Friday, 30 June 2017

The Grenfell Disaster and the Limitations of Public Inquiries

The aftermath of the raging inferno which gutted the Grenfell Tower block

The recent statement made by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the retired judge selected to chair a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster, that he is "doubtful" that the inquiry called by Theresa May will be as wide-ranging as the tenants hope will be interpreted by many as an ominous one which candidly anticipates an unsatisfactory conclusion to any forthcoming investigation.

This is because the lessons from the past consistently demonstrate that despite the characterisation of an inquiry as a purposive endeavour geared towards producing a full and frank resolution to an event which has typically pained and outraged the public, they have often been used by the executive branch of government to stage-manage the process of scrutiny.

Thus, what may appear to be an earnest effort geared towards 'getting to the heart of the matter' often turns into an exercise of 'whitewashing'.

The history of public inquiries is replete with the accusation of 'whitewash' and 'Establishment cover up'. This has been facilitated by the very nature of public inquiries despite the ostensible reform offered by the Inquiries Act of 2005.

The first point to note is that the executive branch of government presently headed by Prime Minister May controls the inquiry's terms of reference. For example, the Franks Inquiry into Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 managed to completely exonerate the government of Margaret Thatcher even though failures in diplomacy and intelligence were widely believed to have contributed to the Argentine military government’s decision to invade. After all, Thatcher’s foreign secretary, Lord Carrington had resigned soon after the invasion citing the doctrine of Individual Ministerial Responsibility.

There had clearly been failings on the part of the Secret Intelligence Service in predicting the Argentine action, and cuts in naval spending implemented by the Thatcher administration were later viewed as actions which would have offered the Argentine junta encouragement in proceeding with their enterprise.

Simon Jenkins, then working for the Times newspaper, later confronted Lord Franks about why he had exonerated the Thatcher government. Gravely, Franks responded by inviting Jenkins to “read my terms of reference.”

Secondly, the notion that an inquiry offers impartiality has often been compromised. For example, the view held by many in the republican community of Northern Ireland that Lord John Widgery was a figure of the British Establishment who would have been unlikely to blame the British Army for the massacre of unarmed demonstrators on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1972 was borne out by the fact that the inquiry took just eleven weeks to absolve the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment of wrongdoing. Widgery’s conclusion was reversed thirty-eight years later by the findings of the inquiry headed by Lord Saville which held that the soldiers had killed the demonstrators in unjustifiable circumstances.

The allegation of partiality rose its head in regard to the inquiry into the death of David Kelly, which provided a platform for the first official investigation into the circumstances surrounding the decision of Tony Blair’s government to take Britain into the war with Iraq. The handpicking of Lord Hutton to chair this inquiry is seen today with virtual unanimity to have been biased in favour of diverting any blame from the government of the day.

More closer in time, worries about the perception that appointed chairs for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse were too close to certain individuals who were to be investigated led to the resignation of the first two appointments to the position of chair. The reasons for their withdrawal in each case were objections related to their perceived closeness to individuals and establishments which were to be investigated.

A third point regarding the limitations of the mechanism of the public inquiry is that the recommendations made by the inquiry such as pertaining to changes to the law can be ignored. This lack of accountability and ineffectiveness of the reports that have followed many an inquiry have arguably led to the repetition of mistakes. For example, David Cameron’s decision to allow Britain to participate in the overthrow of the government of Libya in 2011 resulted in the destruction of the country and its present day designation as a ‘failed state’. He might have been more cautious about joining the action if a proper inquiry had occurred after Britain’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq which also led to catastrophic consequences.

While the aforementioned examples of inquiries predated the passing of the Inquiries Act of 2005, this reform has not stopped negative criticism of the inquiries system. The issue of executive control of the inquiry remains a thorny one given that the chairman and members of the inquiry are appointed by a government minister. The system of using single judges to preside over inquiries which was thought to have been thoroughly discredited during the Hutton Inquiry is still in place. This factor arguable serves to perpetuate an ineradicable flaw in the system.

Indeed, Amnesty International were adamant in calling on members of the judiciary not to serve on any inquiry held under the Act because “any inquiry would be controlled by the executive which is empowered to block public scrutiny of state actions.”

In 2005, Peter Cory, a Canadian judge who has served on a number of British inquiries also claimed that inquiries conducted under the Act would make a meaningful inquiry impossible because the relevant government minister would have the authority to thwart the inquiry at every step.

The Chairman of the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee, Chris Smith, described the proposals when it was a bill as “the public inquiries cover-up bill”.

It is also important to note that public inquiries which have tended to pose problems in terms of their inordinate length and cost -the Saville Inquiry cost £195 million and took 12 years to complete- do not provide full protection for the right to a fair hearing as required by article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This was the judgement of the Joint Human Rights Committee of the British Parliament and the Law Society, the body which represents the ranks of the country’s solicitors.

Of course, the victims and relatives of the victims of the Grenfell disaster may have a case for civil negligence against the relevant local authority and private organisations responsible for the health and safety of the building. The criminal law may also provide an avenue for punishing senior public and private officials on the grounds of corporate manslaughter.

