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Essay/Term paper: Arab-israeli wars

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Political Science

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Since the United Nations partition of PALESTINE in 1947 and the

establishment of the modern state of ISRAEL in 1948, there have been four

major Arab-Israeli wars (1947-49, 1956, 1967, and 1973) and numerous

intermittent battles. Although Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in

1979, hostility between Israel and the rest of its Arab neighbors,

complicated by the demands of Palestinian Arabs, continued into the 1980s.


The first war began as a civil conflict between Palestinian Jews and

Arabs following the United Nations recommendation of Nov. 29, 1947, to

partition Palestine, then still under British mandate, into an Arab state

and a Jewish state. Fighting quickly spread as Arab guerrillas attacked

Jewish settlements and communication links to prevent implementation of the

UN plan.

Jewish forces prevented seizure of most settlements, but Arab

guerrillas, supported by the Transjordanian Arab Legion under the command

of British officers, besieged Jerusalem. By April, Haganah, the principal

Jewish military group, seized the offensive, scoring victories against the

Arab Liberation Army in northern Palestine, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. British

military forces withdrew to Haifa; although officially neutral, some

commanders assisted one side or the other.

After the British had departed and the state of Israel had been

established on May 15, 1948, under the premiership of David BEN-GURION, the

Palestine Arab forces and foreign volunteers were joined by regular armies

of Transjordan (now the kingdom of JORDAN), IRAQ, LEBANON, and SYRIA, with

token support from SAUDI ARABIA. Efforts by the UN to halt the fighting

were unsuccessful until June 11, when a 4-week truce was declared. When the

Arab states refused to renew the truce, ten more days of fighting erupted.

In that time Israel greatly extended the area under its control and broke

the siege of Jerusalem. Fighting on a smaller scale continued during the

second UN truce beginning in mid-July, and Israel acquired more territory,

especially in Galilee and the Negev. By January 1949, when the last

battles ended, Israel had extended its frontiers by about 5,000 sq km

(1,930 sq mi) beyond the 15,500 sq km (4,983 sq mi) allocated to the Jewish

state in the UN partition resolution. It had also secured its

independence. During 1949, armistice agreements were signed under UN

auspices between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The

armistice frontiers were unofficial boundaries until 1967.


Border conflicts between Israel and the Arabs continued despite

provisions in the 1949 armistice agreements for peace negotiations.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who had left Israeli-held

territory during the first war concentrated in refugee camps along Israel's

frontiers and became a major source of friction when they infiltrated back

to their homes or attacked Israeli border settlements. A major tension

point was the Egyptian-controlled GAZA STRIP, which was used by Arab

guerrillas for raids into southern Israel. Egypt's blockade of Israeli

shipping in the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba intensified the hostilities.

These escalating tensions converged with the SUEZ CRISIS caused by the

nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egyptian president Gamal NASSER.

Great Britain and France strenuously objected to Nasser's policies, and a

joint military campaign was planned against Egypt with the understanding

that Israel would take the initiative by seizing the Sinai Peninsula. The

war began on Oct. 29, 1956, after an announcement that the armies of

Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were to be integrated under the Egyptian commander

in chief. Israel's Operation Kadesh, commanded by Moshe DAYAN, lasted less

than a week; its forces reached the eastern bank of the Suez Canal in

about 100 hours, seizing the Gaza Strip and nearly all the Sinai Peninsula.

The Sinai operations were supplemented by an Anglo-French invasion of Egypt

on November 5, giving the allies control of the northern sector of the Suez


The war was halted by a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an

immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of all occupying forces from Egyptian

territory. The General Assembly also established a United Nations

Emergency Force (UNEF) to replace the allied troops on the Egyptian side of

the borders in Suez, Sinai, and Gaza. By December 22 the last British and

French troops had left Egypt. Israel, however, delayed withdrawal,

insisting that it receive security guarantees against further Egyptian

attack. After several additional UN resolutions calling for withdrawal and

after pressure from the United States, Israel's forces left in March 1957.

SIX-DAY WAR (1967)

Relations between Israel and Egypt remained fairly stable in the

following decade. The Suez Canal remained closed to Israeli shipping, the

Arab boycott of Israel was maintained, and periodic border clashes occurred

between Israel, Syria, and Jordan. However, UNEF prevented direct military

encounters between Egypt and Israel.

