Randy's Corner Deli Library

06 June 2007

Q & A with Michael Oren

Q & A with Michael Oren


Jun. 5, 2007

On the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, renowned historian
and senior fellow at Shalem Center's Adelson Institute for
Strategic Studies answers questions sent by JPost.com readers on
those six remarkable days in June 1967.

Daniel Teeboom, Amsterdam: I read that you discovered Jordanian
plans about what to do with the vanquished Jews of Israel, had
the Arabs won. These stories have been rumors for many years,
will the documents be made available online? They can be used
for all kinds of pro-Israeli activities and would be worth their
weight in gold.

Michael Oren: I was indeed able to acquire Jordanian diplomatic
and military documents from 1967. Among these were the plans for
Operation Tariq, the planned Jordanian attack against West
(Jewish) Jerusalem and the Latrun Quarter. These plans provided
for the execution of the civilian populations of several Jewish
communities, such as Moza, which lies just west of Jerusalem.
Some of these documents fell into Israeli hands during the war
and were later presented to King Hussein in the secret meetings
he held with Israeli representatives in London. The King denied
having any knowledge of Tariq.

It is important to demonstrate that not only the Jordanians but
also the Egyptians and the Syrians had planned the conquest of
Israel and the expulsion or murder of much of it Jewish
inhabitants in 1967. Many of the so-called "revisionist
historians" today are claiming that the Arabs never had
aggressive intentions toward the Jewish state and that Israel
precipitated the Six-Day War in order to expand territorially.
The documentary evidence refutes this claim unequivocally.

Ann Lesser, Los Angeles: Do you agree with the recent article in
The Economist that the Six Day War was wasted and that it has
caused more problems than it solved?

Michael Oren: The Economist article's argument only holds if one
believes that Israel's survival is a bad thing. If Israel had
lost the Six-Day War, it would not exist today. Yes, it is true
that the Six-Day War precipitated the controversy surrounding
Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the conflict over
Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, and contributed to the
rise of Palestinian terror. But without Israel's 1967 victory,
there would today be no peace between Israel and Egypt or Israel
and Jordan. If the West Bank and Gaza remained under Jordanian
and Egyptian occupation, as they were in 1967, there would be no
talk today of creating a Palestinian state in those territories.
And if Israel had not proven its military mettle over the course
of six intense days, there would be no strategic alliance
between the United States and the Jewish state. My guess,
though, is that the Economist is not thrilled about that either.

Yaakov Slabiak, Dallas: Your concluding statements in "Power,
Faith and Fantasy" suggests that the USA can bring a new world
order of security and peace and even democracy to the Middle
East by "responsibly wielding its strength and consistently
upholding its principles." What can we reasonably expect for the
Middle East in the near term and beyond from the politicians in
Washington, DC in view of the divided domestic opinion on the
Iraq war, and what may be a united international stand on
stopping Iran's nuclear power ambitions?

Michael Oren: American policy-makers, whether Republican or
Democrat, must convince the American people that there is no
separating from the Middle East in the way that the United
States separated from Vietnam in 1975, and this for the simple
reason that the Middle East will not separate from America.
Extremist elements in the region will continue to seek ways of
harming American interests and killing American citizens long
after the last U.S. soldier has left Iraq. It is imperative,
therefore, that the American people are made to understand that
this is a protracted conflict and one with invariable
vicissitudes. There will be setbacks, much as there were in all
of America's previous wars, but victory remains possible.

To this end, the United States must explore the possibility of
maintaining permanent ground and naval forces in the Middle East
(much as Jefferson did in 1801), invest heavily in intelligence,
and actively promote reformist forces in the Middle East. The
United States should continue to support the advocates of
democracy in the Middle East, but without trying to impose
American ideas and institutions on the peoples of the regions.
Most importantly, the United States must uphold its own
principles and avoid at all costs a repetition of the Abu Graib

Even after taking all of these steps, American decision-makers
will face a complex and potentially treacherous environment in
the Middle East, one that will require patience, perseverance,
and creativity to negotiate. In the long run, though, America
has no choice.