While some may feel that the chances of a cover-up are lessened due to the fact that it is government at local level rather that at Whitehall which made decisions that ultimately created an unsafe environment, it is worth noting that local authorities work and set policies within a general framework set by central government.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s remarks serve as a warning to those who expect that a public inquiry will provide a no-holds-barred exercise in transparency and accountability.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer and law lecturer who is based in London, England.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Pan-Islamic Option - The West's Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror

The white-on-black shahada inscription on the Black Standard of Jihad

It should be clear by now to even the most disinterested global spectator to the protracted carnage of the Syrian Civil War that the governments of the Western world led by the United States of America have instigated and sustained an insurrection against a sovereign country through the use of Islamist proxies. It should also be clear to those who are adequately informed by a suitable range of media sources, that many of the terror attacks which have occurred in both American and Western European locations have been carried out by individuals who have been under the radar of Western security agencies.

Further, the Syrian and other conflicts instigated by the West have created the basis for influxes of refugees as well as new avenues of transit for economic migrants bound for Western Europe. The incessant bombing of Muslim lands for a continuous period of over a decade and a half continues to provide the basis for radicalising segments of the Muslim world. America’s role in the Syrian conflict is risking a war with Russia, a nuclear armed power, which at the invitation of the legitimate government of Syria, is part of a coalition involving both Iran and Hezbollah that is attempting to suppress the Islamist insurgents.

Yet, among the population of Western countries, there remains a perplexing mixture of ignorance and indifference about the policy of their governments calculated use of Islamic militants both at home and abroad. Unless a strong consensus arises in the form of dedicated mass protest movements by informed members of their populations and pressure is brought by coalitions of principled and non-partisan political actors, the West will continue to embroil itself in an enduring series of conflicts in the Muslim world.

The moral, financial and security ramifications are clear: the continuing cycle of human destruction, the ever increasing risk of terror atrocities, the burdens imposed by military expenditure as well as the threats to social cohesion caused by migration from affected countries, cumulatively represent a self-inflicted conundrum from which it will become difficult to be extricated unless there is a radical overhaul of Western foreign policy.

Much of the public debate in the United States about the rise of groups such as the so-called Islamic State often takes a partisan slant. For those to the political Right, former US President Barack Obama is the author of the Syrian crisis, while others prefer granting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the dubious accolade of being the ‘Godmother of ISIS’. On the other hand, those on the political Left blame George W. Bush for the Syrian conflict on the basis that the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent sectarian-orientated turmoil led to the development of a range of extremist Sunni Islamist militias. Many of them were linked to the al Qaeda franchise and metastasized most prominently into the Jabhat al Nusra Front and IS.

Another important part of the public discourse, inevitably heightened in the aftermath of the occurrence of each terror atrocity committed in North America or in Western Europe, relates to the issue of whether Islam can be considered to be an ethically sound religion. The consensus among many in the political classes and the media is to insist that terror attacks are perpetrated by a tiny minority of the earth’s reputed 1.6 billion Muslims, while a significantly vocal part of the public contend that the history of Islamic expansion as well as the philosophy of violence expressed by prominent Islamist groups mark it out as anything but a ‘religion of peace’.

The debate on Islam is frequently concerned with whether Muslims are assimilable in Western society with the microscope firmly focused on the amount of Muslim refugees seeking or gaining entrance to North American and Western European destinations.

While each aspect of these debates are important in their own right, the compartmentalized nature of the discourse arguably serves as a useful device which distracts the public from grasping the broader picture.

For one, attempting to fix the blame for the rise of certain notorious Islamist militias on particular political figures for partisan reasons only serves to obscure the very lengthy history of Western support for militant Islamic groups.

The often bitter exchanges after terror attacks are dominated by issues related to whether Muslim communities resident in the West are sufficiently loyal to their countries of residence. Getting lost in the thicket of argument and counter-argument is a disturbingly consistent feature of many perpetrators having been monitored by relevant state intelligence agencies.

In a similar vein, the worries about Western-bound Muslim refugees tend to disconnect from Western culpability in what may be termed coercive engineered migration.

Thus the overall effect of these partisan accusations and disputes present a useful distraction from scrutinising the prevailing overarching policy as well as enabling politicians and security officials to escape accountability for creating the conditions which have brought Islamic fundamentalist terror to the streets of their towns and cities.

Understanding history is important. The role of the United States and its allies in facilitating the weaponising of Islam as a means of obtaining dubious geo-political advantage is a longstanding one. When Wesley Clark, a retired US four-star general admitted that ISIS had been created “with funding from our friends and allies to fight Hezbollah to the death”, on the basis that only fanatics and not idealist-minded recruits could be sufficiently motivated to do so, he was harking to a sentiment long-held by the West in its dealings with the Middle East.

The use of Islamic soldiers was one embraced by Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, who in a January 1944 speech referred to Islam as a “practical and attractive religion for soldiers”. Its promise of paradise and beautiful women to the martyrs of battle was, Himmler felt, “the kind of language a soldier understands”.

Three decades earlier, the use of “medieval thinking” and “superstitious” Mahometans as guerrilla proxies was an idea latched onto by Kaiser Wilhelm II during the First World War as part of the German strategy of revolutionspolitik. This was a policy aimed at encouraging subversion and revolution in the vulnerable regions within the empires against which Germany was waging Welt Kreig.