By 1967 the Arab confrontation states--Egypt, Syria, and Jordan--became

impatient with the status quo, the propaganda war with Israel escalated,

and border incidents increased dangerously. Tensions culminated in May

when Egyptian forces were massed in Sinai, and Cairo ordered the UNEF to

leave Sinai and Gaza. President Nasser also announced that the Gulf of

Aqaba would be closed again to Israeli shipping. At the end of May, Egypt

and Jordan signed a new defense pact placing Jordan's armed forces under

Egyptian command. Efforts to de-escalate the crisis were of no avail.

Israeli and Egyptian leaders visited the United States, but President

Lyndon Johnson's attempts to persuade Western powers to guarantee free

passage through the Gulf failed.

Believing that war was inevitable, Israeli Premier Levi ESHKOL,

Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, and Army Chief of Staff Yitzhak RABIN

approved preemptive Israeli strikes at Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, and

Iraqi airfields on June 5, 1967. By the evening of June 6, Israel had

destroyed the combat effectiveness of the major Arab air forces, destroying

more than 400 planes and losing only 26 of its own. Israel also swept into

Sinai, reaching the Suez Canal and occupying most of the peninsula in less

than four days.

King HUSSEIN of Jordon rejected an offer of neutrality and opened fire

on Israeli forces in Jerusalem on June 5. But a lightning Israeli campaign

placed all of Arab Jerusalem and the Jordanian West Bank in Israeli hands

by June 8. As the war ended on the Jordanian and Egyptian fronts, Israel

opened an attack on Syria in the north. In a little more than two days of

fierce fighting, Syrian forces were driven from the Golan Heights, from

which they had shelled Jewish settlements across the border. The Six-Day

War ended on June 10 when the UN negotiated cease-fire agreements on all


The Six-Day War increased severalfold the area under Israel's control.

Through the occupation of Sinai, Gaza, Arab Jerusalem, the West Bank, and

Golan Heights, Israel shortened its land frontiers with Egypt and Jordan,

removed the most heavily populated Jewish areas from direct Arab artillery

range, and temporarily increased its strategic advantages.


Israel was the dominant military power in the region for the next six

years. Led by Golda MEIR from 1969, it was generally satisfied with the

status quo, but Arab impatience mounted. Between 1967 and 1973, Arab

leaders repeatedly warned that they would not accept continued Israeli

occupation of the lands lost in 1967.

After Anwar al-SADAT succeeded Nasser as president of Egypt in 1970,

threats about "the year of decision" were more frequent, as was periodic

massing of troops along the Suez Canal. Egyptian and Syrian forces

underwent massive rearmament with the most sophisticated Soviet equipment.

Sadat consolidated war preparations in secret agreements with President

Hafez al-ASSAD of Syria for a joint attack and with King FAISAL of Saudi

Arabia to finance the operations.

Egypt and Syria attacked on Oct. 6, 1973, pushing Israeli forces

several miles behind the 1967 cease-fire lines. Israel was thrown off

guard, partly because the attack came on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement),

the most sacred Jewish religious day (coinciding with the Muslim fast of

Ramadan). Although Israel recovered from the initial setback, it failed to

regain all the territory lost in the first days of fighting. In

counterattacks on the Egyptian front, Israel seized a major bridgehead

behind the Egyptian lines on the west bank of the canal. In the north,

Israel drove a wedge into the Syrian lines, giving it a foothold a few

miles west of Damascus.

After 18 days of fighting in the longest Arab-Israeli war since 1948,

hostilities were again halted by the UN. The costs were the greatest in

any battles fought since World War II. The Arabs lost some 2,000 tanks and

more than 500 planes; the Israelis, 804 tanks and 114 planes. The 3-week

war cost Egypt and Israel about $7 billion each, in material and losses

from declining industrial production or damage.

The political phase of the 1973 war ended with disengagement agreements

accepted by Israel, Egypt, and Syria after negotiations in 1974 and 1975 by

U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. KISSINGER. The agreements provided for

Egyptian reoccupation of a strip of land in Sinai along the east bank of

the Suez Canal and for Syrian control of a small area around the Golan

Heights town of Kuneitra. UN forces were stationed on both fronts to

oversee observance of the agreements, which reestablished a political

balance between Israel and the Arab confrontation states.

Under the terms of an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty signed on Mar. 26,

1979, Israel returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt. Hopes for an expansion

of the peace process to include other Arab nations waned, however, when

Egypt and Israel were subsequently unable to agree on a formula for

Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the 1980s

regional tensions were increased by the activities of militant Palestinians

and other Arab extremists and by several Israeli actions. The latter

included the formal proclamation of the entire city of Jerusalem as the

Israeli capital (1980), the annexation of the Golan Heights (1981), the

invasion of southern Lebanon (1982), and the continued expansion of Israeli

settlement in the occupied West Bank.


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