Nasser's Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power

Publication Year



Winner of the 2013 Reuven Chaikin Prize, University of Haifa

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

Nasser's Gamble draws on declassified documents from six countries and original material in Arabic, German, Hebrew, and Russian to present a new understanding of Egypt's disastrous five-year intervention in Yemen, which Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser later referred to as "my Vietnam." Jesse Ferris argues that Nasser's attempt to export the Egyptian revolution to Yemen played a decisive role in destabilizing Egypt's relations with the Cold War powers, tarnishing its image in the Arab world, ruining its economy, and driving its rulers to instigate the fatal series of missteps that led to war with Israel in 1967.

Viewing the Six Day War as an unintended consequence of the Saudi-Egyptian struggle over Yemen, Ferris demonstrates that the most important Cold War conflict in the Middle East was not the clash between Israel and its neighbors. It was the inter-Arab struggle between monarchies and republics over power and legitimacy. Egypt's defeat in the "Arab Cold War" set the stage for the rise of Saudi Arabia and political Islam.

Bold and provocative, Nasser's Gamble brings to life a critical phase in the modern history of the Middle East. Its compelling analysis of Egypt's fall from power in the 1960s offers new insights into the decline of Arab nationalism, exposing the deep historical roots of the Arab Spring of 2011.


Acknowledgments ix

The Golden Age of Nasserism 3
Idealism and Pragmatism in Nasser's Foreign Policy 11
The Nature of Middle Eastern Politics 14
The Place of the Intervention in Egyptian Memory 16
Structure of the Book 21

CHAPTER ONE - The Road to War 24
The Coup in Yemen 29
The Struggle for Power in Egypt 37
The Accidental Intervention? 49
The Denouement of the Crisis in Cairo 61

Chapter TWO - The Soviet-Egyptian Intervention in Yemen 70
The Nature of Soviet Relations with Egypt and Yemen 71
The Egyptian Appeal and the Soviet Response 75
Explaining Soviet Behavior 88
Forms of Early Soviet Involvement 94

Chapter THREE - Food for "Peace": The Breakdown of US-Egyptian Relations, 1962–65 102
Recognition 106
Disengagement 113
The Suspension of US Aid 127
The Balance of Payments Crisis 139

Chapter FOUR - Guns for Cotton: The Unraveling of Soviet-Egyptian Relations, 1964–66 142
Guns for Cotton 144
The Soviet Quest for Base Rights in Egypt 146
From Jiddah to Moscow 151
In the Cracks of Cold War Geology 159
The Final Unraveling 162

Chapter FIVE - On the Battlefield in Yemen--and in Egypt 174
Counterinsurgency 176
Casualties 190
Cost 195
Corruption 199
The Spread of Popular Discontent 206

Chapter SIX - The Fruitless Quest for Peace: Saudi-Egyptian Negotiations, 1964–66 215
The First Arab Summit 217
The Second Arab Summit 222
The Jiddah Agreement 232
From the Islamic Pact to the Long Breath Strategy 249
The Kuwaiti Mediation and the Return of Sallal 258

Chapter SEVEN - The Six-Day War and the End of the Intervention in Yemen 262
The Sinai Option 266
The Syrian Connection 272
The Soviet Spark 275
The Egyptian Initiative 284
The Impact of the Yemen War on Egyptian Military Performance in the Six-Day War 289
The Khartoum Conference and the Withdrawal of the Egyptians from Yemen 290

AFTERWORD - The Twilight of Egyptian Power 295

Bibliographical Note 313
Bibliography 319
Index 335


"[R]equired reading for those interested in the history of the Middle East."--Laura James, History Today

"Nasser's Gamble draws on an impressive selection of Russian, US and British diplomatic archives, as well as the Arabic language memoirs of politicians and senior military officials and contemporary press coverage. The book provides a precise and deeply researched analysis of the conflict."--Richard Phelps, International Affairs

"[Nasser's Gamble] offers a refreshing new perspective on an understudied topic."--Choice

"In masterly fashion, Ferris explains the consequences of those adventures for Egypt, inter-Arab relations, the Middle East, and the broad lines of its future development. Reading this book is indeed a most rewarding experience."--David Sultan, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs

"Nasser's Gamble makes a definite contribution to our understanding of both modern Egyptian history and Middle Eastern international relations."--James Jankowski, Bustan

"Ferris's book is an expansion of his PhD dissertation at Princeton, very well written, based on credible sources not formerly available, and well documented. His bibliographical notes and extensive list of sources will lead readers to plenty of materials for further investigation."--Daniel Spector, H-Net Reviews

Princeton University Press
Princeton, NJ
ISSN Number