A General History of the Middle East
Chapter 16: THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT SINCE 1948
This chapter covers the following topics:
Israel's War of Independence
At midnight on May 15, 1948, armies from Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia invaded Israel. They advanced rapidly, threatening to destroy the one-day-old state, and drive the Jews into the sea. The Egyptians moved in two columns; one went up the coast as far as modern Ashdod, while the other moved into the Negev, taking Beersheba and Hebron. The Syrians and Lebanese besieged Jewish settlements in Galilee, where the Israelis resisted bitterly, despite grave shortages of arms and men. The Iraqis occupied the hills of Samaria, taking strategic points at Tulkarm, Jenin, and Nablus. Transjordan's Arab Legion, easily the best of the Arab armies, advanced as far as Latrun, cutting the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. The Old City of Jerusalem became the scene of a two-week battle, which the Jordanians won. When it was over, some 1,500 Jews surrendered; the men between the ages of fifteen and fifty went to a Transjordanian P.O.W. camp, while the rest walked with small bundles of possessions to Haganah-held West Jerusalem. The city itself was not so fortunate; Jewish homes were torn down; synagogues and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated.
However, this was the end of the Arab winning streak. Coordination between the Arab armies broke down in a matter of days. King Abdullah planned to keep everything the Arab Legion captured for Transjordan; the other Arabs wanted all "liberated" land to go to the Palestinian Arabs. Consequently many participants lost interest when it looked like Transjordan would get the lion's share; Egypt, for instance, would not join forces with Transjordan in the south while it was possible. The Israelis, on the other hand, were fighting for their lives, with their backs to the Mediterranean; they knew if they lost, there would be no second chance. That sense of desperation caused them to launch successful counterattacks at the end of May. Then the UN sent a representative, Sweden's Count Folke Bernadotte, to negotiate a truce, to which both sides gladly agreed.
The truce ran from June 11 to July 9; during that time nobody complied with its conditions. The Israelis took full advantage of the time to bring in arms and ammunition, mostly from Czechoslovakia. When the truce ended the Israelis were better prepared and organized, and launched a series of night attacks on all fronts. During the next ten days the road to Jerusalem was cleared, and Nazareth and Lod(1) were taken. Then another UN-sponsored truce went into effect, which lasted longer than the first: July 18 to October 15. Again both sides used the time gained by the truce to move men and get more supplies; again the Israelis did better at both, since the Arabs were suffering from disorganization and the growing flood of refugees into their territory. In September Count Bernadotte was killed by a Sterngang gunman, who thought he had been a Nazi sympathizer during World War II. An American, Dr. Ralph Bunche, succeeded him. The Israeli government immediately denounced the assassination, and ordered all armed factions not under its control to disarm; consequently Menachem Begin stopped being a terrorist leader and joined the opposition to the Labor Party in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.
The third round of fighting began with two Israeli offensives: "Operation Hiram" in Galilee and "Operation Ten Plagues" in the Negev. Both were complete successes. By the end of October the Israelis had not only secured the upper Galilee but advanced five miles into Lebanon. In the south, "Operation Ten Plagues" surrounded Egyptian forces at Faluja and Hebron, and forced the rest of the Egyptian army to fall back toward home. The Israelis followed into the Sinai, until international pressure compelled them to stop. They withdrew in January 1949, and signed a cease-fire agreement with Egypt the following month.
Israel signed similar cease-fire accords with Lebanon in March, and Syria and Transjordan in July; the Iraqis and Saudis never signed any agreement, but they did go home. Gaza came under an Egyptian military administration, which was expected to last until a Palestinian Arab state could be set up. Transjordan annexed its territorial gains (Judaea & Samaria, from now on known as the West Bank, plus East Jerusalem) and renamed itself the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; the other Arabs did not recognize this annexation. Israel was the biggest winner, not only surviving its most severe test but emerging with 21% more land than the UN had given it. Between November 1947 and January 1949 the Israelis lost 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilians (about 1% of the total Jewish population); the total Arab casualty count has never been revealed.
The absence of fighting does not always mean peace. Abdul Rahman Azzam, the secretary-general of the Arab League, explained the Arab strategy with these words: "We have a secret weapon which we can use better than guns and machine guns, and that is time. As long as we do not make peace with the Zionists, the war is not over; and as long as the war is not over there is neither victor nor vanquished. As soon as we recognize the state of Israel, we admit by this act that we are vanquished."
Egypt and Syria sponsored teams of Palestinian guerrillas known as Fedayeen ("sacrificers"), to continue the war on a small scale until the frontline states were ready for the next round.
The UN estimated that more than 725,000 Arabs fled; the Israelis estimated that between 550,000 and 600,000 Arabs fled. One reason for the discrepancy is the little-known UN definition of what a "Palestinian" is: anyone who has lived within the land for at least two years. This means that some Arabs who claim to be "Palestinians" were never actual citizens of Palestine when it was under British rule; they were immigrants from other Arab countries who may have arrived as recently as 1946. Whatever the case, they all now claim to be citizens of Palestine, and the Arab governments treat them as refugees from there.
Simultaneously Israel had to deal with a tidal wave of Jewish refugees coming in. So many arrived, in fact, that it is remarkable the Israeli economy did not collapse under their weight. To start with, 600,000 Jews, most of them holocaust survivors, came from Europe between 1948 and 1970. Another 60,000 came from Iran and 20,000 from India. About 100,000 came out of the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, before the USSR put severe restrictions on that kind of immigration.
Most important to Israel's future, however, was the arrival of the Sephardic Jews. In 1945 there were more than 870,000 of them living in the Arab world; some of their communities had existed for 2,500 years. For them life in harmony with their Arab neighbors ended with Israel's independence, because the Arabs now saw them as enemy agents. In 1947 and 1948 there were anti-Jewish riots in Aden (where 82 Jews were killed), in Egypt (where 150 Jews were killed), in Libya (where 14 Jews were killed as a follow-up to a savage 1945 pogrom), in Syria (where Jewish emigration was forbidden), and in Iraq (where "Zionism" became a capital crime). Fleeing their persecutors, the Jews were forced to abandon their property and possessions, and most of them escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs. About two thirds of them became Israeli citizens, while the other 260,000 found refuge in Europe and the Americas.
The transfer of populations on a massive scale, either by war or by state policy, is a distinctive feature of twentieth century history. In almost every case, those uprooted from one place found a new home in the country that took them in. The movement of more than 580,000 Jews from the Arab lands to Israel, and of a similar number of Palestinian Arabs out of Israel, was typical of such movements, though it was far from being the largest (e.g., compare it with the exchange of 8.8 million Hindus for 8.5 million Moslems that took place between India and Pakistan at the same time). Still, the uprooted Jews became an integral part of Israeli life, while the Palestinian Arabs remained, often as a deliberate act by their host countries, isolated, neglected, and bitter.
In 1975 the Iraqi government invited all former Iraqi Jews to come back, to prove that the Arabs are not racists. Only one ex-Iraqi is known to have accepted the invitation. When Iraqi officials told Western reporters in Baghdad that a trickle of Iraqi Jews had returned, the reporters started calling Yusef Navi "Mr. Trickle." After a year in Iraq, Navi re-emigrated to Israel.
The world at large forgot the handful of Jews that remained among the Arabs. As of 2009, there are an estimated 4,000 Jews left in the Arab world--most of them in Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen--and they were an unfortunate lot. As dhimmi (second-class citizens), their ability to travel is severely restricted, they have to pay special taxes, and they are subject to discriminatory laws. Four hundred stayed in Yemen, for instance, because they belonged to a Satmar, a non-Zionist sect. When Moshe al-Nahari, a thirty-year-old teacher, was killed in 2008 by a Moslem who was religiously motivated, and the judge ordered the murderer's family to pay "blood money," instead of passing a death sentence, the last Jews of Yemen realized that the Arab world does not tolerate even non-Zionist Jews, so they began to leave.
An unfortunate side effect of the Jewish departure is that except for the Palestinians, few modern Arabs are likely to meet a Jew in their lifetime. Because separation breeds prejudice, and prejudice breeds more separation, this makes the Arabs more susceptible to the anti-Semitism and crackpot conspiracy theories so common among Islamic fundamentalists.
They found the Arabs quite willing to forgive and forget, since many Arab governments had been discredited by their humiliating defeat in the first Arab-Israeli war. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Syria. In March 1949 Syria's first president, Shukri al-Kuwatli, was overthrown in a coup led by a Kurdish officer, Colonel Husni az-Zaim. Highly unpopular, Zaim was himself overthrown in August by another colonel, Sami al-Hinnawi. A third coup, led by Colonel Adib ash-Shishakli, followed in December; in November 1951 Shishakli used a fourth coup to remove his associates.
The Syrian dictators had no special commitment to any ideology, and ruled in association with veteran politicians. The officers under them, however, were members of either the Baath party or the PPS. They came to power in February 1954 when Colonel Faisal al-Atasi overthrew Shishakli and restored Parliament. The PPS was suppressed in the following year; from that time on the Baathists had no serious rival.
Meanwhile, there was a change of kings in Jordan. In July 1951 King Abdullah went to pray in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque and was shot by a Palestinian nationalist. The king's grandson, sixteen-year-old Hussein, was also a target, but his life was saved when one of the medals he wore stopped the bullet intended for him. Abdullah's son Talal was crowned first, but one year later he was declared mentally ill and replaced by Hussein. Hussein inherited an unstable throne, and was criticized in Egypt and Syria for his British connections, until he dismissed Glubb Pasha in 1956. British support for the Arab legion was withdrawn when that happened, and Hussein turned to wealthy Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, to provide the subsidies needed to keep Jordan solvent.
Hussein's 46-year reign was the longest in modern Middle Eastern history. Part of this was due to his extraordinary luck, which saw him through many assassination attempts; he also chose the safest course on most political issues, and was skilled at keeping his opponents divided. Paradoxically, he may also have gotten help from Jordan's poverty; there is no great source of wealth like the oilfields of the Persian Gulf for anybody to claim if the Hashemites get overthrown some day. Furthermore, the thought that Israel could intervene to prevent the creation of a hostile Palestinian state on the East Bank restrains anti-Hashemite groups. Finally Hussein enjoyed the support of the Bedouins, who are predominant in the army.
After the war both the Free Officers and the Moslem Brotherhood gained hundreds of new members. The government tried to divert attention away from its own shortcomings by whipping up another anti-British campaign. It announced plans to terminate the 1936 treaty and encouraged the Moslem Brotherhood to carry out guerilla attacks against the 80,000 British soldiers still stationed in the Suez Canal zone. In January 1952, the British stormed a police station suspected of harboring guerrillas, and some fifty Egyptian policemen were killed. In response, a mob went on a rampage in Cairo, attacking buildings with foreign connections. By the time order was restored, 26 foreigners (mostly British) had been killed and much of the city's center had burned down.
The Free Officers decided this was the time to act. Six months later, on July 23, 1952, they seized power in a coup. They initially installed Mohammed Naguib as president, since he was a hero to the Egyptian people, but from the start Nasser was the true leader. For the first time in 2,300 years Egypt had a native Egyptian ruler--not someone of Turkish, Albanian, or some other foreign blood--who was not going to submit to a foreign power. Since Nasser did not like bloody revolutions, he allowed Farouk to go into exile, and the 280-lb. ex-king sailed out of Alexandria with a yacht full of gold ingots and pornography. He also had the world's largest coin collection, but that stayed behind because it was too heavy for the yacht; the Egyptian government eventually auctioned it off. Farouk spent his declining years in Italy, finally succumbing to a heart attack in a Rome restaurant (1965).
The world welcomed the Free Officers as a big improvement over Farouk, and they did well at first. Their first acts were to abolish the monarchy and titles of nobility like Bey and Pasha. Then came reforms to improve the lives of the peasants. Landholdings were limited in size to 200 acres, and they redistributed excess land among the fellahin in lots of 2-5 acres. Workers were guaranteed a minimum wage, and the rates which landlords could charge their tenants were sharply reduced. Unfortunately enforcement of these reforms was limited, due to Egypt's notoriously inefficient bureaucracy, and the rapidly growing population canceled many gains. In response, the government proposed a greater project, the construction of the world's largest dam across the Nile River at Aswan, and began looking for outside help to finance this venture.
In April 1954, when Naguib tried to be more than just a figurehead, Nasser swept him aside and took the presidency for himself. Then came a more serious challenge from the Moslem Brotherhood, which had its own plans for Egypt. An assassination attempt on Nasser at a public meeting in October was that organization's undoing. As the bullets whizzed by, Nasser stood there and shouted, "Let them kill Nasser. He is one among many and whether he lives or dies the revolution will go on." The Brotherhood was suppressed, and Nasser's coolness under fire contributed to his wild popularity among the Egyptian people.
Simultaneously, Nasser scored a diplomatic success: a new treaty with Britain. Under the treaty terms, Britain agreed to pull all of its troops from the Suez Canal in twenty months, though they could return in case of war, and both nations agreed to allow passage through the canal to the ships of all nations.
In April 1955 Nasser started secret negotiations which had the potential for bringing a peace settlement between Israel and Egypt. The Quaker representative to the United Nations, Elmore Jackson, carried messages between Nasser, Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett (Ben-Gurion had retired to his Negev farm in 1953), Ben-Gurion, and other Israeli and Egyptian officials. At one point Ben-Gurion said that "Nasser is a decent fellow who has the interests of his people genuinely at heart"; he even offered to meet with the Egyptian president in Cairo. The talks ended in August after they failed to produce results, but as Elmore Jackson pointed out when he revealed the existence of the meetings in 1982, Nasser was the only Arab leader with enough popular support to even consider a settlement with the state most Arabs denounced as "the Zionist entity." Peace would have to wait until another Egyptian leader went to Israel, 22 years later.
Nevertheless, the Americans were not Nasser's main enemy. The British prime minister, Sir Anthony Eden, hated him with a passion that verged on hysteria. Eden blamed all of Britain's problems in the Middle East on Nasser. When Jordan's King Hussein dismissed Glubb Pasha in March 1956, Eden thought Nasser was behind the firing. He decided that the world was not big enough for both him and Nasser, and began looking for a way to eliminate the Egyptian leader before Nasser could undermine the British government or Britain's position in the Middle East. A few days later, when one of his ministers, Anthony Nutting, tried to persuade Eden to moderate his attitude, Eden shouted back, "But what's all this nonsense about isolating Nasser, or 'neutralizing' him, as you call it? I want him destroyed, can't you understand?"
The opportunity Eden wanted came shortly. Earlier that year, the US and Britain had agreed to lend $270 million for the construction of the Aswan High Dam; in July they canceled the offer. The official reason for this about-face was the instability of Egypt's economy, but the West really wanted to punish Nasser for flirting with the Soviets. In response, Nasser announced a week later that he would nationalize the canal. In a fiery three-hour speech, he told a cheering crowd that Egypt would build the dam with revenues from the canal, and if the imperialist powers did not like it, they could "choke on their rage." Since Nasser was planning to pay the canal's European stockholders for their shares, the takeover was legal, but the speech started a panic anyhow. Britain hosted an emergency meeting for the principal canal-using countries in London; Egypt was invited, but a few days before the conference began, Eden made a television broadcast in which he called Nasser a "man who cannot be trusted to keep an agreement. We all know this is how Fascist governments behave." The Egyptians refused to attend, and just as predictably, Nasser flatly rejected the conference's proposal to have an international board operate the canal. Now Britain looked for an excuse to invade Egypt, topple Nasser, and restore the canal to Western hands.
