13 Facts About the Israeli-Arab Conflict

Yoram Ettinger

israelIsrael 1948 warIsrael 1956 SinaiIsrael 1967 WarIsrael Egypt warsIsrael PalestiniansIsrael Peace ProcessYoram Ettinger

The iconic photograph of Israeli soldiers gazing at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, for the first time in their lives, after entering the city as Israel beat the invading Arab armies in 1967. Photo: Israel Knesset.

1. Erroneous assumptions produce erroneous policies, as has been the case with all US initiatives towards the Palestinian issue, which the US foreign policy establishment erroneously believes is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

2. For example, the first 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War was not launched by Arab countries on behalf of Palestinian aspirations. The Arabs launched the war in order to advance their own particular — not Palestinian — interests through the occupation of the strategic area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the Palestinians blame Arab leaders for what they term “the 1948 debacle.”

3. Moreover, the 1948-49 War was aimed to prevent the establishment of an “infidel” Jewish entity on a land that Muslims believe is divinely endowed to the “believers” (Waqf). The Secretary General of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Azzam, stated: “The establishment of a Jewish state would lead to a war of extermination like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades….”

4.  Jordan joined the 1948-49 War in order to expand its territory to the Mediterranean. Egypt wanted to foil Jordan’s ambitious strategy, and therefore deployed a military force to the Jerusalem region to check the Jordanian advance. Iraq wanted to control the oil pipeline from the Kirkuk oil wells to the Haifa refineries, and Syria aimed at conquering some southern sections of so called “Greater Syria.”

5. At the end of the 1948-9 war, Iraq occupied Samaria (the northern West Bank), but transferred it to Jordan, not to the Palestinians. Jordan occupied Judea (the southern West Bank), and annexed both Judea and Samaria to the Hashemite Kingdom on the East Bank of the Jordan River, prohibiting Palestinian activities and punishing/expelling Palestinian activists. Egypt conquered the Gaza Strip; imposed a nightly curfew, which was terminated when Israel gained control of Gaza in 1967; prohibited Palestinian national activities; and expelled Palestinian leaders. Syria occupied and annexed the al-Hama area in the Golan Heights. In 1948, the Arab League formed the “All Palestine Government” as a department within the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, dissolving it in 1959.

6.  Independent of the Palestinian issue, the 1956 Sinai War was triggered by the megalomaniacal aspirations of Egyptian President Nasser, who concluded a major arms deal with Czechoslovakia and lead a joint Egypt-Syria-Jordan military command against Arab rivals and Israel. He nationalized the British-French owned Suez Canal, supported the Algerian uprising against France, blockaded Israel’s southern port of Eilat, and unleashed Gaza-based terrorism against Israel, aiming to occupy parts of southern Israel (the Negev).

7.  Irrespective of the Palestinian issue, the 1967 (Six Day) War was launched by Israel in response to Egypt’s aggression (the blockade of Eilat, the oil port of Israel; the Egyptian deployment of troops into Sinai, deployed toward Israel in violation of the demilitarization agreement; the Egypt-Syria-Jordan Military Pact aimed at Israel’s destruction); the Syrian shelling of Israeli communities below the Golan Heights; and Jordanian shelling of Jerusalem.

8.  The 1969-70 Egypt-Israel War of Attrition along the Suez Canal was an extension of the 1967 War, and had no connection to the Palestinian issue.

9.  Unrelated to the Palestinian issue, the 1973 War was initiated by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, in order to destroy Israel and advanced their own goals.

10.  The 1982 PLO-Israel War in Lebanon — pre-empting a grand scale PLO assault on northern Israel — was the first war with no involvement of Arab military forces. The war erupted on June 6, but the Arab League convened an emergency session only in September, after the PLO had already been expelled from Beirut.

11.  The 1987-1992 and the 2000-2003 First and Second Palestinian Intifadas were not transformed into an Arab-Israeli war. Arabs shed rhetoric, but no blood or resources, for the Palestinians.

12. The 2008-9, 2012, and 2014 wars against the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist group Hamas were not top priorities for Arab leaders, most of whom blamed Hamas for the eruption of the 2014 war.

13. The erroneous assumption that the Arab-Israeli conflict was triggered by the Palestinian issue has led to erroneous policies. It’s time for Western policy-makers to disengage from over-simplification and reengage with the complex reality of the Mideast.