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Egypt Under Nasser, War with Israel

Arab summit, Egyptian government, War of Attrition, Sinai Peninsula, Suez Canal

In June 1967 Israel, unable to secure military assistance from the United States or any European nations, launched surprise air attacks against its Arab enemies, virtually destroying the air forces of the UAR, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. In the ensuing Six-Day War, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from the UAR. Nasser retaliated by breaking diplomatic relations with the United States, which he accused of aiding Israel, and again closing the Suez Canal. Jordan and Syria likewise suffered defeat and lost territory to the Israelis.

In the wake of its defeat, the UAR sought more weapons and military advisers from the USSR. It also began to make peace with Saudi Arabia, on whom it had to rely for economic assistance. Under the terms of a peace plan for Yemen, Egyptian troops were at last withdrawn from Yemen in December 1967. As Saudi influence increased, the Egyptian government began, imperceptibly at first, moving from Arab socialism toward a more Islamic orientation.

In November 1967 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, a peace proposal that called for Israelís withdrawal from lands taken in the recent fighting. In 1968 UAR and Israeli forces began firing regularly at each other across the Suez Canal, leading Nasser in March 1969 to declare a War of Attrition against Israel. Israel responded with air and land attacks on the UAR. Nasser, in turn, requested more Soviet military assistance.

In 1970 U.S. secretary of state William Rogers proposed a peace plan that would have extended Resolution 242 by requiring Israel to give back almost all the land it had taken in 1967 in return for peace treaties with its Arab neighbors. Israel rejected the plan, while Nasser decided to join Jordan in accepting the plan. Palestinian commandos who opposed the plan challenged Jordanís King Hussein. Nasser called another Arab summit in Cairo and managed to reconcile the two sides. He died of a heart attack within hours after the meeting ended. Nasserís death and funeral led to an outpouring of grief throughout the Arab world.

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