One of the most heated debates in the context of the Six-Day War of June 1967 and of the entire Israeli-Arab conflict is the question of what caused the war.
According to the classic anti and post-Zionist narrative of Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Tom Segev and others, the story is simple:
Israel was the aggressor; it attacked its neighbours first without justification in order to conquer territories and expand
This narrative is based on three main assumptions:
1. On June 5, 1967, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria without prior provocation on their part.
2. Israel had alternative moves that it could take but instead chose to go to war.
3. Israel always has been interested in territorial expansion and this war was the perfect opportunity.
Here is an analysis of these assumptions
1. The Arab Provocation
Did Israel attack its neighbours with no provocation?
To answer that, one have to follow the chain of events that led to June 5.
A meeting for “The Final Liquidation Of Israel”
On January 13, 1964,
representatives of 13 Arab countries gathered in Cairo in what became known as the first Arab League summit.
This summit was gathered following the Syrian and Palestinian fedayeen’s call for a rematch of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
The issue that most worried the participants of this summit, was Israel’s National Water Carrier construction project in order to increase water supply to its citizens.
The Arab leaders viewed this project as a threat because it could boost and strengthen Israel’s economy; thus, leaving the Zionist entity as an existing fact.
So Arab League summit decided:
“The establishment of Israel is the basic threat that the Arab nation in its entirety has agreed to forestall. And since the existence of Israel is a danger that threatens the Arab nation, the diversion of the Jordan waters by it multiplies the dangers to Arab existence. Accordingly, the Arab states have to prepare the plans necessary for dealing with the political, economic and social aspects, so that if necessary results are not achieved, collective Arab military preparations, when they are not completed, will constitute the ultimate practical means for the final liquidation of Israel.” 
On the night of December 31, 1964, A squad of Palestinian guerrillas crossed from Lebanon into northern Israel. Armed with Soviet-made explosives, uniforms supplied by the Syrians, they advanced toward their target: a pump conveying Galilee water to the Negev desert. The explosive charges failed to detonate and as they were exiting Israel, the guerrillas were arrested by the Lebanese police.
This was the Fatah’s first attack on Israel and the beginning of a series of controntations and attacks that took place between 1964-1967. The multiple attempts by the Arab countries to divert Israel’s water supply became known as “The War over Water”.
Syria and the Fatah are escalating
In 1965, the Fatah carried out 24 operations from Jordan, 3 operations from Lebanon and 3 operations from the Gaza Strip. In the same year, Syria made sure that those operations will not come from its own territory, but from the territories of the other Arab countries.
From January 1966, Syria allowed the Fatah to operate on its territory. In 1966, 23 operations were carried out from Syrian territory, 15 operations from Jordan and one operation from Lebanon. caused 10 deaths. In response, on November 1966, the IDF launched an operation to destroy the Fatah infrastructure at in Samu.
In 1967, the quality and quantity of terrorist activity increased drastically. As of May 10, 1967, 31 operations had been carried out from Syria, 54 from Jordan, 9 from Lebanon and 3 from the Gaza Strip. Eleven Israelis were killed in these operations. 
These attacks, as Arafat described them, were a part of:
“the duty of Jihad (holy war) and... the dreams of revolutionary Arabs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf”
On the Syrian border, the new Ba’athist government declared that:
“Syria has changed its strategy, moving from defense to attack... We will carry on operations until Israel has been eliminated. ” 
Between 1966–1967, , they were 123 fire incidents within the borders of Israel. 81 of them were on the Syrian border, killing 13 Israelis.
; in the first four months of 1967 Israel recorded 270 border incidents along the West Bank and Syrian borders (a 100 per cent increase from the last four months of 1966)
On April 7, two Israeli tractors entered the demilitarized zone near Tel Katzir, on the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. The Syrians greeted them with 37-mm cannons. Almost instantly, both tractors were hit, and Israeli tanks shot at the Syrian cannons. What began as a skirmish rapidly escalated into a miniwar. Cannon and machine-gun fire raked the Golan and the flatlands beneath it. By 1:30 in the afternoon, according to UN observers, 247 shells had hit Kibbutz Gadot and several of its buildings were ablaze. In response, Israel shot down six of Syria’s modern Russian MIG planes.
