What anguished O’Connell was watching Hussein struggle in vain for four decades to recover the West Bank from Israel. The sorry tale began with the king’s foolish decision to ally with Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser on the eve of the June 1967 war, which gave the Israelis a reason to attack. O’Connell warned the king that Israel would strike, and the king passed the intelligence to Nasser. But they were too infatuated with Arab propaganda to take the warning seriously.Tennessee Williams wrote in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, "There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity." By that measure, Ignatius's article stinks.
The June 1967 Six-Day War began as a result of two events. First, on May 22, 1967, Egypt's President Nasser blocked the Straits of Tiran (Gulf of Aqaba) to Israeli shipping. That shut Israel's sole access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, cutting Israel's primary oil supply route. This was widely viewed as a violation of the international law of the freedom of the seas. Indeed, in 1957, Israel warned that it would consider a closing of the straights as hostile--a long-standing casus belli for war. After the war, President Johnson condemned Nasser's blockade:
If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than any other, I think it was the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Strait of Tiran would be closed. The right of innocent maritime passage must be preserved for all nations.The blockade, thus, was a legitimate reason for war.
Second, and more controversially, on June 5th, Israel attacked and destroyed the Egyptian Air Force to preempt a forthcoming assault on Israel by several Arab states. Nasser had been saber-rattling for some time, and mis-informed by the Soviets of an imminent Israeli attack. He moved troops to the Israeli border. On May 30, President Nasser and King Hussein signed a mutual defense pact; on June 4, Iraq signed a similar agreement with Cairo. All such forces were consolidated under Egyptian joint command.
So, on this matter, Ignatius elides the point: King Hussein's alliance with Egypt formed part of the case for war. Even scholars critical of Israel typically acknowledge that the combination of threats on multiple fronts warranted preemptive action. But the reason was the threat of armed and mobilized Arab troops able "to cut Israel in two," not the pact itself. Hussein may have been a reluctant participant in war--but he made the decision to join an Egyptian firebrand, and both badly miscalculated.
The King wasn't just "foolish"; his stupidity can't be dismissed as providing Israel a "reason" that Ignatius implies was spurious. The "reason" for the 1967 Six-Day war was a plan to eradicate Israel. That was, and meant, war--the choice wasn't made by Israel but by Egypt (especially its blockade), Jordan, Syria and Iran. And mistakes about the causes of prior wars will lead to flawed strategies for peace.