PEACE (KEEPING) TO WAR:
THE UNITED NATIONS AND THE WITHDRAWAL OF
UN Secretary-General U Thant's
decision to abruptly remove UN forces, in response to Egyptian
President Gamal Abd al-Nasser's demand, is seen as one of the
factors that led to the 1967 War, as well as to a failure in
peacekeeping. This article discusses the rights and wrongs of that
choice and also the role of the UN and other countries in the
the success of a peacekeeping mission be determined by the length of
time the peace is kept or by the lasting initiatives of peace that
by the former, the UN's first major attempt at a peacekeeping force
was a substantial achievement. The United Nations Emergency Force
(UNEF) eased tensions and kept peace in the Middle East for over a
decade. This initial success in defusing the Suez Crisis, and the
Nobel Prize it gleaned, became the justification for future UN
peacekeeping initiatives and the basis for the myth of peacekeeping
that fogs the reality even today. However, when judged by the latter
criteria--the ability to create a lasting peace rather than merely
observe a ceasefire--the entirety of the mission must be taken into
account, rather than just the initial cessation of hostilities. Here
the UN's report card is less stellar. UNEF's hasty withdrawal in
particular, and the UN's inability to even imagine, let alone
actively manage, peacekeeping's retreat, paved the way for the
decade- delayed conclusion of hostilities between Israel and Egypt
in the form of the Six-Day War.
UNEF was deployed in response to the Suez Crisis in November 1956,
it was never envisioned that it would still be acting as a buffer
force between Arabs and Israelis more than a decade later.
Originally intended to be a short-term "emergency" force, UNEF
quickly fell into a comfortable routine patrolling along the
international frontier and Gaza Strip. Despite complaints in New
York about the expense of peacekeeping, it was clear that UNEF's
presence was a deterrent to further hostilities, and for most
politicians and diplomats, this uneasy peace was clearly preferable
to an open war in the Middle East. After ten and a half years, UNEF
had become a well-recognized fixture in the Egyptian
in the Middle East had been high since the state of Israel was
proclaimed in 1948. The rhetoric on both sides was thick, but it was
intensified in January 1964 when the Arab League officially declared
its desire to achieve "the final liquidation of Israel."
While the Arabs were not entirely unified in their enthusiasm for
Israel's destruction, prudence dictated that policy makers in Israel
take the threat seriously. As the Arab League drafted plans to
divert the waters of the Jordan River and other tributaries, Israel
was brought into conflict with the chief proponent of the
plan--Syria. Raids and bombardments were exchanged until Syria was
finally forced to abandon the water diversion plan for fear of
starting a full-blown war. By this time, however, a pattern of
state-sanctioned terrorism had been
along the Israeli-Syrian border were commonplace during the
mid-1960s, and to a lesser extent along the borders of Jordan and
Lebanon. Jordan had traditionally been opposed to guerrilla acts
carried out by organizations such as al-Fatah, but the Hashimite
kingdom failed to effectively curb these activities.
Israel's reprisals against Jordan were generally symbolic, but on
November 13, 1966 the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) rolled into the
Jordanian village of Samu with its tanks, in broad daylight, killing
"dozens" of Jordanian soldiers and destroying scores of buildings.
attack was undertaken as a response to a mine explosion in Israel,
near the Jordanian border, that took the lives of three IDF members.
Both the audacity and severity of the attack shocked the region.
Instead of acting as a warning to the Jordanian people not to
condone terrorism, the raid hardened opinion against Israel, while
at the same time highlighting the fundamental weakness of the
Jordanian army, the Arab Legion. By undermining the leadership of
Jordan's monarch, King Hussein, Israel managed to alienate its most
recognized at the Arab Defense Council meeting held in December
1966, that a unified Arab military was the best way to deal with the
Israeli threat, yet there was no cohesive approach to achieve this
end. Egyptian officials castigated the Jordanian officer corps as
incompetent, while the Jordanian representative accused Egypt of
"hiding behind UNEF" and shirking its military responsibilities
throughout the Arab world.
To improve the capability of the Arab Legion it was subsequently
decided that the Jordanian high command should be replaced by
Egyptian officers, and a vote was taken calling for the withdrawal
of UNEF. Neither proposal was acted upon--at least not
the extent of their mistake at Samu, the Israelis decided to focus
their attention, and wrath, on Syria. Terrorist acts and skirmishes
between the two nations continued to escalate, culminating in a
full-blown aerial battle on April 7, 1967. The trouble started when
the Syrian army opened fire on an Israeli tractor working in the
demilitarized zone. Sniping from the Syrian side turned into
full-scale shelling, to which the IDF responded with tanks. When the
tanks were unable to stop the shelling, the Israeli Air Force was
called in to deal with the situation. When the artillery had
quieted, six Syrian MiGs had been downed, two of them quite close to
Damascus. This humiliation at the hands of the Israeli Air Force was
one of the key events that would culminate in the Six-Day War.
for UNEF's withdrawal were reintroduced at the Arab League
Conference in April 1967. The president of the United Arab Republic
(UAR), Gamal Abd al-Nasser, did not immediately move to dislodge the
UN force, yet it was obvious that if the UAR was to retain its
self-assumed position of leadership among the Arab world, more was
needed than just words alone. To this end, the Syrian-UAR Mutual
Defense Pact was reaffirmed and an offer was made to provide the
Syrian Air Force with Egyptian MiG 21s.
by the promise of Egyptian support, terrorist incursions across the
Israeli-Syrian border continued to increase. Tempers simmered until
May 12, 1967, when Yitzhak Rabin, chief of staff of the IDF,
publicly mused that Israel should overthrow the Syrian government.
While Rabin was chastised for his comments by the prime minister and
members of the Israeli Cabinet, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol announced
the following day, that the possibility existed that Israel "may
have to teach Syria a sharper lesson than that of April 7."
In retrospect, Abba Eban, the Israeli foreign minister, believed
that some verbal self-restraint would have helped to contain the
situation in the Middle East. Yet at the time, the Israelis hoped
that stern warnings would be sufficient to dissuade Syria from
encouraging terrorist activities.
The domestic political situation in Israel was also a factor,
forcing the government to take a harder line regarding the fedayeen
tough talk emanating from Israel caught the Syrians' attention, but
they were emboldened by Egypt's military backing and moral support
from the Soviet Union.
found himself in a difficult position in early May 1967, when
reports came in from Moscow and Damascus that Israel had mobilized
at least 11 brigades along the Syrian border and was poised to
Whether Nasser knew these reports to be false is the subject of some
debate, though he later drew on these reports to great effect.
