The Arab-Israeli Wars

Table of Content

In his article ‘Seven Wars and a Peace Treaty,’ Rabinnovich presents a chronological narrative of the conflicts between Arabs and Israelis that occurred after the establishment of the Israeli state.

The Israeli’s christened this conflict as the war of Independence, which consisted of two distinct phases. It commenced in 1947 following the United Nations resolution regarding the division of Palestine. While the Jewish community accepted the resolution, the Arabs rejected it, precipitating a civil war. From the period leading up to May 15, 1948, the two opposing communities vied for influence in anticipation of the ensuing all-out conflict that would occur upon the departure of British forces. Consequently, much of the fighting revolved around road control and the cities inhabited by both ethnicities.

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After Israel declared independence, five Arab states – Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan – intervened in Palestine to support the Palestinian Arabs. Consequently, a conflict lasting eight months ensued as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) battled against the official armies of these Arab nations.

Israel emerged as the winner of the war by December 1948. The Egyptian army had made progress into Sinai, while the Lebanese army was pushed back to their borders. Israel captured a part of South Lebanon and Syria withdrew its forces to the pre-1948 international boundary, leading to demilitarized zones. Jordan took control of the West Bank at the end of the conflict. Although Iraq played a smaller role, they influenced the Arab League’s involvement in the war.

Despite its initial military disadvantages, Israel succeeded due to strong and unified leadership under David Ben-Gurion. He effectively integrated both military and political elements into a comprehensive strategy. Additionally, Israel’s solid social and political structures prior to the war contributed to its success. Throughout the conflict, Israel acquired arms and transformed early disadvantages into advantages. The Soviet Union also played a role in the international dimension of the war by providing assistance to Israel, aiming to destabilize the existing status quo.

Israel gained more land than what was initially allocated to them according to the UN partition solution after the war. Consequently, this led to the creation of the problem of Palestinian refugees, which was a humiliating ordeal for Arabs.

2. The Sinai-Suez Campaign War in October 1956.

In the 1950s, political, economic, and military actions were used to demonstrate the antagonism between states. The Arab boycott and the closure of the Gulf of Tiran and Suez Canal to Israeli shipping serve as examples.

Arab nations devised a comprehensive war strategy aimed at reversing the outcomes of the 1948-1949 war and annihilating the Israeli state. Conversely, Israel intended to engage in a restrained war solely to enhance its position and preempt any potential Arab attack.

Meanwhile, Egypt, under the leadership of Nasser – a pan-Arabist leader and an ally of the Soviet Union – was emerging as a dominant force in the region. Egypt took active measures against Israel, initiating conflicts and witnessing several raids carried out by Palestinian groups from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Moreover, Nasser forged a military alliance called the tripartite pact among Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

The Suez Canal’s nationalization led to Britain leaving and giving Egypt more influence over Syria and Jordan. It also sparked Nasser’s offensive against what was left of Britain and France’s colonial empires, forming a coalition between France and Israel. To maintain their positions in the region, Britain, France, and Israel collaborated in October 1956 to attack Egypt.

Israel perceived an escalation in Arab aggression as a defensive conflict, prompting the initiation of the Sinai campaign. The campaign’s objectives included reaching the Suez Canal, eliminating the Egyptian Army in Sinai, and seizing control of Sharm el Sheikh. This location held strategic significance as it governed entry to the Tiran strait on the southern border of Sinai Peninsula. These aims would further assist Britain and France in their respective military endeavors.

In 1957, Israel retreated from the Sinai and the Gaza Strip in defiance of objections from both the United States (USA) and the Soviet Union (SU). The withdrawal was facilitated by security agreements arranged by the Eisenhower administration. Despite suffering a military setback, Egyptian leader Nasser managed to transform it into a political triumph. These agreements stipulated that the Sinai would be free of military presence and overseen by a reduced Egyptian armed forces to thwart unexpected assaults. The Gaza Strip, along with Sinai and Sharm el-Sheikh, would have United Nations troops stationed within its borders.

Israel’s military capability was showcased during this war, which helped strengthen its position regionally and internationally. However, Nasser failed to learn from this and initiated another war. He relied on the advantage of Egypt and other Arab countries’ military buildup as well as sufficient Arab cooperation, allowing for the formation of a united Arab front against Israel. Additionally, Israel faced international isolation during this time.

The Soviet Union believed that the USA was attempting to overthrow the Syrian Baath Party government and isolate Nasser. This led them to provide an unusually high level of support to Syria and deceive the Egyptians with false information about Israel’s plans to attack Syria. Nasser sought to regain prestige following previous losses to Israel and wanted to seek revenge. The PLO also made some contribution to the war as it aimed to establish its presence.

The outbreak of the war was quite conflicting as the Arabs aimed for Israel to be the aggressor, thus escalating the problems. For instance, Egypt blockaded the Tiran strait, remilitarized Sinai, and evacuated the UN forces from this region.

Even the US government concluded that a political solution to the crisis was impossible and that Israeli military action was inevitable. This was a significant development as it gave reassurance to the Israeli government from the USA.

Israel had multiple goals in mind: preserving the element of surprise, addressing concerns about Egypt’s military buildup in the Sinai Peninsula, swiftly achieving their objectives, and limiting the scale of the conflict.

The Arab-Israeli conflict witnessed a significant turning point with the six-day war. This conflict not only led to an arms race and military expansion but also revived the struggle for Palestine. Before this war, Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank were under a single authority since 1948. However, Israel’s control over the West Bank sparked a resurgence in nationalism, ultimately resulting in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) gaining autonomy.

