Talk delivered at the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, on 11 November 2020.
This presentation offers a close look at the performance of the Egyptian army during its catastrophic defeat in the June 1967 War. It starts by wondering why President Gamal Abdel Nasser issued a series of orders in May of that year that greatly raised the probability of a military confrontation with his main adversary, Israel, at a time when his army was woefully unprepared for war. The talk then weaves a narrative of the actual performance of the army in Sinai with an account of tensions within military HQ in Cairo in order to explain exactly when and how the army collapsed after only 48 hours of combat. It then follows the fate of the defeated generals in the weeks and months following the defeat, as well as Nasser’s efforts to rebuild not only his shattered army but also his bereaved nation. The talk’s main argument is that a true understanding of one of the most devastating defeats in modern history has to be built as much on a detailed analysis of what happened on the battlefield as on a close scrutiny of civilian-military relations.