First, coming less than a quarter century after the Holocaust, the war’s outcome solidified Israel’s existence as the nation state of the Jewish people. Out of the war, Israel was no longer a tiny wedge of land along the Mediterranean Sea; its narrow width expanded from 11 to 44 miles; its size increased six-fold. From Egypt, Israel acquired the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip; from Jordan, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem; and from Syria, the Golan Heights. Not since World War I had so many Middle Eastern lands changed control so quickly. Their final disposition remains.
Second, the war altered internal Israeli politics blending religious Zionism with the political right, which in turn set the stage for Israel’s democracy to be dominated by right-of-center governments for 80% of the next half century. Israel-diaspora Jewish relations changed profoundly as Jews worldwide demonstrated fervent pride, prolonged financial support, and personal engagement in Israel’s policies and existence. The war catalyzed the ‘Free Russian Jewry Movement’ of the 1970s and 1980s.
With Israel reconnected to its biblical patrimony, many Christians saw Israel’s military successes as a critical phase toward advancing the messianic return. Among some Jews, Israeli control of biblical lands rejuvenated emotional movements to settle the newly acquired territories. The settlement process angered Israelis and diaspora Jews alike because billions of dollars were being spent in the territories and insufficient progress made in providing self-determination to the Palestinians. Uncertainty remains about how the lands west of the Jordan River will be configured between Israel as a Jewish state, and some possible Palestinian entity.
Third, the war unfolded a heretofore unknown “peace process,” a concept based upon what Israel might receive in terms of recognition or peace in exchange for lands acquired in the war. Gradually over the next half century, Washington dominated Arab-Israeli diplomacy. As much as the United States pushed Israel to reach agreements with Arab neighbors, often generating contentious moments between American presidents and Israeli prime ministers, Washington, with few exceptions has insured Israel with a qualitative military edge over an array of Muslim and Arab countries as well as non-state insurgents.
Simply put, if Egypt’s President Nasser had not lost the Sinai Peninsula in the June War, his successor Anwar Sadat would not have needed or wanted Sinai returned to Egyptian sovereignty. Sadat voluntarily joined a decade-long negotiation process, culminating in the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. Egypt turned away from Moscow and embraced Washington. That pivot in allegiance to the US was perhaps one of the West’s greatest successes against the USSR during the Cold War.
Fourth, the war changed inter-Arab politics. The Arab defeat accelerated an end of pan-Arabism. With Egypt sidelined as an outcast in Arab politics for signing a peace with Israel, keen competition evolved between Libya, Syria, and Iraq for domination of inter-Arab politics-- coincidently three countries which fifty years later border on various stages of sovereign implosion.
Finally, the 1979 treaty provided Israel with additional international recognition; it broke Arab militant encirclement of the Jewish state and created a precedent for a Muslim-Arab state to accept Israel. Fifty years later Arab states and Israel have identified additional collaborative interests as they confront common threats from militant Islam and Iran. Unlike earlier Zionist benchmark moments which were progressively linear, outcomes from the June 1967 War continue to be transformative.
Like the first Zionist Congress, Balfour Declaration, UN Partition Plan, and Declaration of Statehood, the June War affirmed another step along a political path to full national self-determination. These were benchmark moments. However, the 1967 War was more than a meeting or critical statement in Zionist or Israeli history.
The June 1967 War transformed Israeli, Jewish, and Middle Eastern history. Its outcomes unleashed at least five far-reaching results, many whose consequences are not yet complete.
Kenneth W. Stein is Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History, Political Science, and Israel Studies as well as the Founding Director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel at Emory University. He is also the Founding President of The Center for Israel Education and the author of The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939 (1984), Heroic Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace (1999), and The June 1967 War:How it Changed Jewish, Israeli and Middle Eastern History (2017).