That is when France and Israel entered the game. The French thought Nasser was giving aid to anti-French rebels in Algeria, and were quite happy to help anybody who was trying to get rid of him. Israel was willing to get involved because tensions had been steadily rising for the past year. Egyptian-backed Fedayeen raids across the border into Israel were met with heavy reprisal raids from the IDF; then Nasser closed off both the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. In late October, Britain, France, and Israel made their plans in a secret meeting at Sevres, near Paris.(2) On October 25, Egypt raised tensions another notch by announcing that the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian armies would be placed under the command of an Egyptian general.
For the Israelis that meant it was time to go ahead with the plan they had agreed to with their allies. On October 29, 1956, Israeli paratroopers dropped into the middle of the Sinai, and Israeli tanks roared into the desert to meet them. Other IDF units, moving along the coasts, took Gaza and Sharm el-Sheikh; the former was a hornet's nest of guerrilla bases, the capture of the latter allowed Israeli shipping to sail in the Red Sea again. Britain and France, playing the role of peacemakers, stepped in and issued an ultimatum: both sides must stop fighting and pull their troops at least ten miles from the canal, to protect it from possible damage or disruption. The Israelis accepted this demand, since they were still about 125 miles east of the canal; the Egyptians rejected it rather than withdraw 135 miles from territory they still had. On October 31, British and French planes went into action, destroying Nasser's air force and knocking out Egyptian radio stations. Five days later, an Anglo-French force landed at the north end of the canal, captured Port Said, and pushed south.
As it turned out, this was the last exercise in old-fashioned "gunboat diplomacy." The world was also holding its breath over another crisis (Soviet repression in Hungary), but both the US and the Soviet Union disliked what they saw in Egypt. The United Nations condemned the British and French for what they did; the Soviets threatened to intervene on the side of Nasser; the US warned the financially strapped British government that it could expect no more loans while British troops were in Egypt. The Egyptians made the canal useless by sinking ships in it, and Syria blew up the oil pipelines that crossed its territory, threatening Western Europe with a serious oil shortage. Under this combined pressure, fighting halted, and all three attacking countries withdrew their forces from the Sinai over the next few months. A political casualty of the war was Sir Anthony Eden, who under failing health, resigned in January 1957.
The political victory in the war went to the intended victim: Nasser. He had stood fast against two major Western powers and an aggressive Israel; instead of toppling him, the war had made him a hero among Arabs everywhere. Nasser's picture became a common sight from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, and he was viewed as the unofficial leader of the Arab world. Nearly every Arab-owned radio was tuned in when emergency measures brought Cairo's powerful propaganda machine, the "Voice of the Arabs" radio station, back on the air again. In this heady atmosphere Nasser accepted the role of champion of the Arab renaissance, and spent the rest of his life trying to live up to it.
The Soviet Union took full advantage of the situation. There were already Soviet advisors in Egypt, helping Nasser build the Aswan High Dam and training his army to use the new weapons that they generously provided. Now Soviet arms, advisors, and technicians also appeared in Syria and Iraq. This raised anti-Soviet fears, not only in the West but also among conservative monarchies like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and among Lebanese businessmen. None of these Arabs wanted unity if it meant replacing Western domination with Soviet puppet states.
Strains like this put the U.A.R. in trouble almost immediately. Iraq may have been a strong advocate for Arab unity, but it but it wasn't going to let any rival, even a like-minded one, have Syria, the heart of the ancient Fertile Crescent. The U.A.R. also had problems which even Nasser's charisma could not cover up. Syria had only one fifth of Egypt's population and no leader of Nasser's caliber; consequently Syria was the junior partner in the U.A.R., and the Syrians resented that. Nasser tried to set up in Syria the same policies he had used in the Nile Valley: one-party rule and "Arab socialism."(3) The Syrians had accepted union as a solution to their own chronic instability, but this was too much for them. In September 1961 a coup brought new army officers to power, and they immediately declared Syria's independence from the U.A.R. By this time the burden of governing both Syria and Egypt was an intolerable strain; Nasser did nothing to prevent the separation.
Other attempts have been made to unify the Arab world since 1961, with dismal results: Egypt-Syria-Iraq, 1963; Egypt-Libya-Syria, 1971; Egypt-Libya-Sudan, 1972; Egypt-Libya, 1972 & 1973; Syria-Iraq, 1979. More recently the Arab world has tried forming smaller regional blocs, rather than attempt to merge into a single super-state; examples include the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrein, Qatar, the U.A.E. and Oman), the Arab Maghreb Union (Mauretania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya), and the Arab Cooperation Council (North Yemen, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq). Whatever the method used, a clash of personalities, and sometimes a clash of ideologies, has thwarted any action that did more than promote economic cooperation (e.g., the 1979 Syrian-Iraqi union was stopped dead in its tracks when Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq). Sometimes a mutual hatred of Israel was the only thing that made the Arab leaders consider unification in the first place. Another factor was the cultural differences that exist in the Arab world; contrary to what Sati al-Husri believed, it takes more than a common language to define an ethnic group. No wonder that in 1979 an exasperated Syrian columnist wrote that "Trying to unite the Arabs is like nailing jelly to a wall." When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, a prominent Saudi Arabian businessman echoed the feelings of many by saying, "Al-uruba intaharat" ("Arabism has committed suicide").
In a sense, after 1958 Nasser was a captive of his own image. The Arab masses had all but deified him, and he had raised expectations among them that no leader could possibly fulfill. They now viewed him as a modern-day Saladin who would show them the way out of poverty and lead them in triumph against the Israelis. Yet a third Arab-Israeli war was something Nasser did not want. He remembered very well how the 1948 and 1956 wars had all but destroyed the Egyptian army, and knew it could happen again, despite Soviet arms and training. In the 1960s he attempted to dampen Arab hopes, but still they drew him into another near-fatal confrontation with Israel.
The first Lebanese president, Bishara al-Khuri, rigged the 1947 elections to produce a friendly parliament, which returned the favor by granting his request: a temporary amendment to the constitution that gave him a second six-year term in office, starting in 1949. Of course this did not go over well with most of the people, and a general strike launched in September 1952 forced Khuri's resignation. Parliament elected another Maronite, Camille Chamoun, to succeed him.
Chamoun was very pro-Western, and refused to break diplomatic relations with Britain and France during the Suez war of 1956. This made Nasser his enemy, and Nasser accused Chamoun of trying to bring Lebanon into the Western-sponsored CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) alliance.
Matters came to a head in 1958, for two reasons: (1.) Chamoun, like Khuri, tried to manipulate the government to allow his reelection, and (2.) the creation of the United Arab Republic put a Nasser-controlled province (Syria) right on Lebanon's doorstep. Nasserists, most of them Lebanese Moslems, called for Lebanon to join the U.A.R.; Christians, who feared that the country's careful political compromise was coming apart, wanted to keep Lebanon aligned with the West. Arms filtered across the Syrian frontier and in May a general strike was proclaimed. Moslems rose in rebellion, and the army was asked to take action, but the commanding general, Fuad Chehab, refused to attack the rebels, out of fear that this would split the army into Christian and Moslem factions. When a coup toppled Iraq's pro-Western government in July, Chamoun immediately requested US military intervention, and on the following day 3,600 US marines landed outside Beirut. The marines saw no action--they stayed in a camp on the beach--but their presence made Nasser forget about invading Lebanon, and the crisis gradually ended as tempers cooled on all sides. Because he had shown restraint at a critical moment, Christian and Moslem now respected General Chehab, and Parliament voted to have him replace Chamoun as president. The American troops and Nasser's agents departed, and Lebanon resumed the political balancing act it had practiced before.
In Israel, David Ben-Gurion made a political comeback, and he served as both prime minister and defense minister for most of the time between 1955 and 1963. Then he retired again, and Levi Eshkol served as prime minister from 1963 until his death in 1969. During this period the main news item was the arrest, trial, and execution of Adolf Eichmann, a former Nazi official who had been a leader in the extermination of Jews during World War II.
Syria continued to live up to its reputation as the most unstable Arab state. The Syrians were deeply unhappy that they, the first to propose Arab unity, should have been the ones to kill it when it was first put in practice. They hated the title of "secessionists" which Egypt hurled against them, and in 1963 the shamefaced regime was thrown out in a coup that put the Baathists back in control, under Major General Amin al-Hafez.
Since Arab unity is the cornerstone of the Baath creed, the new government declared its willingness to join in a political union with Egypt and Iraq. Yet the factors that made the U.A.R. fail were still around. Because of Egypt's huge population, any union which gave an equal share of power to the non-Egyptian territories would have been artificial and unworkable, but a united Arab state dominated by Nasser was unacceptable to the Baathists. Thus the plan died before it was born.
The Baathists in Syria had another problem that stemmed from pan-Arabism. Although Syrians led the party, it had branches in Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan, giving non-Syrian Baathists a considerable say in Syrian affairs. The party split in 1966 and in that year a coup gave Syria to the more radical faction. The new leaders separated the Syrian from the non-Syrian branches of the party; since then the Syrian and Iraqi Baathists have been bitter rivals who can't get along. One outcome of the split was that the ideological founders of the party, Michel Aflaq and Salah Bitar, went into exile. It was as if a group of neo-communists had seized power in Russia but publicly rejected both Marx and Lenin, and many Arabs felt that only the Syrians could be so perverse.
Paradoxically, membership among the Syrian Baathists now came mostly from two religious minorities, the Alawites and the Druze. Before 1966 was over the Druze were purged, leaving the Alawites in control. Traditionally the poorest and least educated group in Syria, the Alawites had joined the army because that was the only avenue for upward mobility left open to them. Their numbers in the ranks steadily increased, until there were enough of them to wrest control of the armed forces, and eventually the government, from the country's Sunni majority. Knowing that their rule is not popular among the Sunnis, the Alawites stayed united behind their leaders after that, giving Syria a stability that did not exist under Sunni rule. For similar reasons, the Baath party uses military force to keep itself in power, which I am sure is not what its founders had in mind.
What happened next was like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. The Syrians were on the worst possible terms with every country around them, but now the other Arabs put aside their squabbles to deal with the enemy they all hated: Israel. Saudi Arabia and Iraq disliked King Hussein, for example, but both sent thousands of troops to back up the Jordanians in the upcoming war. Arab states farther away from the action like Kuwait, Sudan and Algeria also promised to get involved. By May 1967 the Arabs had committed 547,000 armed men, 2,504 tanks, and 957 combat aircraft; against this Israel could muster no more than 264,000 troops, 800 tanks, and 300 warplanes. Arab propaganda heated emotions to a fever pitch, convincing many that the final campaign to destroy Zionism was about to begin.
Nasser wanted to defuse the crisis, but it had gone beyond his control. He knew that the Israelis had beaten superior odds before, and did not want to fight them while 50,000 of his best troops were tied down in Yemen's civil war. Syria called him a coward for boasting of Egypt's military strength while sitting behind a UN peacekeeping force. To save face, Nasser had to order the UN to remove its troops from the Sinai. Once they were gone, he did what all Arabs expected of him: he rushed Egyptian forces into the peninsula and closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. At the end of May one of his former enemies, King Hussein, flew to Cairo to sign a Jordanian-Egyptian defense pact. His commander in chief, Field Marshall Abdul Hakim Amer, quelled whatever misgivings Nasser might have had about Egyptian readiness by pointing to his neck and saying, "On my own head be it, boss! Everything's in tiptop shape."
The Israelis did not wait for the Arabs to strike the first blow. Since the previous war, they had created a remarkable force to defend themselves with. Instead of a large standing army, which they did not have the population to support, they gave everybody military training and reserve duty. When war threatened, archaeologists, farmers, professors and musicians put aside their civilian tools and became fighting men and women. No expense was spared on buying the best airplanes from Britain, the United States, and especially France. On June 1, Jerusalem let the world know it was ready by appointing Moshe Dayan, an officer with unquestioned hawkish credentials, as defense minister.(4)
Dayan had already planned an ambitious preemptive strike before he took the job. On the morning of June 5, 1967, 183 Israeli planes took off in a wave-slicing maneuver that carried them just 30 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. Minutes later they appeared over Egypt, and destroyed most of the Egyptian air force on the ground. The Egyptians were taken totally by surprise; Nasser accused the United States and Britain of helping the Israelis, since he did not believe they could send so many aircraft against him on short notice. Similar strikes on Jordan, Syria and Iraq gave Israel command over the skies on all fronts. The few Arab planes remaining were too disorganized to pose a threat. "They just don't fly the MIG-21 right," said one disappointed Israeli pilot about the Syrians. "We expect the best of the enemy; they want to prove we're wrong," another added.
The first radio reports from Cairo claimed that the Egyptians had defended themselves succesfully, and that Egyptian troops had already entered the Negev! That convinced King Hussein to enter the war, and Jordanian artillery began shelling Israeli-held West Jerusalem. However, Israel was ready for this and launched a three-pronged invasion of the West Bank. All columns converged on the Jordanian half of Jerusalem, where Israel decided not to use heavy armaments so that they would take the beloved Holy City intact. It was, but this also meant high casualties and two days of brutal, hand-to-hand street fighting. Finally on June 7 the Star of David flew over the Old City. Battle-hardened Israeli soldiers went to the Western (Wailing) Wall, which had been closed off to Jews since 1948, donned yarmulkes, and wept in the emotion of the moment. They also captured the Temple Mount, containing the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, but in the name of peace, Moshe Dayan chose to let it remain in the care of Arabs. The Temple Mount has been a center for Palestinian political activity since then, and today some Israelis, who would like to see Solomon's Temple rebuilt up there, wonder if Dayan might have made a mistake in the long run.
The loss of Jerusalem ended the game for Jordan, which agreed to a cease-fire on June 7. King Hussein had lost the conquests of his grandfather, and gained another 150,000 Palestinian refugees, who fled across the Jordan river to escape Israeli rule. He also lost most of Jordan's thriving tourist trade, since many places mentioned in the Bible (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Shechem) were held by Jordan before 1967; that made his country even more dependent on foreign aid.
Meanwhile on the Sinai front, Israeli troops easily surrounded their Egyptian and Palestinian opponents. One IDF column headed to the southern tip of the peninsula (reopening the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli ships), another surrounded Gaza, while the rest charged due west across the desert. The only major battle took place at Mitla Pass, on June 7, and one day later the Israelis reached the banks of the Suez Canal (the Egyptians blocked the canal with sunken ships, as they had done in the 1956 war). Egypt now also bowed out of the war.
Some thought Egypt's defeat would also mean the end of Nasser's career. He tried to make it so, going on radio and television to announce his resignation. But so firm was his place in the hearts of the Egyptian people that they simply would not let him resign. Crowds mobbed the streets of Cairo and Alexandria chanting "Nasser, Nasser, Nasser" until the Egyptian National Assembly rejected his resignation and voted instead to give him full powers for "the military and political rebuilding of the country." Similar pro-Nasser demonstrations took place in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Benghazi.
Only Syria remained to actively fight Israel. Since their positions elsewhere were now secure, the Israelis had a free hand to deal with the Syrians, and in a lightning campaign they captured the Golan Heights. After only 27 hours of fighting (June 9 & 10), Quneitra, the Syrian provincial capital, fell. Syria gave in to calls for peace and the Six Day War was over, with time remaining for Israel to enjoy the Sabbath.
