Eastern Mediterranean 1967: Six-Day War
During the 1960s tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors continued to rise, fueled in large measure by Nasser’s anti-Israeli rhetoric and actions. In response to an Arab buildup on its borders, Israel struck first, defeating Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in just six days and seizing control of the Gaza Strip, Sinai, West Bank, and Golan Heights.
21–23 Feb 1966 1966 Syrian Coup▲
Syria remained somewhat unstable after the 1963 coup and the Syrian Ba’ath Party began to split between the party’s old guard, represented by Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar, and Munif al-Razzaz, and younger proponents of a Neo-Ba’athist position, most notably Salah Jadid. On 21 February 1963 the old guard ordered the transfer of key Jadid supporters, but was put off balance when the party’s Military Committee released a fake report of clashes in the Golan Heights. Two days later, at 5 am, Jadid seized power in Damascus with Military Committee backing, establishing a Neo-Ba’athist government in Syria.
1 Jul 1966 French withdrawal from NATO▲
Unhappy with what he perceived as the “Special Relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom and their seeming domination of NATO policy, French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his country from the alliance’s integrated military command effective 1 July 1966. All non-French NATO troops were asked to leave France. However, France remained a member of the alliance and secretly signed accords with the US to coordinate a return to NATO’s command structure should the Warsaw Pact attack.
2 Nov 1966 1966 Dimona Test▲
Soon after declaring its independence (1948), Israel secretly began work on acquiring nuclear weapons, constructing the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona in 1956. With covert French (1957–63) and British (1959–66) assistance, the Dimona reactor went critical in 1962. Israel’s first nuclear weapon—albeit a zero-yield device—seems to have been tested in late 1966. By 1968 Israel was believed to be capable of producing four to five nuclear warheads a year, although it officially refuses to either admit or deny having nuclear weapons to this day.
21 Apr 1967–24 Jul 1974 Greek Military Junta▲
In the wake of a period of political instability in Greece—the Apostasia of 1965—a group of right-wing army officers led by Brigadier General Stylianos Pattakos and Colonels George Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos seized power in Athens in April 1967, arresting leading politicians across the country. King Constantine II at first cooperated with the coup leaders before leading an unsuccessful counter-coup in December. The hold of the military junta began to weaken in the early 1970s, collapsing entirely after the junta’s clumsy meddling in Cyprus in 1974 provoked a Turkish invasion of that island.
14 May–4 Jun 1967 Arab deployment against Israel▲
In May 1967 Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser received Soviet intelligence that Israel was preparing to invade Syria. Despite discovering that the information was false, Nasser began massing Egyptian troops in the Sinai, expelled UN peacekeepers from the Israeli border, and announced a blockade of the Straits of Tiran (cutting Israeli access to the Red Sea and openly considered an act of war by Israel). At the end of the month, Jordan signed a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, accepting two battalions of Egyptian commandos in early June.
5–8 Jun 1967 Israeli Conquest of Sinai▲
At 7:45 a.m. on 5 June 1967, the Israeli Air Force launched Operation Focus, mass attacking Egypt’s airfields and destroying virtually all the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. While this operation was still underway, Israeli troops crossed the border, surprising the Egyptians by sweeping across northern Sinai rather than taking the more southern route they used in 1956. The following day, the Israelis occupied Gaza, completing their conquest of Sinai by 8 June.
5 Jun 1967 Disbandment of the Mediterranean Fleet▲
By the mid-1960s, the independence of much of the former British Empire and the Cold War shift of focus to the North Atlantic had led to a gradual draw down of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet as British commitments East of Suez diminished. By 1966 the Fleet had been reduced to just two ships as vessels were deployed to East Africa or Malaysia. The next year the Fleet’s remaining assets were transferred to the new Western Fleet (combining the Mediterranean and Home fleets), ending a command which had been in operation since 1654.
6–7 Jun 1967 Jordanian Campaign▲
With the outbreak of the Six-Day War on 5 June, Jordan began shelling Israel, provoking a counterattack by the Israeli Air Force that afternoon. With the defeat of Egypt in the Sinai, the Israeli Army felt free to turn its attention to Jordan early the following day, invading the Jordanian-annexed West Bank. Israeli forces swiftly captured East Jerusalem and established control over the remainder of the West Bank, including the Old City of Jerusalem, on the 7th.
9–10 Jun 1967 Golan Heights Campaign▲
After facing off a few ineffective Syrian attacks, Israel invaded Syria on 9 June 1967. Despite being forced to attack into high ground defended by fixed fortifications, the Israelis managed to seize Syria’s Golan Heights in just two days—largely due to poor Syrian leadership and Israeli air supremacy. As the United Nations ceasefire came into effect, the Israelis secured their position with a cease-fire line around the heights (the “Purple Line”).