Analysing the Six Day War - Neorealist view

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Ngo Di Lan - I6045500


More than sixty years after the creation of the Jewish state, Arab-Israeli relations still remain tremendously tense, contributing to the ongoing regional instability. In order to understand the current situation, one must understand the causes of all past Arab-Israeli wars, whose legacies continue to be major obstructions to peace between Israel and the Arab states. Among them, the 1967 War, also known as the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, Syria and Jordan was one of the most notorious ones. Such bloody wars only lead to enormous casualties and continuing hatred from both sides and therefore it is in the interest of the international community to ensure that such wars will be avoided as much as possible. To this end, Kenneth Waltz - a prominent neo-realist scholar, had developed a comprehensive theory that sought to provide an analytical framework to explain the causes of wars.

Waltz asserts that to explain wars, one must look into the causes on all three "images" or three levels of analysis. This is because although the first and second levels allow one to comprehend the direct causes of the war, the third level explores the environment in which states operate. However, instead of moving from the first level of analysis to the third, the order of analysis is reversed based on the rationale that it is necessary to consider the context in which the war happened first since it is the permissive cause to the war. Therefore, this essay shall begin with an analysis of the Six Day War on the third level of analysis, which is on the international system level. Then the analysis will move to the second level of analysis, which is the state level. Lastly, the outbreak of the war will be considered on the individual level, the first level of analysis. In this case study, a close analysis shows that that Waltz's theory does not adequately explain the outbreak of the Six Day War, as the war resulted from miscalculations and misperceptions rather than deliberate planning on either side.

Third level of analysis: war as result of the international system

The third level of analysis is an appropriate starting point because the characteristics of the international system strongly influence the behavior of states. On this level, one finds states in a "self-help" international system where there is no enforceable law among the states and therefore no automatic harmony. The direct consequence is that states become the ultimate judges of their own interests, grievances. (Waltz, 1998) As there is no supreme authority in this system, every state has to make sure that they are at least as powerful as their rivals, in order to ensure their security and even survival. In other words, in this system, power makes the rule, which is dangerous to peace and stability.

Ironically, the existence of the United Nations (UN) proves that the world is not yet ready to move beyond borders with a supranational government or a real international authority. Despite being the largest and most influential Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) in the world, the UN cannot act without the consent of the states since it is not a completely independent political entity. The limit of the UN intervention was evident during the crisis that led to the outbreak of the war. Ever since the outbreak of the Suez War in 1956, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) played an important role in ensuring peace between the Israel and the Arab world by creating a buffer zone in the Sinai peninsula. However, the UNEF could only remain there in so far as it had the consent of the Egyptian government. (Schulze, 1999) As a result, the UNEF agreed to comply when Nasser demanded a complete withdrawal in May 1967. (Schulze, 1999) This withdrawal carried enormous consequences and could be seen as the event that made war inevitable. This is because Nasser subsequently closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli cargo shipping and Israel considered that a casus belli. (Ovendale, 2004) More importantly, this event proves that the states remained the principal actors in the international system and that they could not rely on anyone else for their interests or survival. For this reason, this point confirms the explanatory power of Waltz's theory.
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In this anarchical system, the Arab states could always pose an existential threat to Israel. An examination of the situation shows that Israel had clear strategic disadvantages relative to its Arab neighbors. Firstly, its population was much smaller and therefore its military force. Secondly, it was surrounded by hostile Arab states with Syria to the north, Jordan to the East and Egypt to the south. Therefore unlike many other states, Israel had a real chance of fighting a three front war that would threaten its very survival. Thirdly, Israel had no ally in the Middle East, which made ...

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