The swift, stunning war had cost the Israelis 766 lives; as in all wars, Arab casualty figures are not available, but estimates place the total Arab number between 15,000 and 25,000. In less than a week, Israel had taken territory four times its own size, and now at last, it had sensible and secure borders. That has always been a major concern for the Israelis, since they are a small nation--an island of democracy--surrounded by larger, hostile countries. Before 1967, the part of Israel around the city of Netanya was only nine miles wide, and Israelis had nightmares about Arab tanks coming through that area and cutting the country in two. Furthermore, most of Israel's Jewish population lives in an L-shaped zone, stretching from Haifa to Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and before 1967 all of it was in range of Jordanian artillery.
There is a story of uncertain origins that makes a point about Israel's preoccupation with security. In the early 1970s, the United States proposed that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders in return for a promise of peace from the Arab states. The US secretary of state, William Rogers, went first to Egypt, then Israel, to sell this "peace plan."
In Israel he was welcomed by Golda Meir, who had become prime minister in 1969. Ms. Meir asked if Mr. Rogers would mind stepping over to a window with her before they began their discussions. Of course he'd be glad to. She pointed to a school yard where children were playing. He remarked on the lovely children. Ms. Meir then asked him to look through another window at some hills. He remarked that they were very pretty hills. Well, said Ms. Meir, those schoolchildren used to live underground because enemy soldiers in those hills were shooting down at them. Those children, she said, were not going to have to live underground again. Now, Mr. Secretary, what was it you came to see me about? End of peace plan, end of story.
Israel also got a burden of human misery with its conquests. One and a half million Arabs lived in those territories and were unable to get out in time. Many of them, especially in the Gaza strip, lived lives of hopeless desperation in refugee camps. These homeless noncitizens would become the guerrillas and terrorists of the next generation.
Though his leadership of Egypt remained unquestioned, Nasser was no longer the spotless hero of Suez. He had led the Arabs to what they believed was Armageddon--and lost. He welcomed two more nations to the radical Arab camp (young officers that admired and imitated Nasser seized control of Libya and Sudan in 1969), and he saw the British withdraw from their last bases and protectorates in the Arab world, but faced problems in Egypt itself. In August 1967, he purged the army, sending many senior officers to prison; there the disgraced commander in chief, Field Marshall Amer, committed suicide. Food shortages caused serious rioting among students and industrial workers in 1968 and 1969.
He also had to continue the struggle against Israel, whether he liked it or not. In October 1968 the Egyptians opened fire on Israeli positions along the Suez Canal. The Israelis responded with counter-raids, and fortified their side of the canal, calling it the Bar Lev Line (named for chief of staff Rav-Aluf Chaim Bar Lev). Fighting escalated, until Nasser declared he was going to wear down the enemy in a "War of Attrition." It was not the best of arrangements--no territory was gained or lost, and Egypt suffered more casualties than Israel did--but while it continued the Arab leaders who participated remained legitimate in the eyes of their people.
Not all of the casualties in the War of Attrition were military ones. The Egyptians living in cities near the canal had to be moved elsewhere, putting more strain on Egypt's economy. World commerce suffered, because Egypt could not remove the wrecks blocking the canal while fighting took place near it. In April 1969 reports of Soviet missile installations in Egypt chilled the world community. In July Syria jumped in with artillery and jet attacks. Israel retaliated with its air force, first attacking military targets along the canal, then striking targets deep inside Egypt. Jordan got involved by sheltering Palestinian guerrillas, until their presence made King Hussein uneasy. In the summer of 1970 Soviet pilots started flying missions for Egypt; Israeli jets downed four Soviet MIG-21s on one day. Finally everybody got tired of the fighting, and in August 1970 Egypt, Jordan, and Israel agreed to a 90-day cease-fire. As part of the agreement, Egypt agreed not to place any missiles within 20 miles of the canal, but within two weeks she had built between 20 and 30 new sites and placed more than 500 missiles in them; that would cost the Israeli Air Force dearly in the next war. The agreement also called on Jordan to do something about the Palestinians, which brings us to an explosive new factor in Middle Eastern affairs.
Before 1967 the Palestinian Arabs went along with this; they had faith that the Arab states would liberate their land, and expected to become part of the huge Arab nation Nasser talked about. The Six Day War shattered this hope, and soon they came to the conclusion that if the job was going to get done, they would have to do it themselves. As their sense of nationalism grew, several Palestinian guerrilla movements appeared on the scene, which the Arab governments generously funded and equipped. Outside the Arab world the Palestinians succeeded in changing world opinion on the conflict; instead of spewing rabid anti-Semitism and talking about driving the Jews into the sea, they told about the injustices they had suffered and made Israel look like the bully, rather than the underdog. Many leftists and students, who would have been inclined to support Israel in the past, now favored the Palestinian cause instead.
The largest of the Palestinian guerilla groups was al-Fatah, meaning "The Victory." Its leader was a shabby and elusive figure, Yasir Arafat (1929-). Born in Cairo under the name of Muhammad Abd ar-Ra'uf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husayni, his early years were shaped by parental neglect. His mother, a distant relative of the Mufti of Jerusalem, died when he was five, while his father, a small-scale textile worker, was obsessed by a long (and ultimately unsuccessful) lawsuit to reclaim some land in Egypt that had belonged to his family 150 years earlier. Eventually the father sent the son to live with his maternal uncle in Jerusalem; the two of them couldn't get along after that, and when his father died (1952), Arafat did not even attend the funeral.
After growing up, Arafat served in the Egyptian military during the 1948 war, studied engineering at Cairo Unibersity, joined the Moslem Brotherhood, and left Egypt under a cloud when Nasser suppressed that organization in 1954. He returned one year later to complete work on his degree, and decided to support the Palestinian Arab cause, by forming al-Fatah. Kuwait, where he had an engineering firm, became his first source of financial support, while Algeria provided recruits and training. However, Kuwait and Algeria were too far away to provide a suitable military base. At first the only frontline Arab state that would have him was Syria, so he moved there in 1963. On the first day of 1965 al-Fatah made its first raid into Israel, announcing its existence to the world. One year later, sensing a threat, Hafez al-Assad, the Defense Minister of Syria, had him arrested on a murder charge, though it wasn't clear whether Arafat was even in the room when the murder took place. Arafat was covicted, and Assad wanted him executed, but by then Arafat had a potent reputation among the Arabs, so he was quietly released instead.
Other groups formed in different places, with similar goals in mind. From the refugee camps of Gaza came the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded in 1964 by a lawyer named Ahmad Shukairy. More radical was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), founded in 1968 by a Christian medical student, Dr. George Habash. Unlike Arafat, who hinted at compromise when talking to non-Arabs, Habash told everyone that his goal is the total destruction of Israel. Habash was also the first to advocate terrorist attacks outside the Middle East, like hijackings and bombings. To him anything that hurt Israel could be justified and if innocent civilians suffered this was sad but could not be helped. This hardline position has always given him followers, but because he was not a Moslem he never became leader of the whole Palestinian movement.
Shukairy, Habash, Arafat, and other Palestinian leaders began to coordinate their activities shortly after the Six Day War. At a major conference held in Cairo (1969), Shukairy was ousted from PLO leadership (his rivals accused him of being more interested in words than action). The PLO now became an umbrella organization, uniting the old PLO, al-Fatah, and several smaller groups, with Arafat as leader over them all. The PFLP also joined, but withdrew in September 1974. There were two reasons for this: (1.) a personal rivalry between Arafat and Habash, and (2.) Habash's insistence that all Palestinians commit themselves to a single ideology (by contrast, Arafat felt that ideological commitment could and should be put aside until after Palestine is liberated).
Though it was a small organization, even the PFLP suffered ideological division. Late in 1969, a Jordanian Marxist, Naif Hawatmeh, broke away to form the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP); Hawatmeh felt that Habash was too petit bourgeois to be a proper revolutionary leader. Around the same time, a Syrian Army captain, Ahmed Jibril, formed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), and concentrated on waging war inside Israel, against her citizens. Both splinter groups remain under PLO leadership today, unlike the main body of the PFLP. Al-Fatah suffered a split of its own in 1978 when one of its officers, Abu Nidal (real name: Mazen Sabry al-Banna), broke away because he thought Arafat was too "accommodating." Abu Nidal's group, Black June, has been supported at different times by Libya, Iraq, and Syria, and claimed responsibility for many attacks on Palestinian moderates.
The one thing on which all the Palestinian groups agreed was the rejection of all previous peace attempts, including UN Security Council resolutions, since a peace agreement with Israel suggests that Israel has a right to exist. Instead they proposed a secular democratic state called Palestine, where Moslems, Christians and Jews could live together in equality. That proposal implies the destruction of the Jewish state, and Palestinian leaders were ominously silent on what would happen to the Jews should they accomplish that. Some hinted that those Jews who came to the land before 1948, or those who accepted the Palestinian state, would be allowed to remain. Yet the savagery of Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli markets, schools, airports, overseas consulates, and airliners undermined Jewish faith in Palestinian promises. Furthermore, the idea that Moslem and non-Moslem can live together as equals is questionable, since in the past Moslem leaders have always insisted on the humbling of the Dhimmi among them, with restrictive laws, higher taxes, distinctive clothing, etc. In April 1975, Yasir Arafat was quoted as saying, "We have in the Lebanese experience a significant example that is close to the multi-religious state we are trying to achieve"; that was just days before Lebanon's devastating civil war began!
Two years later (March 31, 1977), Zahir Muhsein, a member of the PLO's executive committee, explained the Arab world's plan for the Palestinians, in a remarkably candid interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw:
"The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality, today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism . . . For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan."
All Palestinian groups attempted to set up advance bases in Israel, so they could advance from sporadic terrorist attacks to full-scale guerilla activity. Hundreds of raids took place, some of them led by Arafat himself; by the end of 1968, 234 Israeli soldiers and 47 Israeli civilians were killed. Also killed were 50 Arabs on the West Bank and 138 Arabs in the Gaza strip, whom they accused of "collaborating" with Israel. The IDF struck back, crossing the Jordan river in March 1968 to attack Karame, the main terrorist base in Jordan. Then they sealed the border with fences and minefields, and gradually flushed out the terrorists; by 1970 Gaza and the West Bank were secure again. As military exercises the raids had been failures, but as publicity exercises they were fantastic successes, capturing the imagination of the Palestinian people.
Gradually acts of terrorism became the preferred way of advancing the Palestinian cause. Since he suggested it first, George Habash led the way. In the summer of 1968, the PFLP hijacked an EL AL airliner from Athens. The plane and its more than twenty Jewish passengers went to Algiers and were held there--while the world watched--for five weeks. It was a modest beginning, but it worked as a public relations venture. The hijacking got world coverage, nobody was killed, and the job was carried out with disciplined precision. Habash struck again in December 1968, seizing and burning another EL AL airliner in Athens. This time the Israelis retaliated, with a helicopter raid on Beirut's airport that demolished thirteen Lebanese airliners. Since Habash commanded his war from Lebanon, Lebanon now suffered for it.
Ahmed Jibril's group made its debut in February 1970, when PFLP-GC agents persuaded some young women in Zurich to carry some packages aboard a SwissAir jet bound for Tel Aviv. The plane exploded in midair, killing all 47 people aboard.
The PFLP's most spectacular stunt took place on September 6, 1970, involving four airliners and more than 600 passengers. They hijacked all over Europe, but one got away. On this one, an EL AL 707, the crew and passengers fought back; a male hijacker was fatally shot while his female companion, Leila Khaled, was wounded and overpowered. The plane landed at a London airport and Khaled was taken into custody; one steward was shot in the scuffle and two passengers suffered cuts and bruises, but all of them made it to the hospital in time. The other three planes were not so fortunate. One of them, a PanAm 747, was taken as far as Beirut before it ran low on fuel and was forced to land. A TWA 707 and a SwissAir DC-8 went to an abandoned World War II airfield at Mafrak, in northern Jordan. Three days later a BOAC VC-10 was also hijacked and brought to Mafrak. There the hijackers demanded the release of guerrillas imprisoned in Switzerland, West Germany and Britain (including the recently arrested Leila Khaled), and gradually released the passengers, except for 54 Jews. The countries holding the prisoners agreed to release them, the remaining hostages were set free, and the hijacked planes at Beirut and Mafrak were destroyed--in a blaze of revolutionary glory.
King Hussein was embarrassed at this whole escapade. While the hijackers were at Mafrak, they had claimed the airstrip for themselves, renaming it "Revolution Air Base." Not only was this an affront to Jordanian sovereignty, but Hussein was already unhappy with the behavior of other Palestinian guerrillas in his country. The result was a brief but bloody conflict in the second half of the same month, now called "Black September" by the Palestinians.
When Hussein signed the 1970 cease-fire that ended the "War of Attrition" between Egypt and Israel, many Palestinians called for his elimination. An unsuccessful assassination attempt on September 1 confirmed the king's worst fears and unleashed a fury of retribution. On September 16 he declared martial law and formed a military government to enforce it. A 24-hour curfew went into effect in Amman and Zarka, while heavy fighting broke out in five cities, including Amman. Palestinians occupied two hotels in the capital and held sixty occupants hostage, to gain world attention. They lobbed rockets at the radio station and even the royal palace. However, the Jordanian soldiers had heavy artillery, and within ten days they smashed the Palestinians around Amman, driving them into the northwestern corner of Jordan. There the Syrians intervened briefly but ineffectively on the side of the Palestinians; Iraq also promised to help but that support never appeared. At the end of September a cease-fire signed in Cairo went into effect, but small-scale fighting continued while the Jordanian government asserted its authority. In July 1971 the Palestinians were driven out of their last strongholds (Jerash, Ajlun, and Irbid). Most of them fled to Syria and Lebanon; a few went to Iraq and Israel. Estimates of the total number of casualties range from 5,000 to 25,000, and surely include many Palestinian civilians. Whatever the number, the Palestinian political presence in Jordan had been eradicated. King Hussein's throne was safe.
One casualty of the Jordanian civil war was an indirect one: Nasser. He had suffered from diabetes since 1956, and his health steadily deteriorated after the Six Day War. Despite this, he felt the need to restore a united Arab front, so he invited all Arab leaders to an emergency conference in Cairo to end the war in Jordan. After the meeting ended Nasser went to the airport to say goodbye to the ruler of Kuwait, and on the way back he suffered a heart attack and died; he was 52. Apparently his death had been expected for some time. "Those who knew Nasser well," wrote Anwar Sadat, "realized that he did not die on September 28, 1970, but on June 5, 1967, exactly one hour after the war broke out. That was how he looked at the time, and for a long time afterward--a living corpse. The pallor of death was evident on his face and hands, although he still moved and walked, listened and talked."
The Jordanian civil war also finished off the Syrian government, which was discredited by its unsuccessful involvement. In November 1970 the coalition of military and civilian Baathists was ousted in a coup by the Defense Minister, General Hafez al-Assad. Assad was more formidable and clever than previous Baathist heads of state, and remained in office for the next twenty-nine years by using two tried techniques: ruthless suppression of all opposition and a steady campaign of propaganda or activity against opponents abroad (to keep Syrian attention distracted from domestic concerns). His long reign over Syria is remarkable when one considers that none of his predecessors could hold the job for more than four years.
In Egypt, Anwar Sadat had been a quiet partner of Nasser for most of his adult life. An army captain during World War II, he flirted with Nazism (the British arrested him once on a charge of spying for the Axis) and Islamic fundamentalism before deciding that Nasser had the most practical plan for the future. More recently he was president of the Egyptian National Assembly, but since this was merely a rubber stamp to approve decisions Nasser had already made, the job hardly taxed his abilities. Early in 1970 Nasser made him vice-president, apparently because he was the least controversial candidate. The rest of Nasser's inner circle went along with this choice, since they thought they could easily manipulate the man they called Nasser's "black donkey." However, the "black donkey" had some tricks up his sleeve, and soon showed, in his own way, that he could be just as dramatic and flamboyant as Nasser had been.
