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  • Editor’s Note

This issue begins with a two-article forum on the Middle East and the Cold War. We plan to publish more articles about this topic in the future, including reassessments of the Suez crisis and an article about the Iran-Iraq war, as well as further coverage of the Arab-Israeli wars. The first article here, by Galia Golan, looks at Soviet policy before, during, and immediately after the outbreak of war in the Middle East in June 1967. Golan notes that the Soviet Union transmitted several intelligence reports to Egypt in May 1967 alleging that Israeli troops were massing along the Syrian border and preparing to attack. These reports proved to be false. Scholars have long debated whether Soviet leaders were trying to provoke hostilities by deliberately passing on erroneous information, as Michael Oren contends in his authoritative book, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). Golan argues that although newly available evidence is not conclusive, it does suggest that the Soviet Politburo overall was not intent on precipitating a war. But she acknowledges that some high-ranking officials, such as Defense Minister Andrei Grechko, may have taken a more hawkish line and furtively prodded the Egyptians and Syrians to attack. Golan's assessment of other key stages of the crisis also leaves open the possibility that differing views within the Soviet hierarchy resulted in conflicting actions. Nonetheless, she claims that, on the whole, Soviet policy was relatively cautious at almost every stage. Until crucial documentation about this episode is released from archives in Moscow that are still closed—the Presidential Archive, the Foreign Intelligence Service archive, and the Ministry of Defense central archive—it will be impossible to arrive at a more definitive judgment, but Golan's article offers a valuable preliminary assessment.

The other article covering the Middle East, by Avi Kober, discusses how Israel's battlefield performance in the succession of Arab-Israeli wars from 1948 through 1982 was affected by the involvement of great powers (mostly the United States and the Soviet Union, though also France and Britain in 1948 and 1956). Israeli officials perennially feared that great-power intervention would prevent them from attaining success on the battlefield and force them to reverse gains they had already achieved. Kober finds that, on the contrary, great-power involvement actually proved to be an asset for Israel rather than a liability. Israel's repeated victories over the Arabs were attributable not only to military prowess but to external intervention. Hostile great powers, Kober argues, were unwilling or unable to confront Israel directly, whereas the support provided by friendly great powers strengthened Israel's own military efforts.

The third article in this issue, by David Stiles, focuses on an important but largely overlooked aspect of the celebrated Palomares incident in 1966. The incident began when two large U.S. military aircraft, including a B-52 bomber carrying four [End Page 1] thermonuclear bombs, crashed in the air over the Andalucía region of southern Spain. The accident resulted in the scattering of radioactive debris and, more important, in the loss of one of the bombs in the nearby Mediterranean Sea. During the nearly three months it took for specialized U.S. search-and-recovery teams to retrieve the bomb, the U.S. government experienced many problems in deciding how much information to release and how to present the whole affair in a way that ordinary people (not to mention the Spanish government) could understand. Stiles finds that U.S. information policy was almost entirely ad hoc and often inept, compounding the adverse publicity from the incident. Stiles argues that the U.S. ambassador in Spain, Angier Duke, had to make strenuous efforts to overcome the obstacles posed by officials in the U.S. Defense Department and other agencies who wanted to disclose as little information as possible. Had it not been for Duke's insistence on pursuing a more forthcoming policy, the damage to U.S.-Spanish relations and to U.S. foreign policy might have been much worse. This case underscores the costs of official secrecy and the value of...