In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Britain and the Conflict in the Middle East, 1964–1967: The Coming of the Six-Day War
  • Wilfrid Knapp
Moshe Gat , Britain and the Conflict in the Middle East, 1964–1967: The Coming of the Six-Day War. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. 280 pp. $69.95.

The subject of this book cannot easily be made exciting, and the author sometimes seems willfully to prevent it from being so. The Six-Day War of 1967 was the first international crisis in the Middle East after World War II in which Britain played no part, and the book ends austerely without any reference to the postwar diplomacy and the negotiation of the famous United Nations resolution 242. Unfortunately the book is sloppily written. The error for which Moshe Gat should most reproach himself is the misspelling of the name of Denis Healey. Throughout the book his surname is printed as Healy, and in one place (p. 205) his first name becomes "Dennis." Healey, now Lord Healey of Riddlesden, was Defence Secretary in the government of Harold Wilson, never Defense Secretary (and the relevant Cabinet committee, of which the papers are listed in the bibliography, was not "Defense"). Healey's memoirs, with the engaging title The Time of My Life, are not included in the otherwise extensive bibliography. The British, who have engaged in diplomacy for centuries, have their own whimsies that should be respected: They have a Foreign Secretary, not a Foreign Minister, and, at the very least, we should not read in a single paragraph "Foreign Minister George Brown" and "George Brown, Britain's foreign minister" (in the context, who else's minister would he be?). The many typographical errors irritate the reader: "wreck havoc" should be "wreak" (p. 5), water may have "salinity" but not "saliency" (p. 38), "stabile" should be stable (p. 7), and "navel" is different from "naval" (p. 210). There are numerous others.

To the substance: Gat sets the stage, as any author would, in his introduction and first chapter. But they are not well done. Whatever may be said of the Americans, British policy was not a "heavily ideologically driven Containment Theory" (p. xi), although it was of course designed to contain the Soviet Union. It is not wrong to see the Cold War as having started in Europe, but a book on the Middle East should not omit Soviet actions in Iranian Azerbaijan that helped shape President Harry Truman's attitude to the USSR. (Bruce Kuniholm's book on this topic is listed in the bibliography, but the text makes no reference to it.) No one denies the importance of oil, and payment for it in sterling, as a major British interest (although Gat does not refer to the Abadan crisis). But oil was not the whole story. Successive British governments decided that defense in the Far East and British obligations east of Suez required a presence in the Middle East—for communication and military staging. Gat's book is set in a narrow framework written so close to documentary sources in the National Archives of the United Kingdom (formerly the Public Record Office) that this perspective is lost. As an example: Kuwait is mentioned as a source for oil, but the fact that the British went to the defense of independent Kuwait in 1961, three years before the date in Gat's title (an operation that was a great post-Suez morale boost for Britain), is mentioned only in a throwaway sentence about relations with Egypt. In a further indication [End Page 158] of sloppiness, the index reference to this episode is listed as "Iraqi invasion"—there was none in 1961.

The major thesis of the book is that British policy in the mid-1960s was to keep a low profile until the crisis leading to the Six-Day War in 1967 spurred the British government to embark, in vain, on a flurry of diplomatic activity around a possible naval regatta to open the Gulf of Aqaba. Gat describes well the Israeli construction of the National Water Carrier and the ineffective Arab resistance and attempt to build a counter-diversion. He also writes, rather sketchily, about the development of Israel's nuclear...