Sadat began by dismissing his rivals from government, including the highest-ranking leftist, Ali Sabry. This alerted the Soviet Union, and the USSR promptly sent its number three man, President Nikolai Podgorny, to negotiate a 15-year treaty promising economic and military cooperation. Moscow thought all was safe when Sadat signed the treaty; Nasser had never been willing to put Soviet-Egyptian relations in writing. One year later (1972), however, Sadat declared that the USSR was taking too long to ship promised military equipment, and ordered all Soviet military advisors out of his country. The United States stepped into the vacuum left behind by the Soviets, and Egypt has been pro-Western ever since. Sadat also found it easy to improve relations with many countries that disliked Nasser, like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Britain.
The real reason for Sadat's policy switch was his realization that the United States was the only major power that could bring Israel to the conference table. The US did not respond right away, though, since the current deadlock worked to Israel's benefit (the Sinai peninsula gave Israel a very large buffer zone to protect the country with, and contained the only oilfield in both countries). It also seemed that the US and the USSR were too preoccupied with ending their own rivalry to pay much attention to the Middle East. Sadat then decided that he would use force to break the deadlock. In June 1973 he invited King Hussein and Syria's Hafez al-Assad to a summit meeting in Cairo. Nobody thought much of this--Arab leaders are meeting somewhere at any given time--and since Sadat had been threatening a new war against Israel since he took office, he wasn't taken seriously when he talked about it this time. What was kept secret from everybody, including even Hussein, was that Sadat and Assad agreed on a battle plan and a date to launch a two-pronged invasion of Israel.
The date they chose was Saturday, October 6, 1973. For Israel it could not have been a worse date; this was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It was also a holy day for Moslems--the 10th of Ramadan--so nowadays we call this conflict either the Yom Kippur War or the Ramadan War, depending on whose side you are on. Anyway, it began with a combined Egyptian-Syrian attack that caught the Israelis totally by surprise. 80,000 Egyptians crossed the canal, overwhelmed 2,600 Israeli defenders, and shattered the Bar-Lev line. The Syrians retook half the Golan Heights on the first day, while shelling and rocket attacks from Syria and Lebanon killed one Israeli and twelve Druze. Israel's advantage in air power and armor was also nearly neutralized, thanks to new Soviet-made SAM missiles and the Sagger antitank "suitcase missile," which a single infantryman can carry. Most of the Arab world was also surprised when the war began, but before it ended nine other Arab nations committed troops, tanks, and planes to support either Egypt or Syria.
For three days it looked like the Six Day War in reverse, with the Arabs making the surprise attacks and winning. Then they stopped advancing on both fronts. Why? The answer was never totally clear. The Egyptians dug in along a new front line ten miles east of the Suez Canal, while the Syrians did not cross the Jordan River into Israel proper. It appears that they did not want to advance beyond the covering range of their missiles, and they suspected that there were more Israelis behind the units they had just smashed. Actually there were almost no defenders left, and that pause was the miracle Moshe Dayan needed to mobilize the rest of the IDF. It took him 72 hours, because the war had started on a holiday, but once it was complete he effectively threw back the Arabs on both fronts. By October 12 the Golan Heights & Mt. Hermon were cleared of Syrians, and the Israelis began to advance on the suburbs of Damascus. On October 15 a maverick Israeli general, Ariel Sharon, broke through a gap between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies, crossed the Suez Canal, swung south to isolate the Third Army, and began a charge toward Cairo.
By this time both the United States and the Soviet Union were involved. The USSR acted first, by shipping military equipment to Egypt and Syria, and that prompted the US to do the same for Israel. When the tide of battle turned in Israel's favor both superpowers became extremely concerned. The Soviets wanted a truce before Egypt lost all of its initial gains; the Americans feared that Israel's capture of Cairo or Damascus would provoke a full-scale Soviet intervention. US forces around the world went on full military alert, and both the US and USSR put pressure on their client states to stop fighting. The combatants agreed to a cease-fire on October 22, but a new round of fighting broke it right away. When the second cease-fire went into effect (October 24), Israeli forces halted about sixty miles from Cairo and twenty-five miles from Damascus.
The 1973 war cost Israel 2,378 men, one third of her air force (102 planes), and more than 800 tanks, a shockingly high figure for a country the size of Delaware, with about the same number of people as Alabama. To comprehend such a loss, a comparatively high casualty count on the US armed forces would have resulted in 140,000 dead. As in previous conflicts, no official record of the Arab losses was ever released, but again we estimate that they were higher: about 19,000 dead, more than 350 fighter planes, 1,300 tanks, and 11 ships. Israel won on the battlefield, but in world opinion it was the first three days that counted, because it showed that superior equipment and surprise were not Israeli monopolies. Sadat could claim a great political victory, because he had succeeded in breaking the stalemate over peace in the Middle East. Now the United States worked overtime to arrange a comprehensive series of peace talks, no longer letting domestic concerns (Watergate, the 1974 recession, etc.) get in the way. The Arabs also recovered the self-respect they had lost in 1967, and they also discovered a devastating new weapon to use against the West: oil. We will cover the use of the oil weapon more fully in the section on Saudi Arabia in the final chapter of this work.
The next attack earned the revulsion of the world, because it took place where one expects only peaceful competition: the 1972 Summer Olympic games in Munich, West Germany. On September 5, 1972, eight members of a group that called itself Black September broke into the Olympic village, killed two Israeli athletes, and seized nine more. They announced that unless Israel released two hundred imprisoned guerrillas, they would kill the hostages at regular intervals. Israel refused to negotiate, leaving West Germany with the responsibility of making a deal with the Black Septemberists. They thought they succeeded when the terrorists accepted an offer of a helicopter to take them and the hostages to the nearest airport, where a Lufthansa 747 was waiting. At the airport, however, a firefight broke out between the Arabs and the German troops that tried to overpower them and free the Israelis. All nine of the Israelis were killed; four of them were incinerated when a hand grenade was tossed into the helicopter. Five Arabs and one German policeman were also killed. Three of the Arabs surrendered and were held for a month, when another Lufthansa jet was hijacked and threatened with the destruction of plane, crew, and seventeen passengers. The Arabs went to a hero's welcome in Tripoli, Libya.
1973 saw the murder of one Belgian and two American diplomats, including the US ambassador, in Khartoum, Sudan, by eight al-Fatah terrorists. In May 1974, Naif Hawatmeh's DFLP tried to achieve a military victory of its own. But "military" is hardly the word for what happened. At Maalot, a village in northern Israel, three DFLP gunmen took over an elementary school and demanded the release of 23 prisoners. The Israeli authorities never negotiated with terrorists before, and this time, instead of talking, sent in the army. Hawatmeh's men were killed, along with 22 children. Previously Hawatmeh had claimed he favored a political solution to the Palestinian problem, rather than a military one; now he lost whatever following he might have had from sympathetic Israelis. After this came a week of Israeli air raids on Palestinian bases in Lebanon, followed by a bloody but fruitless raid by the DFLP on an apartment in the village of Beth-Shan (November 1974).
1974 and 1975 were the PLO's best years. Offers of Arab aid persuaded several African nations break relations with Israel and call for a Palestinian state, although rising oil prices hurt them as badly as they hurt the West. In October 1974 the Arab League convened in Rabat, Morocco, made the PLO a full-fledged member, and declared that the PLO is "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." (Previously King Hussein had claimed to be the leader of the Palestinian Arabs; now promises of additional subsidies from Saudi Arabia persuaded him to drop that claim.) Before the month was over the French president told a press conference that the Palestinians constitute "an entity, a reality, a people," and thus deserved a homeland. Other European leaders were less outspoken, but German and British politicians met with PLO leaders that year.
A year of activity in the United Nations followed. Since the UN General Assembly follows a rule of "one nation, one vote," dozens of newly independent Third World nations dominated it; most of them were pro-PLO and anti-Western, so they voted the same way as the Soviet bloc states did. In November 1974 the PLO was given permanent observer status--the first non-nation to be treated like one. Given the honors of a head of state, Yasir Arafat walked into the General Assembly with a pistol in his hip pocket, and said, "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." Several UN organizations, especially the International Labor Organization (ILO) and UNESCO, began to publish blatant anti-Israel propaganda. A vote to expel Israel from the UN was narrowly averted when the Western nations protested. On November 10, 1975, the General Assembly voted 72-35 to condemn Zionism as "a form of racism and racial discrimination." US delegate Daniel P. Moynihan denounced the resolution bitterly: "The abomination of anti-Semitism has been given the appearance of international sanction." Now the Palestinians were no longer seen as part of the Middle East problem, but the heart of the problem.
For the rest of the 1970s and 80s the PLO used the UN as a forum to address the world, and anything it said was listened to seriously by most of the members present. In February 1980, for example, it brought forth an absurd grievance that Israel was trying to steal the cultural heritage of the Palestinian people by claiming the recipe for falafel (a hamburger substitute made from ground chick peas) as its own. The "falafel controversy" only lasted a few days, until somebody did a little research and pointed out that neither Jews nor Palestinians invented falafel--Egypt had it first!
By the late 1970s the PLO had become the best-financed revolutionary organization in history, receiving more than $20 million a year from oil-rich Arab countries, arms and training from the Soviet bloc, and training from China. Palestinians working in the oil states had 5% of their pay withheld by the host governments to support the PLO, which worked out to an additional $50 million per year. It was estimated at the time that the PLO had an investment portfolio of $60-$100 million, which not only financed terrorist activities but provided some 2,300 jobs for disabled Fedayeen and Palestinian women.
The PLO also provided training, money, intelligence, and weapons to various terrorist groups that had nothing to do with the Middle East. A partial list of groups that received PLO aid includes the following:
Red Brigades (Italy)
Unlike Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the Lebanese government was not strong enough to control Palestinian activity. Lebanese opinion on the matter varied considerably. Some, like former president Chamoun and Pierre Gemayel (the leader of the Phalangists, an armed Maronite Christian militia) saw the Palestinians as a threat, and wanted them expelled; the leftists, led by Kamal Jumblatt, a Druze socialist, felt that it was Lebanon's duty to lend the Palestinians all possible assistance. All saw that Lebanon was helpless in the face of Israeli counterattacks against PLO targets, and feared that Israel might use the PLO presence as an excuse to annex southern Lebanon.
As the Palestinians grew in numbers and strength, so did the leftists, and the Christians frantically armed themselves to avoid losing political power to both. Often there were violent incidents between the PLO and either the Lebanese army or the Phalangists. Each time a hasty agreement saved the country from disaster, by postponing a final solution to the problem. Then in April 1975 a busload of Palestinians was murdered in a Christian quarter of Beirut. Fighting quickly spread to Zahle in the Bekaa valley, Tripoli in the north, and back to Beirut. As in 1958, the army did not intervene, instead dissolving into factions supporting either the Phalangists or the Moslem-Druze coalition. The government also nearly ceased to exist--after 1975 the president had no firm control of anything outside the presidential palace. In the rest of the country the combatants, supported by various foreign groups, turned upon one another with a ferocity--and firepower--that was remarkable in such a small part of the world.
Gradually the left began to win the war. By early 1976 the PLO was fully supporting the Moslems, and together they controlled about 80% of the country, leaving only an enclave around Jounieh to the Christians. It looked like the Christians would be defeated (so either that Lebanon would become a leftist, pro-PLO state), or that Lebanon would be partitioned into Christian and Moslem states. Either case looked to the Syrians like it would trigger Israeli intervention, so Hafez al-Assad reversed Syrian policy. The result was an odd alliance where both Israel and Syria, so bitterly opposed on everything else, took up the cause of the Lebanese Christians. Israel blockaded the coast, trained a Lebanese military unit in Israel, and opened up the border to Lebanese seeking medical treatment and employment (the so-called "Good Fence" policy). In April 1976 Syria invaded Lebanon with 20,000 troops, and that turned the tide. The Palestinians were put on the defensive, and in August they suffered a major defeat when the refugee camp of Tel Zaatar, on the east side of Beirut, fell to rightist forces after a bloody 52-day siege.
President Franjieh was so unpopular that his successor, Elias Sarkis, was elected in May 1976, but Franjieh refused to step down until his term expired in September. By this time the other Arab nations were extremely concerned; the conflict made a mockery of pan-Arabism, and raised fears that it could spread to other countries like Syria and Iraq (Iraqi troops were fighting on the side of the Lebanese Moslems because Syria helped the Christians). In October Saudi Arabia invited the leaders of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and the PLO to a summit meeting in Riyadh; Kuwait also attended. The result was a cease-fire and a 30,000-man (mostly Syrian) Arab peacekeeping force. They effectively partitioned Lebanon along what was called the "Green Line," which divided east & west Beirut and followed the Beirut-Damascus highway. East Beirut and the northern coast of the country were ruled by the Christians (a cooperative effort by the Phalangists and the Sarkis government); the southern coast had a leftist (Druze-Moslem-Palestinian) government, led by Kamal Jumblatt until he was assassinated in March 1977. The Syrians effectively became the strongest force in Lebanon, controlling about two thirds of the country, including the Bekaa valley. The southernmost part of Lebanon, below the Litani river, became a special case: here the Syrians would not go, since the Israelis made it clear they would not tolerate a Syrian there. In this area the PLO was free to carry on the way it did before. Also in the south was a Christian officer, Major Saad Haddad (1936-84), who organized a mixed Christian-Shiite militia with Israeli help, and worked toward the eventual goal of expelling both the Syrians and the PLO from his country.
At this point it looked like the Lebanese civil war was over. More than 50,000 had been killed in a year and a half of fighting, and more than a million lost their homes. There were no obvious winners: the Christians had to rely on the Syrians to keep their independence, and lost most of the country in the process. The Palestinians were in danger of losing their "last refuge," and only the peacekeeping force saved them from the fanatical hatred of the rightists. The Syrians looked like an unwilling participant, drawn into a Middle Eastern-style Vietnam from which they could not easily leave; only years later did it become clear that they had no plans for leaving. As hostilities wound down, curfews ended, roadblocks were removed, and the Lebanese reopened their shops in an attempt to return to the carefree capitalism of earlier years. Little did they know that the cease-fire they were enjoying was only a reprieve.
The next few days were miraculous, from Israel's point of view. Though Israel still would not talk with terrorists, it could negotiate with Amin, and a former friend of Amin, Colonel Baruch Bar-Lev, kept the Ugandan president-for-life busy by talking to him for hours on the phone. Time ran out, and Amin had to fly to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, to attend that year's meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU); he postponed the deadline set by the hijackers until the date of his return, July 4.
Meanwhile, the Israelis continued talking with the Ugandans, while secretly planning one of the most daring rescue operations ever attempted. The rescue allowed almost no margin for error, and depended on surprise, speed, and precise timing to work; it would only take one small slip to jeopardize the mission and hundreds of lives. Realistically, it was expected to cost thirty lives and fifty wounded if everything else went right. Because time was running out, "Operation Thunderbolt" actually took off 15 minutes before the Israeli Cabinet approved it (2:00 P.M. on July 3); they reasoned that if the plan was approved, the extra minutes could be useful, and if the plan was rejected, the planes could still return to Israel.