On April 8, 1967, the day after the Israelis retaliated against a Syrian artillery bombardment from the Golan, Damascus Radio blustered,
“Our known objective is the freeing of Palestine and the liquidation of the Zionist existence there. Our army and people will give our backing to every Arab fighter acting for the return of Palestine.”
On April 10, 1967, the official al-Bath, exuberantly boasted:
“Our heroic people, singing songs of war, is longing to begin the final battle. There is no way to remove occupation other than by smashing the enemy’s bases and destroying his power.”
Over the next month, incidents of sabotage and shooting continued to rise.
On May 13 PM Eshkol warned:
“Given the 14 incidents in the last month alone, we may need to take no less drastic measures than those of April 7.” 
at this point, Syria turned to the USSR for assistance
The Soviets lying, The Egyptians entering
On May 13, 1967, the Soviet’s gave the Egyptian President, Gamal Abd al-Nasser an intelligence report that claimed there were Israeli troops gathering on the Syrian border
Dmitri Chuvakhin, Soviet ambassador to Israel, refused an Israeli Invitation to visit the border in order to disprove the report.
On May 14, Nasser sent his chief of staff, General Mohamed Fawzi to the border to investigate the report, and was told there were no Israeli troop concentrations. Although Nasser knew that the Soviet report was wrong, he perhaps interpreted it to indicate Soviet support of an Egyptian offensive towards Israel.
Between the nights of May 15 and 16, During Israel’s 19th Independence Day celebrations, the Egyptian and Palestinian troop presence in the Sinai tripled.
On May 17, Egyptian planes entered Israeli airspace to carry out an unprecedented reconnaissance of Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona, prompting the Israelis to heighten the alert of their army and airforce. Syria announced that its forces were deployed in the Golan Heights. Israeli Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin called up 18,000 troops and ordered the laying of mines along parts of the Egyptian border.
General Murtagi, the Egyptian Commander of forces in the Sinai, declared an Order of the Day, which was broadcasted on Cairo Radio May 18:
“The Egyptian forces have taken up positions in accordance with our predetermined plans. The morale of our armed forces is very high, for this is the day they have so long been waiting for, for this holy war.” 
On 18 May 1967, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad cabled Secretary- General U Thant and demanded for the termination of the activities of the United Nations Emergency Force stationed in the Gaza Strip, at Sharm el-Sheikh and on the Sinai border since 1956. A day later, without consulting with Israel or the Powers, the UN flag was taken down in Gaza. 
On May 22, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, thus halting Israel’s oil supply, Nasser declared:
“ The Jews threaten war. We say they are welcome to war, we are ready for war, our armed forces, our people, all of us are ready for war” 
On May 27, an Israeli half truck touched off an Egyptian mine planted inside Israeli territory
The Egyptians opened fire on the patrol
On May 29. An Egyptian patrol entered Israeli territory near Kibbutz Be’eri southeast of Gaza. Egyptian artillery shells then rained on Be’eri and nearby Nahal Oz 
Egyptian Field Marshal Abd al-Hakim Amer, a one-time close confidant of Nasser whose growing power eventually came to threaten the president, was largely able to wrest control of the country’s armed forces from the Supreme Headquarters. He developed a war plan, called “Dawn,” whose goal — capturing the whole Negev desert — far exceeded the more limited plan to isolate Eilat and bomb specified targets. Nasser didn’t intervene with Amer’s orders, despite the fact that they wrought chaos among the poorly-equipped troops pouring into Sinai, and contradicted Egypt’s longstanding three-pronged defense strategy, dubbed “Conqueror.”
In Moscow, the Egyptians sought to clarify the Soviet position in case of war, and like the Israeli’s vis-a-vis the United States, received an ambiguous response. The Soviet ambassador in Cairo informed Nasser about a cable sent from Washington containing a warning of an imminent Egyptian attack and urged Nasser not to strike. As a result, Operation Dawn was called off. Although some in the Soviet Union had urged caution, Shams Badran, the Egyptian defence minister, returned from Moscow with the message that the Soviets would stand by the Egyptians in battle. 
