One of the distinguishing characteristics of Suez was that it was the result of a war plot. Indeed, while conspiracy theories are common, especially in the Middle East, Suez is one of the few genuine war plots of modern history. Britain, France and Israel deliberately, carefully and secretly planned their joint attack on Egypt. The Arab world was deeply divided in the mids between the radical states led by Egypt and the conservative monarchies led by Iraq but this division was not a direct cause of the Suez war. Similarly, the Soviet Union and the United States, though increasingly involved in the affairs of the Middle East, played no direct part in the events that led to war.
Once the war broke out, the Soviet Union scored some cheap propaganda points by threatening rocket attacks against the attackers while the real pressure for halting the attack came from Washington. The crucial factor in the origins of the Suez war was the convergence of British, French and Israeli plans to inflict a military defeat on Egypt and to bring about the downfall of Nasser.
President Nasser appeared to challenge Israel to a duel but most observers agree that he neither wanted nor expected a war to take place. What he did do was to embark on an exercise in brinkmanship which went over the brink. On 13 May Nasser received a Soviet intelligence report which claimed that Israel was massing troops on Syria's border.
Nasser responded by taking three successive steps which made war virtually inevitable: he deployed his troops in Sinai near Israel's border, he expelled the United Nations Emergency Force from Sinai, and, on 22 May, he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. On 5 June Israel seized the initiative and launched the short, sharp war which ended in a resounding military defeat for Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
- The War and the Future of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
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The decisive factor in triggering the crisis that led to the Six-Day War was inter-Arab rivalries. It may sound perverse to suggest that the war owed more to the rivalries between the Arab states than to the dispute between them and Israel, but such a view is supported by the facts. The Arab world was in a state of considerable turmoil arising out of the conflict and suspicions between the radical and the conservative regimes.
A militant Ba'th regime rose to power in Syria in February and started agitating for a war to liberate Palestine. President Nasser came under growing pressure to stop hiding behind the skirts of the United Nations and to come to the rescue of the embattled regime in Damascus. Nasser suspected his Syrian allies of wanting to drag him into a war with Israel while they suspected that, if push came to shove, he would leave them to face Israel on their own. Nasser's first move, the deployment of the Egyptian army in Sinai, was not intended as a prelude to an attack on Israel but as a political manoeuvre designed to deter the Israelis and to shore up his prestige at home and in the Arab world.
This move, however, started a chain reaction which Nasser was unable to control. In early May the old quarrel between Israel and the Arabs seemed almost irrelevant. Even when the Israelis first appeared on the scene, they were merely there as a football for the Arabs, kicked onto the field first by the Syrian hot-heads and then again by Nasser.
The Israelis, however, took a different view of themselves. It became a case of the football kicking the players. The Soviets fed Nasser with a false report about Israeli troop concentrations and supported his deployment of Egyptian troops in Sinai in the interest of bolstering the left-wing regime in Damascus and in the hope of deterring Israel from moving against this regime.
Their subsequent attempts to restrain Nasser had very little effect. They probably hoped to make some political gains by underlining their own commitment to the Arabs and the pro-Israeli orientation of American foreign policy.
Conflicting Narratives Of The Israeli Palestinian Conflict
But they seriously miscalculated the danger of war and they were swept up in a fast-moving crisis which they themselves had helped to unleash. America features very prominently in Arab conspiracy theories purporting to explain the causes and outcome of the June war. Mohamed Heikal, Nasser's confidant, for example, claims that Lyndon Johnson was obsessed with Nasser and that he conspired with Israel to bring him down. In fact, the American position during the upswing phase of the crisis was hesitant, weak and ambiguous.
President Johnson initially tried to prevent a war by restraining Israel and issuing warnings to the Egyptians and the Soviets. Because these warnings had no visible effect on Nasser's conduct, some of Johnson's advisers toyed with the idea of unleashing Israel against Egypt. Johnson himself was decidedly against giving Israel the green light to attack. Israel had not only won a resounding military victory but ended the war in possession of large tracts of Arab land - the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Sinai peninsula. UN Resolution of 22 November called on Israel to withdraw from these occupied territories in return for peace with the Arabs but the Israelis and the Arabs interpreted Resolution rather differently and Israel's position progressively hardened.
Israel became attached to the new territorial status quo and was confident of her ability to maintain this status quo indefinitely. Her strategy was to sit tight on the new case-fire lines until the Arabs had no alternative but to accept her terms for a settlement. For a short period the Arabs closed ranks against the common enemy and the bitter consequences of defeat but the old divisions gradually reasserted themselves.
Arab-Israeli Conflict Essay
The main division was between the advocates of a political settlement and those who believed that what was taken by force could only be recovered by force. The conference demonstrated the uselessness of pan-Arabism as a framework for deciding a realistic policy towards Israel. The political option was rejected even at a time when an Arab military option palpably and painfully was not available.
While Arab unity was preserved at the declaratory level, at the practical level each Arab state was left to decide for itself how to go about recovering the territory it had lost. President Nasser adopted a strategy which fell into three phases: the purely defensive phase of re-equipping and reorganizing the Egyptian armed forces, leading to the second phase of active deterrence, which would be followed finally by the liberation of the territory that had been lost.