The IDF was a formidable force about which Nasser had previously
warned his Arab brethren, but with 40,000 troops committed to the
conflict in Yemen, the UAR Army was not at its full
Nasser risked losing credibility throughout the Arab world if he did
not live up to the terms of the Syrian-UAR Mutual Defense Pact. The
decision on May 13, 1967, to remove UNEF and deploy UAR troops along
the Israeli border was subsequently made to strengthen his position
throughout the Arab world. It is doubtful that Nasser intended his
actions to provoke a war with Israel, yet the alternative--losing
prestige and influence throughout the Arab world–was deemed even
message to withdraw UNEF was first conveyed to the commander of
UNEF, Major General Indar Jit Rikhye, on May 16, 1967. The UAR
Liaison Officer, Brigadier General Ibrahim Sharkawy, called Rikhye
in the afternoon to inform him that a special envoy would be
arriving with an important message for the UNEF commander. The
letter--delivered by a courier holding the rank of brigadier
general--was from the UAR Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General
Muhammad Fawzy, and simply stated:
gave my instructions to all UAR armed forces to be ready for
action against Israel, the moment it might carry out any
aggressive action against any Arab country. Due to these
instructions our troops are already concentrated in Sinai on our
eastern border. For the sake of complete security of all UN troops
which install outposts along our borders, I request that you issue
your orders to withdraw all these troops immediately."
courier, expecting immediate compliance on the part of UNEF, was
sorely disappointed when General Rikhye merely noted the contents of
the letter, and informed his visitors that he would pass the message
on to Secretary-General U Thant. Rikhye would have to await orders
from New York.
troubled by the lack of immediate action, the envoy explained that
UAR troops were already on their way to the international frontier
and wished to prevent any clashes with UNEF. From the UAR military
point of view, it was imperative that UAR forces occupy Sharm
al-Shaykh and al-Sabha before the Israelis had a chance to react.
Rikhye was adamant in his inability to act before receiving
instructions from New York, but ventured to ask his interlocutors if
the consequences of removing UNEF from the international frontier
had been fully contemplated. To this Sharkawy responded, "I will see
you for lunch at the best restaurant in Tel Aviv in a few days."
immediately dispatched a priority cable to the secretary-general
reporting the substance of the meeting, and he was commended for the
difficult, yet correct, stand he had taken with the UAR. U Thant
instructed Rikhye to await further orders, and in the meantime, to
"be firm in maintaining UNEF positions, while being as understanding
and diplomatic as possible in your relations with local UAR
Meanwhile, New York became host to the initiation of hurried
than two hours after Secretary-General U Thant learned of Egypt's
intention to seek UNEF's withdrawal, he met with Muhammad al-Kony,
the permanent representative of the UAR to the UN. Unaware what was
happening back home, al-Kony was told by U Thant that there had, in
effect, been a breach in protocol and that any request for the
removal of UNEF must be directed to the secretary-general. U Thant
also sought clarification of Nasser's intent. The original note only
made mention of withdrawing from the outposts along the UAR border,
yet in the course of the discussion with General Rikhye, specific
mention had been made of withdrawing from the UN positions at Sharm
al-Shaykh and al-Sabha. It was also unclear whether the withdrawal
was of a permanent or temporary
view of the secretary-general, however, a temporary withdrawal
"would be unacceptable because the purpose of the UN Force in Gaza
and Sinai is to prevent a recurrence of fighting, and it cannot be
asked to stand aside in order to enable the two sides to resume
While seeking this clarification, U Thant sought to reassure
Ambassador al-Kony that were the UAR government to withdraw its
consent for UNEF's presence on their territory, the
secretary-general would be obliged to respect their wishes. U Thant
did not think that this position required consultation and made it
clear from the start that any request for a temporary withdrawal or
redeployment of UNEF's forces would be considered as a call for the
entire UN force to leave.
news traveled surprisingly quickly through the corridors of the UN
but the Secretariat was, for the most part, able to keep a lid on
the news of Egypt's request until the secretary-general met with the
troop-contributing nations the following day.
As he had already decided on a course of action to follow, the
meeting on May 17, 1967, was purely informative. In the course of
the meeting, U Thant reiterated three times his intention to
withdraw UNEF if and when a proper request was made by the UAR
government. He was subsequently backed up by Ralph Bunche, U Thant's
most trusted aide and the Secretariat's resident expert on
peacekeeping and the Middle East, and by the UN legal advisor,
in the meeting were varied. The representatives from Brazil, Canada,
and to a lesser extent Denmark, believed that the secretary-general
should be proactive in addressing the situation developing in Egypt,
while the other representatives preferred to wait and see what
Nasser's formal response would be. It was also suggested that the
matter be referred to the General Assembly, which was sitting in an
emergency session, though this idea was rebuffed by the UN
Secretariat. While the General Assembly had been responsible for
UNEF's creation, Ralph Bunche argued that UNEF's entry into Egypt
was the result of direct negotiations between Nasser and then
Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.
Thus, strictly speaking, UNEF's deployment was the prerogative of
the secretary-general, not the General
"good faith agreement"
that Hammarskjold negotiated with Nasser to govern UNEF's deployment
did imply a "limitation of [Egyptian] sovereignty," though as the UN
legal advisor explained, "It has a certain value--not the value of
stopping the secretary-general from withdrawing, because he cannot
do anything else--but the value of being and understanding of how a
process will function.[sic]"
Legal arguments aside, the UN could do little but accede to Egyptian
demands. When push came to shove, as a lightly armed peacekeeping
force, UNEF was no match for the UAR military.
17, U Thant met with al-Kony and handed the UAR Permanent
Representative an aide mémoire to be transmitted to Cairo.
Formalizing what had been said to al-Kony the previous day, the aide
mémoire was intended to clarify a few ambiguous points and outline
the secretary-general's understanding of the situation. First and
foremost, however, U Thant sought to assuage any fears Nasser might
have that the UN was attempting to impinge on the UAR's
from Gaza on May 17 and 18 detailed significant UAR troop movements
in the Sinai desert, and in some cases UAR forces interposed
themselves between UNEF and the border. The Yugoslav contingent
deployed in the Sinai bore the brunt of the pressure, in some cases
being forcibly removed from their observation posts and having
artillery shells targeted to land just outside their camp
perimeters. As tensions in the desert rose, the UAR forces denied
permission for UN flights to resupply the Yugoslav troops in the
Sinai. General Rikhye himself was required to fly out to the
Yugoslav camp to resolve the situation peaceably. On the return trip
to Gaza, however, two Israeli fighter jets violated UAR airspace and
fired warning shots in an attempt to force Rikhye's plane to land in
Israel. It was only due to the "great coolness and skill" of the UN
aircrew "winging their way through sand dunes" that an unfortunate
international incident was avoided. After strongly worded protests
were lodged with the Israeli authorities, Rikhye concluded that it
was not a premeditated act but most likely was the work of "over-
exuberant young air force pilots."
Regardless, tensions were riding high
morning of May 18, General Rikhye also reported that in Cairo, UAR
Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahmoud Riad, had contacted
representatives of all the UNEF troop-contributing nations to inform
them of UNEF's termination, and asked them to facilitate the
immediate removal of peacekeeping troops. At this time, however, no
formal mention of UNEF's withdrawal had been conveyed to the
not until 12 noon, on May 18, 1967, that the permanent
representative of the UAR formally conveyed a note to U Thant
indicating the desire of his government to have UNEF removed from
U Thant expressed his misgivings regarding the UAR request, yet gave
no indication that the decision would be opposed. Somewhat
surprisingly, however, Stavropoulos changed his tune from the
previous day and warned the secretary-general against the unilateral
withdrawal of UNEF:
therefore have serious doubts whether the secretary-general should
take the radical action of withdrawing UNEF without first
affording the General Assembly (or possibly the Security Council,
in view of the prevailing situation in the Middle East) the
opportunity of considering the matter."
of withdrawing, Stavropoulos suggested that it might be more prudent
to order UNEF forces into base camps for a period of ten days,
providing time for the General Assembly or Security Council to deal
with the issue.
Stavropoulos's advice, however, was not readily accepted.
already met with the troop-contributing nations the previous day in
an unofficial capacity, the secretary-general called a meeting of
the UNEF Advisory Committee on May 18, 1967 to apprise them formally
of the situation in the Middle East.