The planes (two 707s, four C-130 transports, and eight F4-E fighters) had to fly a difficult path over the middle of the Red Sea most of the way, to avoid violating Arab airspace, and they observed radio silence, to avoid detection. Then they flew over Ethiopia and Kenya; one 707, a hospital ship, landed at Nairobi while the other planes continued to Uganda. In friendlier times Israel had helped the Ugandans build Entebbe, so now the Israelis knew exactly how the airport was set up, including the location of the terminal where the prisoners were held. They brought a black limousine and two land-rovers, and when the Ugandans saw them, they thought Amin was making a surprise midnight visit. As the Ugandans came to attention to salute their leader, they were gunned down. Teams of commandos went out to disable communications and blow up the Soviet-made MIGs guarding the airport, while the main force rushed the building holding the hostages. After a final firefight, they escorted more than a hundred hostages to the waiting planes. At Nairobi they treated the wounded, and returned the whole convoy to Israel in time for the United States Bicentennial. The final casualty count was far better than the Israelis expected: seven hijackers and between 20 and 45 Ugandans were killed. Only three hostages and one Israeli soldier (Col. Yehonatan Netanyahu, the commander of the mission) died in the battle.
There was one other fatality at Entebbe. Dora Bloch, a seventy-five-year-old hostage, was recovering from a choking episode in a Kampala hospital when the Israelis struck. The rescue mission never found her, and left her behind. Idi Amin did not know the hostages had been rescued until several hours afterwards, and then he had his revenge: no one saw Dora Bloch alive again. Not until after Amin fell from power in 1979 did her fate become known, when her remains and personal possessions were returned to Israel.
Entebbe was an amazing feat, for its daring and because it was nearly bloodless. Danny Bloch, a son of the late Dora Bloch, said this about the episode: "After the Yom Kippur War, in 1973, people felt we had lost our secret weapon, the special spirit of Israel. Entebbe gave it back."
The next diplomatic breakthrough came on September 1, 1975. After some more shuttle diplomacy, Israel and Egypt agreed to a full disengagement in the Sinai. Israel pulled out of the western third of the peninsula, including the Abu Rudeis oilfield, and Egypt allowed ships carrying nonmilitary cargoes to and from Israel to use the Suez Canal. A team of U.S. civilian observers, stationed between the Egyptian and Israeli armies, monitored the peace. Predictably, other Arab leaders denounced the agreement (chiefly Libya, Syria, Iraq and the PLO), while Sadat gained many admirers in the West.
There were reasons for the intransigence of most Arabs. Egypt had the largest population of any Arab country and without it, no future attack against Israel could hope to succeed. Consequently, Sadat was accused of betraying the Arab cause and Islam. The Syrians were loudest of all, but since they were now heavily involved in Lebanon, all they could do was shout. The Egyptians, on the other hand, supported Sadat wholeheartedly at this point, since they had suffered most of the casualties in the four previous wars (five, if you count the 1968-70 "war of attrition") and were tired of laying down their lives when it suited somebody else. As one Egyptian writer put it, "richer Arabs want Egypt to starve alone, die alone, fight alone and go bankrupt alone."
A series of minor scandals and a general pessimistic mood in Israel led to a major surprise in the May 1977 elections. For the first time Israel's Labor Party was defeated, and after 29 years of leading the right-wing opposition, Menachem Begin rose to become prime minister. Simultaneously, the new American president, Jimmy Carter, continued the shuttle diplomacy of his predecessors. The Carter administration believed that it could solve the Middle Eastern conflict with a grand peace conference, in which the lions and lambs, eagles and bears of the world would all lie down together. Washington wanted the conference to be held in Geneva, Switzerland; here the heads of the US, the Soviet Union, and all other interested nations were expected to come together and resolve their differences.
Israel did not care for an everybody-get-in-the-act conference, since someone would call for PLO participation in it. And the thought of a meeting jointly chaired by the Russians--that Sadat had booted out of his country in 1972--was distasteful to Sadat and the more conservative Arab leaders. That may have prompted Sadat to come up with a better idea, and resulted in the boldest action of his career.
Sadat offered to go to Israel.
On November 9, 1977, Sadat astonished the world by announcing in a speech that he was willing to go to Israel if that would achieve peace. Menachem Begin immediately invited him, and ten days later Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit the Jewish state. Many stunned Israelis waited to greet him when he stepped off the plane, including all of Sadat's former enemies like Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and Ariel Sharon. To Ms. Meir, the Israeli leader he respected the most, Sadat announced he had been waiting a long time to meet her, and she asked why he had taken so long. For Sharon he dug up memories of the 1973 war by joking, "If you attempt to cross to the west bank [of the Suez Canal] again, I'll put you in jail!" "Oh, no," Sharon responded, "I'm minister of agriculture now!"
The rest of the year was full of events that would have been unthinkable just a few days earlier. Sadat addressed the Knesset, where he announced that Arabs and Jews could and would be friends. Egypt became the first Arab state to recognize Israel's right to exist; the "jihad" was over. In return for this, he asked that Israel return to her pre-1967 borders and create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza territories. Then he went to pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque, a move with much symbolism in it because Jordan's King Abdullah had been killed there for suggesting that peace with Israel was possible. In December Menachem Begin came to Egypt and met with Sadat in Ismailia, one of the newly rebuilt cities along the Suez Canal. All these activities made Begin and Sadat joint winners of the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
However, it was a short honeymoon. Begin and Sadat had a reputation for being hawks on military matters, and both were devoutly religious men, with strong convictions that could not be put aside easily. That made for meetings where they could reach no agreement, and a few times talks broke down. Whenever that happened Carter stepped in to jump-start the peace process again; each time he made a pitch for the original US plan of a multinational conference, followed by a comprehensive settlement. However, only a separate peace was possible if Egypt and Israel were the only participants. Before 1977 was over, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, and the PLO took part in an anti-Sadat, anti-Israel, anti-peace conference in Damascus. Yet while the participants in this "sorehead summit" could agree on what they were against, they could offer no positive alternative, and thus the political initiative remained with Sadat.
When it looked like nothing else would work, Carter invited Begin and Sadat to a special meeting at Camp David, Maryland. There for twelve days in September 1978, they talked, away from the microphones and cameras of the media, and finally smoothed out the last disagreements they still had. There was rejoicing in Cairo, Jerusalem, and Washington at the success of this meeting, but it took another round of shuttle diplomacy before they could sign a final treaty (March 26, 1979). In it, Israel agreed to return all of the Sinai in a phased withdrawal, which was completed in April 1982. Both sides also agreed to meet again and discuss the future of the other territories Israel has held since 1967. They exchanged ambassadors, and opened the border to trade and tourism. Israel's security was assured by a promise to keep the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran open to the shipping of all nations (remember that the closing of those waterways touched off the 1956 & 1967 wars). In April 1979, for the first time in history, an Israeli freighter passed through the Suez Canal.
Now that Sadat had peace with Israel, he had to make peace with the Arabs! When the Camp David accord was first announced in 1978, Libya, Syria, Algeria, South Yemen and the PLO severed all political and economic relations with Egypt. By the end of April 1979 every Arab country except Sudan and Oman had broken diplomatic relations. Most of the Arab world in its fury denounced Sadat as a traitor; Yasir Arafat vowed revenge and called for Sadat's assassination. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League, and since the League's headquarters had been in Cairo, it moved its meetings to Tunis for the time being. Later moves to punish Sadat included expulsion or suspension of Egypt from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Arab Monetary Fund, and the foreign ministers' meeting of the Conference of Islamic States. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait cut off their large financial subsidies of Egypt's economy. To punish the United States, OPEC jacked up the price of its oil to more than $30 a barrel (that, along with the Iranian Revolution, caused a second energy crisis in the West). The PLO increased its list of targets to include Arabs favoring peace.(7) Sadat responded by calling his critics "dwarfs" and "paralytics" who were sunk in Medieval backwardness. He had promised to win concessions from Israel on matters that did not directly concern Egypt, like the Palestinians, and now found himself negotiating on behalf of Arabs who did not want him to negotiate for them.
Once the ink was dry on the treaty, Begin, Sadat and Carter began discussing what to do about the Palestinians. Here they were far less successful. Sadat moderated his original demand, allowing "Palestinian autonomy" instead of a fully independent Palestinian state, but nobody could agree on what form the autonomy would take. Israel would talk to certain Palestinians, like the mayors of West Bank cities, but it wanted nothing to do with the PLO; the Palestinians and most Arab leaders found a Palestinian government unacceptable if it did not include some form of PLO representation. Meanwhile, the PLO continued its campaign of terrorism against Israeli and Lebanese civilians. And under no circumstances would Israel divide its capital again--the Arab-populated eastern part of Jerusalem included the holy places where so many events from the Bible took place--but the Arabs viewed a Palestinian state as meaningless without El Kuds (the Arab name for Jerusalem) as its capital. Menachem Begin explained Israel's point of view with claims that dated to the Old Testament and constantly referred to the West Bank by its Biblical name of "Judaea and Samaria"; that left most of his listeners cold. Both Jimmy Carter and the next US president, Ronald Reagan, tried to bring other Arabs into the talks, particularly Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but all played it safe and said no. The Camp David Treaty gave the talks a five-year deadline to solve the problems of the West Bank and the Palestinians, but the deadline came and went without any new agreement. At any rate, after Sadat's death there was far less willingness from Egypt to keep the talks going.
Sadat paid for his audacity with his life. His popularity in Egypt steadily dropped after 1979, because of lack of progress on both the peace talks and Egypt's chronic economic problems. Early in his presidency he had released those members of the Moslem Brotherhood who had been jailed by Nasser, paid compensation to the families of Brotherhood members who had been executed, and allowed the movement to relaunch its publications. This had been done because he saw the fundamentalists as an effective counterweight to the leftists, but when they and various other Egyptians announced their opposition to the treaty, he attempted to suppress the discontent by force. Soon the Brotherhood had his name at the top of their death lists.
In September 1981 Sadat jailed or exiled 1,500 political opponents, including the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III. On October 6, while he watched a parade commemorating the eighth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, a group of dissident Egyptian soldiers attacked Sadat. They leaped from their truck when it passed the presidential reviewing stand, threw hand grenades, and fired automatic weapons at point-blank range, mortally wounding Sadat and eight others. Sadat's death sent shock waves through the Middle East and the rest of the world; he was genuinely mourned by most of the Western nations, and three former US presidents (Nixon, Ford and Carter) were among those who came to the funeral. So did Menachem Begin, prompting a cruel joke about Sadat from the Libyan press: "He lived like a Jew and died like a Jew. He was buried [on] Saturday." Ominously, most of the Arab world rejoiced at the news, showing how fragile the peace was.
Sadat's vice-president, Hosni Mubarak, assumed the presidency immediately. He promised to continue the work Sadat had started, but did so only halfheartedly. Following the letter, but not the spirit, of the treaty, he froze progress on improving relations; for much of the early 1980s he even closed Egypt's embassy in Tel Aviv to protest Israel's involvement in Lebanon; the government-controlled Egyptian press continued to routinely preach anti-Semitism. But glacial progress is still progress, and the Camp David treaty still stands today. The rest of the Arab world grew fearful of the Islamic fundamentalist menace spreading out of Iran, and gradually swung back to normal relations with Cairo; by 1989 Egypt was forgiven and back in the Arab League.
Israel in the twentieth century. The nearest Arab states are shown in dark green; the red line marks the borders of the Palestine Mandate between 1918 and 1948. The purple areas were given to Israel by the UN in 1947; the dark blue areas were conquered in the 1948 war. The yellow and light green areas were added in the Six Day War of 1967; the light green (Sinai and a small part of the Golan heights) was returned between 1974 and 1982.
In the aftermath of active fighting came a political realignment. The disintegration of the central government allowed private militias to multiply; by the end of 1981 there were 43 armed factions. Of these the two most powerful were the PLO (about 20,000 men) and the Phalangists (between 10,000 and 15,000). In the Christian zone the Phalangists held more power than the Sarkis government, and they used it to crush rival militias (those of former presidents Chamoun and Franjieh). There the aging Pierre Gemayel let his ambitious and talented son, Bashir Gemayel, assume many of his positions in leadership. On the southern coast, from Tyre to west Beirut, the PLO was the most powerful group. Wherever the PLO went, they helped themselves at gunpoint to whatever they wanted. They moved into Lebanese homes, forcing the owners to live in a small corner or kicking them out altogether. They used the electricity, water, roads and schools without paying any taxes. Often they confiscated cars in the streets, making sudden pedestrians of the stranded owners.
PLO oppression and the Iranian revolution woke up Lebanon's Shiites politically. By the early 1980s there were anti-PLO Shiite militias; most prominent among them were the fanatical pro-Iranian Hezbollah ("Party of God"), and the pro-Syrian Amal ("Hope").
The Christian right soon came to resent the Syrian presence. Syria's entry into the war had saved them, but they did not want to replace leftist oppression with Syrian oppression. Syria had not given Lebanon diplomatic recognition (they didn't until 1991), and many Lebanese feared that the Syrians still held to their dream of a "Greater Syria," and would use the war as an excuse to annex the whole country. Relations between Israel and the Christians improved, and cooled between the Christians and Syrians. Since both Syria and the PLO opposed the peace talks between Egypt and Israel, they came to agree on other issues. By February 1978 the Syrians had switched sides, fighting the Christian militias and supporting the Moslem-leftist-Palestinian groups.
The PLO's worst terrorist attack to date led to Israel's active involvement in Lebanon. On March 11, 1978, eleven al-Fatah terrorists landed in rubber boats on a beach between Tel Aviv and Haifa. They commandeered first a Mercedes, then a bus full of passengers, and went on a shooting spree, firing at any civilians who came too close. Before the bus got to Tel Aviv, the local police stopped it with a roadblock and overpowered the terrorists in a firefight. The final score: nine terrorists killed, two terrorists captured, 37 Israeli civilians killed, and more than 70 Israelis wounded.
Israel responded with a major invasion to clear southern Lebanon of terrorists. 25,000 IDF troops, backed by artillery and air support, advanced to the Litani River, occupying everything south of that line except the city of Tyre. There the Israelis stopped, to avoid a confrontation with the Syrians. The fighting was all over in less than a week; the PLO abandoned most of their camps before the Israelis arrived. International condemnation of Israel's reaction came immediately, and Israel agreed to withdraw from south Lebanon so that a UN peacekeeping force could take its place.
The new UN presence did little, if anything, to solve the problem. The PLO managed to infiltrate the south again, and the UN force failed to keep them from shelling Israel and the 270-square-mile area controlled by Major Haddad's militia. Both Israel and the Christians accused the UN force of favoring the Palestinians as a result. In reprisal for the worst PLO attacks, Israel raided southern Lebanon twice in 1980, withdrawing afterwards under a great deal of international pressure. In northern Israel, life became much like it was along the Syrian and Jordanian borders before 1967; the shelling disrupted farming, closed factories and schools, and destroyed property. Since the Soviet-made Katyusha rockets could not be guided to targets, casualties were light, but Israel considered the situation intolerable.
In April 1981 a major battle began over the town of Zahle, a Christian stronghold about 30 miles east of Beirut. Syrian forces put the town under siege and attacked Christian troops in Beirut. When Israeli planes shot down two Syrian helicopters near Zahle, Syria brought in batteries of Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles. Menachem Begin warned at that point that unless the missiles were withdrawn, Israel would attack them. That prompted the United States to send a special envoy, Philip Habib, to defuse the crisis. Shuttling between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, Habib worked out a cease-fire agreement by the end of June. The Phalangist forces abandoned Zahle and the Syrians pulled back to let them out. In return it was expected that Syria would remove the missiles, but months later the missiles were still there.
