If Israel Lost the War

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If Israel Lost the War
If Israel Lost the War (book cover).jpg
Author Robert Littell, Richard Z. Chesnoff and Edward Klein
Country Israel
Language English, Hebrew
Genre alternate history
Publisher Coward-McCann
Publication date
Pages 253

If Israel Lost the War is a 1969 alternate history/political controversy book written jointly by Robert Littell, Richard Z. Chesnoff and Edward Klein.[1]


The book's point of divergence is the assumption that it is the Arab air forces which on June 5, 1967 launch a surprise attack and destroy the Israeli Air Force, rather than the other way around as it happened in actual history.[2] Afterwards the Arab armies launch a lighting ground attack and - in an exact mirror image of the actual Six Day War - conquer the entire territory of Israel by June 10, 1967. The US, embroiled in the Vietnam War, takes no action to save Israel, nor does any other country (except for a valiant but futile sending of some planes from the Netherlands). As Sirhan Sirhan returned home to Jordan to celebrate the conquest of Israel, Robert F. Kennedy was never assassinated and went on to defeat Richard Nixon in the 1968 election, becoming the 38th President (Hubert Humphrey became the 37th President in the book's alternate timeline following LBJ's resignation in January 1968).

The book is written in a semi-documentary way, with multiple and constantly shifting points of view characters, detailed maps and numerous fictional quotations from the international media.

The three writers had the openly proclaimed aim of helping Israel's case in international public opinion, and justifying its act in having been in actual history the one to attack first. This aim is evident in the book's numerous depictions of atrocities committed by the victorious Arab armies, including detailed depictions of the mass rape of Israeli women, the public execution of Moshe Dayan by the Egyptian occupiers of Tel Aviv and the appointment of Nazi war criminals to run the Arab occupiers' secret police. As depicted in the book, the Palestinians get no benefit from the Arab victory and are as a far away as ever from having a state of their own, with Israeli territory being partitioned between Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Nor are the Palestinian refugees allowed to return to their pre-1948 homes despite these being under Arab rule.

The book ends in a relatively upbeat tone, with Yigal Alon - who had commanded the Palmach militia under British Mandate rule - holding a clandestine meeting in Syrian-occupied Tiberias, laying plans for an extensive guerrilla campaign. There is thus the implication that Israel might eventually regain independence, though it would be after a long and harsh struggle.


The book in Hebrew translation was at the time a best seller in Israel itself, and was used for propaganda by its government agencies as well as in the political debate between right and left. Journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery at the time published in HaOlam HaZeh weekly an editorial strongly criticising the book, as well as a review in Life.[3] Avnery stated that its starting point was implausible, since even with its air force destroyed Israel would not have been so quickly and totally overwhelmed. Avnery pointed out that in a considerable part of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, in which Avnery himself participated, it was the Arab side that dominated the air - and still the newly created Israel won the war. Avnery also criticised the three American writers, stating: "Though their intention is to help Israel's propaganda case, their book might help foster intransigence and dangerous illusions on the Arab side".

Varda Klein wrote: "Such a devastating attack does not come out of the blue. The Israeli Air Force laid meticulous plans years before 1967, and its pilots regularly held rigorous exercises to prepare. The Arabs would have had to do the same, to achieve like results.(...) A detailed joint strategic planning by Egypt, Syria and Jordan would have been highly unlikely, given that these regimes were virtually as suspicious and hostile to each other as they were to Israel. It would have been extremely difficult to hide from Israel joint large scale exercises of the Arab air forces. A strategic rapprochement between Egypt and Jordan would have been impossible to hide, it would have greatly alarmed Israel, and the entire Middle East configuration would have been different long before June 1967; indeed, such a situation might have impelled Israel into a preemptive strike already in 1966" .[4]


Though well-known and often debated in both the US and Israel, the book is by now largely forgotten. In May 2010 Israeli right-wing columnist Hagai Segal published a two-page summary of it in the Makor Rishon newspaper, proposing to his fellow-rightists to get a new edition published as part of their efforts to mobilise Israeli public opinion against the Obama Administration's Middle East peace plans.

An Israeli alternate history site ran by Asaf Shoval featured a variant version (in Hebrew) which begins with the same devastating Arab aerial attack, but has a new Point of Divergence with the Egyptians (rather than the Israelis, as in real history) attacking the USS Liberty (AGTR-5) and killing many of its crew. This provides President Johnson with a pretext to launch a massive American intervention and save Israel at the last moment. Israel is badly battered, having lost much of its territory and citizens and becoming in effect an American protectorate, but gradually recovers and greatly prospers economically.[5]

The Earlier Kishon article[edit]

In the aftermath of the 1956 Sinai War, the Israeli satirist Ephraim Kishon published a short piece with a similar theme, entitled "How we lost the World's Sympathy" (איך איבדנו את אהדת העולם). In Kishon's alternate history, Israel does not conclude an anti-Egyptian military alliance with Britain and France, as it did in actual history, and does not embark on the 1956 Sinai War. With no such alliance, France does not supply Mirage fighter jets to Israel. Egypt does get advanced jets from the Soviet Union, giving it a decisive military advantage, which it uses to launch a devastating surprise attack on Israel in 1957. Israel is totally conquered and Egypt goes on to depose King Hussein of Jordan and annex his kingdom. Afterwards, the destroyed Israel gets a lot of international sympathy, but far too late to do any good. All the international community can do is keep the empty chair of the Israeli Ambassador standing in the UN General Assembly and implore President Nasser of Egypt to treat humanely a handful of Israeli refugees huddling in the ruins of Tel Aviv. Kishon's obvious conclusion was that it is better to be internationally condemned for winning than to get sympathy after losing.

The article was re-published after the 1967 war in a collection of articles and cartoons which Kishon published jointly with Kariel Gardosh ("Dosh"), entitled "Sorry that we won" (סליחה שניצחנו). This was at the time translated to English and distributed in the US, and thus could have been known to the writers of "If Israel Lost the War".


  1. ^ Bernet, Michael M. (1969-03-02). "If Israel Lost The War; By Richard Z. Chesnoff, Edward Klein and Robert Littell. 253 pp. New York: Coward-McCann. $5.95.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  2. ^ "Two From Israel". St. Petersburg Times. 1969-02-19. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  3. ^ Uri Avnery (1969). "Clever Idea that Does More Harm than Good". Life: 8. 
  4. ^ Varda Klein, "Propaganda War and Implausible Nightmare Scenarios" in Naftali Berg (ed.) "Round Table on Ten Years of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace", Tel Aviv, 1988
  5. ^ See Shoval's map of the American-Israeli counter-attack [1] and of Israel's stabilized reduced borders [2].