The Voyage Into The Six Days War

1 November, 2008

I have no idea why my Google Desktop brought up an article from 6th June, 1967 in my news tracking but it certainly brought up a blast from the past.

It was one year to the day since I had completed my (compulsory) military service in the Israeli Navy. I was a young third officer on a merchant marine ship, named Har Bashan. Our usual employment was to carry Chiquita Bananas from Central and South America to the Gulf (of Mexico) ports, the US East Coast and to Europe.

On the day, 6th June, 1967, we were in a “port” named Turbo in the Gulf Of Darien in Colombia (I dare you to find it on the map) which was in fact an anchorage, about 2 miles away from shore, where ships were loaded bananas from barges.

You have to bear in mind prior to the Six Days War, Israel was not perceived as a militarily strong country, that war in fact changed the perception about Israel for ever. Nor had Israel particularly strong relations with the United States at the time who had more then their own share in Vietnam. Israel’s main supplier of arms were France and Britain (in this order) for which Israel paid in hard cash whilst the Soviets armed Egypt and Syria to the teeth mostly by grants and on the never never “loans”.

For the previous two weeks we were getting worrying news from home about the pending invasion of Israel by Egypt and Syria. Nasser’s grandstanding about the forthcoming elimination of the Zionist state and the return of the Arab refugees to their homes – the term Palestinians in the context of Arab refugees was not invented yet – the United Nation was quite, there was neither calls for “restraint” nor was anyone was labelled as “the aggressor”, just silence.

Despite the fact that the ship flew the Israeli flag, I was the only Israeli officer onboard, all other Israeli nationals were “ratings” (non ranking officers crew members) and there were not many of them either. The captain and Radio Operator (sparky) were Italians, the Chief Officer was Norwegian, the second Officer was Dutch, a (semi deaf) Irish Electrician and down in the Engine Room they were Spaniards, Italians and the odd Yugoslavian – a tower of Babylon. Perhaps my position on the ship symbolised the state of Israel those days, near TOTAL ISOLATION.

For the preceding ten or eleven days we had crossed the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Turbo. The only sources of news we had were the short waves services of the BBC and the Voice Of America (VOA). Kol Israel (Israel radio) in Jerusalem was out of range since we entered the tropics as it’s relative low output could not penetrate the atmospheric noise typical to that part of the world (the fact that Kol Israel beams its signal towards Europe and North America made compound the difficulty). Unfortunately the shop’s Italian Radio Officer (sparky) showed little interest in getting the Israeli national on board, the daily news bulletins from our home maritime shore station Haifa Radio.

The little news we got was not good, to put it mildly. The UN Peace Keeping forces in the Sinai Peninsula folded up and went hone at the first “request” by the ruler of Egypt, Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, leaving the Egyptian army a clear path to the border with Israel. I Israel there was a full and general call up of all the military reserves (all men till the age of 45 and beyond), the civil defence and volunteers literally dug up the country with trenches and shelters in schools yards, near residential buildings, in parks and around towns, villages and the kibbutzim.

The mood in Israel was sober indeed, every Israeli “knew” that this was going to be a bloody war with many civilian casualties, some went as far as doubt Israel ability to withstand a coordinated attack by Egypt and Syria, with a possibility of Jordan joining in, and a massive support they received from the Soviet Union, that may, it was thought, extend to sending their own troops to assist. A second Holocaust in 22 years was a distinct possibility in many people’s minds.

The tones of the BBC and the VOA progressively resembled obituary rather then news reporting. Its resonated as “oh well the experiment of a Jewish state was a good idea at the time, but”, of course no one said it out right out in that many words, or did they?

About a day or so before we arrived to Turbo, my immediate superior the Norwegian Chief Officer “declared”, with some satisfaction as I recall it, that there will be no Israel within a few days and added Israel is finished, kaput. Whilst I am not a betting man, I was willing to bet him that he was wrong and he took the bet. Until this day I don’t know whether it was my patriotism or my belief in Israel’s strong will to survive that made be bet. I was far from certain of collecting on the bet and not because I thought that should I win the Chief will not pay up.

We arrive at Turbo in early morning hours of 5th June, the day the war erupted. Because of a 7 hours time difference with Israel, we already knew that the war had started but no more then that. The BBC reported that the IDF (the Israeli Army) spokesman confirm that “there are military clashes in the south” (or words to that effect) and that there was a complete blackout on news from the front.

From the other side of the border, the Egyptian media reported that their forces reached a point two hours away from Tel Aviv. We knew not whether there are Soviet troops on the ground and/or Soviet pilot up in the air.

There was nothing coming from the United Nation or any of the then four “Great Powers”, USA, USSR, UK and France. Despite the lousy reception I had my short wave radio tuned to Kol Israel in Jerusalem just in case I decipher some useful news in the myriad atmospheric noises of the tropics and more important to confirm to myself that they, in Jerusalem, are still transmitting, a scary thought indeed. I also asked the sparky if he can still get 4XO (Haifa Radio) which he confirmed. Not much comfort but some hope, I thought.

