the spot in disregard for the chain of command. In the UN, Israel uses every tactic to stall for time, proposing false peace initiatives and conducting false diplomacy as a cover siezing as much territory as possible. On the other hand, on the question of who started the war, Oren is equally clear that Egypt was moving to attack, and in fact had issued attack orders already. The Israeli move was preemptive.
The writing is strongest at the political and strategic level, and weakest at the tactical level. Some fighting operations are just confusing as written. And unless you happen to know where the Latrun Corridor and Tel Azzaziat are, you'd best have a political atlas of the Middle East handy. The confusing bits are rare, though, and the outcome of each action is clearly presented. I wouldn't even knock off a star for this.
The book's footnotes deserve special recognition. EVERY point of fact that I wanted to source was documented. This is excellent history, and raises the bar for the entire field. I'd BEG for a book of this quality on Israel's most problematic war: Lebanon.
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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you were to read only one book on the modern Middle East, this should be it. Oren's masterly account of the political, diplomatic and military milieu in which the Six-Day War was fought is a minor classic in itself. His review of the Israelis' military decisions and the competing pressures the Israeli leadership was under during the heat of combat also makes compelling reading.
This book is a healthy antidote to the shallow and simplistic coverage we get from the news media regarding conflict in the Middle East. Most recent news coverage never even tries to explain how, when and why Israel ever came into possession of the West Bank and Gaza to begin with. This book does.
Oren's book also implicitly explodes the myth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a localized dispute over real estate, and its corollary: peace would come "if only the Israelis ended the occupation". The book shows how the extreme hostility of the Arab states and the Palestinians toward Israel long predates the post-1967 occupation.
For all its virtues, the book does have its flaws. There are enough misspellings and minor grammatical mistakes to make me wonder if the book was originally written in Hebrew and then subjected to a hasty translation; the Oxford University Press usually has better editing standards than this. Also, there are very minor factual errors sprinkled throughout (the kind of stuff a fact-checker at the New Yorker would have caught), and the index seems little better than an afterthought. Again, probably more of a reflection on sloppy editors than on the author.
I would like to have seen more discussion of the role Israel's nuclear program played in strategic thinking of the Arabs, the superpowers and the Israelis themslves; Oren makes a few references to the reactor at Dimona, but doesn't follow up. Is it possible his Israeli sources made their cooperation conditional on his staying away fromn this subject?
All in all, an impressive book that will deservedly be the standard reference on this topic for years to come.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
As someone who was already a fascinated university student majoring in history when the Six Day War began in the summer of 1967, I was stunned to find myself an eyewitness to yet another chapter of contemporary 20th century history. In fact, at the time I had only recently returned to civilian life after military duty myself. Moreover, at the time the war broke out I was visiting Montreal to tour the wonderfully international Expo 67 event. Subsequently I found myself surrounded by others in a very cosmopolitan venue in which many other nationalities were also raptly watching the events unfold, and the levels of apprehension and excitement were palpable. Indeed, the atmosphere was electric, and the news reports detailing the rapidly evolving battle circumstances astounded everyone watching. For those of us who now experience history on a more casual basis by reading about it, and who so experience the events at a much slower, more methodical, and much more manageable rate, reading this book proved to be an exercise in instant transport back to that momentous week when the world was turned on its ear.
Although the author makes extensive use of Israeli archives recently made available, it is obvious that the book suffers slightly from the lack of Arab input. It is obvious that the author is a proponent of the Israeli perspective on the Six Day War, and while one can understand this natural tendency toward viewing the events of 1967 in this fashion, it is not as illuminating a history as it might have been with a more balanced presentation of the underlying issues, motivating factors, and enduring differences between the Israelis on the one hand and all of their Arab neighbors on the other. Of course, the Arab nations involved still have little motivation to voluntarily share their stores of documentation, so it may indeed be a long time before a more balanced, complete, and comprehensive history of this conflict can be written.
With this qualification made, I must say that this work is not only informative, but also quite entertaining to read. The pace of the book is as breathless as the event in the sense that it keeps you on the edge of your chair even though you already understand what the eventual outcome is preordained to be. The brinksmanship and omnipresent "fog of war' well-known to military history buffs shows its twisted face here, with the Israeli forces beating the Egyptian strike to the punch by scant hours, catching the opposition totally unexpectedly and with their literal pants down. Thus, the scale, scope, and speed of the defeat were both unprecedented and unexpected. And, as the world watched, the Arab forces were literally massacred in a lightning series of concurrent strikes across the borders in almost every direction at once.
Out-manned, outgunned, and outflanked, the Israelis used every element on their side of the military equation to considerable advantage, and key here was the "blitzkrieg' speed as well as the element of surprise. This is an interesting, informative, and entertaining book an one of the most surprising military engagements in 20th century military history. Given the Arabs' previous defeats at the hands of the Israelis following the partitioning of Palestine in 1947, it is indeed puzzling as to why they still had such misplaced disdain for the capability of the army of the Israeli state. Reading this book, one wonders if they will ever dare to make such a colossal mistake again. Enjoy!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
At first I was skeptical about this book. It's hard enough to get a balanced account of a battle without it skewing towards the victor, but then I heard the author is Jewish and he now lives in Israel (although he is of American descent). My thoughts were, how balanced can this account be? My fears were assuaged by the editorial reviews, and having read the book I can verify that it is as fair and balanced as possible, given the limitations placed on the author: namely, the lack of information forthcoming from the regimes that were on the losing side. I suppose this is understandable in the context of those governments - democracies like Israel (and the U.S.) declassify documents much sooner than other types of governments. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the leaderships of the losing countries are still in place - the Ba'ath Party in Syria, the industrio-military complex of Egypt, and the Hussein monarchy in Jordan.

So, given that the account is scholarly and balanced, how does the book read? I was pleased to note that the author, Michael Oren, is an accomplished storyteller and the book mostly reads with all the spice and excitement of an early Tom Clancy novel. It flashes back and forth from the battlefield to the governments to the man on the street. More time must be spent on Israel, naturally enough, because the decisions were made by committees (when not made ad hoc on the battlefield). It takes some time to describe the arguments. In contrast, the facts that Egyptian decision-making structure was essentially non-existent, and that Jordan was an absolute monarchy, meant that there was little to report about internal politics in those countries. Oren is also adept at keeping an enormous cast of "characters" alive and in play - I never felt at a loss, even though this is the only book I've read on the conflict and was not even alive in 1967.

This brings me two the first of my two criticisms of the book: there is not enough material on the actions of Syria and her government. Although Syria didn't do all that much fighting, they were certainly involved in both the diplomatic and military efforts. Even so, after having read the book I couldn't tell you the name of a single Syrian leader or general off the top of my head. This is is stark contrast to the amount of time spent in the Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Amman. The second shortcoming is the length of the narrative describing the diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis before the shooting started. Although necessary to fully describe the history of the conflict, did we really need to be told about every phone call between President Johnson and the Soviets? Every diplomatic overture from the U.N.? As such, pages 100-200 drag somewhat. We are ultimately rewarded by the quality of the narrative once the war begins, so ultimately it is worth the slog through the diplomacy.
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