Skip to comments.1967 - Almost Armageddon
Posted on 05/26/2007 3:22:35 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
Forty years later, Moscow's role in engineering and exacerbating the crisis is revealed.
June, 1967. War clouds had been building for months. The Israelis found themselves increasingly surrounded by Soviet-backed forces of the Arab and Islamic world, all of whose leaders were vowing to "throw the Jews into the sea," and the Israelis were considering a first strike.
The element of surprise might be their only hope of survival, they figured. But President Lyndon Johnson had warned Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in no uncertain terms that such a move would be a serious mistake.
As historian Michael B. Oren noted in his highly praised book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Johnson sent a secret message to Eskhol saying that "it is essential that Israel not take any preemptive military action and thereby make itself responsible for the initiation of hostilities. Preemptive action by Israel would make it impossible for the friends of Israel to stand at your side." Oren noted that Johnson specifically "warned of the possibility of direct Soviet intervention."
Marshal Andrei Antonovich Grechko, the Soviet deputy defense minister, had told his Egyptian counterparts in Cairo that the Kremlin had dispatched "destroyers and submarines to the waters near Egypt, some armed with missiles and secret weapons" to help wipe out the Zionists. One of Israel's top experts on Soviet foreign policy told Israeli Defense Forces intelligence that "the USSR would muster all its influence and power to maintain its Middle East position" and when asked if the Soviets would intervene directly, replied, "of course."
Soviet Premier Kosygin, meanwhile, sent a cable to Prime Minister Eshkol warning that "if the Israeli Government insists on taking upon itself the responsibility for the outbreak of armed confrontation then it will pay the full price of such an action."
But at 8:44 a.m. on the morning of June 5, 1967, Eshkol sent an urgent message back to President Johnson informing him that it was too late. War had begun.
"After weeks in which our peril has grown day by day, we are now engaged in repelling the aggression which [Egyptian President] Nasser has been building up against us," Eshkol wrote, explaining his rationale for the preemptive strike Israel had just launched. "Israel's existence and integrity have been endangered. The provocative [Arab] troop concentrations in Sinai, now amounting to five infantry and two armored divisions; the placing of more than 900 tanks against our southern frontier; . . . the illegal blockade of the Straits of Tiran; . . . the imminent introduction of MiG-21 aircraft under Iraqi command [into the theater]; Nasser's announcement of 'total war against Israel' and of his basic aim to annihilate Israel. . . . All of this amounts to an extraordinary catalogue of aggression, abhorred and condemned by world opinion and in your great country and amongst all peace-loving nations."
Eshkol also noted that three Israeli towns had been bombed that morning by Arab forces, citing these as the last straws that led to war. He thanked Johnson for America's support and expressed hope that "our small nation can count on the fealty and resolution of its greatest friend." But he also had a request: that the U.S. "prevent the Soviet Union from exploiting and enlarging the conflict" at this, Israel's greatest "hour of danger."
"Eshkol knew and feared the Russians," noted Michael Oren. "War with Syria [and Egypt] was risky enough; with the USSR, it would be suicidal." But Eskhol calculated that without U.S. support, the Soviets would find themselves compelled to get involved directly. Moscow had, after all, "invested massively in the Middle East, about $2 billion in military aid alone-1,700 tanks, 2,400 artillery pieces, 500 jets, and 1,400 advisers-since 1956, some 43 percent of it to Egypt."
Sure enough, as the Israelis demolished the forces of the Arab coalition over the next three days and captured the Sinai, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, reunified the holy city of Jerusalem, and began an offensive against Damascus itself, Moscow saw itself staring into the face of a geopolitical disaster. Those were, after all, Soviet-trained soldiers being defeated. Those were Soviet-made arms being seized or destroyed. Those were billions of dollars in Soviet funding to their Arab client states being poured down the drain. And-it would later be learned by U.S. and Israeli intelligence-the Egyptian war plan itself (code-named, "Operation Conqueror") had actually been written in 1966 by the Soviets. As a result, the Soviets feared their prestige was quickly unraveling.
U.S. intelligence was already picking up signs of this fear in the Kremlin. In the President's Daily Brief on June 9, for example, the CIA informed President Johnson that "the Soviets are finding it hard to conceal their shock over the rapid Egyptian military collapse. A Soviet official [identity still classified] could not understand 'how our intelligence could have been so wrong.' He asked despairingly, 'How could we have gotten into such a mess?'"
So the Kremlin decided to dramatically up the ante.