In July 1981 Israeli warplanes bombed PLO offices in crowded west Beirut, killing an estimated 300 people and injuring 800. Begin regretted the loss of life, but said that while Israel had tried in the past to avoid hitting population centers, it would now "attack terrorist bases and headquarters even if they are purposefully located within civilian populations"--which was precisely why the PLO was in west Beirut in the first place.
And so the exchange continued. It became difficult to figure out which came first: the terrorism or the counter-terrorist response. On June 3, 1982, Palestinian gunmen wounded the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, shooting him in the head and putting him into a coma. For Israel this was enough. Three days later 60,000 IDF troops swept into Lebanon, backed by tanks, artillery, and the Israeli Air Force and Navy. Begin called the invasion "Operation Peace for Galilee," and soon it became apparent that this was a much more ambitious incursion than the previous ones had been. On the second day the IDF was only 15 miles from Beirut, well beyond the Litani River. The nearest PLO strongholds--Hasbeya, Nabatiyeh, and Beaufort Castle (a former Crusader fortress)--were overrun and given to Major Haddad. On the coast, Tyre, Sidon and Damour were taken. Now the objective was not just clearing the PLO from the south, but the PLO's ejection from all Lebanon.
IDF forces also entered the southern Bekaa valley, leading to a confrontation with the Syrians. There the greatest air battles since World War II took place. Israeli pilots, flying American-made F-15 & F-16 fighters, downed more than sixty Syrian MIGs and destroyed all 19 antiaircraft missile batteries, without losing a single plane. A cease-fire ended the fighting between Israel and Syria on June 11, giving Israel a free hand to deal with the PLO.
One week after "Operation Peace for Galilee" began, the military outcome was obvious, but the political future was murky. Much of the Western media, ill-informed about the causes of the conflict, saw it as aggression rather than a defensive action, and compared it to a Nazi blitzkrieg. Criticism of Begin, Ariel Sharon (now Israel's defense minister) and the state of Israel came from all directions, even from some who normally sympathize with Israel, like American Jews. In the United States, advertisements of uncertain origin appeared in newspapers protesting the fate of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians caught in the onslaught. Many of these ads reported casualty figures like 10,000 dead and 600,000 refugees; Israeli sources asserted that these figures exceeded the entire population of south Lebanon.
Damour, a Christian town just ten miles south of Beirut, provided much evidence to justify Israel's actions. The PLO had driven most of the residents out in early 1976, and the churches became objects of desecration. One church had been converted into a garage; they littered its grease-stained floor with spare parts. Another had been used as an indoor volleyball court, while crosses and altars in others showed the scars of target practice. The returning residents told stories of senseless killings, and of Lebanese children raped by PLO men. Most horrible was the discovery of the PLO hospitals, where civilians had been kidnaped and forced to give blood to wounded terrorists; the IDF found their bodies on the floor with the syringes still attached, drained of all the blood they had. Similar stories from other communities told of the PLO brutalizing Christian and Moslem alike; even the Shiites welcomed the Israelis as liberators.
Moderate Lebanese Moslems also fell victim to the PLO's reign of terror. Ali Bader al-Din, the imam of the Lebanese village of Arouf, refused to inject Palestinian nationalist messages into his sermons. Shortly before "Operation Peace for Galilee," he disappeared. His body was found a few days later by a shepherd under a bridge. To stop possible protests, the PLO ordered his funeral held at night, though this is contrary to Islamic practice.
After the funeral, about 5,000 people gathered for a memorial service at the imam's home, and this so alarmed the local PLO strongman that he asked Yasir Arafat to come to the village immediately. Arafat came to Arouf, made a speech, and turned to the murdered imam's ten-year-old son, Mohammed. He told the boy, "It was the Zionists who killed your father. He is a martyr to the Palestinian revolution." Then he pulled out his Czech-made automatic pistol, gave it to the boy, and said, "When you grow up you will avenge your father's death." Arafat also offered money to the imam's family, which they refused. The imam's brother later handed the gun over to the IDF.(8)
Sidon held a secret that astonished even Israeli intelligence: it was the world's largest secret Soviet military base in a noncommunist country. Miles and miles of tunnels concealed bunkers, Soviet-made arms, thousands of tons of ammunition, tanks, helicopters, and all the supplies that go with such equipment. Storerooms held stacks of Russian-language documents, and when translated, they talked about a major invasion scheduled to take place in August 1982. This huge stockpile took months to remove, with 700 trucks working constantly, and they estimated that there was enough materiel to equip an army of half a million men. In view of the actual size of the PLO force, some wondered who the enormous cache was really for (the USSR?), and if its capture had prevented World War III.
In mid-June the Israelis linked with their Christian allies in east Beirut, trapping the PLO in west Beirut. A siege of the Moslem half of Lebanon's capital began, with the Israelis pounding relentlessly at PLO forces and preventing food, medicine, water, and electricity from crossing the "green line" separating the city's Christian and Moslem sectors. Little aid came from the PLO's backers; the only soldiers who fought alongside Arafat were the handful of Syrians who got trapped in Beirut by the rapid Israeli advance. Most Arab states simply protested; none was willing to welcome many PLO fighters onto its territory; the Syrians suggested that Arafat was no longer competent and should hand over PLO leadership to another (presumably pro-Syrian) faction; Libya's mercurial strongman, Muammar el-Gaddafi, told Arafat to commit suicide and become a martyr to the cause, rather than let the Israelis drive him from Beirut.
US intervention saved the PLO from this bleak situation. Philip Habib returned to the region, shuttled between Beirut and Jerusalem, and negotiated a settlement where the PLO would leave Beirut and disperse among several Arab countries. A multinational force of French, Italian, and American troops would guard their withdrawal. In late August an estimated 14,000 Palestinian and Syrian soldiers left the city, brandishing assault rifles and flashing victory signs.
Meanwhile, it was election time for the Lebanese. The Phalangists nominated 34-year-old Bashir Gemayel as their candidate for president, and since a special session of parliament, boycotted by nearly every Moslem member, did the voting, Gemayel won easily. Before he could become president, however, Gemayel was killed in an explosion that flattened the Phalangist party headquarters in Beirut. Bashir's elder and more moderate brother, Amin Gemayel, was then elected almost unanimously to succeed him.
Israel responded to the younger Gemayel's assassination by occupying west Beirut. The Phalangists went with them, and entered the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, supposedly to look for PLO guerrillas hiding in there. Instead, the Phalangists took their revenge, killing hundreds of Palestinian men, women, and children. Whole families were lined up and shot; others were buried in the rubble of their dynamited homes. Rescue workers later found 328 bodies in the camps, but Israeli intelligence estimated that between 700 and 800 Palestinians died in the bloodbath.
The Sabra-Shatilla massacre caused a political crisis in Israel. The Israelis pulled out of Beirut immediately, and the multinational force stepped in to take their place. Worldwide condemnation fell on Israel for its perceived part in the massacre. Although Israel was not involved in the incident, many felt that anybody with any sense would have kept the Phalangists out of the refugee camps, knowing they were angry at their leader's death. Ariel Sharon lost his job because many saw him as indirectly responsible for the killings. Menachem Begin resigned a few months later, in October 1983. He did so because of failing health and grief over his wife, who died while he was visiting the United States in November 1982; the bad news from Lebanon probably speeded up his downfall as well. Begin spent the rest of his life in seclusion; his successor was Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a former Sterngang member who was just as tough a negotiator as Begin had been.
Israel retaliated by bombing the PLO headquarters in Tunisia on October 1, killing about 70 Palestinians and Tunisians. The PLO response was quick, and a great embarrassment to Arafat. One week later a small PLO faction, the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), captured an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro. The four gunmen and their leader, Muhammad Abbas, took the liner to Egypt and surrendered in return for a promise of safe passage. However, after they flew out of Egypt, US jet fighters intercepted and forced their Egyptian airliner to land in Sicily, where Italian authorities arrested the hijackers. Italy later permitted Abbas to leave for political reasons; the others were put on trial for the hijacking and for the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly American Jewish passenger who had been shot and thrown overboard.
The lack of authority not only attracted hijackers to Beirut; it also became the world's kidnaping capital. Several foreigners--mostly Americans but also British, French and Germans--were kidnaped off the streets of Beirut. An otherwise unknown pro-Iranian group that called itself Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for this, and called for the release of 17 Shiites imprisoned in Kuwait for 1983 car-bomb attacks. Two Americans died in captivity; Terry Waite, the British envoy sent by the Anglican Church to negotiate for the hostages, became a hostage himself; most were held until 1991, long after the issue which prompted the kidnapings became irrelevant.
One kidnaping was a definite "no-brainer," meaning that a remarkable lack of intelligence went into its planning. In September 1985 four Soviet diplomats were abducted in Beirut to protest fighting between fundamentalists and Syrian-backed militias in Tripoli. Islamic fundamentalists disliked the Soviet Union's policy of official atheism, but since both them and the Soviets disliked the United States even more, the act made no sense from a political standpoint. One hostage was shot and killed while in captivity; the kidnappers apologized and released the others a month later.
In November 1985 an Egyptian airliner was hijacked after takeoff from Athens and forced to land in Malta. There the Arab gunmen shot eight passengers, killing two (an American and an Israeli). Hours later an Egyptian commando team stormed the plane and killed or fatally wounded 58 people. Egyptian president Mubarak was criticized for this botched attempt to reenact the Entebbe rescue. The hijackers, one of whom survived, turned out to be anti-Arafat Palestinians from Abu Nidal's faction, which opposed even talking about making peace with Israel. The group was believed to have received support from Libya.
Several other incidents in 1985 and 1986 also had a Libyan signature on them, prompting the US to bomb Tripoli in 1986; after that the number of terrorist acts declined markedly, with one very bloody exception. On December 21, 1988, a PanAm 747 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 aboard and 11 on the ground. The two terrorists accused of that bombing escaped to Libya, and stayed there for more than a decade, despite international condemnation and sanctions.
One such defection forced an election in 1984. This time nobody won, and nobody could form a majority coalition. The result was a compromise called "the Unity Government"; Labor leader Shimon Peres became Prime Minister and Yitzhak Shamir served as Foreign Minister for 25 months; at the end of that time they switched places. Many observers predicted that this unstable arrangement would collapse before the second 25-month term ended, but remarkably, it lasted without either of the two major blocs quitting, and it succeeded in tackling the inflation problem, reducing inflation from a staggering rate of 400% per year to less than 20%.
The next election (December 1988) also ended in an unbreakable tie, so they established a second Unity Government, with Shamir as Prime Minister. This time it only lasted 15 months, and was succeeded by another election and a right-wing government led by Shamir. It lasted until June 1992.
Meanwhile, a second generation of Palestinians grew up under Israeli rule. They resented the lack of progress the PLO had made in liberating them, despite decades of effort, and felt the Arab states were using them as pawns to further their own political games. They also grew alarmed as Israel continued to build settlements, and became susceptible to rumors that the Israelis were about to exterminate them. The last straw, perhaps, was the Arab League meeting of November 1987, which was almost totally concerned with the Iran-Iraq war; discussion of the Palestinian issue was brief, and only occurred because Syria insisted on it. Consequently, many young Palestinians decided to take the revolution into their own hands. In December 1987 riots broke out in Gaza, and they quickly turned into a civil disobedience campaign known as the Intifada, meaning "uprising." Now rock-throwing youths replaced hooded gunmen in the Western press as the symbol of the Palestinian struggle. Sometimes more deadly weapons accompanied the rocks: knives, Molotov cocktails, and even hand grenades.
A deadly pattern followed, with Palestinians attacking Israelis who drove through their neighborhoods, evoking a response from Israeli troops attempting to maintain order. The Intifada continued for six years, though it accomplished little. Casualties were also extremely one-sided: nearly a thousand Arabs were killed by Israelis, while Israeli deaths, both civilian and military, numbered only 27. The IDF tried standard riot suppression tactics, like tear gas and rubber bullets, but eventually had to resort to using live ammunition when all else failed. Thousands of Arabs ended up in Israeli jails, far more than the courts could handle quickly.
The whole relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel changed for the worse. The Palestinians called for boycotts and general strikes. They used violence and intimidation against those who attempted to cooperate with the Israelis (500 Arabs were killed by Arabs in the Intifada's first four years). About half the Palestinians serving in the police force were pressured into resigning. Palestinian civilians tried to keep Israeli soldiers from searching their communities for suspected troublemakers, and encouraged their children to commit criminal acts that would have landed them in a juvenile detention center, had they done them in the United States. Arson was committed in forests planted by Jews.
The Israeli government imposed several sanctions. They put restrictions on the transfer of funds into the West Bank; schools were closed for extended periods; Palestinians accused of excessive violence were deported and their houses were bulldozed. Frequently the border was closed to civilian traffic between pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank & Gaza, causing many Palestinians to lose their jobs. None of these moves was completely effective in stopping the turbulence, though.
If the PLO had anything to do with starting the uprising, it quickly lost control of it. The Palestinians ignored PLO orders, for reasons that we will cover later. Instead, they turned to a fundamentalist group called Hamas(9), which was created in 1987 as an offshoot of the Egyptian-born Moslem Brotherhood. Like older Palestinian movements, Hamas gained support by utterly rejecting the state of Israel and by generating vicious anti-Semitism. Unlike the PLO, the Hamas leadership avoids the political limelight, and shuns the mixture of Islam and left-wing politics promoted by Nasser, Gaddafi, and many other 20th-century Arab politicians. In the early 1990s most of the oil-rich Islamic nations, particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia, quit financing the PLO and switched their backing to Hamas. That, combined with the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism, suggests that western-style nationalism is ending in the Middle East, and politics is returning to the Islamic basis of earlier eras. One continuity remains the same, though: Palestinians always prefer the position on Israel that most completely rejects the Jewish state's right to exist.
In May 1983, Israel and the Gemayel government concluded what was very nearly a peace treaty. Much like the Camp David accord, it called for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanese territory, a special security zone run by Major Haddad in the south, and the establishment of full diplomatic relations. Around this time the Shiites changed their mind about Israel, and began making armed attacks on Israeli forces. Still under pressure from the West, faced with mounting casualties, and wishing to go home, the Israelis pulled back halfway to the border in September 1983. Behind them a battle broke out between Christians and Druze for control of the Shouf mountains, just outside Beirut; the Druze won and got to keep this area, despite shelling from two US ships at sea.
The multinational force was supposed to restore order in the zone Israel was leaving, but it did not stay for long. Terrorists began making suicidal attacks on the multinationals, crashing trucks full of TNT through barriers and exploding them where they could kill as many infidels as possible. The first such attack wasted the US embassy in April, leaving more than 63 dead and 100 wounded. In October, another four-wheeled bomb was driven into the US Marine headquarters at the Beirut airport, killing more than 240 Americans; moments later another suicide bombing destroyed a French barracks two miles away, causing 58 deaths.(10) In November, a similar bombing of an Israeli military compound in Tyre killed 60 people. The Westerners weren't sure what their purpose was in Lebanon, so in early 1984 they packed their bags and left. The pro-Iranian "Islamic Jihad" claimed responsibility for all these attacks, and they seem to have been done specifically to strike a blow against the hated West.