It was applied by allowing Vladimir Lenin to travel through German territory on a sealed train so that he could reach Russia where he could foment chaos through a Bolshevik uprising and give Germany an advantage on its eastern front. The Germans also scoured their prisoner of war camps for Ukrainian prisoners who they trained and indoctrinated to form an anti-Tsarist Ukrainian nationalist army.

The Germans unsuccessfully attempted to apply it by inciting rebellion among the millions of Muslims living under British rule and in the areas bordering British territories. Pamphlets calling for Muslims to form cells which would kill combatant and non-combatant Christian Europeans in the name of jihad were produced.

It was a theme which was fictionalised in the John Buchan novel Greenmantle which was published in 1916. In the book, the character Sir Walter Bullivant, claims that “Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other”.

But it did not end in fiction and would not be the exclusive preserve of Germany geo-strategy. British policy-makers saw jihad as a means through which Britain could advance its interests against its adversaries. It would use the Ikhwan, the formidable fighting force of the second Saudi emirate to weaken the Ottoman hold on the Arabian Peninsula. The fact that Ibn Saud’s followers were, according to Winston Churchill, “bloodthirsty” and “intolerant” underscored the Ikhwan’s fitness for purpose. The intelligence services of Britain would go on to establish an enduring relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood soon after it was created in the late 1920s.

American support for militant Islamism goes back at least to the 1950s when the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the Muslim Brotherhood as a proxy force in the United States’ ideological war against Soviet communism. The Egyptian-originated organisation was utilised in an effort to undermine the secular government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser which had gravitated to the Soviet Union to acquire military arms and technical expertise for development projects.

This ploy of using Islamic combatants lay at the heart of ‘Operation Cyclone’. Among the longest and most expensive of covert operations undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency, it involved funding, arming and training Afghan Mujahideen as a means of weakening the Soviet military after the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

It was the brainchild of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US National Security Advisor to the administration of President Jimmy Carter, but continued by the succeeding administration of President Ronald Reagan. Reagan extended an invitation to key members of the Mujahideen to visit the Oval Office of the White House where they were given a cordial reception at which they were photographed with the president.

While on a state visit to Pakistan in October of 1981, the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, made her way to the Pakistani-Afghan border where she told a gathered group of Mujahideen leaders that “the hearts of the free world are with you”.

A few years after the September 11 atrocity, the Bush administration formulated a re-direction in a Middle Eastern policy geared towards aiding Sunni militants espousing the same Pan-Islamic ideology as al Qaeda as a means of undermining the secular government of Bashar al Assad of Syria.

The Obama administration followed this policy first in its support for the Nato action that led to the overthrow of the secular government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and secondly, in the decision to utilise jihadists in the attempt to overthrow the Assad government under the cover of the so-called Arab Spring. The latter enterprise was undertaken over the objections of several senior military officers at the Pentagon including the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency.

It is important to note that the French government, then led by President Nicolas Sarkozy, took the lead in instigating the Libyan uprising and that the Cameron government of Britain provided special forces soldiers to train and direct operations undertaken by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al Qaeda-affiliated organisation.

This policy is still intact under the Trump administration.  After all, any attack against the Syrian military such as was the case with the launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles after a dubious allegation of a chemical attack on civilians and the recent shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet by an American warplane, is intended to weaken it in the fight against Islamist insurgents. These actions by the United States, including the episode of the alleged mistaken killing of over 60 soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army while it was attempting to dislodge al Nusra fighters from the city of Aleppo all tend to confirm the thesis of the United States functioning as the unofficial air force of the Islamist insurgents.

It is a policy that will be sustained given the continuing priority accorded to the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia. Donald Trump’s decision to make his first foreign visit as president to the desert kingdom, the home of the Wahhabi doctrine of Islam which serves as the inspiration for Islamist death squads in Syria and Islamic terrorists striking at innocent people in the West, is rather telling.

Trump’s castigation of the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran as the “world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism” reeks of deceit and hypocrisy. It is contradicted by a 2013 report by the European Parliament which identified Sunni Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism and a leaked admission by Hillary Clinton that the Saudis “have exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth”. Indeed, none of the bombs, bullets or blades used in any of the terror attacks carried out in the West since 9/11 have been done in the name of Iran or Hezbollah. They have been carried out by Sunni extremists influenced by Wahhabist teachings.

The United States has of course acted as the overseer of Saudi funding for Syrian jihadists even though Iran, together with the Syrian Arab Army and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have soldiers dying every day in the fight against extremists of the sort US Senator John McCain has cosied up to during illegally arranged visits to Syrian territory.

McCain, who serves as the Chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, was photographed handing Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the leader of the now defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an award in recognition for his part in the overthrow of the Gaddafi government. Echoing Margaret Thatcher’s words of support for the Mujahideen, McCain heaped praise on Belhadj and his group for being fighters in the cause of freedom. And just as several of the groups headed by the warlords Thatcher addressed would form the basis of al Qaeda and the Taliban, so it has been the case that Belhadj became a leading commander of ISIS in Libya.