On June 10, at 8:48 a.m., Washington time, Soviet Premier Alexey Kosygin used the "Hotline" to call President Johnson in the White House Situation Room. His message was as blunt as it was unnerving: "A very crucial moment has now arrived," he said, "which forces us, if [Israeli] military actions are not stopped in the next few hours, to adopt an independent decision. We are ready to do this. However, these actions may bring us into a clash which will lead to a grave catastrophe. . . . We propose that you demand from Israel that it unconditionally cease military action. . . . We purpose to warn Israel that if this is not fulfilled, necessary actions will be taken, including military."
The Soviets quickly broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, and the Soviet-bloc governments of Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria quickly followed.
CIA Director Richard Helms would later recall that the conversation in the Situation Room for the next several hours were in "the lowest voices he had ever heard in a meeting of that kind" and that "the atmosphere was tense" as the President and his most senior military, diplomatic, and intelligence advisors contemplated the possibility of a direct Soviet strike at Israel.
Johnson, a devoted friend of Israel and an ardent anti-Communist, was not prepared to kowtow to Moscow or let Israel be destroyed. He immediately ordered the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean to turn around-it was then heading west towards the Strait of Gibraltar-and steam towards Israel as a show of solidarity and to warn the Soviets not to get directly involved.
He did the right thing, for according to Isabella Ginor, a Russian-born correspondent for the BBC World Service and other international news services, "new evidence now reveals that the Soviets were indeed poised to attack Israel. . . and had been preparing for such a mission all along."
On June 10, 2000-the thirty-third anniversary of Kosygin's ominous Hotline threat to Nixon-Ginor published an article in The Guardian (London) entitled, "How The Six Day War Almost Led to Armageddon: New Evidence of 1967 Soviet Plan to Invade Israel Shows How Close the World Came to Nuclear Conflict."
In December of that year she published a longer and more detailed article in the Middle East Review of International Affairs entitled, "The Russians Were Coming: The Soviet Military Threat in the 1967 Six-Day War." In these and other articles, she quoted Soviet military officials who paint a fragmentary but still disturbing picture of the attack that was being prepared.
Ginor noted, that "in his recently published memoirs, Nikita S. Kruschev asserts that the USSR's military command first encouraged high-ranking Egyptian and Syrian delegations, in a series of 'hush-hush' mutual visits, to go to war, then persuaded the Soviet political leadership to support these steps, in the full knowledge they were aimed at starting a war to destroy Israel."
Soviet Acting Defense Minister Andrei A. Grechko and KGB Chairman Yuri V. Andropov, meanwhile, "were pressing for the immediate dispatch of Soviet forces to the Middle East." Retired Soviet air force lieutenant Yuri V. Nastenko confirmed in 1998 that bomber and fighter jets, such as the MiG-21s that were under his command, were put on full operational alert on the evening of June 5, 1967 and that he was convinced this was in preparation for "real combat."
Yuri N. Khripunkov was a former Soviet naval officer who was serving on one of thirty Soviet warships that had been moved from the Black Sea southward to the Mediterranean in June 1967. Khripunkov told Ginor that he and his colleagues were preparing to unleash a force of Soviet forces onto the Israeli mainland. His own platoon, he said, was "ordered to penetrate Haifa-Israel's main commercial harbor and naval base."
Russian Professor Alexsandr K. Kislov, who was stationed in the Middle East in 1967, told Ginor that the strike force the Soviets had prepared for insertion into Israel included "desant [landing] ships with well-prepared marines."
Some respected historians and diplomats have disputed the notion that the Soviets were planning to attack Israel in 1967. But while the evidence available from declassified documents and interviews with direct participants may not yet be conclusive, it is compelling. What's more, Soviet Premier Kosygin's threat of direct military intervention into the 1967 war with Israel alone stands as chilling evidence of Moscow's historic and recent animus towards the Jewish State, and as a warning of things to come, especially as Moscow currently arms Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Sudan, Algeria and other enemies of Israel. CRO
* NOTE: This article is adapted from Chapter 10 of Epicenter. Now, a new book by two Israeli historians, including one I interviewed for Epicenter, documents how the "Soviets engineered the Six Day War" to destroy Israel's nuclear program. For more on this, see Foxbats Over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez and a review of the book by the Jerusalem Post.
But surely this must be a pack of lies. Everyone knows that peaceful socialism, as implemented by the benevolent Soviet Union, would never have been a threat to any other nation. Especially one that posed no strategic threat to the motherland, such as the tiny Jewish state. Why, the intelligencia of the world, including that of the New York Times, educated in the finest universities, told me this every day of my life.
Look at it another way.
The only reason Israel is standing today is because Russia couldn’t finish the job that they encouraged the Arab world to start.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, COWARD .
I dunno. He ordered the fleet to turn around. He did the right thing when it counted.
If only the current Israeli leadership would learn from this.
save for later
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