The fact that the committee had not met since December 1959 was a
testament, according to U Thant, of UNEF's efficacy in maintaining
peace in the Middle East.
The events of the preceding forty-eight hours hinted more at naïve
secretary-general left no room for debate at the Advisory Committee
meeting stating unequivocally in his opening remarks that UNEF would
be withdrawn from the Middle East. Without the consent of the UAR
government, U Thant believed UNEF lacked legitimacy, and it was
undesirable for the force to maintain its presence in a situation
that could become hostile. Not all of the representatives, however,
agreed with the secretary-general's assessment. Canadian Ambassador
George Ignatieff was the most vocal in his opposition to the
unilateral withdrawal of UNEF. While not directly contesting the
UAR's sovereign right to request UNEF's withdrawal, Ignatieff
contended that the secretary-general should be negotiating the
question with the UAR while also consulting the General Assembly.
Canada's view was supported by Brazil and Denmark; India, Pakistan,
and Yugoslavia were opposed to further consultations on the issue by
the General Assembly or Security Council. Had the Advisory Committee
been unanimous against the withdrawal of UNEF, it could have
compelled the secretary-general to bring the issue before the
General Assembly. However, with opinion in the Advisory Committee
divided, there was no impetus for U Thant to act, nor second-guess
his own decision to withdraw UNEF.
after meeting with the Advisory Committee, U Thant informed al-Kony
of his intention to "issue instructions for the necessary
arrangements to be put in train without delay for the orderly
withdrawal of the Force." U Thant did, however, ask al-Kony to
convey to his government the secretary-general's concern that UNEF's
departure "may have grave implications for peace."
Yet despite having "serious misgivings" about UNEF's removal, the
secretary-general cabled General Rikhye that UNEF should cease its
activities and commence its withdrawal on May 19, 1967.
As of 5 p.m. local time, all UN troops were withdrawn from their
observation posts and according to General Rikhye, "That night the
peace of the previous ten and a half years was shattered by
exchanges of fire between Egyptian and Israeli troops."
the decision to remove UNEF had been made, the secretary-general
submitted a report to the General Assembly, informing them of the
chain of events in the Middle East.
International response to the decision was mixed. While it was
heralded throughout the Arab world, some Western nations were less
enamored with the idea. Britain and Canada, while privately
disagreeing with U Thant's decision to remove UNEF, realized that it
would be counterproductive to criticize publicly the
Nonetheless, statements on the situation in the Middle East were not
entirely encouraging. According to George Brown, the British foreign
secretary, "It really makes a mockery of the peace-keeping work of
the UN if, as soon as tension rises, the UN is told to leave."
President Lyndon Johnson also expressed his concern over the turn of
events in the Middle East, while Israel condemned the withdrawal of
UNEF, stating that Egypt did not have the right to unilaterally
decide the UN force's fate. Israel viewed UNEF as a permanent
feature--until such a time that peace was achieved in the Middle
East--and publicly linked the force to the "package settlement" that
had made possible the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai in 1957.
Realistically though, there was very little they could immediately
do. Despite growing tensions, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials
resigned themselves for the time being to "sit back and wait for
events to unfold." 
was caught off guard by the "speed and relative efficiency" with
which Nasser's troops were deployed across the Sinai. In response,
35,000 Israeli reservists were called up as a precautionary measure,
though Abba Eban assured the United States that Israel had "no
intention of taking initiatives."
The buildup of troops along the Israeli-UAR border, while troubling,
did not preclude a peaceful outcome. In a series of moves designed
to de-escalate tensions, the Israelis sought to work through the UN
and the Americans to persuade Nasser of the futility of waging war
against Israel. The recourse to arms was still retained as an option
by the Israelis, but with the secretary-general's impending visit to
Cairo, Israeli officials preferred, for the moment, to accord
diplomacy its due.
19, 1967, Canada and Denmark requested that the Security Council
meet to discuss the alarming situation concerning UNEF's departure
from the Middle East, though the appeal was denied by the Soviet
Union and Bulgaria. The United States, while not vehemently opposed
to a meeting of the Security Council, had not been overly anxious
for one, as it would let Syria air the claim that the situation in
the Middle East was the work of an Anglo-American plot.
Canada had pushed ahead regardless, yet came up against a similar
sentiment when Secretary of State for External Affairs Paul Martin
met with al-Kony on May 20, 1967. Al-Kony, while stressing that the
UAR's, "respect for Canada remains high and favorable," expressed
the feeling that there was concern in Cairo, and "elsewhere in [the]
Arab World," that there was "a sort of conspiracy" to challenge the
UAR's sovereign right to ask for the withdrawal of UNEF.
hitherto, had been extremely critical of the decision to disband the
UN peacekeeping force. Martin's meeting with al-Kony, however, when
combined with reports from Egypt, led officials in the Canadian
Department of External Affairs to question whether it was wise to
oppose UNEF's withdrawal while Canadian troops were still on the
Canadian officials in Ottawa and New York began to temper their
remarks accordingly, yet the damage had already been
Nasser's seemingly impetuous decision to order troops into the Sinai
and to call for the withdrawal of UNEF, with UN troops still in
Egypt–though inactive–hope remained in the Western camp that reason
would prevail and a settlement could be negotiated. With U Thant's
visit to Cairo scheduled for May 23, 1967, even Israel was
optimistic of the outcome. Yet when his plane landed in Paris for
refueling on his way to the Middle East, U Thant was met with the
news that Nasser had closed the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of
Aqaba to Israeli shipping. In a speech to the UAR Air Force the
previous evening, Nasser pronounced the move as "an affirmation of
our rights and our sovereignty over the Gulf of Aqaba. This is in
our territorial waters and we shall never permit a ship flying
Israeli colours to pass through this Gulf."
the Israeli perspective, however, the closure of the waterways was
cause for war. While Israel was capable of weathering the economic
impact and oil shortage that the closure would have on the port of
Eilat and the Israeli economy in the short-term, the psychological
strangulation was another matter. The possibility of war with Israel
did not seem to faze Nasser. He merely taunted, "Our answer to them
is that we welcome war. We are ready."
denying Israel access to the Straits of Tiran, Nasser had embarked
on a dangerous game of brinkmanship–one that he ultimately lost. It
was decided to announce the closure of the straits before U Thant's
visit, in order to forestall criticism by the international media of
the secretary-general on an issue over which he had no influence.
The issue of territorial sovereignty was also one upon which Nasser
was unwilling, and because of the opinions of his Arab compatriots
seemingly unable, to compromise.
the escalating conflict, U Thant did not consider his visit to Cairo
to be a complete waste of time. Nasser did not dismiss out of hand
the idea of submitting the territorial waters' dispute to the
International Court, and he agreed to a two-week moratorium on
inspecting ships through the Straits of Tiran. He also supported the
idea of a UN-appointed representative to supervise efforts, though
he stipulated that the UN presence was to be in Cairo, not in the
Gaza Strip or along the international frontier. However, this was
entirely dependent on Israeli cooperation. Despite U Thant's appeals
that such a moratorium would provide a breathing spell, it did
little to assuage Israeli fears and did not change the situation
facing Israel in the Middle East.
to await the results of U Thant's discussions in Cairo, the Israeli
Cabinet dispatched Abba Eban on a whirlwind tour of Paris, London,
and Washington to gauge international support for Israel. Thoroughly
disappointed with the reception from President Charles DeGaulle,
Eban fared better in London where he at least felt he had,
"crossed…into the twentieth century."
