Chapter 7: The War of Attrition (1967-1970)
- “After the 1967 War, Israel refused to negotiate a settlement with the Arabs.”
- “The Palestinians were willing to negotiate a settlement after the Six--Day War.”
- “Israel was responsible for the War of Attrition.”
- “Egypt terminated the War of Attrition, and offered peace to Israel, only to have Jerusalem spurn these initiatives.”
“After the 1967 war, Israel refused to negotiate a settlement with the Arabs.”
By the end of the war, Israel had captured enough territory to more than triple the size of the area it controlled, from 8,000 to 26,000 square miles. The victory enabled Israel to unify Jerusalem as well as capture the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel hoped the Arab states would enter peace negotiations. Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired in exchange for peace. As Moshe Dayan put it, Jerusalem was waiting only for a telephone call from Arab leaders to start negotiations. 34
But these hopes were dashed in August 1967 when Arab leaders meeting in Khartoum adopted a formula of three noes: “no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel. . . .”35
As former Israeli President Chaim Herzog wrote: “Israel’s belief that the war had come to an end and that peace would now reign along the borders was soon dispelled. Three weeks after the conclusion of hostilities, the first major incident occurred on the Suez Canal.”36
“The Palestinians were willing to negotiate a settlement after the Six-Day War.”
The Arab League created the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Cairo in 1964 as a weapon against Israel. Until the Six-Day War, the PLO engaged in terrorist attacks that contributed to the momentum toward conflict. Neither the PLO nor any other Palestinian groups campaigned for Jordan or Egypt to create an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The focus of Palestinian activism was on the destruction of Israel.
After the Arab states were defeated in 1967, the Palestinians did not alter their basic objective. With one million Arabs coming under Israeli rule, some Palestinians believed the prospect for waging a popular war of liberation had grown. Toward that end, Yasser Arafat instigated a campaign of terror from the West Bank. During September-December 1967, 61 attacks were launched, most against civilian targets such as factories, movie theaters and private homes.37
Israeli security forces gradually became more effective in thwarting terrorist plans inside Israel and the territories. Consequently, the PLO began to pursue a different strategy—attacking Jews and Israeli targets abroad. In early 1968, the first aircraft was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists.
“Israel was responsible for the War of Attrition.”
Egypt’s President Gamal Nasser thought that because most of Israel’s army consisted of reserves, it could not withstand a lengthy war of attrition. He believed Israel would be unable to endure the economic burden, and the constant casualties would undermine Israeli morale. To pursue this strategy of slowly weakening Israel, Nasser ordered attacks on Israel that were calibrated so that they would not provoke an all-out Israeli war in response.
As early as July 1, 1967, Egypt began shelling Israeli positions near the Suez Canal. On October 21, 1967, Egypt sank the Israeli destroyer Eilat, killing 47. A few months later, Egyptian artillery began to shell Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and Israeli military patrols were ambushed. This bloody War of Attrition, as it became known, lasted three years. The Israeli death toll between June 15, 1967, and August 8, 1970, when a cease-fire was declared, was 1,424 soldiers and more than 100 civilians. Another 2,000 soldiers and 700 civilians were wounded.38
“Egypt terminated the War of Attrition and offered peace to Israel, only to have Jerusalem spurn these initiatives.”
Israel, After 1967
In the summer of 1970, the United States persuaded Israel and Egypt to accept a cease-fire. This cease-fire was designed to lead to negotiations under UN auspices.
On August 7, however, the Soviets and Egyptians deployed sophisticated ground-to-air missiles in the restricted 32-mile-deep zone along the west bank of the Suez Canal. This was a violation of the cease-fire agreement, which barred the introduction or construction of any military installations in this area. The “most massive anti-aircraft system ever created” provided air coverage for Egypt’s surprise attack against Israel in 1973.39
Despite the Egyptian violations, the UN-sponsored talks resumed—additional evidence that Israel was anxious to make progress toward peace. The talks were swiftly short-circuited, however, by UN Special Envoy Gunnar Jarring, when he accepted the Egyptian interpretation of Resolution 242 and called for Israel’s total withdrawal to the pre-June 5, 1967, demarcation lines.
On that basis, Egypt expressed its willingness “to enter into a peace agreement with Israel” in a February 20, 1971, letter to Jarring. But this seeming moderation masked an unchanging Egyptian irredentism and unwillingness to accept a real peace, as shown by the letter’s sweeping reservations and preconditions. The crucial sentences about a “peace agreement with Israel” were neither published nor broadcast in Egypt. Moreover, Egypt refused to enter direct talks. Israel attempted to at least transform the struggling Jarring mission into indirect talks by addressing all letters not to Jarring, but to the Egyptian government. Egypt refused to accept them.
Just after the letter to Jarring, Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s new president, addressed the Palestine National Council (PNC) meeting in Cairo. He promised support to the PLO “until victory” and declared that Egypt would not accept Resolution 242.40
Five days after Sadat suggested he was ready to make peace with Israel, Mohammed Heikal, a Sadat confidant and editor of the semi-official Al-Ahram, wrote:
Arab policy at this stage has but two objectives. The first, the elimination of the traces of the 1967 aggression through an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories it occupied that year. The second objective is the elimination of the traces of the 1948 aggression, by the means of the elimination of the State of Israel itself. This is, however, as yet an abstract, undefined objective, and some of us have erred in commencing the latter step before the former. 41
Sadat was only willing to sign a peace agreement if Israel capitulated to all his demands. This was unacceptable to Israel and suggested that Sadat was not genuinely interested in peace.
34 Walter Lacquer, The Road to War, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968), p. 297.
35 “Khartoum Resolutions,” (September 1, 1967), www.JewishVirtualLibrary.org/jsource/Peace/three_noes.html.
36 Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, (NY: Random House, 1982), p. 195.
371976), pp. 139–146.
38 Some historians consider the starting date of the War of Attrition in 1968 or 1969. We are using Chaim Herzog’s time frame. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, (NY: Random House, 1984), pp. 195–221; Nadav Safran, Israel The Embattled Ally, (MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 266.
39 Time, (September 14, 1970); John Pimlott, The Middle East Conflicts From 1945 to the Present, (NY: Crescent Books, 1983), p. 99.
40 Cited in, Anwar Sadat, The Public Diary of President Sadat, Vol 2. (BRILL: 1978), pp. 33–34.
41 Al-Ahram, (February 25, 1971).