On May 30, 1967 Jordan and Egypt signed mutual defense pact.
“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight”
-President Nasser of Egypt
By this point, Israel was surrounded by some 500,000 troops, more than 5,000 tanks, and almost 1,000 fighter planes.
On the morning of June 5, after a long provocation and growing threats, Israel attacked Egypt
2. No other choice
Is it true that Israel did not try to avoid war?
Israel is trying to avoid justification for attacking Egypt
As the first week of the crisis neared its end, Israel faced not only an unanticipated increase in Arab belligerence, but an equally unexpected doubt about America’s resolve to honor its commitments. As Harman summarized it for Foreign Minister Eban: “Insofar as the [American] goal is to avoid any military confrontation, and insofar as they are convinced that there is no chance of moving Nasser and the Soviets to take any steps that might be interpreted as retreat, we have to be prepared for the possibility that the United States will pressure us to make concessions on issues that they believe are not critical to us…. There is the danger that the United States believes that it can impose its will on us.”
On May 18, in an effort both to convey Israel’s lack of hostile intent and to demarcate the limits to its patience, Prime Minister Eshkol informed the Americans that Israel would make no military move “unless the Egyptians take action to close the Straits”, that the mere presence of Egyptian troops was insufficient to justify war so long as Nasser had not actually closed the Straits. He also rebuffed Evron’s request that a ship from the United States Sixth Fleet, then in the Red Sea vicinity, make a demonstration voyage through the Straits to Eilat, saying that the fleet’s presence in the Middle East was “unscheduled,” and was already resented by the Arabs. Absent a blockade of Eilat, the Johnson Administration was unwilling to endorse any measures other than a Security Council debate and the Secretary-General’s visit to Cairo. The Administration wanted to exhaust all possible options of international mediation, going so far as to invite Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to cooperate in a “joint initiative of the two powers to prevent the dispute between Israel and the United Arab Republic and Syria from drifting into war.” 
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Nasser’s mouthpiece, Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, explained why war between Egypt and Israel was inevitable:
“Israel has no alternative but to use arms if it wants to exercise power. This means that the logic of the fearful confrontation now taking place between Egypt, fortified by the might of the masses of the Arab nation, and Israel, bolstered by the illusion of American might, dictates that Egypt, after all it has now succeeded in achieving, must wait, even though it has to wait for a blow. This is necessitated also by the sound conduct of the battle, particularly from an international point of view. Let Israel begin. Let our second blow then be ready. Let it be a knockout.” 
The US President at the time, Lyndon Johnson, said the following about the closure of these straits being a cause of the Six-Day War:
“If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than any other, it was the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Straits of Tiran would be closed. The right of innocent, maritime passage must be preserved for all nations.”
Israel refuses to attack Jordan
In May–June 1967 Eshkol’s government did everything in its power to confine the confrontation to the Egyptian front. Eshkol and his colleagues took into account the possibility of some fighting on the Syrian front. But they wanted to avoid having a clash with Jordan and the inevitable complications of having to deal with the predominantly Palestinian population of the West Bank. The fighting on the eastern front was initiated by Jordan
.On 30 May king Hussein of Jordan flew to Cairo and signed a defense pact with Nasser. On 5 June, Jordan started shelling the Israeli side in Jerusalem. howitzers a 6,000-shell barrage at Israeli Jerusalem caused 20 Israeli deaths and wounded 1,000. This could have been interpreted either as a salvo to uphold Jordanian honour or as a declaration of war. Eshkol decided to give King Hussein the benefit of the doubt. Through General Odd Bull, the Norwegian commander of UNTSO, he sent the following message the morning of 5 June: “We shall not initiate any action whatsoever against Jordan. However, should Jordan open hostilities, we shall react with all our might, and the king will have to bear the full responsibility of the consequences. King Hussein told General Bull that it was too late; “the die was cast”. 
