REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Forty years ago today, war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The war lasted six days and it greatly expanded the territory controlled by Israel. Over 40 years, we've learned much about what really occurred before, during and after the fighting.

Producer John McDonough is a student of broadcast history and he prepared this story about how the events of 1967 were reported on CBS at the time.

Mr. JOHN McDONOUGH (Student, Broadcast History): The Mid East had lived for so long in such an atmosphere of tension. It was not always easy to know when real trouble was near. When statesmanship becomes an appendage of faith, rational interests become devoured in moral posturing. CBS commentator Eric Sevareid.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. ERIC SEVAREID (CBS Commentator): Some feverish diplomacy is going out on the big capitols to keep the governments of the Middle East from moralizing themselves into a war from which none of them is likely to gain anything except misery.

If war comes, it will not be for any rational reason. It would come for emotional reasons. The more ignorant and backward the leaders are, the more holy water they pour on their cause.

Mr. McDONOUGH: As Sevareid spoke, President Nasser of Egypt was demanding U.N. peacekeepers leave the Sinai in Gaza, where they had been since the Suez War of 1956. When U.N. Secretary-General U Thant unexpectedly obliged, no one was more surprised than Nasser, who promptly remilitarized the region. Three days later, Egypt closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. It was Monday, May 22nd.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Unidentified Announcer: This is the "CBS Evening News" with Walter Cronkite and…

Mr. McDONOUGH: Meanwhile, 80,000 Egyptian troops flooded into the Sinai while an army of 40,000 Syrians moved into position to the north.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (Host, "CBS Evening News"): Good evening. War preparations were stuffed up in the Middle East today even as the diplomats worked to try to preserve peace. Saudi Arabia and Lebanon began mobilizing troops. In Cairo itself, Muslim preachers declared today that it is Allah's command that Arabs destroy Israel.

Mr. McDONOUGH: For the United States in 1967, nothing could be considered a truly serious crisis unless somehow it was framed in the wider context of the Cold War. Egypt's Nasser was a Soviet ally, and that helped poison the Palestinian cause in America for a generation.

The political logic of the Cold War was impatient with exceptions, and nuance was consumed in the polarities of East-West oratory, which lost no time in characterizing the present conflict.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. CRONKITE: Meanwhile, Russia spoke out again in support of the Arabs, charging that Israel is the cause of all the trouble, and calling on the West to restrain her.

Mr. McDONOUGH: Once again, the superpowers that talked their way into a predictable face off because neither had a real choice. But Jordan's King Hussein, who was the wisest and least belligerent of Israel's neighbors, faced a different problem.

As Nasser's drumbeat to war mounted, Hussein had two choices and both of them were bad. Stand down in neutrality and wait for the Arab world to come after him, or stand up with Nasser and face the Israeli army. On Tuesday, May 30th, he decided he would prefer to face the Israelis.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. CRONKITE: The Arab ring around Israel was completed today when two bitter rivals, Egypt's President Nasser and Jordan's King Hussein signed a mutual defense pact in Cairo. Nasser, who only a few weeks ago was calling Hussein an imperialist stooge, referred to him today as dear brother. And that's the way it is - Memorial Day, 1967.

Mr. McDONOUGH: The next day, Wednesday, Hussein got a hero's welcome in Jordan. Behind the scenes, the Russians warn Nasser not to strike the first blow. He accepted an American invitation to begin talks on June 7th. By then, though, time had run out for talk.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. McDONOUGH: At dawn on Monday, June 5th, Israel struck Egypt in a devastating preemptive attack. The Six-Day War was on. Winston Burdett of CBS was in Cairo as the news broke.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. WINSTON BURDETT (Correspondent, CBS): The announcement on Cairo Radio came nearly half an hour after the first air raid alert is sounded. There was jubilation in the streets when the radio claimed a first indication of victory, 23 Israeli planes shot down. Later, the total of Israeli planes destroyed had jumped to 70.