When the peacekeepers departed, antigovernment Druze and Shiite militias seized control of west Beirut. They soon had a falling out and fought for control of the capital in March 1984, while pro- and anti-Syrian Moslem militias dueled in Tripoli. Amin Gemayel tried to end the conflict by creating a new coalition government that shared power equally. Rashid Karami, who had served as prime minister twice before, was brought back because he was friendly to Syria. Other appointments included Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (son of the late Kamal Jumblatt) as minister of tourism and public works, while Amal leader Nabih Berri became the minister of southern Lebanon. Berri insisted on this post because southern Lebanon was the area where his Shiite constituency is strongest.
The deaths of Major Haddad and Pierre Gemayel in 1984 deprived the Christians of effective leadership. Meanwhile Syria's president Assad and the Lebanese Moslems & leftists put pressure on Amin Gemayel, forcing him to revoke the agreement he had signed with Israel the previous year. Despite this reverse, the Israelis continued their withdrawal, completing it in June 1985. They had almost nothing to show for their three-year adventure, and left behind a Lebanon where every faction was divided over the question of accepting or rejecting Syria's leadership.
Now the amazingly resilient Lebanese economy began to collapse, from years of warfare and destruction which had caused the deterioration of public services and driven foreign business out of the country. In 1987 Prime Minister Karami was killed by a bomb placed in his helicopter, and the carefully worked out coalition government unraveled. When Gemayel's term in office ended in 1988, Parliament could not agree on how to elect a new president; instead, the departing Gemayel named a Christian general, Michel Aoun, as prime minister, though the incumbent, Salim al-Hoss, refused to step down. The result was that Lebanon had no president but two prime ministers, and a permanent division of the country now looked inevitable.
Most Lebanese did not want to see their country break up and disappear, but they could not agree on who should be in charge. In March 1989 General Aoun started a "war of liberation" against Syria and its Lebanese allies; he had covert Iraqi assistance, but failed, and in September Aoun accepted a cease-fire.
On October 22, 1989, the remaining members of the Lebanese Parliament (last elected in 1972) met in Taif, Saudi Arabia, and worked out a compromise government that shared power equally between Christians and Moslems. On November 5 they elected Rene Moawad as president; he was assassinated 17 days later, and Elias Hrawi took his place. General Aoun denounced both elections as invalid since the compromise ignored the issue of Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Another round of fighting broke out in early 1990, and in October, while the rest of the world was watching the developing crisis in Kuwait, Syria stepped into Beirut and finished off the anti-Syrian opposition. Aoun surrendered and President Hrawi began the difficult and dangerous process of disarming the various factions and reasserting the central government's authority into what had become a modern-day example of anarchy.
A decade and a half of on-and-off fighting had killed as many as 150,000 Lebanese. About one quarter of the country's population had fled abroad; most of the rest had been displaced from their homes more than once, and Beirut had shrunken until it had fewer people than Orlando, Florida. The Lebanese were so exhausted by the violence that most were willing to have peace at any price, even if it meant becoming a Syrian puppet state.
1. Yasir Arafat's marriage. After decades of insisting that he was "married to the revolution," in 1992 Arafat married Suha Tawil, a Christian woman 35 years his junior who had worked for him. Now a family man, Arafat stopped maintaining the legendary 24-hour working days of old, and lost credibility in the eyes of those Arabs who thought he should give politics his undivided attention. In fact, the wedding was kept secret for three months because they feared that this would be the reaction. After the second Intifada began in 2000, Suha and their daughter moved to a hotel suite in Paris.
2. The loss of other PLO leaders. The PLO's military chief, Khalil al-Wazir (alias Abu Jihad), was killed in April 1988 by an Israeli commando raid on his Tunisian home. Arafat's next right-hand man, Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), died in January 1991 when a bodyguard turned on him. Neither was replaced; Arafat simply took over their responsibilities. As a result, by 1993 he held 32 PLO titles, ranging from president of Palestine to inspector-general of the al-Asifa forces.
3. Palestinian anger at PLO corruption. Palestinians came to see the PLO leadership as self-serving. The guerrilla fighter of yesteryear was gone, one editorial lamented, to be replaced by those interested in "the red carpet, the private plane of the president, [and] free rein to spend money." By contrast, Hamas got involved in the lives of Palestinians by establishing schools, clinics and charities for them.
4. The Intifada and Hamas, both of which mocked the PLO's claim to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Both Israel and the PLO went to the negotiating table because they saw the need to agree before Hamas got too strong; it became a case of "If not now, maybe never."
5. Arafat's choice of friends. As the 80s ended Arafat showed remarkably poor political judgment; he embraced the dictators the rest of the world was shedding. For example, he was a conspicuous guest at the last Party Congress of Romania's Nicolae Ceaucescu. Then he sent a message congratulating China's leaders for getting tough with demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. In 1991 he loudly (and prematurely) applauded an unsuccessful coup by hardline communists against Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. Worst of all, when Iraq's occupation of Kuwait led to war between Saddam Hussein and the West, he supported Hussein, then refused to acknowledge Hussein's defeat. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait cut off their funding of the PLO, which now was worth $100 million a year.
6. The end of the Soviet Union. The 1991 collapse of the USSR deprived the PLO of enormous assistance in propaganda, arms, training, and intelligence.
To reverse the marginalization of his movement, Arafat changed tactics, switching from a combined armed-diplomatic struggle to a purely diplomatic one. On November 15, 1988, he proclaimed independence for the Palestinians, renounced terrorism, and hinted that he was willing to recognize Israel's right to exist. However, all he got was a dialogue with the US ambassador to Tunisia. There had been too many incidents in the recent past for Shamir to trust Arafat this time; the peace initiative collapsed 18 months later when Arafat refused to denounce a failed raid on an Israeli beach by a more radical PLO faction. Radical Arabs accused Arafat of selling out to the other side; George Habash hinted that he would like to check Arafat's genealogy to find out if he had any Jewish grandparents!
The move to bring peace to the Middle East was kept going, because both the United States and the Soviet Union were now serious about ending the conflict. The USSR normalized diplomatic relations with Israel, accepted a friendly meeting between Shamir and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze (in Washington D.C, December 1990), and allowed nearly a million Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. At the same the new American president, George H. Bush, made the Middle East peace effort a priority of US foreign policy. Both Bush and his ambitious Secretary of State, James Baker, put pressure on Israel to negotiate directly with her foes, including the PLO. The old idea of a multinational conference in Geneva, Switzerland, championed by the superpowers in the 1970s, now returned.
The multinational conference was held, thanks to a more moderate mood on all sides. The USSR did not participate, simply because it ceased to exist in the last months of 1991. That pulled the rug out from under those states which had made a game of playing off the United States against the Soviet Union, particularly Syria. Like Arafat had done, the wily Hafez al-Assad adjusted his policies, donned the mantle of respectability, and courted US approval (Syria sent a small contingent to join the UN coalition against Iraq for the same reason). Other Middle Eastern news at that time was welcome: the release of the last Western hostages in Lebanon; Israel freeing 91 Arab prisoners; the UN voiding its notorious 1975 "Zionism is racism" resolution, to name a few.
The first multi-party meeting to end the Arab-Israeli conflict was held in Madrid on October 30, 1991. Participants included the US, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. A Palestinian delegation was also present, but Israel had its way there; the members of that group could not be residents of Jerusalem or members of the PLO, nor could they meet with the PLO. In other areas the Arabs had the final word; Israel could only meet with one Arab delegation at a time, for instance. After the first conference did nothing but get all the members acquainted, they planned follow-up meetings to continue the momentum started. Israel proposed having the meetings somewhere in the Middle East, but no Arab state was willing to be the host, since that would make Israel look like a respectable sovereign state; consequently, most of the meetings took place in Washington.
Progress was almost imperceptible for all of 1992 and early 1993; nobody was very willing to make concessions, particularly Syria (Syria insisted on Israeli evacuation of all occupied territories, especially the Golan Heights, before Damascus would concede even diplomatic recognition). Everybody expected this--it happened in the Egyptian-Israeli talks, remember--because each party had objectives that were incompatible with the others, and the US continued pressure to keep all parties jawing instead of warring. James Baker was very active in the region, making nine trips to the Middle East in 1991 alone. It was no secret that the Bush administration was cooler toward Israel than previous US governments, and thus US pressure fell heaviest on the Jewish state. This time the US used the issue of Israel building Jewish settlements in Judaea & Samaria, which Washington had always opposed. When the US rejected Israel's request for a $10 billion loan guarantee (to be used in building houses for the new settlers from the ex-Soviet Union), it probably contributed in no small way to Shamir's downfall in the elections that followed.
Israel's June 1992 elections ended 15 years of full or partial Likud Leadership. The Labor Party returned to power, with Yitzhak Rabin as Prime Minister and Shimon Peres as Foreign Minister. Rabin called for peace and reconciliation with all of Israel's neighbors, and significantly, he told Israelis they should not think of holding on to all the lands Israel held, and must abandon their dreams of a "Greater Israel." As the US had hoped, Rabin was more willing than Shamir to make concessions, and before 1992 was over Washington gave Rabin the loan guarantees denied to Shamir.
Several incidents in late 1992-early 1993 threatened, but did not derail, the peace talks. In September 1992, ten Palestinian terrorist organizations met in Damascus and formed an alliance to derail the peace process; among them were the PFLP, DFLP, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and a few PLO members who opposed a negotiated settlement. Then in November, US elections replaced Bush with an administration that cared little for foreign policy, and there was the question of whether the peace process could continue without Baker's constant prodding and supervision. One month later, 415 Palestinian prisoners, accused of being Hamas activists, were deported from Israel to Lebanon. Lebanon refused to take them in, and consequently they ended up in refugee camps on the Lebanese side of the Israel-Lebanon border. There they sat, in squalor and misery, while members of the media came and took pictures of their situation to generate world sympathy. Israel later admitted that it made a mistake with a few of the exiles and took them back in, and also those who were seriously ill. In early summer of 1993, guerrillas killed seven Israeli soldiers in Israel's southern Lebanese security zone, touching off major exchanges of artillery, rocket fire and eventually Israeli air strikes; before the smoke cleared about 300,000 Lebanese had fled their homes to escape the conflict.
The final breakthrough that made a peace accord possible came because the Rabin government saw the PLO as a lesser evil than Hamas. While the Washington peace talks went on, a series of "back channels" opened up in several cities where Israelis and PLO members held private meetings. A 1986 law made it forbidden for Israeli citizens to have any dealings with the PLO, but Rabin looked the other way when reports came to him of such meetings taking place, and he repealed the law in January 1993. The most productive of the secret negotiations started in December 1992, between Yair Hirshfeld, a political scientist from Haifa University, and Ahmed Suleiman Khoury (alias Abu Alaa), administrator of the PLO's finances. Most of their meetings took place in Oslo, Norway, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst provided a meeting place at a government-owned country estate; the cover story was that the negotiators were professors holding a conference. For eight months the only outsiders who knew about the meetings were Rabin, a few members of the Israeli foreign ministry, and Arafat; it also helped that more visible meetings in Cairo distracted the media. Even the negotiators in Washington did not know about the Oslo meetings until August, when they were all but finished. In the spring of 1993 Rabin learned there was progress being made in Oslo, so he strengthened the Israeli team.
For several years Israel had been willing to give its least desirable territory--the Gaza Strip--to any Arab leader dumb enough to take it. Now Israel offered Gaza again; when Arafat said it was not enough, Rabin added Jericho and that made all the difference. The PLO would set up a Palestinian administration for Gaza and Jericho, known as the "Palestinian Authority" (PA), and it agreed to postpone talks of more sensitive issues, like the status of Jerusalem, for two years. All this was capped by a mutual agreement for each side to recognize the legitimacy of the other.
Once that had happened, Rabin and Arafat revealed the negotiations and began the hard work of selling the agreement to their supporters. Then Rabin, Peres and Arafat met on the White House lawn in Washington on September 13, 1993, to sign the second treaty toward ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. US President Clinton opened and closed the ceremony; the Israeli leaders made speeches in English, the PLO leaders spoke in Arabic. Rabin's speech said it all in a nutshell: "We say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears! Enough!"
The Oslo accord was an interim agreement, to get Israeli-Palestinian relations to improve to the stage that would make a permanent treaty possible. Each side had different expectations of what else Oslo would produce. Israel expected that:
In the long run, Arab terrorism proved more persistent. A suicide bombing in October 1994 set the pattern for those which followed; a Palestinian passenger boarded a Tel Aviv bus with a belt of dynamite under his jacket, and blew himself up, taking 20 Israelis with him. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, and released a videotape containing a farewell speech from the bomber, who called himself a "living martyr." We saw earlier how suicidal drivers had exploded trucks in the barracks of international peacekeeping troops in Lebanon; now similar tactics proved just as effective here, because a fanatic who expects to die cannot be deterred by deadly force. The result was that 256 Israelis were killed by violence in the seven years after the signing of the Oslo accord.
Rabin, Arafat and Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts, and the next step, normalization of relations with Jordan, proved relatively simple. In October 1994, Israel and Jordan signed a complete peace treaty. The treaty addressed economic matters of interest to both countries like water rights, trade and tourism, and both sides agreed to cooperate in combating terrorism, to prevent the staging of attacks on one country from the other, and to solve the Palestinian refugee problem. Finally, Israel recognized Jordan's claims to the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which angered Palestinians because they were expecting to have the holy places when negotiations were finished. For Jordan, the treaty was an immediate economic success; the US and the UK forgave $788 million of Jordan's foreign debt, and Israel's Mediterranean ports became available for the exporting of Jordanian products to Europe.
There were also talks between Israel and Syria, but it never got beyond that. Syrian President Assad was in no hurry to sign any agreement, even when Rabin offered what he wanted the most--the return of the Golan Heights. Faced with an economy in a death spiral, and in the habit of using torture and intimidation to keep his subjects in line(11), Assad didn't want an end to the state of war with Israel, because then the Syrian people would turn their attention to the failings of their own government. He also didn't want to end Syria's reputation as the last Arab state fighting on the front lines, but he considered fundamentalist groups like Hamas too risky, so he gave shelter to Ahmed Jibril, Naif Hawatmeh, and George Habash, all of them aging leftists who were anti-fundamentalist, anti-peace, and anti-Arafat.
At this stage Assad's main goal was to get Syria off the US State Department's list of countries that support terrorism and trade in illegal drugs. Assad hoped to win most-favored-nation status in international trade, and the same sort of foreign aid package that the United States sent to Egypt every year, by supporting the US in Iraq, talking moderation, and hinting at signing an agreement with Israel--without ever signing.
Because of this initial progress toward peace, Israel was able to forge new diplomatic and trade relations with many countries that wouldn't deal with the Jewish state before, including China, India and the Vatican. In 1994, Tunisia and Morocco established diplomatic relations with Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council announced that its members would stop boycotting companies that did business with Israel; Rabin also made a quick trip to Oman at the end of the year. The opening of new border crossings and the relaxing of tensions also encouraged more tourists to come to Israel, reaching a peak of 1,840,300 in 1994.