The Saudis are not alone among America’s Middle Eastern allies in having enabled the Syrian insurrection. Other Gulf Cooperation Council states, most notably Qatar, have played a part as indeed has Turkey - all confirmed by the former US Vice President Joseph Biden. The Syrian rebels have also received support from the state of Israel through cash disbursements, arms supplies and medical assistance.

The motivation for the West’s seeking to destroy secular governments such as that of Syria further than the banal rationale of overthrowing a ‘brutal dictator’ skirts over the issue of wanting to build a pipeline from the Gulf through to Turkey via Syria. The fundamental objective of the West in ensuring Israel’s continued regional hegemony is rarely mentioned even though this has been attested to by Roland Dumas, a former French foreign minister, and a leaked email of Hillary Clinton’s which revealed her thinking to be that the overthrow of Assad would help the Israelis in so far as combating the perceived threat posed by Iran.

The debates which center on Muslim extremists growing into a security threat fail to maintain a decent level of scrutiny on the performance of Western intelligence services in the preventing such threats. It should be of great concern to any American citizen that a report published three years ago by Human Rights Watch and Columbia University claimed that all but four of the domestic terrorist incidents occurring in the United States in the decade after the 9/11 attacks were carried out during sting operations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In other words, most of the attacks involved people who were informers or double agents working for the FBI.

The report did not cover the dubious circumstances involving a paid informant infiltrating the group which built the bomb used for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, and it excluded the case of Tamerlan Tsarmaev who had not only been on a watchlist and surveilled by the FBI, but who many suspect to have been an informer.

A similar pattern can be seen in Britain where the security services under the watch of Theresa May as both home secretary and prime minister allowed Islamists whose names were on terror watchlists, under surveillance and in some circumstances under control orders (a form of house arrest under UK anti-terror laws), to travel around the European Union and the Middle East with impunity so long as they promised to overthrow secular Arab leaders such as Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria.

This is mirrored in France where, for instance, Mohamed Merah, the man who allegedly carried out terror shootings in Toulouse and Montauban, was claimed by the former head of France’s now defunct Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) to have been a double agent and informer for Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI), the state intelligence organisation tasked with counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.

It is also worth noting that the terror outrages in London in July of 2005 and in Madrid in March of 2004 involved suspected radicals belonging to al Qaeda-inspired cells who had previously been under state surveillance. While the official argument of strained resources is often brought up as a blanket excuse, the recurrence of these scenarios point to a criminally negligent pattern of handling the surveillance of potential terrorists as well as the reckless managing of informers who ‘go rogue’. And given what is known of certain ‘black operations’ conducted in Western Europe during the Cold War era which had the purpose of manipulating public feeling through acts of terror, a more sinister interpretation cannot be ruled out.

The issues of state facilitation of islamist militias as well as the mishandling of terror suspects ought to raise the concerns of politicians and citizens sufficiently enough to form the basis of hearings by state legislative bodies and pave the way for the setting up of public inquiries. Instead the discourse, with the aid of the mainstream media, is guided towards whether the aftermath of each terror attack should result in the incremental loss of the hard won rights and freedoms of the citizenry of the West.

In Britain, the recent spate of attacks have raised the ante to the extent that there have been calls to introduce internment as well as to censor the internet. France is effectively in a permanent state of emergency. Yet despite the blood and pain inflicted by terror, the statistics continue to show that the average person has a far higher chance of being electrocuted by a bolt of lightning or breaking their neck when getting out of bed.

The history of the West’s dalliances with terror groups is pregnant with instances of blowback. It is widely accepted that the implementation of Operation Cyclone as a means of using Islamists as a tool in weakening the Soviet enemy contributed to the formation of al Qaeda and the development of global jihadism. Those who berate others who link the outrages perpetrated by Islamist terrorists in the West to Western foreign policy are not being realistic. Indeed, there is an ineluctable logic to President Assad’s rebuke to the Turkish President Recep Erdogan for supporting the Islamist insurgents who the Turkish authorities allowed to infiltrate Syria:

It is not possible to put terrorism in your pocket and use it as a card because it is like a scorpion which won’t hesitate to sting you at the first opportunity.

The state is compromised but the continued ignorance of many and the seemingly wilful insouciance of the others mean that the people will stand compromised in the judgement of history if they refrain from pressuring their political leaders to change the state of affairs.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)


Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Mayweather and McGregor Circus


So the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor is on.

The forty-year-old Mayweather is arguably the greatest fighter of his generation and is certainly one of the greatest defensive boxers of all time while twenty eight-year-old McGregor, a professional mixed martial arts fighter is the reigning lightweight champion of the UFC.

Both men are considered braggarts and have consistently proved themselves to be the biggest draws in their respective sports. Before retiring in 2015, Mayweather achieved the stunning feat of having earned $700 million dollars in his career, while McGregor is the biggest money generator in the UFC franchise.

With 49 wins and no losses, many remained sceptical that Mayweather would permanently retire without leaving the sport with a record of fifty wins and no losses; the idea being to surpass the 49-0 career record of the heavyweight Rocky Marciano.

Often accused of carefully choosing his opponents on the basis of obtaining maximum financial gain at the least risk, many in the boxing fraternity see his choice of McGregor as continuing this strategy.

