Israel was jubilant in victory and in proving its military dominance over the nation's erstwhile aggressors. But what is hard won can just as easily be lost. It wouldn't take long for Israel's larger and more populous neighbors to regroup, and just six years later, the Yom Kippur War dealt a serious blow to the State of Israel. Spearheaded by Egypt and Syria, supported by a host of local Arab expeditionary units, the surprise attack resulted in bloody fighting and, ultimately, an exchange of territory. Forced to cede a large swath of the Sinai Peninsula
, Israel bristled at the incursion and the losses it sustained, though the war did demonstrate a level of international support for Israel and its ability to repel a serious assault. The return of Sinai was grudgingly accepted as a necessary trade for peace, and after much cajoling from the United States, the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was eventually signed in 1979.
Pray for Peace . . .
In the years that followed, Israel experimented with a new weapon intended to eliminate some of the threats against it. Already in possession of a prodigious military capability — including nuclear weapons — Israel instead turned to diplomacy to alleviate some of its enduring concerns. The early 1990s was a particularly fruitful period for peacemaking, with the Oslo Accords assuaging some of the security angst surrounding the Palestinian territories. Israel granted the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) representative rights and, in return, the PLO agreed to recognize Israel's existence. Then, with the Israel–Jordan peace treaty of 1994, Israel removed one of its few remaining conventional threats. For the most part, the only danger left to it was that posed by a conventional Syrian force. But the eventual rise of the Islamic State, coupled with the attrition of the country's ongoing civil war, has depleted Damascus' capabilities. The Syrian state is still an enemy to Israel but a significantly weaker one, its military fractured and embroiled in its own conflicts.
Even with its traditional opponents on peaceful terms or otherwise marginalized, the State of Israel has had little opportunity to draw breath. Threats to the country's security and stability are as present as ever, though they have shifted from destruction at the hands of a conventional force to a nonconventional and insurgent menace, mostly emanating from territory just across Israel's borders.
Such insurgency manifests in different forms, and Israel remains afflicted by near-continuous attacks from entities such as Hamas
, the PLO and various affiliated groups. While a persistent nuisance, they lack the resources and conventional edge of Israel's traditional adversaries. However, they are almost impossible to subdue, primarily because Israel is not willing to concede, either in terms of territory or by granting concessions that could be interpreted by a domestic audience — and foreign powers, for that matter — as signs of weakness.
The reality is that much of Israel's government considers it impossible to relinquish any land, not within Jerusalem and certainly not in the West Bank, Gaza or the Golan Heights. Israeli leaders view these spaces strategically, creating depth that will ensure the nation's physical security. Despite cycles of dialogue and incessant rumors of new peace agreements, bolstered partly by U.S. President Donald Trump's efforts
to restart peace talks, Israel will not yield ground. Unlike some territories claimed in 1967, such as Sinai, any land that swaddles and insulates the Israeli core has never been deemed tradable by all factions within Israel's political, military and intelligence establishment. The contested territories also support the notion held by religious Israelis of a "Greater Israel." The issue is complex, largely because Israel's possession and occupation of contested territories 50 years ago has actually fueled hostility, fomenting more militant attacks and regionwide condemnation. And as seen so often throughout history, even as recently as the Russian annexation
in 2014, territorial gains are a double-edged sword.
Though Israel has less to fear from other states, the country's borders have in fact blurred over time. In lieu of a framework that is broadly acceptable to all, Israel's fringes exist in a state of flux, especially along the disputed territories. This feeds the asymmetric battle Israel finds itself fighting, one that is much less straightforward than confronting a known, conventional threat. On one hand, the immediate danger is less than that posed by the forces of a belligerent nation. But on the other, the insurgent threat is nearly impossible to solve with a decisive military campaign like the Six-Day War. Instead, Israel is regularly drawn into low-grade conflict with little power to impose a military solution.
There have been no signs of the unconventional threats to Israel abating. And while the state can bask in its technological superiority and training, many nations in the region, including Saudi Arabia, are looking to enhance their own military capabilities, partly in response to regional instability, including civil wars and runaway cross-border militancy. Just as the threats Israel now faces are not the same ones it faced in 1967, its security environment will continue to evolve in the years to come. Israel may find itself with an entirely different set of problems — and enemies — 50 years from now, as it celebrates its centennial anniversary of the Six-Day War.
The only thing we can know for certain is that peace in Israel, or its surrounding neighborhood, will not come quickly or easily. It seems fitting that a UNEF observer to the crisis that sparked the Six-Day War a half-century ago has the final words. When Indar Jit Rikhye was informed in 1967 of Nasser's intent to dispel the UNEF force in Gaza and Sinai, precipitating the Israeli offensive, Rikhye simply said, "I think you're going to have a major Middle Eastern war and I think we will still be sorting it out 50 years from now."