The ongoing dispute between Israel and Syria originated from the war, mainly regarding the ‘Golan Heights’. Once again, Arabs experienced humiliation and realized that Israel was unbeatable in combat.

4. The attrition war took place from December 1968 to August 1970.

Israel’s desire to utilize its acquired territories for peace was met with opposition from Arab nations who viewed it as a reward for Israel’s aggression. In August 1967, during the Khartoum Summit Conference, these nations famously expressed their three nos towards Israel. Additionally, they raised their concerns at the United Nations Security Council but did not achieve any progress.

In the following year, Nasser recognized the detrimental nature of the stalemate and opted to initiate a war of attrition against Israel. This endeavor received assistance from Jordan, Syria, and the PLO. The belief among these entities was that Israel lacked either the capability or desire to engage in armed conflict with them.

In response to escalated shelling and ambushes, Israel made a tactical shift by increasingly relying on its air force. Additionally, Israel instigated commando raids on Egypt.

Egypt collaborated with Soviet ground-to-air missiles and positioned aircraft within its territory.

Ultimately, US Secretary of State W. Rogers proposed a plan that resulted in a ceasefire agreement.

Both sides suffered a lot, so in August 1970, they agreed to have a positive ceasefire.

King Hussein granted permission for the PLO to transform Jordan into a base of operations against Israel. The PLO also received support from multiple Arab states.

5. The October War (October 5-22, 1973)

This conflict is known as the Ramadan War in Egypt and the Yom Kippur War in Israel.

During the détente period, Israel had an opportunity to establish good relations with the superpowers. After Nasser’s death, Sadat came to power and planned a limited war against Israel in cooperation with Syria. Egypt would cross the Suez Canal while Syria attacked the Golan Heights. As part of their plan, Egypt surprised Israel by crossing Sinai.

However, Israel preemptively crossed the Suez Canal and launched a counterattack on Syria in the Golan Heights. While Egypt wanted to continue the war, Syria preferred a passive stance.

It is important to note that the Soviet Union supported Egypt.

The war ended without a clear conclusion; Israel gained more territory and advanced closer to Cairo by 60 miles.

Israel had control over the majority of the west bank of the Suez Canal, however they encountered various challenges. These challenges comprised a deterioration in governance, significant economic and financial burdens from the war, and an escalation in the global repercussions stemming from the Arab world.

After the October war, Egypt raised doubts about its ability and willingness to sustain its participation in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This hesitation stemmed from Egypt’s economic struggles and growing reliance on wealthy Arab nations.

At the Algiers summit in November 1973, a political settlement with Israel was proposed. This settlement included two conditions: the return of all territories captured in 1967 and the restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

Both Egypt and Syria signed disengagement agreements with Israel in their willingness to go further to regain Sinai.

President Sadat of Egypt accused the PLO and Syria in 1977 of hindering Egypt’s efforts to regain control of the Sinai Peninsula. As a result, he visited Jerusalem and established bilateral relations with Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Begin reciprocated by traveling to Ismailia in Egypt. The United States intervened to facilitate better peace settlements. In 1978, President Carter invited both leaders to Camp David, where Israel recognized the legitimate national rights of Palestinians. This summit resulted in an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and a five-year period of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, represented by local representatives.

Despite the ongoing unresolved Palestinian issue, the demonstration highlighted the potential for positive political changes. Moreover, this event marks a significant milestone as the first Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

The duration of the Lebanese war was from June 1982 to September 1982.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict that began after the 1948-1949 war originated from this war. Israel’s goal was to dismantle the PLO’s military infrastructure and decrease their influence in Southern Lebanon. Additionally, Israel aimed to stop the shelling of northern Israel by the PLO. The Israeli government also wanted to support the establishment of a strong central government in Lebanon, especially among radical Maronite Christians. This objective aimed to improve Lebanon’s position in future discussions about Arab-Israeli relations by eliminating the PLO’s territorial base and fostering normal relations with another Arab state.

In June 1982, Israel launched an invasion of Beirut which resulted in the PLO being forced to withdraw to other Arab states. Additionally, Israel gained control over Southern Lebanon. During this period, the favored leader, Bashir Jumayyil, was assassinated. Subsequently, his brother assumed power but did not align with Israel’s interests as expected, proving to be unfavorable for Israel.

In May 1983, an agreement was signed between Israel and Lebanon which resulted in Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. This withdrawal was conditioned upon the establishment of normalization and security arrangements in Lebanon. Israel demanded that all foreign forces leave Lebanon, but Syria refused to evacuate and continued to pressure the new Lebanese state while also rejecting the agreement.

The war in Lebanon took place in two phases. The first phase lasted from September 1982 to June 1985, and the second phase continued from June 1985 until the end of the decade.

The situation in Lebanon initially deteriorated and escalated, becoming a regional issue that temporarily halted the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1985, with the Labor party in control, the Israeli government received assistance from the United States in their negotiations with Jordan. Simultaneously, the PLO started exerting its influence in Jordan, ultimately causing these talks to fail.

The Intifada began as a result of the PLO’s headquarters being relocated from Lebanon. This event mobilized the residents of the West Bank and Gaza. Although the Syrian-Israeli conflict somewhat diminished, Syria still had support from the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1980s, relations were strained with a looming expectation of another war.

In his article ‘Seven Wars and a Peace Treaty’, Rabinnovich provides a chronological overview of the wars that took place between Arabs and Israelis following the establishment of the State of Israel.

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The Arab-Israeli Wars. (2018, Aug 09). Retrieved from

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