Israel’s spectacular triumph over the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria nearly five decades ago has been written about extensively by both Israeli and American writers. In “The Lion’s Gate,” author Steven Pressfield focuses on the human dimensions of the conflict: the thoughts, feelings and gut-level fears of average Israeli soldiers, military leaders and civilians during the course of the six-day conflict and its immediate aftermath.
Let it be said at the outset that any author who relies on diary entries and interviews with individuals who, in one way or another, experienced these events firsthand is asking us to take a leap of faith that the information — always partial — is complete and accurate. This is what one might call, “take it or leave it” journalism. I make no claims to being an expert on the region and Israel particularly. Based on what I know, however, the “take it” side of the argument wins hands down.
With the dubious value of hindsight, it’s easy to forget how close Israel came to military catastrophe. The balance of forces, at least on paper, strongly favored the Arabs. And, even though Israel’s antagonists ended up losing this war, their very existence as nations was not at stake.
Paraphrasing one Israeli general a day before the carnage ensued, Pressfield writes: “Other nations can afford to lose the first battle and still recover and carry the day. … This will not work for Israel. If we fail in the initial clash, our nation will be overrun.” And such remains the case today.