Eban inferred a much higher degree of sympathy for Israel in Britain
and was impressed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson's resolve to work
collectively on the international stage to oppose Nasser's closure
of the Straits of Tiran. In terms of a diplomatic solution, Israel
was pinning its hopes on Britain and the United States to bring
about a peaceful resolution.
Johnson took a strong stand against Nasser's closure of the Straits
of Tiran. The limiting factor, however, was that any action to be
undertaken in the Middle East needed the full support of Congress
which, after having written a blank check for Vietnam, was
understandably reticent. Upon learning of Nasser's pronouncement of
May 22, the president declared:
purported closing of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping has
brought a new and very grave dimension to the crisis. The United
States considers the gulf to be an international waterway and
feels that a blockade of Israeli shipping is illegal and
potentially disastrous to the cause of peace. The right of free,
innocent passage of the international waterway is a vital interest
of the entire international community."
himself honor-bound to follow through on the promises of previous
presidents, Johnson intended to fulfill obligations promised by the
Eisenhower administration in the wake of the Suez Crisis. The
American preference was for the UN to arrive at a solution to the
problems growing in the Middle East. Failing that, there was the
option for an international maritime force to ensure the freedom of
international shipping through the Straits of Tiran. President
Johnson sought to ensure that either way the situation was resolved
meeting between Johnson and Eban on May 26, the president aimed to
extract a promise that Israel would not attack its Arab neighbors.
Eban hedged, but never outright stated, that Israel would eschew the
right to strike first. Seeking assurances of American support, Eban
was handed an aide-mémoire and told, among other things, that
"Israel will not be alone unless it decided to do it alone."
Sadly, Johnson knew that Israel would go it alone. Reflecting on the
meeting, the President told Undersecretary of State for Political
Affairs Eugene Rostow, "Yes, they're going to hit. There's nothing
we can do about it."
from the President's point of view, the possibility of a war in the
Middle East escalating to involve the superpowers was not worth the
flew back to Tel Aviv, Nasser was speaking to a group of Arab trade
unionists, predicting that "the battle against Israel will be a
general one…and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel."
Confident of the Arabs numerical and qualitative superiority over
the IDF, Nasser felt he had little to fear from a war with Israel;
but he stopped short of declaring war himself.
Instead, he worded his statements very carefully, referring only to
the possibility of hostilities initiated by Israel. These
provocative statements were nonetheless received with great concern
in Israel, though Nasser counted on the United States to restrain
Israel's actions in the Middle East. Reaping the benefits of his
rhetoric, Nasser was heralded as the hero of the Arab world.
true that only great power intervention temporarily saved Israel and
Egypt from the scourge of war. Sensing the urgency of the situation,
Arthur Goldberg, the American permanent representative to the UN,
informed the president of his fears that Israel would likely decide
to strike on the weekend of May 27-28.
Abba Eban, however, credited his meeting with President Johnson on
May 26 as the only reason Israel did not launch a preemptive strike
the following day.
Reports of a planned Arab attack to be launched against Israel on
May 27 were taken seriously enough by the Kremlin to have their
ambassador in Cairo wake Nasser at 3 a.m. to convey the Soviet
Union's, "stern objection to any initiation of war by Egypt."
Many observers understood, however, that a confrontation was only a
matter of time.
war of words between Egypt and Israel threatened to escalate into
military operations, UNEF quietly made preparations to withdraw its
troops from UAR soil. Despite the initial urgency for UNEF to vacate
outposts along the international frontier and Sharm al-Shaykh, the
UN was put under no pressure to evacuate immediately its troops from
UAR territory. U Thant often repeated that the withdrawal was to be,
"orderly, dignified, deliberate and not precipitate."
It was reasoned that the longer UNEF remained on location, the
better the chances were for a new mandate to redeploy the UN force
and relieve tensions in the Middle East. Moreover, as Nasser was in
no rush to kick UNEF out of the UAR, U Thant saw no need to effect a
for UNEF's withdrawal had never been given a particularly high
priority in New York. In fact, according to one later analysis, "It
is not too unkind to draw a comparison with the ostrich who buries
his head in the sand until danger is imminent, and only then takes
to his heels."
Discussing the dismemberment of the UN force was politically
sensitive, but more importantly, it was a tacit acknowledgement that
UNEF might fail. The UN's generals had at least done something.
General E.L.M. Burns, UNEF's first commander, had overseen the
development of plans for UNEF's withdrawal in the late 1950s. These
plans were updated in the space of a few hours by Rikhye when he was
the military advisor to the secretary-general in 1964.
Only two copies of the withdrawal plans had ever been circulated:
one was kept by the force commander in Gaza, while the other had
been sent to UN Headquarters for safekeeping. When the time came for
the plans to be dusted off in 1967, nobody in New York was able to
locate the copy.
plans for evacuation--once they were found and revised--estimated
that it would take about six weeks for UNEF troops to be withdrawn,
and four months for the equipment, though it was hoped that
arrangements could be expedited.
Nasser, for his part, seemed quite content to have the UN troops
take their time winding up their operations and "promised his
Various contingencies were taken into consideration, and
arrangements were made for the Swedish and Brazilian contingents to
depart on June 5, 1967, with the Indians, Yugoslavs, and Norwegians
to follow on June 19 and 20.
The bulk of the force's logistical support and air transport
services were provided by the Canadian contingent, and as such, it
was understood that they would be the last to leave.
27, 1967, al-Kony delivered yet another fateful letter to U Thant,
this time calling upon the secretary-general to order the withdrawal
of the Canadian contingent within forty-eight hours. Citing
unfriendly and provocative statements and actions of the Canadian
government as the cause, the UAR was, "desirous to prevent any
probable reaction from the people of the UAR against the Canadian
forces in UNEF, which may have undesirable reflection on the UN."
While it is doubtful that Nasser truly had the interest of the
Canadian forces at heart, it was made perfectly clear that they were
soon to be considered persona non grata.
reasons behind Nasser's unexpected decision to expel the Canadians
were varied and complex. The Canadian government did little to
endear itself to Nasser with its efforts to forestall the withdrawal
of UNEF. John Starnes, the Canadian ambassador in Cairo, had taken
great pains to explain to the UAR government that Canada's actions
were purely motivated by concern for peace in the Middle East, but
the comments of Prime Minister Lester Pearson and other government
officials were widely interpreted as being pro-Israeli.
The dispatch of two Royal Canadian Navy destroyers and a supply ship
to the Mediterranean was also cited by UAR Foreign Minister Riad in
his letter to the secretary-general, as having "inflamed public
opinion in my country." This, according to Starnes, was a "blatant
lie," since news of the Canadian naval movements had not been made
Starnes had been instructed to inform Egyptian officials on a
confidential basis of the Canadian naval preparations, which were
only to be used to withdraw UN troops should hostilities break out
in the Middle East. According to Starnes, UAR officials expressed,
"little surprise and asked only if other countries with UNEF
contingents were doing likewise."
more likely, however, that the arrival of Canadian destroyers, along
with the presence of the British Navy and the American Sixth Fleet
in the Mediterranean, gave rise to concerns of a maritime force
designed to open the Straits of Tiran--perhaps forcibly if
necessary--to all international shipping. The idea of a "Red Sea
Regatta" had been floated around as a possible international
solution to the tensions in the Middle East, and with the state
visits of Lyndon Johnson and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson to
Canada at the height of the crisis, it would have taken little to
convince Nasser of collusion. The warm reception the Israeli
President received when he arrived in Canada to visit Expo 67 on May
21, 1967 was merely icing on the cake.
immediate withdrawal of the Canadian contingent raised a whole host
of problems for the force commander. Day-to-day necessities, such as
communications, vehicle repair, supply distribution, and ground
transportation, not to mention the airlifting of supplies and
personnel out of the Middle East, hitherto provided by the
Canadians, all had to suddenly be reorganized. Realizing the
logistical difficulties that lay ahead, and sensing that the end was
near, General Rikhye recommended to UN Headquarters the "speedy
withdrawal of entire UNEF….If one of my contingents is asked to go
quickly it is time for the rest of us to leave as well."
