The Soviets’ Six-Day War

One of the great enigmas of the modern Middle East is why, forty years ago this week, the Six-Day War took place. Neither Israel nor its Arab neighbors wanted or expected a fight in June 1967; the consensus view among historians holds that the unwanted combat resulted from a sequence of accidents.

Enter Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, a wife-husband team, to challenge the accident theory and offer a plausible explanation for the causes of the war. As suggested by the title of their book, Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (Yale University Press), they argue that it originated in a scheme by the Soviet Politburo to eliminate Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona, and with it the country's aspiration to develop nuclear weapons.

The text reads like the solution to a mystery, amassing information from voluminous sources, guiding readers step-by-step through the argument, making an intuitively compelling case that must be taken seriously. In summary, it goes like this:

Moshe Sneh, an Israeli communist leader (and father of Ephraim Sneh, the country's current deputy minister of defense), told the Soviet ambassador in December 1965 that an advisor to the prime minister had informed him about "Israel's intention to produce its own atomic bomb." Leonid Brezhnev and his colleagues received this piece of information with dead seriousness and decided — as the Israelis did about Iraq in 1981 and may be doing about Iran in 2007 — to abort this process through air strikes.

 Rather than do so directly, however, Moscow devised a complex scheme to lure the Israelis into starting a war which would end with a Soviet attack on Dimona. Militarily, the Kremlin prepared by surrounding Israel with an armada of nuclear-armed forces in both the Mediterranean and Red Seas, pre-positioning matériel on land, and training troops nearby with the expectation of using them. Perhaps the most startling information in Foxbats over Dimona concerns the detailed plans for Soviet troops to attack Israeli territory, and specifically to bombard oil refineries and reservoirs, and reach out to Israeli Arabs. No less eye opening is to learn that Soviet photo-reconnaissance MiG-25s (the "Foxbats" of the title) directly overflew the Dimona reactor in May 1967.

Politically, the scheme consisted of fabricating intelligence reports about Israeli threats to Syria, thereby goading the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces to go on war-footing. As his Soviet masters then instructed, Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser moved his troops toward Israel, removed a United Nations buffer force, and blockaded a key naval route to Israel — three steps that together compelled the Israelis to move to a full-alert defense. Unable to sustain this posture for long, they struck first, thereby, it appeared, falling into the Soviet trap.

But then the Israel Defense Forces did something astonishing. Rather than fight to a draw, as the Soviets expected, they quickly won what I have called "the most overwhelming victory in the annals of warfare." Using purely conventional means, they defeated three enemy Arab states in six days, thereby preempting the planned Soviet invasion, which had to be scuttled.

This fiasco made the elaborate Soviet scheme look inept, and Moscow understandably decided to obscure its own role in engineering the war (its second major strategic debacle of the decade — the attempt to place missiles in Cuba having been the first). The cover-up succeeded so well that Moscow's responsibility for the Six-Day War has disappeared from histories of the conflict. Thus, a specialist on the war like Michael Oren, has coolly received the Ginor-Remez thesis, saying he has not found "any documentary evidence to support" it.

If Foxbats over Dimona is not the definitive word, it offers a viable, exciting interpretation for others to chew on, with many implications. Today's Arab-Israeli conflict, with its focus on the territories won in 1967, accompanied by virulent antisemitism, results in large part from Kremlin decisions made four decades ago. The whole exercise was for naught, as Israeli possession of nuclear weapons had limited impact on the Soviet Union before it expired in 1991. And, as the authors note, "21st century nostalgia for the supposed stability of the Cold War is largely illusory."

Finally, forty years later, where might things be had the Soviets' Six-Day War not occurred? However bad circumstances are at present, they would presumably be yet worse without that stunning Israeli victory.

Daniel Pipes


Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and the author of several books, including Militant Islam Reaches America and In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power (Transaction Publishers), from which this column derives.

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  • Guest

    On an entirely different, but perhaps connected subject, it is an important part of Evangelical teaching on the "End Times" and the Rapture (which opens the "Left Behind" series of books), that before those events can take place, Russia along with various Arab allies must attack Isreal.  As part of that eschological teaching God intervenes in some supernatural and mysterious manner and literally crushes Russia and the Arab allies. All of this is, of course, based on their interpretation of Scripture. 

