Last week (in an essay archived at www.koltorah.org) we quoted the Vilna Ga’on (in the beginning of his commentary to Megilat Esther) who asserts that during times when Hashem does not perform open miracles, he manipulates events by making enemy leaders act foolishly. We posited that the Six Day War is an excellent example of this phenomenon. We recounted several of the major Egyptian blunders as recounted by Dr. Michael Oren in his authoritative work Six Days of War. This week we note shocking blunders committed by the Jordanian, Syrian, and Soviet leaderships that account for Israel’s surmounting overwhelming odds and securing a decisive victory while fighting a war on three fronts. We argue that it is implausible that such a series of severe mistakes committed by all of our enemies in this war can be attributed to mere good fortune. We believe that this is a manifestation of Hashem’s subtle intervention to save His people from the brink of annihilation.
The Jordanian Leadership
Dr. Oren (p. 244) writes that King Hussein of Jordan twice in the course of the war ignored personal pleas from Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to end the fighting. Hussein’s recalcitrance lost Jordan the entire West Bank. Oren (p. 185) explains that Hussein was led astray by Egyptian President Nasser who lied to the Jordanian monarch and reported massive Israeli losses and the destruction of Israeli airfields. Hussein ignored reports from outside sources that in reality the Egyptian air force was annihilated (Oren p. 188). It should be emphasized that King Hussein was a wise leader who ruled Jordan from 1953 until his natural death in 1999. Hussein shrewdly overcame many existential threats to Jordan as well as numerous assassination attempts. Israelis are fond of saying that King Hussein of Jordan made only two mistakes – attacking Israel in 1967 and refraining from invading Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Israel barely survived a two front attack by Egypt and Syria. Israel, which was woefully unprepared for the 1973 war, likely would have not have survived if Jordan had attacked during that terrible war.
This behavior is eerily reminiscent of the behavior of Nachash, the king of Ammon (note that the Jordanian capital is the ancient city of Amman), who attacked us and was defeated when King Sha’ul was rising to power and authority (Shmuel I Perek 11). Nachash, however, failed to attack us when King Sha’ul’s forces were utterly destroyed in Shmuel I Perek 28.
Excellent timing worked in favor of the Israeli air force when it found Jordanian fighter planes on the ground refueling. The Israelis were able to eliminate the Jordanian air force within minutes on the first day of the war.
By the third day of the war (Oren p. 247), “Jordanian forces were in total disarray, abandoning vehicles in their rush to reach the East Bank and safety.” The Jordanians, for example, had abandoned forty Patton tanks in pristine condition. Oren (p. 258) records that despite Jordanian soldiers’ “courage and determination” they lost due to their commanders’ inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Oren (p. 225) also writes that Hussein’s “passions obfuscated reality” and made poor choices.
The Syrian Leadership
The Syrian leadership also made stunning errors both before and after the war. An example is how the Syrians failed to recognize damage done to them by Eli Cohen, a famous Israeli spy. Cohen worked in Syria where he developed close relationships with the political and military hierarchy and became the Chief Adviser to the Minister of Defense. He was eventually exposed and executed in Syria in 1965. The intelligence he gathered is claimed to have been an important factor in Israel's success in the Six Day War. His most famous achievement was when he toured the Golan Heights and collected intelligence on the Syrian fortifications there. Pretending to have concern for the Syrian soldiers exposed to the sun, Cohen had eucalyptus trees planted at every position. The trees were used as targeting markers by the Israeli military during the Six Day War. It is particularly shocking that in the more than two years between the arrest of Eli Cohen and the Six Day War, the Syrians did not recognize the problem the eucalyptus trees created for them and correct it.
During the war, the Syrians inexplicably retreated in many instances (although in certain areas they offered fierce resistance). Oren (p. 295) records scenes where Israeli soldiers fired at Syrian tanks and they turned out to have been abandoned. Oren writes:
“The Syrians were blowing up their own bunkers, burning documents, and retreating en masse. With their forward communications cut, unwilling to take charge at the front, Syrian commanders had lost all control over the battlefield. Yet even they were nonplussed when Radio Damascus broadcast that Quneitra (the Syrian headquarters on the Golan Heights) had fallen.”