The Mayweather-McGregor match bears something of a resemblance to two other prominent contests in boxing history.

The first is the world heavyweight championship bout held in 1957 between the reigning titleholder Floyd Patterson and a fighter who like McGregor was making his professional debut. The difference is that unlike McGregor who had a very limited career as an amateur boxer, Peter Rademacher was an experienced amateur boxer who had won gold for the United States at the Melbourne Olympics.

Although Rademacher succeeded in knocking Patterson down in the second round of the scheduled 15-round bout, the champion recovered to score seven knockdowns en route to a sixth round knockout victory.

The bout is being held under Marquis of Queensberry Rules and is not a hybrid one. Mayweather would of course not be in a position to compete with a high level mixed martial artist able to employ kicking and grappling techniques as part of his trade in the UFC’s ‘Octagon’ cage. Also out of the equation when setting up this confrontation was a special rules contest which would enable McGregor to make use of carefully prescribed martial arts techniques.

This was the situation in the contest between heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and the Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki held in Tokyo in June of 1976. Inoki, who was proscribed from grappling or launching jump kicks, lay on his back for much of the 15-round event while aiming kicks at Ali. He connected a few times to Ali’s legs which were enough to cause Ali wounds and two blood clots.

One has to presume that Mayweather has a penalty clause written into the fight contract that would severely penalise McGregor for utilising any of his mixed martial arts skills to either intimidate Mayweather in the clinches or to enable himself a face-saving disqualification if he is being made to look totally inept by Mayweather’s technique or indeed if he finds himself on the verge of being knocked out.

It is the considered opinion of most in the boxing world that despite his advantages in terms of youth and size, McGregor has less than the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell against Mayweather under boxing rules. While McGregor has demonstrated tremendous striking skills in his UFC career, few give him what in boxing parlance is referred to as a ‘punchers chance’.

The fight will have a tremendous buildup with both men drumming up interest through touring media conferences and soundbites which will be replete with braggadocious sentiment and ‘trash talking’.

It will be something of a pantomime circus but is expected to generate record amounts at the live gate as well as from the per-per-view market.

This is strictly a money making exercise.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is also a contributor to the forthcoming Companion to Boxing to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Six Day War - Myth and Reality


Soldiers of the Air Force, The blustering and swashbuckling Egyptian Army is moving against us to annihilate our people… - Battle Order of the Officer Commanding Israeli Air Force, Monday, June 5th 1967

The Six Day War of June 1967, a series of battles fought by the armed forces of the state of Israel against a combination of Arab armies, is one of manifold significance. From a military standpoint, it presented a model strategy of how to prosecute and win a war waged on several fronts.

The stunning victory also created a sense of euphoria among communities in the Jewish Diaspora: Among American Jews, a segment of Jewry David Ben Gurion viewed with disdain because of their failure to migrate en masse to Israel, a new sense of commitment in both emotional and financial terms was born. In the Soviet Union where Jews sensed an increase in anti-Semitism during the build up to the war, Israel’s triumph led to a rise in ethnic consciousness; a state of affairs which fueled the Refusenik Movement.

The taking of the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City where reside the revered Jewish sites of the Temple Mount and the Wailing or Western Wall; the Muslim Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque and the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, added a religious dimension.

It also had profound and lasting geopolitical consequences. Israel firmly established itself as the regional super-power of the Middle East and the acquisition of land from Egypt (Gaza and the Sinai), Jordan (the West Bank) and Syria (the Golan Heights) brought large populations of Arab people under Israeli occupation. Today, the continued occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, the blockading of the Gaza Strip and the annexation of the Golan Heights continue to define the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The chronology of events which preceded the outbreak of fighting are clear enough. There had been a background of increased Palestinian guerrilla activity on Israel’s borders and an aerial battle between Israeli and Syrian air force jets which came before two fateful moves made by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. First, on May 16th 1967, he requested that the United Nations remove its peacekeeping force from the Sinai. Then on May 23rd, he closed the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. Additionally, on May 30th, Egypt and Jordan signed a mutual defence pact.

The narrative presented to the world at the time, and for the most part, since then is that Nasser’s actions were taken as a preparation for a war in which combined Arab armies would invade and destroy Israel. With bellicose statements frequently emanating from Arab media outlets such as the Voice of the Arabs radio station calling for Israel’s destruction and the “sweeping of the Jews into the sea”, the Israeli assault beginning with a raid on the Egyptian Air Force in the dawn hours of Monday June 5th 1967, was put forward as a preemptive attack that was brought about in order to forestall the annihilation of Israel.

To the onlooking world, annihilation seemed to be more than a mere possibility. The sheer geographical size of its Arab neighbours in comparison to Israel’s territorial extent was an unavoidable factor in leading to such a conclusion. There were reports of Israelis digging graves in preparation for mass burials. The air of an impending doom felt by those in the Jewish Diaspora was exemplified by a photograph taken in the London suburb of Golders Green depicting a little girl seated in front of a house while holding a handwritten placard with the words ‘HELP ISRAEL’.