To stop Iran, for example, Washington will have to combine
international diplomatic action with the imposition of its own
far-reaching sanctions, all the while maintaining a credible
military threat. If diplomatic initiatives and economic
strictures fail-and all signs seem to indicate that that
will-the United States must act to prevent the Iranians from
acquiring strategic capabilities. The use of force will at that
moment become not only justified but mandatory.

Steve Lewine, Paradise Valley: The decision to give "Har Habiet"
(the Temple Mount) to the Muslims, was it debated, was anything
asked of the recipient, is it written in stone, did they even
request this gift?

Michael Oren: There was no debate surrounding Moshe Dayan's
decision to keep the Temple Mount or, as the Muslims call it,
Haram al-Sharif ("the noble sanctuary"), under the aegis of the
Muslim authorities or Waqf. The decision reflected Israel's
policy of maintaining the status quo toward all holy sites,
Jewish and non-Jewish, in the Old City. For example, Christian
control of the Holy Sepulcher was also retained. Israeli
officials in 1967 were deeply concerned that the world would not
accord with Israeli control of the Old City and were anxious to
show that Israel would respect the rights of all religions.

To be sure, the Muslims never asked Israel to recognize this
right, nor do they in any way express gratitude for having
received it. On the contrary, the Waqf has since served as a
center and a catalyst for Muslim denial of Jewish rights, both
in Jerusalem and outside, and has worked assiduously to destroy
any remnant of the first and second temples. In retrospect,
Dayan's decision was a terrible mistake but, in fairness, there
was no way of knowing that in 1967.

Gil Aharoni Los Angeles, CA: You mention in your book that,
after the war, Eshkol entertained the idea of making peace with
Jordan based on the UN partition lines. Do you mean the lines
stipulated in UN Resolution 181? Could Eshkol really have
considered turning over land that was sovereign Israeli
territory for 19 years?

Michael Oren: I don't recall asserting that Eshkol ever was
willing to make peace on the basis of UN Resolution 181. That
document, Israel contended, had been nullified by the Arabs'
rejection of it and their attempt to defeat it by force of arms.
Eshkol was, however, willing to trade all of the captured Sinai
Peninsula and almost all of the Golan Heights in return for
peace treaties with Egypt and Syria, respectively, and to
consider creating an autonomous Palestinian entity in the West
Bank. His offers, though, were rejected by the Arabs' decision,
taken at the Khartoum Summit later in 1967, to deny Israel all
peace and recognition and to reject any negotiations with the
Jewish state. Palestinian notables expressed an interest in the
autonomous entity plan, but feared that any attempt to negotiate
with Israel would result in their assassinations by radicals-and
the radical they mentioned by name was Yasser Arafat.

Matthew Reid, Boston: As an Israeli Historian writing on Israeli
history in an academically rigorous and honest fashion, what
methods do you use to identify and hopefully filter out your own
biases and preconceptions? Also, how does your own military
service color your understanding or interpretation of your

Michael Oren: You have touched on the greatest challenge I face
as an historian. Though it has become very fashionable in the
history field to indulge one's prejudices and preconceptions, I
view my biases-and I have them-as obstacles to be overcome. This
means that in every paragraph, if not every sentence, I must
pause and ask myself whether I am, in fact, being as balanced
and objective as possible. Later, I submit my writing to readers
whom I trust to render candid judgments.

My military experience, on the other hand, assists me in
understanding the dynamics of the battlefield and of war-time
decision-making. I know what it's like to be in command
positions as well as to be a simple soldier under fire, and I
have tremendous sympathy for anybody-Israeli or Arab-in similar
positions. As a result, I am less likely to judge soldiers in
battle and prefer, when possible, to understand them.

Toni Manson, London: Is there any credible evidence that Sadat's
peace overtures in 1971-2 were credible? e.g. Did he offer
diplomatic recognition?

Michael Oren: From what we know-and the record is still far from
clear-Sadat proposed that Israel withdraw from all of the
territories captures in 1967, including the West Bank and
Jerusalem in exchange for a non-belligerency treaty that would
eventually evolve into peace. Diplomatic recognition per se was
never mentioned. But one thing I know from studying Middle
Eastern diplomatic history is that until the Egyptian, American
and Israeli documents are de-classified, we will never know for
sure whether or not peace was possible before the outbreak of
the 1973 war. It is, however, interesting to note that many of
the historians who now claim that Israel missed an opportunity
to make peace before that conflict also say that Sadat required
his "victory" in 1973 in order to gain the legitimacy necessary
to make peace in 1979.