While the withdrawal of all 3,378 UNEF personnel could have been
accomplished in less than five days, officials in New York deemed
that "political considerations" required UNEF to maintain an
emasculated presence in the Middle East.
himself to make the best of a bad situation, General Rikhye assigned
the Indian battalion, which at least had some logistics experience,
to take over from the departing Canadians. The Brazilian infantry
companies were then given the important responsibility of guarding
UNEF's stores. UNEF did its best to centralize its depots, which
contained over $15 million of supplies, and attempted to oversee the
distribution of goods to the remaining contingents. However, as the
Canadians finally withdrew on May 31, 1967, some tasks fell by the
wayside. Supply distribution ground to a halt as the Canadian
operation, formerly employing over one hundred personnel, was turned
over to one lonely UN official.
The lack of regular air transport shipments caused mail service to
become irregular at best, and without an experienced staff to
coordinate ground movements, transportation became a free-for-all.
Communal UNEF responsibilities were also neglected by some
individuals as they became preoccupied with the pressing details
facing their national contingents.
This lack of focus led to increased looting of UNEF supplies, but
was nothing compared to that perpetrated once war broke out–first by
local residents, and then by the Israeli forces.
same time as Nasser dictated the terms of UNEF's withdrawal,
domestic pressure on the Israeli government continued to grow. The
psychological and economic impact of sustained mobilization, as well
as the effects of the closure of the Straits of Tiran, necessitated
a resolution, diplomatic or otherwise. The Eshkol government
hesitated. To help ease the domestic tensions, Eshkol bowed to
political pressure and opened his cabinet for the formation of a
national unity government. Most significant--and perhaps
telling--was the fact that Eshkol abdicated the coveted position of
minister of defense in favor of General Moshe Dayan, hero of the
1956 Suez War. While Dayan's appointment ensured the confidence of
the military, war was by no means inevitable. It was, however,
last-ditch effort to ascertain the level of support for Israel in
the United States, Meir Amit, the director of the Mossad, was sent
to Washington to meet with senior political and intelligence
officers. Returning to Israel on June 3, Amit reported that among
U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara,
there was an "absence of any strong American objection to unilateral
Israeli military action."
Buoyed by America's tacit consent, the Israeli cabinet did not
hesitate to act.
intents and purposes, the outcome of the Six-Day War was decided on
the fateful morning of June 5, 1967. In the space of a few short
hours, Israel managed to obliterate the UAR Air Force before most of
the planes had a chance to leave the ground. The Jordanian and
Syrian air forces were similarly disposed of that afternoon, leaving
Israeli cities free from attack and allowing the IDF to concentrate
on advancing against the enemy. When the dust from the war settled,
Israel had accomplished the unthinkable. The combined military
forces of Jordan, Syria, and the UAR had been routed, and Israel was
left in possession of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the
Sinai Peninsula. The costs for UNEF, however, had been dear: fifteen
peacekeepers were dead and another seventeen lay injured.
as Nasser's order to remove Canadian troops from UAR soil was
abhorred in Ottawa, it undoubtedly saved the lives of Canadian
service personnel. By the time war broke out, part of the Yugoslav
contingent had been repatriated, but some 2,519 UNEF personnel were
still deployed in various locations throughout the UAR. The bulk of
the troops had been recalled to camps around Gaza, and when the
fighting intensified they were relocated to temporary encampments on
the beach, which was considered to be relatively safe compared to
the town of Gaza itself. With the UN compounds clearly marked,
General Rikhye questioned the tactics of the Israeli and UAR forces,
commenting that, "surely, black and brown Brazilians, bearded Sikhs,
and blonde Scandinavians do not look much like Palestinians."
Yet in the heat of battle, it seems that little differentiation was
for UNEF's withdrawal had gone on until the last possible moment on
the assumption that there was still time. Part of the Swedish
contingent found itself on a train half-way between Gaza and Port
Said when the war broke out. The train was seized for military
purposes when it reached the Suez Canal, and the Swedes were left to
find their own way. One of the first targets of the war had been the
airport at Port Said, leaving the planned evacuation of UNEF troops
by air in limbo. The absence of leadership from New York to resolve
the situation forced officials in Stockholm to step in and make
arrangements for the immediate evacuation of their troops.
The Swedes were subsequently evacuated by ship on June 8, 1967,
along with some additional UNEF personnel and twenty-three US
citizens. The Swedish government also made arrangements for the
remainder of its troops to be evacuated from the Israeli port of
Ashdod. With continued silence from New York, General Rikhye took
the initiative and received permission for all remaining UNEF troops
to be extracted through Israel.
The majority of troops were withdrawn within a week, and the force
commander and his remaining staff officers departed the Middle East
on June 17, 1967. Only a handful of UN civilian staff remained to
pick up the pieces and arrange for the evacuation or disposal of any
remaining UN equipment and supplies.
of U Thant's handling of the 1967 crisis and the decision to
withdraw UNEF came quickly, and from all directions. Paul Martin was
among the first to publicly disagree with the secretary-general's
decision to withdraw UNEF. President Johnson was "dismayed" by the
move, and the British even went so far as to suggest that the
situation in the Middle East was exacerbated by U Thant's
The credibility of the UN was called into question and the New
York Times said that the secretary-general had "used his
international prestige with the objectivity of a spurned lover and
the dynamism of a noodle."
It is difficult, however, to escape the conclusion that on both
legal and practical grounds there were few
its inception, UNEF was designed as a consensual activity, involving
both the host nation and troop contributors. Hence, Nasser's request
for the withdrawal of UN troops was "certainly a natural corollary
stemming directly from its sovereignty as a state, acknowledged by
the General Assembly in its resolutions regarding the establishment
Another important detail to note is that while the General Assembly
authorized the creation of UNEF, entry into Egypt was only granted
as a result of the independent "good faith agreements" negotiated by
the secretary-general. After attempting to clarify Egypt's request
for the withdrawal of UNEF without success, U Thant informed the
UNEF Advisory Committee of the situation, and the decision to
withdraw UNEF was finalized. At no time was the secretary-general's
position officially challenged by any member state, and no attempt
to convene the General Assembly was
UNEF been deployed on both sides of the Egyptian-Israeli border,
consent by both nations would have been required for withdrawal.
However, such was not the case. Furthermore, as they were a lightly
armed force, UNEF's authority was more moral than physical. It was
entirely unfeasible for UNEF troops to defend themselves against the
advance of a determined military. U Thant's hand was also forced by
the fact that Yugoslavia and India were prepared to accede to the
UAR demand to withdraw their contingents from UNEF regardless of the
Taking a very formal and rigid approach, U Thant could not get
beyond the issue of host-nation consent. Legalistic arguments aside,
however, there was a feeling that the UN had somehow failed in its
duty to maintain the peace.
to the controversy was the release in mid-June 1967 of an aide
mémoire written by Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1957,
giving his interpretation of the good faith agreements. Released by
Ernest Gross, former American deputy permanent representative at the
UN, the document asserted Hammarskjöld's belief that the UAR could
not unilaterally evict UNEF, but rather the issue would first have
to be put before the General Assembly.
