In May 1967, in brazen violation of previous truce agreements, Egypt ordered U.N. peacekeepers out of the Sinai, marched 120,000 troops to the Israeli border, blockaded Eilat (Israel’s southern outlet to the world’s oceans), abruptly signed a military pact with Jordan, and, together with Syria, pledged war for the final destruction of Israel.
May ’67 was Israel’s most fearful, desperate month. The country was surrounded and alone. Previous great-power guarantees proved worthless. A plan to test the blockade with a Western flotilla failed for lack of participants. Time was running out. Forced to protect against invasion by mass mobilization — and with a military consisting overwhelmingly of civilian reservists — life ground to a halt. The country was dying.
On June 5, Israel launched a preemptive strike on the Egyptian air force, then proceeded to lightning victories on three fronts. The Six-Day War is legend, but less remembered is that on June 1, the nationalist opposition (Menachem Begin’s Likud precursor) was for the first time ever brought into the government, creating an emergency national-unity coalition.
Everyone understood why. You do not undertake a supremely risky preemptive war without the full participation of a broad coalition representing a national consensus.
Forty-five years later, in the middle of the night of May 7–8, 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shocked his country by bringing the main opposition party, Kadima, into a national-unity government — shocking because just hours earlier, the Knesset was expediting a bill to call early elections in September.
Why did the high-flying Netanyahu call off elections he was sure to win?
Because for Israelis today, it is May ’67. The dread is not quite as acute: The mood is not despair, just foreboding. Time is running out, but not quite as fast. War is not four days away, but it looms. Israelis today face the greatest threat to their existence — apocalyptic mullahs publicly pledged to Israel’s annihilation acquiring nuclear weapons — since May ’67. The world is again telling Israelis to do nothing as it looks for a way out. But if such a way is not found — as in ’67 — Israelis know they will once again have to defend themselves, by themselves.
Such a fateful decision demands a national consensus. By creating the largest coalition in nearly three decades, Netanyahu is establishing the political premise for a preemptive strike, should it come to that. The new government commands an astonishing 94 Knesset seats out of 120, described by one Israeli columnist as a “hundred tons of solid concrete.”