Jason Ream, L.A: Do you think if Israel had offered all the
territory it had conquered in 1967, including east Jerusalem,
back to Jordan, Syria and Egypt the day after the war ended they
would have accepted them in exchange for peace?

Michael Oren: Absolutely not. The Arab states were categorical
in declaring their refusal to grant Israel peace or recognition,
or even to negotiate with it in return for the territories.

Cliff Court, Cape Town: In recent times, renewed questions have
arisen as to whether Egypt was indeed going to attack Israel at
all at that time and, in turn, whether it was correct for Israel
to launch their preemptive strike. In your opinion, was there
any doubt that Egypt would in fact have attacked if Israel had
not done so first?

Michael Oren: We know from Egyptian documents that the Egyptian
army prepared a detailed plan for bombing strategic sites
throughout Israel and for cutting Israel in half with a combined
armored and infantry thrust. The plan, codenamed "The Dawn " (or
al-Fajr), was set to be implemented on May 27 but was blocked
when the United States and the Soviet Union together pressured
the Egyptians not to attack. The danger of an Egyptian offensive
against Israel remained. However, with hundreds of thousands of
Arab soldiers gathered on its borders, Israel could not respond
to even a minor Palestinian guerilla attack without
precipitating a general Arab assault. Pre-emption was the only

James Michael Price, Haymarket, Virginia: In the book "The
Secret War Against the Jews", by John Loftus and Mark Aarons,
the claim is made that the US naval ship Liberty had on board
two Hebrew-language experts who were translating Israeli
military communications intercepted on the Liberty during the
1967 war. They further claimed that the translations were sent
to a British intelligence site on Cyprus, where the British used
that information to make maps of Israeli military deployments in
the Sinai and then sent those maps to the Egyptians. Your book
tells a much different story. What is your opinion of the claims
of Loftus and Aarons?

Michael Oren: There is absolutely no documentary evidence to
support Loftus' thesis, this after several thousand documents
relating to the Liberty incident have been declassified.
Contrary to Loftus' contention, there were no Hebrew speakers
aboard the Liberty, only Arabic and Russian translators.

Brent Olsson, Oklahoma City: What credence do you give accounts
that the Six Day War was precipitated by a Soviet scheme to wipe
Israel before it could develop a nuclear weapon?

Michael Oren: I have found no documentary evidence to support
this thesis and one must assume that some evidence of it would
be found in the tens of thousands of documents that have been
declassified at American, Israeli and Russian archives. Nor is
the theory substantiated even obliquely in the extensive Arabic
sources that have become available. On the contrary, it appears
that the Soviets, after helping to precipitate the crisis by
encouraging Egypt to evict UNEF, did everything to discourage
the Egyptians from closing the Straits of Tiran and going to
war. Finally, the question must be asked why the Soviet Union,
which had diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, would risk
a global confrontation just to eliminate the Dimona reactor,
which had yet to produce a single atomic weapon. Israel had
never threatened the Soviet Union, nor had it pledged to use its
strategic capabilities to "wipe off the map"-to quote
Ahmadinejad -any of the Soviets' Arab client-states.

Mark, Toronto: Moshe Dayan said the following: "After all, I
know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my
opinion, more than 80 percent, but let's talk about 80 percent.
It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area [in
the Golan DMZ] where it wasn't possible to do anything, in the
demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would
start to shoot. If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor
to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get
annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the
air force also, and that's how it was." My question is: Is there
truth to this or is this Dayan simply lashing back with
exaggerations? This is coupled with stories of IDF soldiers
masquerading as farmers to draw fire from the Syrians or whole
Kibbutzim staffed by soldiers.

