55 Years After the Six Day War: How Morocco and Saudi Arabia Played Key Roles in Helping Israel Win

June 5 2022 marks 55 years since the outbreak of the Six Day War, which although brief was one of the most pivotal military clashes in the Middle East of the Cold War era with far reaching consequences still felt across the region today. The conflict primarily pitted the armed forces of the Israel and Egypt, the latter then officially called the United Arab Republic, against one another, with Egypt supported by Syria and Iraq. Forces from Jordan also took part in hostilities. The was saw Egyptian forces overwhelmingly defeated as the Israeli Air Force neutralised its poorly defended airfields and maintained a very high sortie rate to then provide close air support to an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Syria suffered the loss of much of the Golan Heights which it has yet to recover to this day, although its role in the fighting and the toll on armed forces remained limited by comparison to Egypt. The roles of Iraq and Jordan were more minor still. What was little known of the conflict, however, were the roles of Western-aligned Arab states in supporting the Israeli Air Force both directly and indirectly to ensure that the Soviet aligned Arab republics, and Egypt and Syria in particular, would be weakened to the benefit of Western Bloc interests in the region.

The Egyptian Military was notably in poor shape to wage war with Israel not only due to a lack of preparation, but also to its preoccupation supporting republican forces in North Yemen’s Civil War against royalist forces. Yemeni royalists were at the time receiving strong backing from Saudi Arabia, the American CIA, Britain’s MI6, the Israeli Air Force and various British mercenary organisations. Saudi Arabia played a key role in weakening Egypt in coordination with Western powers, and without Saudi participation the war effort would not have been feasible. This largely paved the way to Egypt’s defeat in 1967, as approximately three quarters of Egypt’s frontline units were deployed to Yemen when war broke out with Israel in 1967, including its best trained and most experienced personnel, with losses in the Yemeni conflict having by then reached close to 10,000 personnel. 

Beyond the war in Yemen, the Moroccan monarchy of King Hassan II played a more direct role in undermining Egypt and bolstering the Israeli position leading up to the Six Day War. Former Israeli military intelligence chief Major General Shlomo Gazit revealed in 2016 that the Moroccan king had passed to Israel intelligence recordings of highly sensitive meetings among Arab republican leaders discussing their war plans. These were key to shaping an Israeli understanding that the Arab states were ill prepared for war, allowing them to call what appeared to be an Egyptian bluff when it built up its forces in Sinai by launching attacks on June 5. Support for Israel from Western-aligned Arab states did much to undermine the paradigm of an Arab-Israeli conflict, and instead pointed to a Cold War conflict in which Western and Soviet aligned countries strongly tended to side with one another, although more openly siding with Israel was domestically untenable for Arab monarchies at the time.