Mr. McDONOUGH: Nasser used those early claims of victory to rally a reluctant King Hussein. By 11 a.m., Jordan began attacking Israel along a second front from the West Bank.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. MIKE ELKINS (Correspondent, CBS): And there's one venting elderly man walking through…

Mr. McDONOUGH: CBS' Mike Elkins was in west Jerusalem the moment the shooting started.

(Soundbite of heavy machinegun gunfire)

Mr. ELKINS: Hold on a minute.

(Soundbite of heavy machinegun gunfire)

Mr. ELKINS: Hold on. Hello, New York? Hello, New York? Please hang on. Please (unintelligible) as machine gunfire opened up just where I'm standing, just near where I'm standing. I need to get out of the way. Whoa.

Mr. McDONOUGH: That as the front of war began to lift later that day, Hussein realized he had been misled. With the Egyptian air force in flames, Nasser had been effectively defeated in the first three hours of the war. Meanwhile, 70,000 Israeli troops with nothing to fear from Egyptian planes were heading across the Sinai for the Gulf of Suez.

On the second day of the war, Tuesday, Jordan was left to face an Israeli counterattack that entered the West Bank and encircled Jerusalem. By the third day, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount were in Israeli hands.

With the collapse of Arab defenses, Nasser needed an explanation fast.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. CRONKITE: Nasser blamed the Arab's defeat on what he claimed was U.S. and British intervention on the side of Israel. But he said…

Mr. McDONOUGH: It was a good try, but Nasser was outflanked again. Israel claimed it was a deception hatched early Tuesday morning in a phone conversation between Nasser and Hussein. To prove it, they produced this extraordinary tape of the two leaders' conversation.

(Soundbite of taped phone conversation)

Mr. GAMAL ABDEL NASSER (Former President, Egypt): Hello.

King HUSSEIN (Jordan): Hello.

Unidentified Man: The conversation was translated, one like this: Nasser: Hello. Will we say the U.S. and England or just the U.S.? Hussein: The U.S. and England. Nasser: By God, I say that I will make an announcement that British and American airplanes are taking part against us, some aircraft carriers, and we will bribe the (unintelligible). Hussein: It's all right.

Mr. McDONOUGH: By the fourth day, Thursday, Israel was on the east bank of the Suez Canal. There was almost a feeling of surprise on both sides - for Israel, at the swiftness of its victory, for the Arabs, at the completeness of it.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. CRONKITE: Eighty-six hours after they've began fighting, Israel and Egypt today agreed to end their war. It was a decisive Israeli victory. Egypt acknowledged defeat by bowing to U.N. ceasefire demands that previously have rejected. Two hours after that announcement, Damascus Radio declared Syria will fight on.

Mr. McDONOUGH: Had common sense prevailed at this moment, we would be talking today about the four-day war, but Syria continued to shell Israel from the Golan Heights. On Friday, Israel turned its full force to the north.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. CRONKITE: Israel invaded Syria today. Tonight, Israeli troops had reached (unintelligible), 15 miles inside Syrian territory.

Mr. McDONOUGH: After a nearly 30-hour battle through Friday and Saturday, Israel took the Golan Heights and was at the outskirts of Damascus. Both sides accepted a ceasefire at 6:30, Saturday afternoon.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Unidentified Announcer: This is the "CBS Evening News" with Walter Cronkite.

Mr. McDONOUGH: The Six-Day War was now over along with Nasser's dreams of victory.

(Soundbite of archived "CBS Evening News" broadcast)

Mr. CRONKITE: Gamal Abdel Nasser, the most powerful Arab leader of modern times announced his resignation as Egypt's president tonight, in the wake of his country's disastrous military defeat by Israel.

Mr. McDONOUGH: Within hours, Nasser had second thoughts, as everyone knew he would. But if Nasser was a hero in defeat, a future generation of Israeli leaders became heroes in victory. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and Sinai Commander Ariel Sharon would each become prime minister in his time. They would be among the ones who would have to deal with the more covert consequences of the victory they celebrated 40 years ago this week.

The lesson is life is lived forward, but only understood backwards.

For NPR News, this is John McDonough.

SIEGEL: You can see maps of the region before and after the Six-Day War and learn more about the conflict at npr.org.

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