Dayan is not interested in entering Syria
At 2:00 A.M. on the morning of June 6. A massive artillery barrage fell from Kibbutz Dan and Kfar Szold at the tip of the Hula Valley to Ein Gev on the southern shores of Galilee. As many as 265 guns rained an estimated forty-five tons of ordnance per minute on the settlements; nearly a thousand shells pummeled the town of Rosh Pina alone. In an effort to deflect the Syrian fire, IDF engineers ignited barrels of smoke along the border, but the tactic proved only partially effective. Some 205 houses, 14 public buildings, and 45 vehicles were damaged; 16 people were injured and 2 killed.
At 7:00, troops of the 243rd Infantry Battalion, accompanied by two companies of T-34 tanks, descended from the Banias toward Kibbutz Dan.
The kibbutz defended (following an error by IDF intelligence, due to which IDF units were stationed in the wrong place) the kibbutz members, who managed to repel the Syrian attack
Rabin on June 7, 1967: “The Minister of Defense stated that at most the IDF is allowed to cross the Israeli-Syrian international border to a distance of two to three kilometres. I did not see any point in doing so: To bring about a substantial change in the situation — does not seem to me to be an effort that deserves to shed blood, and perhaps a lot of blood, to achieve it. “ 
All this shows that Israel tried to avoid war until the last minute
3. Not Expansionist
Did Israel plan to use the war to occupy Sinai, the West Bank, the Old City and the Golan Heights?
Do not take Sinai
On the Egyptian front, Defense Minister Dayan stated before the outbreak of the war that the Gaza Strip should not be attacked in the first phase and that the Suez Canal should not be reached.
In response to a stubborn Egyptian attack, Dayan ordered:
. “Following this instruction, our soldiers will be found near the canal — something I did not want. In fact, I was faced with a choice, to beat the Egyptian army as much as we could — and to do that we have to get as far as the canal; Or to be stopped somewhere in Sinai — and then it is not enough that the Egyptians’ losses develop, they may even be encouraged and not ask for a ceasefire. ] … [Between the two options I decided to prefer the immediate operative consideration; The fulfillment of the political goal, not to get involved in a conflict not for us, that is, to control the Suez Canal, we will have to arrange after the end of the battles.” 
The West Bank: not to Jenin and Latrun
Due to fears of fire at the airports in Lod and Ramat David, the IDF sought to take control of the Latrun and Jenin.
The Defense Minister ordered that the Northern Command clear the poor area of Ramat David without entering the city of Jenin, and still refused to approve the occupation of Latrun. 
Do not return to the Old City
The next morning, June 9, the Minister of Defense ordered the siege of the Old City, by opening the Jaffa Gate and the Nablus Gate and leaving them open, but not entering it.
At noon, the commander-in-chief of the Central Command, Uzi Narkis, told him that the old city should be conquered, but Dayan resolutely denied this. 
Not to conquer the Golan
In a discussion held at the Ministerial Committee on Security Affairs on June 9, there were disagreements regarding the occupation of the Golan Heights, the opinion of the supporters represents the words of Yigal Alon who said:
“According to those who oppose the operation [among them Moshe Dayan was also the Minister of Defense,] this is only one reason and that is the political reasoning, that a sharp attack on Syria could complicate us with the Soviet Union … even suppose that as a result of this operation in the Syrian ridge the Soviet Union What I do not assume … I prefer the ridge without the Syrians and without relations with the Soviet Union, than relations with the Soviet Union when the Syrians sat on this ridge … I do not know what the defense minister’s attachment to the Mandatory border…”
During the discussion, representatives of localities from the north also presented their position and demanded to ascend the plateau, but in the end a decision was made:
“… to postpone for a day or two the decision regarding the operation on the Syrian border and impose on the Chief of Staff to bring a proposal for the action plan for approval by the committee [Ministerial Committee on Security Affairs] During these days an effort will be made not to provoke the Syrians” 
All this proves that Israel did not go to war with the intention of occupying territories
After the war, let’s give everything back, For Peace
By early July 1967, The Israeli cabinet decided what to do with the territories it achieved in this war:
“The majority [of the cabinet] favors creating a Palestinian state, in which the Gaza area would be included… It would have close economic ties with Israel, with joint development plans that would include resettlement of the 400,000–600,000 refugees in the area… The proposition for an independent Palestinian state seems to have the best chance [of approval]… It opens up the possibility of resettling the refugees now in camps into Palestinian towns and farms. Israeli specialists are working on such a plan, to be ready in a few weeks.”