The following day, 6th June, I suddenly heard it on the BBC from their man in Jerusalem, the report was much like to the Guardian story quoted below, down here. My initial reaction was a total disbelief, I truly thought and said it out loud that if Israel needs to revert to such exaggerations as the Arabs do, we are gone! it was a frightening few hours indeed.

As we all learned many times since that day, it was the United Nations that got me out of my misery. Sure enough the Soviets were calling for a cease fire, the Americans the Brits and the French declared that they are “neutral”, in the words of the Guardian:

President Johnson last night condemned the war as “needless and destructive” and gave first priority to trying to end it through the United Nations Security Council.

Yes! We are in business again.

Had it erupted today under similar circumstances, instead of needless and destructive the six days would have probably be worded as disproportionate or inordinate use of force or such UN politically correct Newspeak.

AS a side comment, it is interesting to note that there is no mention of the term Palestinians in the Guardian article below. The reason is simply that in 1967 the Arab refugees were just that Arabs, they became Palestinians with the raise of the Palestinian terror, but this is a whole separate subject.



This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday June 06 1967 . It was last updated at 15:17 on January 06 2006.

Israel claims land and air successes as Britain and US declare neutrality

Israel claimed early today than it had achieved victory in the air by destroying 374 Arab aircraft. It also claimed that Israeli ground forces had captured the towns of Rafah astride the main road from the Gaza strip to the Suez canal and El Arish, farther west.

A tank battle involving more armour that was used at Alamein was reported to be in progress between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai desert. After a day of confused reports this sector and the Gaza strip, in which Israel claimed to have made important advances, were emerging as key areas in the war.

Attempts were being made at the United Nations last night to sponsor a Security Council resolution agreeable to the four big Powers calling for a ceasefire, but the Soviet delegate said he had heard of no agreement. In Moscow the Soviet Government condemned Israel for an act of aggression and demanded that it should immediately and unconditionally stop all military action. Tass reported that the Soviet Government “reserves the right to take all the steps that may be necessitated by the situation” and resolutely supported the Arab Governments and peoples.

The American State Department declared US neutrality “in thought, word, and deed”; Mr Brown told the House of Commons that Britain’s concern was not to take sides but to restore peace to the area; and the French Government announced the suspension of arms shipments to the Middle East, where Israel is its main customer. The American statement of neutrality aroused controversy in Washington where the White House denied that it meant the US did not care what happened.

Reports from Tel-Aviv last night said that Israeli troops were advancing in the Sinai desert and had captured the southern end of the Gaza strip, thus cutting off the rest of the strip from Egyptian forces. The Egyptian Supreme Command said that its armour had penetrated into Israeli territory after fierce fighting in which it had beaten off Israeli attacks and “annihilated the enemy force.”

The scale of the fighting outside Sinai is not yet known. Official Israeli statements said the attack had been launched by the Arabs in the divided city of Jerusalem, and along the Syrian frontier near Dagania. Israel also claimed that Syrian aircraft had attacked the Haifa Bay region and the Megiddo had been bombed by Jordanians.

In the battle for control of the air Israel claimed to have destroyed 302 Egyptian, 20 Jordanian, and 52 Syrian aircraft. Egypt said that 70 Israeli aircraft had been destroyed during attacks on airfields in Cairo and in the Suez Canal zone while Damascus Radio claimed 54 Israeli aircraft shot down over Syria.

Each side claims that the other struck first. Israel alleges that the first onslaught came from Egyptian tanks and planes in the Negev early yesterday. Cairo claims that the fighting started when Israeli aircraft raided Cairo and other parts of Egypt at 9 o’clock local time.

Mr Eshkol said in a broadcast that he hoped all peace-loving nations “will not stand by but will understand the right of Israel to live its life without the sword of aggression hanging over its head.” General Dayan, the Defence Minister and architect of the Sinai campaign of 1956, said: “We have no aims of conquest. Our only aim is to foil the attempt of the Arab armies to conquer our country.”

The Arab oil-producing countries meeting in Baghdad unanimously decided to stop the flow of oil to any country taking part in an attack on any Arab State or its territorial waters.

President Johnson last night condemned the war as “needless and destructive” and gave first priority to trying to end it through the United Nations Security Council. For the time being it appeared that the United States would not intervene directly to try to halt the fighting.

At an emergency session of the Security Council which adjourned after 50 minutes, U Thant, the United Nations Secretary-General, reported that UN Emergency Force (UNEF) units in the Gaza had been fired on by Israeli planes and three Indian soldiers killed.


© Copyrights Jacob Klamer (except attributable quotes)
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2 Responses to “The Voyage Into The Six Days War”

  1. moshik says:

    Yes, It brings me back to those days. the lesson is still the same. Israel had to rely only on itself. As in the World war 2 and the Holocoust. the world will stand aside in case of threat to Israel (and others too).

  2. Jacob says:

    Indeed so. The sounds that come from Iran in 2008 are not much diffident n the noises that came from Egypt and Syria in 1967, the Russians are assisting Iran as they did in Egypt and Syria

    The only people who lift a finger will be loony left who will do so to condemn Israel of “inordinate use of force”

    Thanks brother

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