Israeli politicians contributed to the grand narrative of a people placed perilously upon a precipice. After asserting that the war had been started by “the Arab invasion of Israeli territory”, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told the Knesset on June 12th 1967 that “the very existence of the state of Israel hung upon a thread, but Arab leaders’ hopes of annihilating Israel have been confounded.”

The truth however is quite different. Israel was simply never in danger of annihilation and the allegation that Israel had reacted to an imminent threat of an invading force of Arab armies defies a closer examination of the evidence.

The constant references made to the prospect of annihilation in the build up to the conflict was a continuation of a line propagated since the war Jewish militias fought against Arab armies in 1948 after the British withdrawal from Palestine. Both the Haganah and Palmach were composed of a well-disciplined and well-resourced core of soldiers many of whom had obtained valuable experience in combat and intelligence units of the British Army during the Second World War. The members of the major Jewish underground organisations Irgun and Lehi (the Stern Gang) were also brutally effective practitioners of the dark arts of inflicting mass terror and psychological warfare. And although figures may vary, all credible estimates regarding the total numbers of combatants deployed in the field provide for a significant numerical advantage in favour of the Israeli side.

Arab armies by comparison were a hodge-podge of militias fighting not to sweep the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea, but to hold on to territory assigned to the Arab population of Palestine under the terms of the by then vitiated United Nations partition plan. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force dispatched by the corrupt government of King Farouk, had limited manpower to draw upon; 80% of the male population of fighting age were judged to be either mentally or physically unfit for military service. Also, the logistics arm of its army was severely limited in its capacity to support ground forces beyond its borders. The army sent by the Syrians was more adept at playing politics than at waging war. Both armies along with those provided by other countries such as Lebanon and Iraq were simply no match for the Israeli side.

The only formidable force arraigned against Israel were the British-trained Arab Legion of the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan who were successful in frustrating the attempts of the Israelis to gain control of the Old City of Jerusalem. But it is pertinent to note that David Ben Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, had sent Golda Meir and a Haganah intelligence officer on a mission to King Abdullah which aimed to keep Transjordan out of the impending conflict.

In her memoirs, Meir stated the following:

Ben Gurion knew that Trans-Jordan was not intending to join in on any Arab attack on the Jewish state in territory provided for it by the vitiated partition plan...He would always remain our friend, he said, and, like us, he wanted peace more than anything else

It is also useful to note that the 1973 war instigated by Egypt was fought with limited military objectives, specifically involving the Egyptian and Syrian armies reacquiring some of the land taken during the 1967 war to serve as the basis for applying political pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories.

The claim that Israel was facing annihilation in 1967 was as false as those made in 1948 and 1973. Indeed, it can be asserted that no combination of Arab military force was capable of defeating Israel in any of these conflicts.

The intelligence agencies of both Britain and the United States forecasted victory of the powerfully armed and well-disciplined Israelis prior to the war of 1967. “The only difference between the British and us,” said US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, “was how long it would take the Israelis to beat the Egyptians.” The Central Intelligence Agency predicted that Israel would defeat its Arab neighbours in one week. Its director Richard Helms put it thus:

If the Israelis attacked first, it was going to be a short war.. If the Egyptians attacked first, it was going to be a longer war, but there wasn’t any question about who was going to win it

Just over ten years after his army was routed by the Israelis during the Suez War, Nasser’s bluster and chess moves were not aimed at igniting a war, but instead was motivated out of a mixture of pride (King Hussein had once accused him of hiding behind the skirts of the United Nations Emergency Force in Sinai) and a desperate gamble aimed at bringing in the United States to the table as a mediator.

Nasser was hedging his bets on an intervention by the United States based on a formula set out by President Dwight Eisenhower after the Suez War. Eisenhower had made a commitment on behalf of the United States to keep the Straits of Tiran open. In other words, Nasser acted in the expectation that the United States would convene a peace conference at which the “society of nations” would effect a peace settlement that would enable Nasser to save face and reopen the Straits.

Those familiar with the story of Gamal Abdel Nasser will find this reasonably plausible. Back in the 1950s, Nasser had kept a back channel of communication with an earlier prime minister of Israel Moshe Sharett, who is often characterised as a politician who acted earnestly in the pursuit of peace with its Arab neighbours.

However, Sharett was frustrated by the machinations of the hardline Moshe Dayan while he served as the Chief of General Staff. And in 1967, Dayan would frustrate the efforts of both Prime Minister Eshkol and General Yitzhak Rabin who had favoured a limited military operation which would have paved the way for an international peace conference.

In Israel, there were many who were not keen on effecting a peace settlement. They had began ratcheting up the tension after Egypt and Syria had signed a mutual defence pact in November of 1966. The agreement provided that each country would support the other if attacked by Israel. Incidents were manufactured by the Israelis on the Syrian border which led to tit-for-tat exchanges. These confrontations continued until April of 1967 when pilots of the Israeli Air Force engaged in a series of dogfights with their Syrian counterparts over a seven-hour period. It culminated with the Israeli mirage jets downing six Syrian MIG 21s.

