The Six Day War, or Arab-Israeli conflict, was caused by previous feuds involving Israel and its neighboring Arab states. Rejection of Israel in 1948 and continued rejection involving an Egyptian blockage of shipping to Israel in 1956 were major precursors to the Six Day War. Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan were all major combatants in the conflict. The international community outside the Middle East and Arabian world were highly involved in the conflict as well. The Soviet Union and the United States did what they could to influence the events of the war. America’s involvement in the Six Day War was very sensitive. Already at war on another front, the U.S. chose its words wisely while reporting on the conflict. Egypt sided with other Arab nations calling for the annihilation of Israel. Egypt’s media was controlled by its government, so citizens of the nation heard only what their ruler wanted them to hear.

War: 1960's style. Image taken from think-israel.org.

The United States’ relationship with Egypt had always been somewhat tense. Egypt was able to build up its military capability during the Yemen War, and during this time Israel approached the U.S. for aid. The U.S. government was reluctant to help the small sliver of a nation, but in 1963 the Americans approved the transfer of surface-to-air missiles to Israel. The United States stated reason was a need to maintain a regional balance of power. By 1965 President Johnson cut all economic assistance to Egypt causing U.S.-Egypt relations to be worse than ever before, according to Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Such actions indicate the U.S. backed Israel whether admitting it or not. A June 1967 Universal Newsreel titled ‘Mid-East: Israeli-Egyptian Battle Erupts’ emphasized America’s supposed neutrality. The newsreel stated, “Our state department says we are neutral in word, thought and deed.”

An article published in Time during the Six Day War paints a different picture of America’s role in the conflict. The article states, “Risking national unpopularity and dissension even within his ruling Mapai party, Premier Eshkol, 71, has withheld Israel’s sword, counting on diplomacy and the good will of such friends as the U.S. and Britain to work out the problem.” Hence, the universal newsreel’s statement from the state department did not hold true. Leading up to the war, the U.S. pursued diplomatic solutions and sought to form a solution to challenge the Egyptian blockage on Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran. While the U.S. continued to refuse to aid Israel militarily, opposition to Israeli action began to soften in the beginning of June 1967.

In May of 1967, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s prime minister, expelled UN peacekeepers from Sinai Peninsula and announced a blockage of the Straits of Tiran to Israel-bound shipping. The act violated previous armistice agreements and was regarded by most observers as a casus belli, or act of war. Due to these bold moves Arab governments began to endorse Nasser’s steps and prepared their own armies for war. Nasser made sure that Egypt’s citizens believed war was inevitable. Nasser in a May 1967 speech to the Arab Trade Unionists said, “Recently, we felt we are strong enough, that if we were to enter battle with Israel, with God’s help, we could triumph. On this basis we decided to take actual steps… Taking Sharm al Shaykh meant confrontation with Israel. Taking such action also meant that we were ready to enter a general war with Israel.” On the same day Mohammed Heikal, Nasser’s closest confidant and leading journalist in the Arab world, stated that Israel had no choice but resort to arms in the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram. Essentially, Nasser was using his power and utilizing news coverage to persuade the Arab world to support his stance. Because Egypt’s media was controlled by the government citizens were more easily coerced into believing Israel was a major threat.

The Good Ol' Boys. Controlling media since before your mother was born.

Despite being up against multiple neighboring countries, Israel’s military actions were swift and precise. Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against the Egyptian army and air force. Egypt’s air force was quickly crippled, and a well-executed Israeli ground offensive routed the Egyptian forces in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula in four days.  It wasn’t until the end of the war that Egypt’s citizens grasped the scope of their losses. The state-controlled media was reporting that Egyptian forces had penetrated deep into Israel, that Tel-Aviv had been bombed and the Haifa oil refineries set alight. The U.S. media, however, was quick to cover Israel’s victories. A second June 1967 Universal Newsreel stated, “The first crippling blow came early in the four-day war when the Arab Air Force was destroyed on the ground in air raids on 25 bases in three countries: Egypt, Jordan and Syria.” President Nasser accused the U.S. of aiding Israel in the air raids. The accusation was briefly addressed in the newsreel. It said, “Egypt’s charges that the U.S. and British air units aided Israel are vigorously denied.” Addressing Nasser’s claims in the media shows a major difference in coverage of the conflict in Egypt and America. Officials in the U.S. used media coverage to showcase our nation’s concern for the dilemma while promoting a diplomatic solution. Whether or not the U.S. was more deeply involved in Israel’s military action is debatable. Nasser used media in Egypt to gain the cooperation of his citizens, and then attempted to persuade them to continue fighting by falsely reporting major losses.

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