Opinions over the document were divided. Some people believed the
report to be of great importance in understanding the international
U Thant, on the other hand, discounted its value stating that the
aide memoire was not an official document and thus had no binding
authority over Nasser or the UAR government. In a somewhat
uncharacteristic show of irritation, U Thant went on to say that
"the release of such a paper at this time would seem to raise some
question of ethics and good faith."
Brian Urquhart, at the time a junior official in the UN Secretariat,
recalled that when Hammarskjöld negotiated the "good faith
agreements," Egyptian sovereignty was not compromised in any way.
Thus Nasser's decision to remove UNEF was within his rights.
According to Urquhart, "he had a perfect sovereign right to do what
he did. It was an extremely stupid thing to do, as we told him at
the time, but in fact he had a perfect right to do it, under the
agreement that got UNEF in."
With varied opinions on both sides of the argument, the aide memoire
only served to highlight the differences between the
secretaries-general. Many people believed that had he been alive,
Hammarskjold would have immediately traveled to Cairo to resolve the
issue of UNEF's withdrawal.
fact that U Thant waited eight days before meeting with President
Nasser on such an obviously important issue was a great source of
concern for some observers.
Citing his concern for the peacekeepers on the ground, the
secretary-general did not want to endanger the troops by challenging
the UAR on the issue of host nation consent. But as a devout
Buddhist and having grown up in Burma under colonial rule, neither
was U Thant predisposed to confront Nasser over the question of
national sovereignty. Instead U Thant sought to deal with the
situation by means of quiet diplomacy, which with a dynamic leader
such as Nasser had no effect. Only after all other backdoor channels
had been exhausted did the secretary-general undertake personal
negotiations in the Middle East, but by then it was too late. U
Thant's all or nothing approach to the deployment of UNEF also came
under the microscope and has been cited a major factor that
propelled the Middle East to war. While it is true that a
redeployment of UNEF might have helped to preserve peace in the
Middle East in the short term, it would have done nothing to solve
the underlying problems in the Arab-Israeli dispute.
the Six-Day War was a failure of peacemaking, not peacekeeping. The
absence of war is not necessarily peace, it merely creates the
conditions in which peace can be fostered. UNEF's presence in the
Middle East provided such an environment for peace to be
established, yet the absence of hostilities removed the impetus for
the parties involved to reach a meaningful settlement. If the UN and
its members were not willing to stand on guard for peace
indefinitely, they should have been actively planning for the
eventual peaceful withdrawal of UNEF from the Middle East.
Peacemaking activities should have been part and parcel of UNEF's
original mandate. As it was, this first peacekeeping effort taught a
lesson that continues today to be a challenge: The parties in
conflict need to ceaselessly strive for peace, and the UN needs to
have structures in place to aid with these efforts. Otherwise, the
job of peacekeepers is little more than a temporary, albeit worthy,
Quoted in Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the
Arab World (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), p.
According to Abba Eban, the
Israeli Foreign Minister at the time, King Hussein "understood well
that the terrorist bands of al Fatah were a much sharper
threat to his kingdom than was Israel." Abba Eban, An Autobiography (New York:
Random House, 1977), p. 312.
Reports as to the actual toll of
death and damage vary widely. Anthony Nutting reports that 18
soldiers were killed and 125 buildings were destroyed, while Avi
Shlaim asserts that only 41 buildings were demolished, yet "dozens"
of soldiers were killed. The official UN report lists the Jordanian
deaths at 18–
15 soldiers and 3 civilian –with 17
civilians and 37 military personnel wounded; 125 houses, a medical
clinic, and a school were destroyed, and a further 28 houses and a
mosque were damaged. See, Anthony Nutting, Nasser (New York: E.P.
Dutton & Co., 1972), p. 392; Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the
Arab World, p. 233; UN doc. S/7539, November 13, 1966 and UN
doc. S/7539/Corr. 1, November 21, 1966.
National Archives of Canada
(NAC), RG 24, Vol. 21595, file 2-5081.2 [Vol. 10], December 19,
1966, Cairo to External; Department of National Defence Directorate
of History and Heritage (DHH), 112.3H1.001 (D19), March 21, 1968,
Interview with General I.J. Rikhye, late Commander of
Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the
Arab World, p. 235.
Abba Eban, in his autobiography,
contends that the Egyptian overtures to Syria were made only after
some prodding from Moscow. See Eban, An Autobiography, pp.
317-318. The MiGs, however, were never transferred to Syria because
of a dispute with Egypt as to where they would be based. DHH,
112.3H1.001 (D19), March 21, 1968, Interview with General I.J.
Rikhye, late Commander of UNEF.
Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the
Arab World, pp.
Eban contended, "If there had
been a little more silence, the sum of human wisdom would probably
have remained intact." Eban, An Autobiography, p.
For an interesting account of the
Russian involvement in the lead-up to the Six-Day War, see, Isabelle
Ginor, "The Cold War's Longest Cover-Up: How and Why the USSR
Instigated the 1967 War," Middle East Review of
International Affairs Vol. 7, No. 3 (September 2003). Available
online at: http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2003/issue3/jv7n3a3.html.
Accessed November 23, 2003.
General Fawzi, the UAR Chief of
Staff, was sent to co-ordinate efforts with the Syrians in mid-May
1967 and reportedly found no indication of an Israeli troop
build-up, and he believed that "the Russians must have been having
hallucinations." Quoted in Nadav Safran, From War to War: The
Arab-Israeli Confrontation, 1948-1967 (New York: Pegasus, 1969),
pp. 274-275, note 8.
Quoted in UN doc. A/6730/Add. 3,
June 26, 1967. Also see, Maj. Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye, The Sinai Blunder: Wtihdrawal of
the United Nations Emergency Force Leading to the Six Day War June,
1967 (New Delhi: Oxford and IBH Publishing Co., 1978), p. 16;
Rosalyn Higgins, United
Nations Peacekeeping 1946-1967: Documents and Commentary. Volume 1,
The Middle East (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 340;
Nils Sköld, United Nations
Peacekeeping after the Suez War. Trans Stig Nihlen (London:
Hurst & Company, 1996), pp. 159-160.
Maj. Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye, Trumpets and Tumults: The
Memoirs of a Peacekeeper (New Delhi: Manohar, 2002), p.
U Thant, View From the UN (New York:
Doubleday & Co., 1978), p. 220.
UN doc. A/6669, May 18, 1967;
also see UN doc. A/6730, June 26, 1967.
In May 1967, UNEF was comprised
of troops from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, India, Norway, Sweden, and
Trinity College Archives (TRIN),
University of Toronto, George Ignatieff Papers, file 985-0039/005
(21), May 17, 1967, Verbatim Record of Informal Meeting of
Representatives of Governments Providing Contingents for UNEF; also
see United Nations Archives (UNA), S-464-373, file
It quickly became evident that
this was a contentious and widely misunderstood interpretation,
which Bunche sought to set straight in a press briefing on May 20,
1967. See UNA, S-512-0127, May 20, 1967, Press Briefing by Dr. Ralph
See UN Resolution 1121(IX),
November 24, 1956.