Neither Egypt nor either of the other frontline Arab states had any intention of attacking Israel. So far as Egypt was concerned 40,000 soldiers, among them some of the finest units of its army, were bogged down by a protracted conflict in Yemen. The deployments Nasser ordered into Sinai were nowhere near the numbers required to mount a serious strike. The CIA, the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the British Secret Intelligence Service all concluded that they were defensive in nature.

Evidence that this was the case came over the years from a number of Israeli military and political figures.

For instance in the February 28th edition of the French magazine Le Monde, Yitzhak Rabin said the following in an interview:

I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions which he sent into Sinai on 14 May would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.

Also, in the early 1970s, General Matetiyahu Peled, Chief of Logistical Command during the war, while engaged in a radio debate asserted that “Israel was never in real danger and there was no evidence that Egypt had any intention of attacking Israel”, adding, “Israeli intelligence knew that Egypt was not prepared for war.” In an interview for Le Monde published in June of 1972, Peled said the following:

To pretend that the Egyptian forces concentrated on our borders were capable of threatening Israel’s existence does not only insult the intelligence of any person capable of analysing this kind of situation, but is primarily an insult to the Israeli army.

And from Menachem begin in 1982 came this statement:

In June 1967 we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.

It follows that the fears of annihilation and a second holocaust, encouraged at home and abroad by the Israeli authorities were unfounded. Again, many military figures have confirmed this including General Haim Bar-Lev, another Chief of Staff of the IDF. “We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the Six Day War,” he told Ma’ariv in April of 1972, “and we never thought of such a possibility.”  This was backed up General Ezer Weizmann, Chief of Operations during the war, who pooh-poohed the suggestion by stating that “there was never any danger of annihilation. This hypothesis has never been considered in any serious meeting.”

It is important to note that the Israelis had first announced that their attack had been in response to Egyptian military action, and that when it was realised that this version of events would not stand the test of scrutiny, it reverted to the story of a preemptive action. As for the emotive narrative of the digging of mass graves, photographic archives show Israeli civilians digging trenches much in the manner as civilians have been apt to do when preparing to defend towns and cities in war time.

Right from its inception, the leaders of Israel were well practised in the art of public manipulation and control. Both David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan were taken by the philosophy of keeping Israel’s citizens in a consistent state of apprehension and alertness, otherwise, they feared, they might become complacent about their hard won Zionist nation. This is why both men provoked many border skirmishes which were responded to with typically disproportionate force.

Most of the skirmishes on the Syrian border -more than a thousand occurring between 1948 and 1967 according to Syrian estimates- were in fact provoked by Israel as a means of extending Israeli territory in the demilitarized zone between both countries.

Dayan admitted this in an interview in 1976:

We would send a tractor to plow some (disputed) area...and we knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was...

Manipulation and control were also at the heart of the decision to lie to the Israeli public over the false flag operation carried out in Egypt in 1954 by a Jewish Arab cell charged by Israeli military intelligence with the mission of bombing British and American establishments in the hope of discouraging a rapprochement between Egypt and the West. Those who went to the gallows or who were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment were claimed by Israel’s government to have been the innocent victims of an anti-Semitic show trial by the Nasser government.

The reason for perpetuating the myth of a preemptive strike on the grounds of self-defence and the threat of annihilation lies in the quest for achieving ‘Greater Israel’. This idea is rooted not only in religious thinking and the secular objectives of political Zionism but also in terms of acquiring resources linked to land and water.

The Land of Israel or Eretz Yisrael, encompasses territory that is larger than what was provided for Jews under the partition plan and the additional territory won by militias after the 1948 war. Although the concept of ‘Greater Israel’ varies in terms of the extent of its borders, one consistent feature is the inclusion of the biblical regions of Judea and Samaria, which broadly correspond to the location of the modern West Bank.

The war of 1967 was a war of conquest that had been in preparation for many years. It was about completing the unfinished business from 1948 which included claiming the whole of Jerusalem. Nasser had been goaded into a trap and the opportunity had to be seized. Those within the Israeli government who prevaricated such as Prime Minister Eshkol and the IDF Chief of Staff Rabin were labelled as “weak” and “indecisive”.  

In fact, some argue that Eshkol’s government was subjected to a coup d’etat instigated by Right-wing elements in the military who with the support of like-thinking politicians and the media contrived to force Eshkol into forming a National Unity Government with the Right-wing Herut party led by Menachem Begin. Up to that point in history, the prime minister had by tradition also held the portfolio of minister of defence (save for the short-lived Moshe Sharett), but Eshkol was pressured to relinquish it to the hawk Moshe Dayan.

Dayan was effectively the architect of the Israeli conquests that followed. The waging of an aggressive war under the pretence of a preemptive strike along with the encouragement of an atmosphere fearful of annihilation each served a purpose: To give Israeli actions the veneer of legality, and, in the latter case, as explained by Mordecai Bentov, a member of the National Unity Government in Al-Hamishmar newspaper in April of 1971, a rationalization for the intended land grab:

The entire story of the danger of extermination was invented in every detail and exaggerated a posteriori to justify the annexation of new Arab territory.

The ruthless use of propaganda as a means of camouflaging Israel’s true objectives lies behind one of the most notorious events of the Six Day War: the sinking of the USS Liberty. This murderous act of Israeli aggression against its ally, the United States, was played down as a case of attacking a target mistakenly under the fog of war.