On 19 June 1967, the Government of Israel was unable to reach consensus on the future of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the end of the debate, a resolution was adopted unanimously, offering Egypt and Syria peace treaties based on the prewar international borders, with security assurances for Israel. This implied an Israeli willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula, occupied during the war, in exchange for peace. It was further resolved that Israel would maintain its presence in territories currently held until peace is achieved. Following the Arab League’s Three No’s Resolution, in which it categorically ruled out the possibility of negotiations or peace with Israel, the Government of Israel repealed the offer in October 1967.
All this proves that Israel did not go to war with the intention of occupying territories
Debunking some “academics” arguments:
1.“Israel threatened to overthrow the Syrian government!”
Source of the claim:
-“General Yitzak Rabin, the chief of staff, was alleged to have announced on Israeli radio that ‘the moment is coming when we will march on Damascus to overthrow the Syrian government”
-”In the first weeks of May 1967 Israel’s Cabinet reportedly decided to attack Syria and numerous Israeli officials openly called for massive retaliation. Although Oren acknowledges these very real threats and even quotes Ben-Gurion and Dayan as deploring such bellicose provocations, he nonetheless reckons them as “efforts to forestall a major confrontation with Syria” (SDW: p. 53; cf. p. 51). The Soviets apparently got wind of the Israeli Cabinet decision and conveyed a warning — albeit overblown — to Nasser.”
from “Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict” by Norman G. Finkelstein
Hidden in his footnote is the qualification that there is “some dispute as to whether Rabin actually issued the quoted threat,” although “the point would seem to be academic”
The Rabin threat is, of course, a fabrication: no published text exists for the statement, which has been attributed to a misquotation from a wire service report of an IDF press briefing 
serious historians repeatedly emphasize, there was “no Israeli threat to overthrow the Damascus government”
2.” Israel rejected UN proposals that could have prevented the war”
Source of the claim:
“Israel had many options — including the restationing of U.N. forces on its side of the border with Egypt, a two-week moratorium proposed by U.N. secretary-general U Thant, and World Court arbitration of the Straits of Tiran question — all of which it peremptorily rejected.”
from “Beyond Chutzpah” by Norman G. Finkelstein
It’s hard to understand how UN forces stationed in Israel could have kept Egyptian troops out of strategic positions in Egyptian territory, or that non-existent Israeli troop concentrations were a threat to Syria while genuine Egyptian troop concentrations were not a threat to Israel.
As for “a two-week moratorium in the Straits of Tiran” (a concept which equated Egypt’s aggression with Israel’s right of free passage) while concealing the Soviet rejection of the plan and falsely reporting that Egypt accepted it. He adds that Nasser “was open to World Court arbitration of the dispute,” when his sources merely report that Egypt raised “no objection” and “did not rule out completely” such a hearing (and made no commitment to abide by the result).
3.” There was no serious threat to Israel”
“there was indeed no justification for the panic that preceded the war, nor for the euphoria that took hold after it.”
from “1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East” by Tom Segev
The Soviet defence minister proclaimed: “The fiftieth year of the Great October Socialist Revolution will be the last year of the existence of the State of Israel.” The Soviet ambassador told the leader of Israel’s Communist Party: “The war will last 24 hours only and no trace of the State of Israel will be left.”
4. ”Begin said Israel chose to attack”
Source of the claim:
“Menachem Begin, who had the following remarks to make:
In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
from “Fateful Triangle, Updated Edition: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians” by Noam Chomsky.
