- Ben-Gurion’s Diary for the 1967 Six-Day War:An Introduction
The following entries to Ben-Gurion’s 1967 Diary have been divided into three sections. The first part, 18 May to 4 June, deals with political maneuvering prior to the Six-Day War that led to the appointment of Moshe Dayan, a key member in an aggressive opposition party, as Defense Minister. The second part, 5 June to 10 June, provides Ben-Gurion’s intimate and personal perspective of the war. The third, 11 June to 17 June, contains Ben-Gurion’s outlines for Israeli policy in radically new circumstances. In these Diary entries, one can observe how, in less than one month, Israel was transformed from a country that perceived its survival threatened, into a secure and confident state facing choices that would shape its own future and that of its neighbors.
When the Six-Day War broke out, Ben-Gurion was almost eighty years old. Although he was no longer the Prime Minister, having resigned four years earlier in June 1963, he was still a Member of Knesset and the leader of Rafi (the List of Israel Workers and Non-Partisans), a new party he formed with devoted followers drawn largely from the ranks of Labor. Nevertheless, he possessed enormous authority within both the Israeli public and a large body of political insiders, including leading politicians of other parties.1 Indeed, he was at the center of the opposition to Levi Eshkol, who replaced him as Prime Minister. The issues that divided them derived from diverging ideas on how to handle “the Lavon Affair,” an espionage fiasco carried out in Egypt by Israeli intelligence operators in the mid-1950s. For reasons still murky, plans went awry and the spy ring was captured; the Egyptians executed two members of the spy ring and imprisoned the remainder. Several committees attempted to locate responsibility for the fiasco, but failed to reach an explicit and unambiguous decision.
In the mid-1950s, public attention to the scandal began to wane. But in the early 1960s, Pinhas Lavon, the Minister of Defense at the time of the operation and the person who had borne the burden of blame for the [End Page 195] mishap, claimed that he had obtained new evidence that could prove his innocence. In light of this, the Israeli government decided to establish yet another committee composed of seven Ministers (“The Committee of Seven”). The Minster of Justice, Pinchas Rosen, was chairman, but Levi Eshkol was the dominant figure. This committee concluded that Lavon was innocent of approving the operation.
Ben-Gurion rejected the verdict, arguing that only a judicial committee could decide the matter. The majority in Labor, the party Ben-Gurion had lead for decades, refused to uphold his position and denied his demand for further inquiry into the scandal. They seemed to be eager to relegate the whole affair to the dustbin of history. When Eshkol became Prime Minister, he calculated that continued public preoccupation with the affair could endanger his government’s stability. Consequently, he adamantly refused to yield to Ben-Gurion’s call for a renewed investigation. By 1965, Ben-Gurion felt he could no longer remain in the same party with Eshkol and left to establish Rafi. The bitter and raucous feud with Eshkol resonates throughout the Diary and is here played out under the threat of a catastrophic conflict.
During the tense period before the war, Ben-Gurion charged that the crisis was to a large extent due to Eshkol’s muddled policies and mismanagement of state affairs. Ben-Gurion and his supporters in Rafi openly criticized Eshkol, claiming that he should have known that an aggressive policy toward Syria would culminate in warfare. He also accused Eshkol for a dangerous deterioration in Israel’s relations with France, Israel’s main ally and arms supplier. In the same vein, he admonished Eshkol for allowing the Israeli Intelligence Agency (the Mossad) to assist Moroccan undercover agents to assassinate a well-known Moroccan opposition leader, Mohammed Ben-Barka, on French soil. This reckless decision, asserted Ben-Gurion, could lead to a breakdown in French-Israeli...