A Syrian officer recalled that “the forces that were supposed to block the enemy’s advance pulled out without authorization, without coordination. We knew nothing, and had no choice but to fall back” (Oren p. 301).
When the Syrian government tried to correct the mistaken Quneitra announcement and it announced that Syrian soldiers were still fighting there, “the announcement came too late. The Syrian army was in full flight, abandoning its heavy equipment, jamming the roads. Soviet advisors exhorted the troops to remain at their posts, and orders were issued to shoot deserters on sight. All such efforts proved futile, however; the Soviets were ignored while the commanders charged with executing deserters had themselves abandoned the field. Believing that the entire Golan had already fallen, driven by rumors of Israelis wielding nuclear weapons, some 4,000 Syrian soldiers sought refuge in Jordan, and 3,000 in Lebanon.”
Indeed, one of Hashem’s methods of assisting us is to bring fear upon our enemies (see VaYikra 26:8, Yehoshua 2:10, and Shofetim 7:14 and 21). This was certainly in evidence on all three fronts during the Six Day War.
The Soviet Leadership
One of Israel’s greatest fears was Soviet intervention when they launched their preemptive attack. While Israel could grapple with its neighbors, it was no match for the Soviet superpower. Moreover, the American government did not respond to an Israeli request for military assistance in the event of direct Soviet intervention in the war (Oren p. 299). This frightening scenario was resolved, shockingly, by a Soviet failure to assist Arab nations in any substantial manner in their fight against Israel, despite its allies’ dramatic losses. Oren (p. 296) explains that there was an internal dispute within the Soviet leadership as to whether to confront the United States in the Middle East. “That quarrel, together with the slow pace of Soviet decision making – the government met only once weekly, on Thursdays (the war began on Sunday) – had all but paralyzed Soviet diplomacy in the first days of the crisis.”
Dr. Oren records (pp. 296-297), “Not only were the Arabs disillusioned with Moscow, but also its allies in Eastern Europe. They were exasperated with Soviet mishandling of this crisis and, to the degree they could, told them so at a summit of Warsaw Pact countries on June 10 .”
Once, while walking in the forest, though deep in thought and meditation, the Ba’al Shem Tov heard a child crying. Following the cry, the Ba’al Shem Tov finally found a little boy, frightened and shivering in the dark.
"Why are you here in the forest all by yourself?" he asked the child gently.
Looking into the man's kindly face, the child was calmed. "I was playing hide-and-seek with my friends. I waited and waited for them to find my hiding place but none of them discovered it. Now it is dark and they have all gone home! And I am alone and frightened." With that, the boy began to sob sorrowfully once more.
"Do not cry, little boy, I will bring you home," comforted the Ba’al Shem Tov.
The Ba’al Shem Tov explained that this incident is truly a metaphor for God and the Jews. Since our beginnings as a people, we have actively searched for God and sought out a meaningful relationship with Him. Even when we were exiled from our land and God was forced to "hide" Himself, we still sincerely searched for Him.
But now, God, like the small lost child, cries out to us, "I wait and wait for you to look for Me, to find the inherent godliness and holiness in everything you do. But it seems you have tired of the search. In the darkness of today's world, in the confusion of the forest of your mundane lives and material aspiration, you have all gone home and I am alone."
Hashem hides behind the veneer of the secular world. It is our responsibility to peel back the layers and discover Hashem. Our attribution of our astonishing victory during the Six Day War to the subtle hand of Hashem manipulating our enemies to act foolishly should inspire us to take time to sincerely thank Hashem on Yom Yerushalayim. More important, it should inspire us to search for Hashem’s subtle activities. The Torah promises, if we sincerely make the proper search for Him, we will find him (Devarim 4:29).
In no manner do we wish to minimize the difficulty of many of the Six Day War battles and the heroism of Israel’s soldiers. This essay is dedicated Le’ilui Nishmat the more than seven hundred Israeli soldiers, including my cousin Noach Rotem, who fell in the Six Day War.