Nasser's central aim after the defeat was to lift the Middle East dispute from the local level, at which Israel had demonstrated its superiority, to the international level. He therefore set out to involve the Soviet Union as deeply as possible in the Middle East problem. If a satisfactory political settlement could be reached with Soviet help, that would be fine, but if a political solution could not be found, the Soviet Union would be under some obligation to help Egypt develop a military option against Israel.
The War and the Future of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Although it was opposed to the resumption of all-out war, it supported the Egyptian commando raids across the Suez Canal which developed, by March , into what became known as the War of Attrition. Nasser decided to begin a war of attrition only after it became clear that diplomacy alone could not dislodge Israel from Sinai and after enlisting Soviet support for limited military action against Israel.
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The aim of the war was to bring about Israel's withdrawal from Sinai. The strategy adopted was that of a limited but prolonged war which would exact heavy casualties, exhaust Israel psychologically, and impose an intolerable burden on her economy.
Israel's aim during the run-up to the War of Attrition and during the war itself was to preserve the territorial, political and military status quo created by the Six-Day War. In all other Arab-Israeli wars, the side that started the war did so in order to preserve the status quo. This was true of the Arabs in and of Israel in and In the War of Attrition, the side that started the war, Egypt, was not out to defend but to change the status quo.
The Yom Kippur War can be traced to three factors: the failure of all international initiatives for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute; the emergence of an Arab coalition which was able and willing to do battle with Israel; and the steady flow of arms from the superpowers to their regional clients. International initiatives for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict failed largely as a result of Israeli intransigence. After Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Abdel Nasser as President in September , there was a distinct shift in Egyptian policy away from military activity towards the quest for a political solution.
Sadat's public declaration in February of his readiness for a peaceful agreement with Israel was a significant turning-point in the generation-old conflict. But the deadlock over the implementation of UN Resolution could not be broken because Israel flatly refused to return to the lines of 4 June On 4 February , Sadat put forward his own plan for an interim settlement, based on a limited Israeli pull-back from the Suez Canal and the reopening of the canal for international shipping, but this plan, too, was rejected by Israel.
Continued Israeli stone-walling persuaded Sadat, by November , that a resort to force was essential in order to break the pattern of standstill diplomacy. Under the leadership of Golda Meir, Israel kept raising her price for a political settlement just when Egypt became convinced of the need for a historic compromise. Immobilism was the hallmark of Mrs. Meir's foreign policy. Holding on to the territories acquired in gradually replaced the quest for a settlement as Israel's top priority. Mrs Meir continued to proclaim Israel's desire for peace but this was a pious hope rather than a plan of action.
The consequences of this strategy were to miss the opportunities for a peaceful settlement of the dispute and drive Israel's opponents to launch another round of fighting. Israel's intransigence gave the Arab states a powerful incentive to set aside their differences and formulate a joint strategy for the recovery of their territory. The early s were an era of rapprochement and growing co-operation in inter-Arab politics.
Relations between Egypt and Syria developed into an effective strategic partnership and the relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia also improved after Nasser's death. On the Arab side, Sadat was the main mover and planner on the road to war. His strategy was to mobilize all the resources of the Arab world, including the use of the oil weapon, for the forthcoming confrontation with Israel.
It was he who took the lead in forging the alliance with Syria, in setting strictly limited aims for the joint operation, and in provoking the international crisis in which the superpowers, he believed, were bound to intervene in order to secure a settlement. Soviet policy in the period was inconsistent and contradictory. The Soviet Union's overall policy of detente with the United States led it to behave with great caution in the Middle East.
It was Moscow's refusal to give Egypt the weapons she needed to have a viable military option against Israel that prompted Sadat, in July , to expel the Soviet military advisers from his country. By the beginning of , however,the Soviets resumed arms supplies to Egypt in the knowledge that an offensive against Israel was being planned. The Soviets continued to urge their Arab allies to avoid war while supplying them with sufficient arms to enable them to resume hostilities.
They perceived Israel as a strategic asset and a bastion of regional stability. They embraced the Israeli thesis that a strong Israel was the best deterrent to war in the Middle East. In accordance with this thesis, they provided Israel with economic and military aid on an ever growing scale while declining to put pressure on her to return to the pre lines. Even after Sadat expelled the Soviet advisers, the Americans persisted in this standstill diplomacy which eventually drove Egypt and Syria not to accept Israel's terms for a settlement but to resort to war.
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The origins of this war can be traced back to the rise to power in Israel of the right-wing Likud Party headed by Menahem Begin in But the broader aims of the war were to create a new political order in Lebanon, to establish Israeli hegemony in the Levant and to pave the way to the absorption of the West Bank in line with the Likud's nationalistic ideology of Greater Israel. In this sense, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was only the culmination of a long process of Israeli intervention in domestic and regional Arab politics.
Lebanon itself had no territorial dispute with Israel and had only half-heartedly participated in the Arab-Israeli war. But the weakness of the Lebanese state and the fragmentation of Lebanese politics not only permitted but invited intervention by outside powers, notably Syria and Israel. Palestinian presence in Lebanon greatly added to this internal turmoil which in erupted into a civil war.
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