Michael Oren: There is an element of truth to Dayan's claim, but
it is important to note that Israel regarded the de-militarized
zones in the north as part of their sovereign territory and
reserved the right to cultivate them-a right that the Syrians
consistently resisted with force. Syria also worked to divert
the Jordan River before it flowed into Israel, aiming to deprive
the Jewish state of its principle water source; Syria also
actively supported Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel.
Israel occasionally exploited incidents in the de-militarized
zones to strike at the Syrian water diversion project and to
punish the Syrians for their support of terror. Dayan's remarks
must also be taken in context of the fact that he was a member
of the opposition at the time. His attitude toward the Syrians
changed dramatically once he became defense minister. Indeed, on
June 8, 1967, Dayan bypassed both the Prime Minister and the
Chief of Staff in ordering the Israeli army to attack and
capture the Golan.

David Guy, Rehovot: The BBC's Martin Asser suggests the origin
of the Six Day War was a water dispute Your response?

Michael Oren: Water indeed played a principle role in
precipitating the Six-Day War. The Egyptians closed the Straits
of Tiran to all shipping bound for Israel's vital southern port
of Eilat. The Syrians attempted to divert the Jordan River
before it flowed into Israel, and attempted to obstruct Israel's
effort to convey water from the Sea of Galilee to the parched
Negev Desert. All of these efforts, whether Egyptian or Syrian,
originated in the Arab refusal to accept the existence of the
permanent and legitimate Jewish state in the Middle East. That,
and not water, was the cause of the Six-Day War.

Luis Bautista, Chicago: How did the Israel Air Force so
brilliantly carry out the plan to demolish the air forces of
Egypt, Syria and Jordan?

Michael Oren: The plan, code-named Focus, was meticulously
planned and rehearsed over the course of four years. It involved
extensive coordination between the air force, army intelligence,
and the Mossad, and employed the newest in military and avionic
technology. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Focus was the
result of a courageous decision on the part of the Israeli

Mike Lawson, San Francisco: Dear Mr. Oren, why is it that so
many authors out there publish blatantly anti Israel material,
far more than there are people producing fair or pro Israel
books? Why are these books given legitimacy and how can this be

Michael Oren: This is a very complicated question with a
multi-faceted answer that lies beyond our issue today. I will,
however, say that promoting research projects such as "Six Days
of War" and "Power, Faith and Fantasy," which present Israel and
the U.S. involvement in the Middle East in an equitable and
balanced light, is crucial. Such projects, which are quite
expensive to carry out, are only possible through the assistance
of academic bodies such as the Shalem Center, where I am a

Andrew White, London: Tom Segev's new book on the Six Day War
received a gushing review in this week's Economist (26 May
2007). Is this the beginning of Six Day War revisionist history?

Michael Oren: Alas, it's not the beginning. Segev's primary
thesis, namely, that the Six-Day War was the product of
irrational Israeli fears and war-mongering, has been around for
many years. It is implicit in Jimmy Carter's recent book, which
describes Israel-quite wrongly-as having attacked Jordan and
Syria pre-emptively in 1967. It is crucial to note, however,
that neither Segev nor Carter employ even one Arabic source. In
essence, the Arabs simply do not exist for them. The end result
is not only an injustice to Israel but moreover gross
discrimination toward the Arabs, who are treated as
two-dimensional figures, incapable of independent
decision-making and political dynamics.

Alan Feinberg, Jr, Washington DC: Given the way the shocking
victory in 1967 created and reinvigorated Zionist sentiment in
Israel and around the world and the current cynicism about the
origins and effects of that war today, how do you assess the
state of Zionism in Israel and the West? Does it concern you?

Michael Oren: I'm deeply concerned about the state of Zionism in
the world today. In the West and especially in the academic
community, Zionism is increasingly seen as an illegitimate if
not illicit concept that has produced a racist and colonialist
regime. More troubling still, many Israelis, and particularly
the youth, have lost a sense of the meaning and morality of the
Jewish state. The good news is that there are today a growing
number of grass roots organizations and philanthropies dedicated
to defending Zionism on Western campuses, while in Israel,
institutions such as the Shalem Center are working to strengthen
the Zionist idea. It was heartening to note that last summer's
call-up of the Israeli reserves received more than 100 percent
response (that is, more reservists reported for duty than those
who were listed as active). That percentage was higher than the
one recorded in 1967.

The Zionist heart is strong, but its mind needs to be
reinvigorated. We need writing and research that can articulate
the Zionist mission-its foundations and its ethos.


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