Coming amid the intense worldwide focus on the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which has also proven to be a time of renewed friction between the United States and Russia, an Israeli husband-and-wife research team has offered up a theory contending that it was the Soviet Union — and not the Arabs or Israelis — who engineered the 1967 conflict that continues to reverberate throughout the Middle East.
In their new book, Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War, Isabella Ginor, a scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Gideon Remez, a noted TV journalist, argue that the USSR fed Syria false reports about Israeli troop movements in order to precipitate another Arab-Israeli war.
(The book's title refers to the Soviet fighter plane, the MiG-25 Foxbat.)
The reason for doing such?
The Soviets actually feared a nuclear Israel, and sought a pretext to intervene directly and bomb Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona, according to the authors. Israel has never officially acknowledged that it possesses nuclear weapons, though it's a widely accepted fact that it does.
Stating their case last week at a Center City event sponsored by the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank, the couple admitted that their take contradicts long-held notions about Soviet involvement in the events of the war. Specifically, the idea that while the USSR may have helped spark the June 1967 crisis, it then acted to diffuse the situation, and prevent it from escalating into a global or nuclear affair.
The later interpretation fits the historical mode of a Soviet Union that behaved relatively responsibly and rationally when it came to post-Cuban Missile Crisis standoffs, an interpretation the authors said historians may have to revisit.
"If the picture we present does not conform with the understanding of Soviet doctrine, then we leave it to greater minds than ours to reassess the doctrine," said the Ukrainian-born Ginor, who appeared with her husband and co-author at a lunchtime program in the Jewish Community Services Building in Philadelphia.
The duo based their thesis largely on the testimony of Soviet military personnel, along with some documentation from the period of the events. Ginor stated that the Soviets had planned at least a year in advance to strike Israel when the Jewish state and her Arab enemies reached a military stalemate. But the maneuvers were, for the most part, never carried out since Israel routed the Egyptian air force and achieved victory so quickly, stated Remez.
Middle East Forum founder Daniel Pipes penned a positive review of the work in the New York Sun, calling it a "viable, exciting interpretation for others to chew on." But not all pundits have been as kind. Historian Michael B. Oren, now considered one of the leading experts on the Six-Day War, told The Jerusalem Post that he found no evidence in Soviet archives to support such claims.
In his own book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Oren argued that a complex combination of factors — domestic Arab politics, the Arabs and Israelis misreading each other's intentions, and power struggles fueled by the Cold War — led unwitting participants down the path to war.
So if Soviet fears of Israel's nuclear ambitions truly caused the Six-Day War, what does that say about the long-term impact of the conflict and its results, especially Israel's conquering of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, as well as the reunification of Jerusalem?
And what about the friction between America and post-Soviet Russia, and the increasingly harsh rhetoric coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin?
In the question-and-answer session that followed their presentation, Ginor and Remez took a pass on anything concerning events that followed the war.
According to Remez, that's because the couple self-imposed a news blackout — refraining from commenting or writing about current events — in order to focus on getting the book completed in time for the war's 40th anniversary.
"We only took a break to drive our kids to school and back," said Remez. "Other than that, the radio was always off, and the television was always off."