What if Israel Loses the War?
An apocalyptic vision
Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jewish Jerusalem lie in ruin. Countless Israelis are killed and the survivors rendered homeless. Their leaders are summarily taken out and shot. The world, though sympathetic, looks on passively while Israel is erased from the map.
That was the apocalyptic vision drawn for readers of an alternate historical novel published in 1969, two years after the Six Day War. Written by Richard Z. Chesnoff, Robert Littell, and Edward Klein, If Israel Lost the War, opens with Egyptian jets launching a surprise attack on the Israeli Air Force, destroying all of its planes on the ground. Lacking air cover, the Israel Defense Forces are swiftly overwhelmed by Egyptian troops and the combined armies of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.
First the border kibbutzim and then the development towns are laid waste, and finally the major cities. The dead are too numerous to calculate. Jewish refugees again look to the world for shelter, but, apart from the Netherlands, no nation is eager to help. America is thoroughly bogged down in Vietnam. It’s all over in six days—the recreated Jewish State, the product of four millennia of Jewish yearning and hope after the Holocaust, vanishes.
Of course, just the opposite happened, beginning on the morning of June 5, 1967 with the Israel air force’s devastating strike against Egypt. Within six days, the IDF defeated those combined Arab armies and expanded the territory under Israel’s control nearly fourfold. Among the areas captured was the Gaza Strip, formerly under Egyptian occupation, with its teeming refugee camps and hotbeds of Palestinian rage.
American Jews rejoiced in Israel’s victory—“It enabled us to walk with our backs straight,” we said—but few could forget the three weeks leading up to it. We remembered the days when Arab forces assembled on Israel’s borders, vowing to throw the Jews into the sea. “It’s high time to take the initiative in destroying the Zionist presence,” General Hafez al-Assad, father of Syria’s current dictator, declared. "We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants," predicted Palestine Liberation Organization head Ahmad Shuqayri. "As for the survivors — if there are any — the boats are ready to deport them."
The Arabs pledged to commit genocide but the world merely watched. The United States was indeed preoccupied with its war in Vietnam. American Jews who had lived through World War II feared they would witness a second Holocaust in a single generation.
It’s the specter of those three weeks, rather than the celebrations that followed them, that inform If Israel Lost the War. Reading it as a young teenager, I was terrified by its nightmarish prospect of what might have been. To this day, I remember the novel’s description of Egyptian tanks advancing through the rubble of Tel Aviv and Moshe Dayan being placed before a firing squad. Over the years, I’ve met more than one American Jew who decided to make Aliya after reading If Israel Lost the War.
Israel’s current war bears little resemblance to the one it fought 56 years ago. Hamas’s surprise attack of October 7 recalled the Egyptian and Syrian assaults of October 6, 1973, initiating the Yom Kippur War, and the massacre of Israeli civilians evokes those of Gush Etzion’s defenders in 1948 and of Hebron’s ultra-Orthodox community in 1929. But a haunting similarity with 1967 hovers over our desperate battle with Hamas. Israel could still lose the war.
How would that happen? How would an army more than twice as large as the British and French armies combined, armed with the most technologically sophisticated weapons, and relying on a skilled and highly motivated reserve force of 360,000, lose to some 30,000 terrorists who cannot command a single tank or warplane? And what, once Hamas wins, would be Israel’s fate?
In this hypothetical scenario, Israel’s defeat results not from an escalation of the fighting but rather, conversely, from its cessation. A combination of international pressure and the demands of the families of Israeli hostages compels Israel to agree to a temporary ceasefire. A number of hostages are released but most remain in captivity.
Hamas exploits the truce to rearm and reorganize and to invite the media to witness the moonscape that Israel has made of Gaza. The images of Palestinian suffering, coupled with the bitterness of the families of the hostages not freed, forces Israel to extend the ceasefire indefinitely.
With the fighting effectively stopped, Hamas emerges from its tunnels and declares victory. Immediately it begins preparation for the next invasion, fulfilling the promise of senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad. “The Al-Aqsa Flood [Hamas’s name for the Oct. 7 mass terror attack] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth,” he pledged. “[Israel] must be finished.”
But not only Hamas in Gaza is emboldened but also Hezbollah in Lebanon. Knowing what the terrorists are capable of doing to them and their families, and knowing that no physical barrier can completely protect them, the 250,000 Israelis evacuated from their southern and northern homes refuse to return. Large swaths of the country become uninhabitable. Tourism and foreign investment dry up. Iran, meanwhile, concludes that it can attack Israel with impunity. Its hands tied by internationally enforced ceasefires, the Jewish state is unable to defend itself.
Physically ravaged and financially starved, Israel steadily contracts. Retreating to the Greater Tel Aviv area, Israelis watch as the terrorists raze the towns and farms of Galilee and the Negev. Zionist pioneers made the desert bloom, but the Gazans reverse that process. Ransacking greenhouses much like they did in 2005 after Israel’s withdrawal from the Strip. Thousands of rockets rain each day on the dwindling holdouts of Israeli resistance.
Throughout, the world remains passive. Expressions of pity abound but no nation is willing to intervene. Though it has formidable Naval forces in the region, the United States, restrained by solid domestic opposition to further foreign entanglements, refrains from using them offensively. At most, US warships evacuate the survivors to the few countries open to receiving them.
In the novel, If Israel Lost the War, a number of Israeli soldiers manage to hide in the desert and mount an insurgency. Hope is held out. But no such resistance is possible once Israel loses its war with Hamas. With millions of Palestinians combing the countryside, there is no place for any Israelis to hide. Nor do they have an option to surrender.
Israel is demolished but the war has only begun. Triumphant, Jihadist forces proceed to topple the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan and massacre its allied tribes. Iraq falls to a revitalized ISIS and the Gulf States to Iranian-backed militias. Islamist revolts break out in parts of Africa and India. The streets of London, Paris, and other European capitals become battlefields.
Only the United States remains immune, but not for long. The many radicals who protested in favor of Hamas, burnt American flags and assaulted police, will not be satisfied by Israel’s demise. On the contrary, they will ramp up their assault on American Jews and those trying to protect them.
This scenario may be too horrific to contemplate but so, too, were the events of October 7. So was the apocalypse described by the authors of If Israel Lost the War. That, though, was a vision about what might have been, and the specter Israel faces is not beyond imagining.
The Six Day War ended only after Israel won. This war must continue until it does.