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ARAB-ISRAELI WARS (1580 words)

ARAB-ISRAELI WARSSince 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.

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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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