TRIN, George Ignatieff Papers,
file 985-0039/005 (21), May 17, 1967, Verbatim Record of Informal
Meeting of Representatives of Governments Providing Contingents for
UNEF; UNA, S-464-373, file 3017.
Rikhye, The Sinai Blunder, pp.
30-35; Rikhye, Trumpets and
Tumults, p. 198.
For a copy of the note from the
UAR Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Riad, see UNA, S-464-373, file 3017,
May 18, 1967, Mohamed El Kony to U Thant.
UNA, UNEF withdrawal – Legal
Matters – May-July 1967, May 18, 1967, CA Stavropoulos to U
UNA, UNEF withdrawal – Legal
Matters – May-July 1967, May 18, 1967, CA Stavropoulos to U
In attendance at the meeting were
representatives from Brazil, Canada, Ceylon, Colombia, Denmark,
India, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, and Yugoslavia.
TRIN, George Ignatieff Papers,
file 985-0039/005 (21), May 18, 1967, Verbatim Record of Meeting of
UNEF Advisory Committee; UNA, S-464-373, file
UNA, S-464-373, file 3017, May
18, 1967, U Thant to Mohamed El Kony; see also UN doc. A/6730/Add.
3, June 26, 1967.
UN doc. A/6730/Add. 3, June 26,
1967, Annex, Cable containing instructions for the withdrawal of
UNEF sent by the Secretary-General to the Commander of UNEF on May
18, 1967, at 2230 hours New York time; see also Higgins, United Nations Peacekeeping
1946-1967, pp. 361-362.
Rikhye, Trumpets and Tumults, p.
UN doc. A/6669, May 18, 1967. A
supplementary report was also submitted to the Security Council the
following day. See UN doc. S/7896, May 19, 1967.
PRO, PREM 13/1617, May 20, 1967,
UKMIS NY to FO; NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file 2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May
21, 1967, Permis NY to External; also in DHH,
Quoted in Nand Lal, "India and
the Withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force, 1967," International Studies Vol.
13, No. 2 (April-June 1974), p. 313. Regarding the withdrawal of
UNEF, the UK foreign secretary in 1967, George Brown, wrote in his
memoirs that, "I shall never understand how he [U Thant] was advised
to come so quickly to this very ill-considered and, I feel
absolutely sure, totally unnecessary and unexpected decision."
George Brown, In My Way
(London: Victor Gollancz, 1971), p. 136. A scathing rebuttal to
Brown's memoirs, by Ralph Bunche, was published in The Sunday Times, on
November 1, 1971. See also, UNA, S-512-0130, Note No. 3643, November
2, 1971, Note to Correspondents.
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 19, 1967, Tel Aviv to
LBJ, NSF, NSC Histories,
Container 17, "Middle East Crisis, 12 May – 19 June 1967, Vol. 1,
Tabs 11-20," May 21, 1967, Tel Aviv to State. See also Michael Oren,
"Did Israel Want the Six Day War?" Azure 7 (Spring 1999),
available online at: <http://www.azure.org.il/7-Oren.html>.
Accessed November 17, 2003.
PRO, PREM 13/1617, May 18, 1967,
UK Mission New York to Foreign Office.
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 20, 1967, Permis NY to External; also see
John Starnes, the Canadian
Ambassador in Cairo, reported on May 19: "Since [the] Egyptians seem
determined upon having UNEF removed to seek to argue them out of it
now would be counter-productive and could make it more difficult for
Western countries to influence Nasser in [the] future should [the]
general situation make this desirable. There seems no doubt that
they have the right to make this request and I suspect that appeals
to Nasser to reverse his decision and other such devices will have
no effect other than to irritate him. Now that [the] die is cast to
think otherwise is to misunderstand the man's mentality and Arab
pride." NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file 2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 19,
1967, Cairo to External.
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 23, 1967, Cairo to
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 23, 1967, Cairo to External. A similar
translation is also found in Safran, From War to War: The
Arab-Israeli Confrontation, 1948-1967, p. 209.
See U Thant, "General Rikhye's
Minutes of the Meeting of May 24, 1967, Between President Nasser and
the Secretary-General," 484; UNA, United Nations Oral History,
(02)/U79, Brian Urquhart, interview conducted by Leon Gordenker,
October 15, 1984; UN doc. A/6730/Add. 3, June 26, 1967; NAC, RG 24,
Vol. 21596, file 2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 25, 1967, Cairo to
Eban, An Autobiography , p.
LBJ, NSF, NSC History, "Middle
East Crisis, 12 May – 19 June 1967, Vol. 1, Tabs 11-20," May 23,
1967, May 23, 1967, Remarks of the President on the Near East
Eban, An Autobiography , p. 359;
FRUS, 1964-68, Vol. XIX,
doc. 77, Memorandum of Conversation, May 26, 1967; see also PRO,
PREM 13/1906, Record of Conversations Between the Prime Minister and
President Johnson at the White House on Friday, June 2,
LBJ, LBJOHP, AC74-72, Eugene V.
Rostow, interview conducted by Paige Mulhollan, December 2, 1968;
LBJ, LBJOHP, AC 79-61, John P. Roche, interview conducted by Paige
Mulhollan, July 16, 1970.
LBJ, NSF, National Security
Council Histories, Box 17, "Middle East Crisis 12 May – 19 June
1967, Vol. 2, Tabs 31-42," May 25, 1967, Memorandum for
LBJ, NSF, National Security
Council Histories, Box 17, "Middle East Crisis 12 May – 19 June
1967, Vol. 2, Tabs 31-42," May 25, 1967, Memorandum for WWR from Hal
Statement by President Nasser to
Arab Trade Unionists, May 26, 1967. Available online at:
November 12, 2003.
On paper, the Arab armed forces
enjoyed a 2-to-1 advantage over Israel. The Arabs boasted a combined
force of 643,000 personnel with 2,700 tanks and 1,090 aircraft.
Israel, on the other hand, only had 300,000 troops–mostly
reservists–800 tanks, and approximately 400 aircraft. See, The Washington Post, June 6,
1967. Despite the Arabs numerical superiority, US Intelligence
estimates forecast that "[t]he Israeli ground forces can maintain
internal security, defend successfully against simultaneous Arab
attacks on all fronts, launch limited attacks simultaneously on all
fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting successfully a
major offensive on the fourth." LBJ, NSF, Country File, "Middle East
Crisis, Vol. 1, Memos & Misc, 5/67", Box 105, 5/67, Report on
Arab and Israeli Capabilities; also see United States National
Archives (USNA), RG 59, Office of the Executive Secretariat, Middle
East Crisis Files, 1067, Lot File 68D135, Entry 5190, Box 7, May 24,
1967, CINCSTRIKE to State.
LBJ, NSF, Memos to the President,
Walt Rostow, Box 16 [2 of 2], "Walt Rostow, Vol. 29, 25-31 May 1967,
[2 of 2]," May 27, 1967, Walt Rostow to the
LBJ, Meeting Note File, Box 2,
October 24, 1967, Meeting with Abba Eban and
Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and
the Making of the Modern Middle East (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2002), p.16.
To add to the complexity of the
situation in the Middle East, it is worth noting the relationship
between Nasser and his second in command, Field Marshall Abd
al-Hakim Amer. For an examination of just who was in control, see,
among others, Oren, Six Days
of War, pp. 92-97; Richard B. Parker, The Politics of Miscalculation
in the Middle East (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1993), pp. 83-89.