    Every one of the Evangelical writers that I am familiar with has said that we really need not anticipate the Rapture and the Second Coming until this Russian attack on Isreal takes place. They believe it has yet to take place.  They might be startled to learn that Foxbats over Dimona describes that attack. 

    It would be comforting for me to learn that the Evangelicals didn't get this right because they may realize then that they are also wrong on some other things (such as the Catholic Church being the Apostate Church of Revealtion, and the notion that The Rapture represents a third coming of Christ).  Evangelical eschatology is interesting because various Evangelical writers have been able to weave their End Times theology into a fascinating story, sometimes using fictional characters sometimes not. These writers have made a bundle of money with these books.

    The more prominent Evangelical writers have invested so much of their fame and fortune into this supernatural and miraculous intervention by God to save Isreal from the Russian/Arab armies, that they may have to refute this book –  even if they learn it to be accurate. 

  • Guest

    This is a terrific point that I did not consider at all when I used this article for this space.  But you are very right. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  • Guest

    Great point, Dannycomelately!  Congratulations on catching it.

    I do, however, have some objections to your analysis.  First, Evangelicals do not characterize the Rapture as a "Third Coming" because, to them, it isn't.  Christ nowhere makes an appearance, either on earth or in the sky.  All believers in Christ are simply, unexpectedly, and unilaterally transformed into their eternal bodies and taken up to heaven to remove them from the horrible judgements that immediately begin to befall the earth and all un-believers.  They use Noah and his family as an archtype

    Secondly, in my opinion, the Evangelicals would NOT see the necessity of refuting Dingbats Over Dimona as a fulfillment of the prophecy.  The prophecy clearly states that both Russia (not necessarily the Soviet Union) and the Arab states would be crushed by the miraculous intervention of God in behalf of Israel.  Since both Russia and the Arab states still exist, therefore the prophecy was not fulfilled in 1967.

    Finally, a note on my own behalf: In June of 1967, I was a young married with a toddler.  Half a world away, I lived through the Six-Day War.  I remember the news, I remember the anxiety, I remember conversations about our being only one generation beyond the Holocaust and now this!  I remember.  When I talk to anyone around my age or older and they tell me they don't believe in God, I always answer: "Then explain the outcome of the Six-Day War" (and walk away while they are trying to pick up the teeth they've dropped!).

  • Guest

    Cooky.  You are correct.  The Evangelicals go to great lengths to explain that the Rapture does not constitute a third coming.  But their logic in doing so is torturous.

    They admit to describing three distinct events. That is what distinquishes their version from various Catholic (Thigpen – The Rapture Trap) and Protestant Christian versions (Stanley – Only Two) that insist there can only be two events, the First and Second Comings of Christ, and that the event described by Paul is actually a part of the second and traditional event. In other words, in the main-stream version Christ gathers up the saints and takes them with Him as He descends down to the Mount of Olives for the Second Coming.   

    In Evangelical theology the middle event – the Rapture event – is distinquished from the two "comings" because Jesus' feet do not touch the ground. He descends part way, picks up the saints, and goes back to Heaven. He comes back later for the Second Coming and brings the saints with Him.  That, say the Evangelicals, does not count as a "coming".  Why? Because His feet didn't touch the ground.

    Give me a break. LaHaye (Left Behind) and Couch (The Gathering Storm) refer to this "it doesn't count because His feet never touched the ground" as an "essential theological construction".  In truth, they had to fit this newly discovered understanding of scripture into an understanding that has existed for almost 2000 years. They did so by redefining the word "coming".  

    I did not say that the Evangelicals would refute the book.  I said the prominent Evangelical authors that made so much money on their own books might have to refute the Foxbats over Dimona book.  That attack by Russia was a very important part of their books – every one of them.  If they were wrong about that, might they not be wrong about other things in their book? Foxbats presents them with a slippery slope. 

    Regarding my use of the word crushed.  I assume you were born either right after WWII or just as it was ending.  Germany and Japan were crushed (devastated, destroyed, flattened, annihliated, take your pick) at the close of WWII and they still exist.  Nevertheless, WWII happened.  Something can be crushed and still exist. 

  • Guest

    This all brings to mind what Our Lady at Fatima predicted in 1917, that Russia would who at that time was a weak country, would spread it's errors around the world and there would be many wars as a result. We are still suffering from these errors that have and are being spread still today.