In their sensational historical detective work, Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (Yale University Press, 2007), Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez have challenge the widely-accepted idea that the Six Day War happened without anyone wanting it. Instead, they present a theory that the U.S.S.R. instigated the war as a way preemptively to destroy the Israeli nuclear facilities.
I was drawn to the argument (in an analysis at "The Soviets' Six-Day War) but dared not quite fully endorse it, wondering if all the evidence would hold up under critical scrutiny by other experts on this topic.
Today comes confirmation of a critical piece of data, as suggested by the title of David Horovitz' article in the Jerusalem Post, "Russia confirms Soviet sorties over Dimona in '67." The confirmation comes from Col. Aleksandr V. Drobyshevsky, chief spokesman of the Russian Air Force, and it is inadvertent, coming in a completely different context (commemorating the anniversary of the test pilots' school from which one of the pilots who participated in the 1967 flights had graduated). Drobyshevsky wrote, in an article posted on the official Web site of the Russian Defense Ministry in October 2006 but only noticed by Remez and Ginor now:
In 1967, the military valor and high combat training of Col. Bezhevets, A.S. (now a Hero of the Soviet Union, an honorary test pilot of the USSR, [and] retired Air Force major-general), were demonstrated while carrying out combat operation in Egypt, [and] enabled [him] to perform unique reconnaissance flights over the territory of Israel in a MiG-25RB aircraft.
The MiG-25RB would be the "Foxbat" aircraft of the title. Remez and Ginor describe this passage as an "extraordinary disclosure" and as "official confirmation of the book's exhibit A and the source of its title." It comes, they add, "as close to an official document as one can hope for in the foreseeable future, given the prevailing circumstances in Russia."
An aerial view of Israel's Dimona reactor.
But the verdict is not unanimous. Bezhevets, the Foxbat pilot over Dimona, continues to deny having undertaken this mission. Remez and Ginor explain this discrepancy by suggesting that Bezhevets is sticking to the old line; in contrast, "Drobyshevsky's [Defense Ministry] statement relied not on the pilot's testimony but rather on the air force's own documentation." This difference illustrates their point that "full and direct documentation of the Soviet role in 1967 is still being suppressed." (August 24, 2007)
Nov. 4, 2007 update: Stanford University Press provides the following description of its forthcoming book, The Soviet Union and the June 1967 Six Day War, edited by Yaacov Ro'i and Boris Morozov:
Why did the Soviet Union spark war in 1967 between Israel and the Arab states by falsely informing Syria and Egypt that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border? Based on newly available archival sources, The Soviet Union and the June 1967 Six Day War answers this controversial question more fully than ever before. Directly opposing the thesis of the recently published Foxbats over Dimona by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, the contributors to this volume argue that Moscow had absolutely no intention of starting a war. The Soviet Union's reason for involvement in the region had more to do with enhancing its own status as a Cold War power than any desire for particular outcomes for Syria and Egypt.
Comment: Good to see the topic joined; may the stronger argument prevail.
Feb. 1, 2008 update: Book reviews are pleasingly unpredictable. Here is David Rodman in The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, voice of the Israeli foreign policy establishment:
Though Ginor and Remez marshal a prodigious amount of previously overlooked information to bolster their case, this documentation does not add up to unequivocal evidence of a Soviet-Arab conspiracy. … it is difficult to accept their charge of a conspiracy. … Furthermore, Ginor and Remez do not endow their thesis with a very persuasive rationale as to why the Soviets would launch a war against Israel.
In contrast, Lawrence Freedman writes in Foreign Affairs magazine, the voice of the U.S. foreign policy establishment:
Here is a book that is truly revisionist, challenging what we thought we knew about the origins and conduct of the Six-Day War. ... Ginor and Remez have succeeded to the point where the onus is now on others to show why they are wrong.
And most surprising of all, Mark N. Katz in The Middle East Journal, voice of American Arabism: He started out skeptical but
Long before reaching the book's end … I became convinced that Ginor and Remez have gotten it right.
Sep. 1, 2008 update: Ginor and Remez have published a follow-up paper, "The Six-Day War as a Soviet Initiative: New Evidence and Methodological Issues," in the Middle East Review of International Affairs. It contains what the authors themselves describe as a "welter of minute particulars," but particulars that buttress the Foxbat thesis.