An American intelligence gathering vessel bristling with antennae and flying the stars and stripes, the Liberty was cruising off the coast of Egypt on June 8th when attacked by a combination of Israeli air and naval forces. Thirty-four of its crew were killed and 174 left wounded. The attack, which was almost certainly ordered by General Dayan, had occurred at a most sensitive stage of the war.

The Israelis, whose rout of the Egyptian army had brought about the unwanted burden of policing more prisoners of war than they could handle, had reached el Arish where hundreds of captured Egyptian soldiers had been executed. Some had been forced to dig their own graves while others were buried by native Bedouin tribesmen after Israeli soldiers had shot them and left the bodies rotting in the desert sun. The Liberty was well-placed to listen in on these events given that el Arish is a port city on the Mediterranean coast.

The other issue of crucial importance concerned Israel’s strategic conduct of the war. After its conquest of the Sinai Peninsula, Israel’s intention was to order many of its units to turn around and be redeployed so as to consolidate the capture of the West Bank and also to provide reinforcement for the units charged with attacking Syria and taking the Golan Heights.

Far from entertaining thoughts of a life or death struggle with its Arab foes which could possibly result in the mass extermination of its citizens, Israeli calculations were based on achieving certain victory. However, this would need to be accomplished within a limited time scale after which it leaders were aware that a UN Security Council-brokered ceasefire would have to be implemented.

While Israel had obtained the blessing of President Lyndon Johnson to go to war, it did not have America’s consent so far as taking over the West Bank and Syrian territory was concerned. Such actions it was felt might provoke an intervention by the Soviet Union.

Thus it was that with victory complete in the Sinai and two days left of the war, the Israelis did not want the Americans eavesdropping through the Liberty when its troops were rerouted northwards. Such was the secrecy behind the planned incursion into Syria that Prime Minister Eshkol was not told of the plan by Dayan until after he had ordered the attack on the Golan Heights.

After being closely monitored by Israeli reconnaissance planes, the Liberty was subjected to a sustained attack lasting for about two hours. The ship endured waves of attacks by strafing jets and projectiles fired from motorized torpedo boats. Crew who attempted to launch lifeboats were targeted by machine guns and napalm bombs were dropped. The intention appeared to be to sink the the ship and leave no survivors. This would have left it open for the attack to be blamed on Egypt.

Miraculously, the ship was kept afloat and a distress signal sent after having had both its tactical and distress frequencies jammed by the Israelis. Twelve fighter jets and four tanker planes stationed on the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier of the nearby American Sixth Fleet, were sent into action to defend the Liberty but were recalled by US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara. Once the Israelis knew that the American fleet had received word of the attack, they were quick to inform the Americans that their ship had been hit by mistake.

A cover up was effected by the Johnson administration under pressure from an ever more assertive Israeli lobby which had threatened to smear Johnson with the accusation of blood libel. Alongside this allegation of anti-Semitism would be a refusal by Jewish organisations to fund Johnson if he chose to run for reelection the following year.

Although the establishment cover up over the attack on the Liberty persists to this day several prominent American officials have over the years gone on the record to contradict the hastily arrived official verdict that it had been a mistake; Dean Rusk, a former US Secretary of State, and Admiral Thomas Moorer who was the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff at the time of the incident being among the most prominent of these dissenters.

In a perceptive insert in Newsweek magazine’s ‘Periscope’ column dated June 19th 1967, a staff writer offered the following thesis:

Although Israel’s apologies were officially accepted, some high Washington officials believe the Israelis knew the Liberty’s capabilities and suspect that the attack might not have been accidental. One top-level theory holds that someone in the Israeli armed forces ordered the Liberty sunk because he suspected it had taken down messages showing that Israel started the fighting.

Tape recordings of the dialogue of Israeli personnel during the attack which were available to American officials soon after the incident have been made public in recent years. On separate occasions, a voice is heard clearly identifying the Liberty as an American vessel. The position that the destruction of the USS Liberty was a tragic error is no longer tenable.

The truth behind the Six Day War is one which many who have been conditioned to accept the sanctity of the Israeli version of history may find shocking and difficult to comprehend. But what Israel had assured America would be a limited war turned into a land grab. It had not been a war of self-defence but one of aggression. It was also not a war waged to prevent annihilation, instead it was a war that led to dispossession and occupation.

For decades, the Six Day War has been represented as one of the stellar achievements of the reborn Jewish state. Just over two decades after the persecutions and genocide visited upon European Jewry, the Jewish David defied the prospect of certain defeat to slay the Arab Goliath in a just and audacious martial enterprise.

The technical accomplishments and personal bravery of Israeli military personnel notwithstanding, the background of false propaganda, the numerous breaches of international law and the commission of a series of war crimes all put the lie to the famous statement by Abba Eban, Israel’s long-term foreign minister that “Never in the history of nations has armed force been used in a more righteous or compelling cause.”

The effects of the occupation of the West Bank including the spread of illegal settlements, the economic strangulation of Gaza in between intermittent punitive military actions as well as the illegal annexation of the Golan Heights continue to challenge Israeli claims to righteous and moral conduct.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.