See UN doc S/7896, May 19, 1967;
UN Press ReleaseEMF/449, June 3, 1967; a similar statement was also
made by U Thant at the meeting of the UNEF Advisory Committee on May
DHH, 95/6, Series 3, WAB Douglas,
"The Last Days of UNEF: A Study of Military and Diplomatic
DHH, 112.3H1.001 (D19), March 21,
1968, Interview with General I.J. Rikhye, late Commander of
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 19, 1967, Permis NY to External; and Rikhye,
The Sinai Blunder, p.
"General Rikhye's Minutes of the
Meeting of May 24, 1967, Between President Nasser and the
Secretary-General," in U Thant, View From the UN, p. 486;
also see, NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file 2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 25,
1967, Cairo to External; also found in DHH, 82/988.
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 20, 1967, Permis NY to
UNA, S-316, Box 9, File 1,
Evacuation of Canadian Contingent, May-June 1967, Mahomoud Riad to U
Thant. In a message to General Rikhye, the unfriendly actions
perpetrated by the Canadian government included the evacuation of
embassy families and the burning of documents, as well as "vicious
propaganda being conducted by them, [which] constituted hostile
activity against [the] UAR Government." See UNA, S-316, Box 9, File
1, May 27, 1967, Rikhye – Gaza to the
At a press conference on 28 May,
Nasser categorized Pearson's opposition to UNEF's withdrawal as "a
hostile act, and neo-colonialism," and described the Canadian Prime
Minister as a "defender, and an advocate for Israel." UNA,
S-464-0086, File 802, May 28, 1967, Press Conference by President
Gamal Abdul-Nasser with the Representatives of the International and
Arab Press, Radio & T.V. Stations.
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 12], May 28, 1967, 626, Cairo to
NAC, RG 24, Vol. 21596, file
2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 23, 1967, 626, External to Cairo; NAC, RG
24, Vol. 21596, file 2-5081.2 [Vol. 11], May 26, 1967, Cairo to
John Starnes also speculates that
the Russians may have been partially responsible for the hasty
withdrawal of Canadian troops from UNEF by passing on doctored
military and political communications to UAR officials. Interview
with John Starnes, August 9, 2002, Ottawa, ON; John Starnes, Closely Guarded: A Life in
Canadian Security and Intelligence (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1998), pp. 120-124; DHH, 87/312, October 23, 1987,
UNA, S-330, Box 4, File 2, May
27, 1967, Telex from Gaza to Secretary-General; also see UNA, S-316,
Box 9, file 1, "Evacuation of Canadian Contingent, May-June 1967,"
May 27, 1967, Rikhye – Gaza to Secretary-General.
Depending on the availability of
air transport locations and the level of cooperation offered by the
UAR government, it was determined that the entire force could have
been pulled out in as little as 84 hours. Other contingencies would
have required five days. DHH, 112.302.009 (D2), "Copies of D Ops
Messages on withdrawal of Cdn Contingent of UNEF Egypt, May 1967,"
CANLIFTCOM to CANFORCEHED. See also, Rikhye, The Sinai Blunder, pp.
Canadian War Museum (CWM),
Canadian War Museum Oral History Project (CWMOHP), 31D2 Brown RJ,
Ronald J. Brown, interview conducted by F. Quiller Graham, February
CWM, CWMOHP, 31D2 Brown RJ,
Ronald J. Brown, interview conducted by F. Quiller Graham, February
The final tally of UNEF equipment
and supplies taken by the IDF was estimated at close to $5 million.
To help resolve the issue quietly, the US government offered to
compensate the United Nations for the cost of the lost materials.
For a detailed report, see UNA, S-316, Box 8, File 7, "UNEF
Withdrawal – Sullivan & Seward Reports, June – Oct
Oren, Six Days of War, p. 21; also see William B.
Quandt, "Lyndon Johnson and the June 1967 War: What Color Was the
Light?" The Middle East
Journal Vol. 46, No. 2 (Spring 1992), pp.
UN doc. A/6730/Add. 2, June 26,
1967. Casualties were primarily sustained by the Indian contingent,
with one Brazilian soldier killed, and another wounded. For coverage
of the Indian reaction, see Rikhye, The Sinai Blunder, and J.
Sundaram, Operation Shanti:
Indian Army on Peace Mission in Egypt 1956-1967 (New Delhi:
Government of India, 1990).
Rikhye, Trumpets and Tumults, p.
Sköld, United Nations Peacekeeping
after the Suez War, p. 172.
Rikhye writes: "I realised that
New York was under a great deal of pressure and was overworked. I
could not, however, sympathise with their total ignorance of the
military situation, and sadly I became more aware of the
inadequacies of their small though conscientious and hard-working
staff." Rikhye, The Sinai
Blunder, p. 136.
LBJ, NSF, NSC History, Box 17,
Middle East Crisis May 12-June 19, 1967, Vol. 1, Tabs 11-20, May 23,
1967, Remarks of the President on the Near East Situation, The Fish
Room; Clyde Sanger, "Ambassadors urge Thant to call Security Council
meeting on Middle East," The
Globe and Mail, May 20, 1967, pp. 10-11. During the crisis the
Canadians tried not to be too harsh in their criticism of the manner
in which the situation was handled. At a NATO Conference two weeks
after the fact, however, Paul Martin was less guarded and admitted
that UNEF's withdrawal made a "mockery" of peacekeeping. See, "Mr.
Martin Should Now Set the Record Straight," The Globe and Mail, June 21,
Andrew Boyd, Fifteen Men on a Powder Keg: A
History of the UN Security Council (London: Methuen & Co.,
1971), p. 196.
Nabil Elaraby, "United Nations
Peacekeeping By Consent: A Case Study of the Withdrawal of the
United Nations Emergency Force," Journal of International Law and
Politics, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1968): p. 149.
Part of India's rationale for
complying with Nasser's request stemmed from the perceived lack of
support from Western nations on the dispute with Pakistan over
Kashmir. USNA, RG 59, Office of the Executive Secretary, Middle East
Crisis Files – 1967, Lot File 68DDD135, Entry 5190, Box 6, Arab
Israeli Crisis – Chron, USUN to Wellington [6 of 8], May 26, 1967,
USUN to State.
New York Times, June 19, 1967. Also available
Accessed November 15, 2003.
Regarding Dag Hammarskjöld's aide
mémoire, Paul Martin commented that "[w]hen history comes to be
written, I am sure this document will be of the greatest
importance." Quoted in "Mr. Martin Should Now Set the Record
Straight," The Globe and
Mail, June 21, 1967.
See, UN Press Release SG/SM/752,
June 19, 1967; UNA, S-512-0130, n.d.[June 1967], Statement by the
UNA, United Nations Oral History,
(02)/U79, Interview with Brian Urquhart conducted by Leon Gordenker,
October 15, 1984.
According to General Rikhye, one
reason for U Thant's delay in visiting Cairo was an inauspicious
horoscope. See Oren, Six Days
of War, p. 75.
Carroll teaches at Seiwa College, Japan. His dissertation at the
University of Toronto examined the political and military aspects of
Canada's involvement in the United Nations Emergency Force, as well
as the underlying myth of Canadian peacekeeping.
A previous version of this article
was presented at
the U.S. Department of State's conference "The United States, the
Middle East, and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War," held on January 12 and
13, 2004, in conjunction with the release of Volume XIX in the
Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)
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