He acknowledges that later in the same speech, Begin said:
“This was a war of self-defence in the noblest sense of the term. The government of national unity then established decided unanimously: We will take the initiative and attack the enemy, drive him back, and thus assure the security of Israel and the future of the nation.”
Begin explained earlier what is meant by “choice”:
“The Second World War, which broke out on September 1, 1939, actually began on March 7, 1936. If only France, without Britain (which had some excellent combat divisions) had attacked the aggressor, there would have remained no trace of Nazi German power and war which, in three years, changed the whole of human history, would have been prevented.
This, therefore, is the international example that explains what is a war without choice, or a war of one’s choosing.”
5. The “Quotes Game”
Sometimes they bring up a list of quotes from senior Israeli officials who say that Israel’s survival had not been at stake
They will cites Labor Minister Yigal Allon’s faith in the IDF,
but not Defense Minister Moshe out’s fear that if the Egyptians attacked first, Israel would be wiped out:
“The minute we send a ship through the Straits the Egyptians will know that we’re about to attack. They’ll shoot us first . . . and we’ll loose the Land of Israel. It’s total lunacy to wait!”
They will quote the dismissal of Arab military forces by General Uzi Narkiss, but not the contrary assessments by Generals Avraham Yoffe and Rehavam Ze’evi. They will mention General Ariel Sharon’s belief that:
“We have the power to destroy the Egyptian army”,
but not his warning:
“The question isn’t free passage but the existence of the people of Israel”
They will recall Mossad chief Meir Amit’s assurance to the United States that any war would be finished in two days, but not the prediction by military intelligence commander Aharon Yariv that:
“If Israel takes no action in response to the blockade of the Straits, she will lose her credibility and the IDF its deterrent capacity. The Arab states will interpret Israel’s weakness as an excellent opportunity to threaten her security and her very existence”
They will offer subsequent public claims by Generals Mattityahu Peled and Ezer Weizman that Israel’s survival had not been at stake as correctives to their private views at the time, which were precisely the opposite. 
The Arab countries were the aggressors and threatened with annihilation towards June 5, 1967, Israel had to go to war that it tried to avoid, not out of a desire to expand, but out of a desire to survive.
This article was written in memory of Abraham Peretz Haykin,
A veteran of the Six-Day War, the Attrition war and the Yom Kippur war. He was an excellent mechanical engineer and beloved grandfather.
 Avi Shlaim (2000). The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. Penguin Books. pp. 229, 230
 Syrian government broadcast (Radio Damascus, January 16, 1967; quoted in Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War [Oxford University Press, 2002], p. 42)
 LBJ, National Security Files, NSC Histories, Middle East Crisis, Box 17: Tel Aviv to Secretary of State, May 12, 1967; Public Record Office (hereafter “PRO”), FCO17/577: Israel — Defense: Report of Defense Attache, November 16, 1966. הבר, היום תפרוץ מלחמה, עמ’ 141, 147–145 (ציטוט אשכול); גלבוע, שש שנים, שישה ימים, עמ’ 101–98; פרקר, פוליטיקה של שיפוט לקוי, עמ’ 18–15; פרקר, מלחמת ששת הימים, עמ’ 32–31, 69; אייל זיסר, “בין ישראל לסוריה: מלחמת ששת הימים ולאחריה”, עיונים בתקומת ישראל8 (1998), עמ’ 220
Golan, Galia (1990). Soviet Policies in the Middle East: From World War Two to Gorbachev
 Shmuel Katz, Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, 1985 pg 10
 Eric Hammel. Six Days In June: How Israel Won the 1967 Arab-Israeli War page 179
 Michael Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 2002, page 119.
 Shlaim (2000). The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. pp. 243–244
 פנקס שירות, עמ’ 194
 Richard B. Parker, The Politics of Miscalculation in the Middle East (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993), 15; Isabella Ginor, “The Cold War’s Longest Cover-Up: How and Why the USSR Instigated the 1967 War,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, September 2003, 38.
 The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders by Paul Bogdanor
 Oren, Six Days of War, 87, 133–34, 156