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“We didn’t know if they were all dead…” The attacks on American embassies during the Six-Day War

During the Six-Day War of June 1967 Israel fought and won a decisive victory against

Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Lebanese forces. As a result of America’s backing of Israel, U.S. government facilities and U.S.-based companies were targeted throughout the Middle East and North Africa. For many embassies and consulates, including the embassy in Jeddah, it was not until after the attacks had ceased that communication capabilities were restored. Until that point it was not known whether or not American diplomats and citizens elsewhere had been harmed or had found safety during the conflict. U.S. diplomat Tom Gallagher was serving as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and recalls what this period was like for American diplomats in Jeddah and throughout the region. Gallagher entered the Foreign Service in 1965, and to this day remains the youngest person to ever lead a U.S. diplomatic mission when he served at the U.S. consul general in Ecuador. After coming out in 1973, Gallagher also became the first openly homosexual foreign service officer in the history of the U.S. Department of State. Gallagher was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in October 2012.

Read Tom Gallagher’s full oral history HERE.

Excerpts:
“Every US embassy and consulate from Casablanca to Bahrain was burned down or severely damaged.”

Dealing with attacks on American embassies and consulates during the Six-Day War: “The June War in ‘67 [also known as the Six-Day War] was the big event. Every US embassy and consulate from Casablanca to Bahrain was burned down or severely damaged. We got a cable from Dhahran [Consulate General of Saudi Arabia] saying: “We are inside the safe room and the building is burning down around us.” Cables were so backed up that we got the cable 48 hours after it was sent. It was a flash cable that took 48 hours to get through. We didn’t know if they were all dead or not. They weren’t, thank heavens, but I remember later the consul general in Dhahran saying that he was sitting on the phone under his desk while rocks and other projectiles were flying through the windows. [The American Embassy in] Jeddah alone survived. They did not attack us physically.”

“In fact, most of what I was doing was consular work. One of my assignments when I was in the consular section was to rewrite the embassy’s Emergency/Evacuation plan. The ambassador didn’t have a lot of trust in the officer who succeeded me in consular, so he gave me and the admin officer most of the work related to preparing for our evacuation (or non-evacuation). In the period leading up to the war, I contacted all of the heads of the American companies operating in Jeddah and Riyadh suggesting that they encourage their staffs to take vacations in Europe or back home. Most of the women and children left. When the war finally broke out there were less than 1,000 Americans left in the consular district. Luckily none of them were hurt during the war.”

Drafted by Tyler Ventura

 

Table of Contents Highlights

Education

     BA in Political Science, Monmouth University         1958-1962

Entered Foreign Service

     Jeddah Saudi Arabia-Political Officer                         1965-1967

     Guayaquil Ecuador-Consul General                            1975

     Africa Bureau, East African Affairs                              2004-2005