Along with these promising trends were disturbing signs that Arafat had not changed his ways, though the world now viewed him as a statesman. He found himself facing huge problems when he arrived in Gaza, after dismantling the PLO headquarters in Tunisia. Not only did he have to deal with overcrowding and widespread poverty, but he also had to create several new institutions from scratch. Western nations promised $2.2 billion to help him get started, but delayed the transfer of funds until the Palestinian Authority set up accounting procedures to explain where the money went; Arafat considered this an unreasonable intrusion in PA affairs. To Westerners, Arafat continued to talk peace, all the while stating that his ultimate goal was a Palestinian state occupying all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital. To Arabs, he reminded them of the phased plan they agreed to in the 1970s, where the PLO would take any land that Israel would give up, and use it as a base to attack the rest. In an Arabic speech at a South African Mosque, he reminded his listeners of the peace of Hudaybiah, where Mohammed agreed to a truce with his opponents in Mecca in 628, but broke it two years later because he was no longer in a postion of weakness (see Chapter 9). Thus, he had not given up his original goal of a Palestinian state occupying all of Israel. It also meant that the minimum the Palestinians would accept was more than the maximum the Israelis were willing to give. When Arafat came under pressure to keep his promises about changing the parts of the PLO charter calling for the destruction of Israel, he handed the matter over to the Palestinian National Council, which predictably voted no.
Worst of all, Arafat showed that he wasn't serious about keeping his promise to combat terrorism, either. He would have had a difficult time complying anyway, because every attempt to crack down on the extremists ran the risk of making him look like Rabin's enforcer, and thus undermined his own authority. Oslo had permitted him to have a police force of 7,000, but it already had 9,000 members when it took charge of Gaza and Jericho, and by 1997 Arafat had enlarged it to 40,000 (by contrast, Israel's entire police force numbered just 17,000). The Palestinian authority didn't cooperate with Israel to catch terrorists who fled to PA-controlled areas, and while Arafat put on a show of arresting wanted terrorists, he released them again when outsiders weren't looking, and was careful to preserve Hamas and Islamic Jihad so that they could continue to put pressure on Israel.
More suicide bombings occurred in 1995, and they began to erode Israeli popular support for the peace process. Outraged Israelis called for an immediate suspension of peace talks, but Rabin refused to do this, because it would give Hamas a prize for its actions. Nevertheless, he now found himself in a tightrope-walking situation; the world wouldn't stand for it if Israel acted against terrorism as if the peace process didn't exist, but it would put the whole nation at risk to continue the peace process as if terrorism didn't exist. Thus, the second stage of Oslo was postponed, but not prevented. On September 27, 1995, Rabin and Arafat went to the White House and signed an agreement to advance the second stage of Israel's redeployment from the West Bank, while Bill Clinton, King Hussein and Hosni Mubarak looked on. Oslo II divided the West Bank into a patchwork of security zones, with differing degrees of Israeli and Palestinian control over each:
1. Area A was the name given to the part where the Palestinans would be in charge of all local affairs. These were the main population centers, besides Jericho: Jenin, Tulkarm, Kalkilya, Nablus (Shechem), Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron. The IDF would not be allowed in, unless accompanied by Palestinian patrols. Israeli forces pulled out of all of them by the end of 1995, except for Hebron. Giving up Hebron was more difficult, because it contained a significant Jewish community and was Judaism's second holiest city, so withdrawal from there was delayed until January 1997.
In Rabin's case, time ran out unexpectedly soon. On November 4, 1995, Rabin, Peres, and other Labor leaders attended a pro-peace rally, and as Rabin left the stage to go to his car, he was felled by two shots fired at point blank range. The assassination became twice as shocking when it was learned that the killer was not an Arab(12), but a law student named Yigal Amir; not since Biblical times had one Jew killed another for political reasons. Amir confessed that he had acted alone and "received instructions from God to kill Prime Minister Rabin." However, he did belong to an extremist organization named Eyal, and there are still some unanswered questions, because the leader of Eyal, Avishai Raviv, was also a secret service (GSS) agent; did Raviv goad Amir to shoot Rabin, and if so, what was his real motivation?
Meanwhile in the Palestinian Authority, elections were held on January 20, 1996, to establish a permanent government. For the presidential spot, Arafat was an easy winner; his only opponent was an unknown woman in her seventies. Because the elections worked out so well, the PA did not hold any more during Arafat's lifetime.
In the aftermath of the Rabin assassination, the Israeli left, both in the government and the media, declared the whole religious-political right as being responsible, and launched a hysterical campaign to discredit conservatives. Shimon Peres took charge, promising to continue Rabin's policies. Elections were coming up in May, and Peres counted on sympathy for Rabin to win him a full term. Instead, a wave of attacks by Hamas caused the sympathy vote to evaporate; in one nine-day period, four suicide bombers claimed 57 Israeli victims. This was the first election in which voters directly picked a prime minister, as opposed to a political party; the voters turned to the Likud candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, electing him by a narrow margin (a 1% lead).
Netanyahu's victory was a signal to slow down, an effort to buy time to see if Arab society can learn to coexist with Israel, rather than let the peace process become a Trojan horse, creating a hostile state in the heart of the Holy Land. As Mortimer B. Zuckerman, an American columnist, put it: "A conservative, it is said, is a liberal who has been mugged. Israel is a country that has been mugged." Unlike Peres, Netanyahu insisted that the Palestinian Authority meet its obligations to prevent terrorism before Israel would make any more withdrawals, so the peace process stalled, despite efforts by the United States and others to restart it.
In September 1996 archaeologists opened a new entrance to the "Hasmonean Tunnel," a 2,100-year-old tunnel that ran west of the Temple Mount. The tunnel did not go underneath any part of the Temple Mount itself, and the nearest part of it was more than 600 feet from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but still Moslem clerics accused the Israelis of undermining Moslem holy places, and warned of a plot to destroy Jerusalem's Islamic heritage (they called it the "Judaization of Jerusalem"). Voice of Palestine, the PA-controlled radio station, told the Palestinians to take to the streets. At a checkpoint outside Ramallah, busloads of Bir Zeit University students attacked Israeli soldiers with Molotov cocktails and rocks; this time, instead of keeping the mob away from the checkpoint, the PA police stood by. Soon the rioting spiraled out of control and Palestinian police actually joined in, firing on Israeli soldiers. In Nablus, Joseph's Tomb was damaged by fire and a dozen Israeli soldiers were trapped inside the building, until Palestinian security forces arrived to hold the rioters back, allowing a Palestinian ambulance in to remove a wounded soldier. When the riots ended, four days later, fifty-eight Palestinians and sixteen Israelis were dead, and Arafat, Netanyahu and King Hussein got invitations to the White House, for a meeting hosted by a worried American president. One side effect of the riots is that they ruined plans to celebrate the 3,000-year anniversary of Jerusalem becoming the capital of Israel; most of those who would have attended the festivities were scared away by news reports of violence.
The Netanyahu administration showed itself to be politically inept, trying to please everybody and ending up pleasing nobody. Once in office, the would-be Israeli Churchill turned into a Chamberlain, appointing doves to key posts and failing to keep the tough promises he had made before the elections. However, Netanyahu's opponents continued to demonize him, paying attention to his words rather than his actions. When he carried out the aforementioned withdrawal from Hebron, it was too much for those who expected something from the Palestinians in return, and not enough for those who wanted Israel to keep to the schedule it had agreed to in the Oslo accords; the opening of the Hasmonean Tunnel probably could have been handled better by another administration, too. Then in early 1997, Israel decided to go ahead with plans to build a housing project in Har Homa, a neighborhood of east Jerusalem; Palestinians viewed this as a violation of preceding agreements, the world cried foul, and terrorist attacks resumed. Yasir Arafat began talking about declaring an independent Palestinian state if Israel missed the 1998 deadline for completion of the peace talks.
By mid-1998, Netanyahu faced so much criticism from all sides that he agreed to negotiate again. In October he met with Arafat, King Hussein and Bill Clinton at the Wye River Plantation, a vacation resort in Maryland. The meetings were scheduled to last for four days, but Clinton kept them talking around the clock for nine days, until they finally signed an agreement. This time the key provisions were:
The Syrians did not leave the Lebanese alone as they rebuilt their country. Although the war in Lebanon ended more than a decade ago, as many as 40,000 Syrian troops still occupy most of the country, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain there as well. In August and September 1990 the rump parliament formally approved the constitutional changes called for in the Taif Agreement; now a second Lebanese republic came into existence, with parliament's membership divided equally between Moslems and Christians. Under pressure, the government accepted a "Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination" with Syria in May 1991, and Syria finally recognized Lebanon as an "independent" nation; previously Syrian governments had viewed Lebanon as a province of "Greater Syria."
Syria stayed in Lebanon because it couldn't afford to leave; Syria's economy would have collapsed without the jobs and income that Lebanon provided. Most of that came from a thriving drug trade in hashish, cocaine and heroin, which Western intelligence estimated at being worth $1 billion, or 10 percent of Syria's GDP. During the 1980s, the Bekaa Valley went from being Lebanon's breadbasket to a narcotics producing center; the percentage of land used for drug cultivation jumped from 10 percent to 90 percent. Three fourths of the Syrian soldiers in Lebanon are not in the cities, but in the Bekaa Valley; this by itself shows how important drug trafficking has become to Damascus. Indeed, it now appears that Syria's prime motive for getting rid of Michel Aoun was because he had closed down Beirut as a port for Syrian-sponsored drug networks, which hurt the drug business. Other sources of income included the counterfeiting of American paper money, and providing training for various guerrilla and terrorist movements from abroad.
In 1992 Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in 20 years; many Maronites refused to vote, because the new constitution had taken some of their political power away. In October 1995 parliament reluctantly extended the term of President Hrawi for three years; Hrawi had formed a triumvirate with Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and many believed that national recovery depended on keeping this team together. More parliamentary elections were held in 1996, and again some Christians boycotted the voting. When Hrawi's term finally ended in October 1998, parliament elected army commander Emile Lahoud to succeed him. In accordance with the constitution, Lahoud consulted parliament to determine who should be the next prime minister; al-Hariri was the most popular candidate, but he withdrew his name from the running, citing irregularities in the selection process. Lahoud and parliament then turned to Salim al-Hoss, who had been prime minister twice before (1976-80 and 1987-90).
The one part of the country where peace did not come in 1990 was along the southern border. Here Israel and the South Lebanese Army (the group Major Saad Haddad had founded in the 1970s) held onto a narrow "security zone," while an increasingly sophisticated Hezbollah disputed their presence by launching Katyusha rockets at Israel. Israeli reprisal raids, usually by air, were especially severe in 1993, 1995 and 1996. In 1998 Israel offered to withdraw from the security zone if Lebanon would guarantee that the area would not be used for attacks on Israel; the Lebanese government rejected the offer, insisting that a security guarantee would require a comprehensive peace treaty between Israel, Lebanon and Syria. In June 2001, in response to local protests about Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs, Syria withdrew its troops from the neighborhood of Beirut.
The government of Syria is, in effect, a monarchy without a crown or throne; all the candidates who could succeed Hafez al-Assad were close relatives. Of these the most ambitious was the president's brother, Rifaat al-Assad. Rifaat had long been a close partner of Hafez, personally leading the special Defense Brigade that carried out the Hama massacre (see footnote #11). After Hama, Hafez seemed to be in a perpetual state of near-death; in 1983 he suffered a heart attack, and Rifaat tried to take control; instead, Hafez recovered enough to exile him. Rifaat spent most of the years after that in France and Spain, running a business empire that kept him in luxury. Hafez stripped Rifaat of his title as vice president in 1998.
The president's eldest son, Basel (also spelled Basil), had the courage and charisma to deal with Rifaat, but he died in a 1994 auto accident. The next son in line, Bashar, was an ophthamologist practicing in London, who lacked the violent record of his father and uncle. Hafez called him home and began grooming him for the succession, giving him some political experience and an officer's commission in the army, a requirement for the top jobs.
Hafez al-Assad died from another heart attack on June 10, 2000, while talking on the phone with Lebanon's President Lahoud. The Syrian constitution required that a president be at least forty years old, but Bashar al-Assad was only thirty-four; parliament quickly reduced the minimum age so that Bashar could take over. From abroad, Rifaat resurrected his claim, hinting that he would be the logical alternative if Bashar failed in his new responsibilities. Bashar expressed a desire for economic reform and a relaxation of government control over television and the Internet ("I am one of the very enthusiastic people for technological and economic development."), but except for a mending of relations with Iraq and Jordan, he has merely continued his father's policies. This may change in the future if he gains confidence in his own ability.
Once in office, Barak created a broad center-left coalition government, and true to his last name (which meant "lightning"), he pledged to take bold steps that would bring peace to the Middle East once and for all. He had no patience for Israel's piecemeal withdrawals, or vague Palestinan promises of recognizing Israel, that had been the main features of previous agreements. In addition to promising that he would wrap up peace talks with the Palestinians in fifteen months, he expressed eagerness to reach an agreement with Syria, and promised to withdraw Israeli troops from southern Lebanon by July 2000.
Because the 1998 deadline for completion of all peace talks had been missed, due to Palestinian non-compliance with the security requirements and the consequent Israeli refusal to continue with scheduled redeployments, the peace process had to be restarted in 1999. In September Barak met at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with Arafat, Egyptian President Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah II, and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. All that they could agree on was to continue talking in 2000. Next, Barak chose to tackle the Syrian question, so Israel and Syria resumed peace negotiations in December 1999. They got nowhere; Hafez al-Assad not only insisted on the return of the entire Golan Heights, but also claimed the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The resulting impasse could not be resolved in the short time Assad had left--which is probably the way he wanted it. Some Israelis wondered out loud why Barak was in a hurry to give up the Golan Heights; after all, Israel may not have a treaty with Syria, but there hadn't been fighting on that front since the 1973 war, either.
By this time, most Israelis saw Lebanon as a no-win situation, where hundreds of Israeli lives had been lost, but still terrorists attacked across the border. Exasperated by the failure of the Syrian talks, Barak agreed with his people and ordered a complete withdrawal from Lebanon. The IDF suddenly abandoned the security zone in May 2000, two months ahead of Barak's stated deadline. Behind them, Lebanese Shiites (and the whole Arab world, for that matter) celebrated victory, the Hezbollah moved in, and the South Lebanese Army disintegrated, its members either fleeing to Israel or giving themselves up. However, this did not bring peace. Hezbollah claimed that an Israeli farm on the border really belonged to Lebanon, and used that as an excuse to continue shooting rockets at northern Israeli towns like Metulla, Nahariyya, and Kiryat Shemona.
To resolve differences with the Palestinians, Ehud Barak decided to put everything on the table at once. By this time, the Clinton presidency had less than a year to go, and Clinton was obsessed with obtaining a legacy (at least a more positive legacy than the scandals most Americans associate with him), so he was happy to oblige. By finishing the process that had started at Oslo, he might even win a Nobel Peace Prize. Accordingly, Clinton invited Barak and Arafat to Camp David in Maryland, where they met for fifteen days in July 2000. Both sides knew it was an all-or-nothing gamble, and they came within a millimeter of resolving the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Barak offered more than any Israeli leader had ever offered--or would ever offer again. Arafat balked, holding out for unconditional concessions like the ones Barak had offered to Syria, and given to Lebanon; each time this happened, Barak crossed a "red line" that he had promised not to cross previously. His final proposal was not released to the press, but we know it included the following:
Clinton, Arafat and Barak, in a playful moment at Camp David.
According to the Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Barak locked himself up in his cabin in a "fury," opening his door to no one for the next 37 hours. The summitís final moments degenerated into mutual recrimination; "At the end of the day, there wasnít any version of this that Arafat was prepared to do," said a senior Clinton official. When the time came to leave, Barak said, "Israel was ready to reach agreement at a painful price but not at any price." Arafat said nothing, but at Gaza's airport, he received a hero's welcome, for not compromising on any issue the Palestinians considered important.
In August Arafat visited several world leaders, to get more support for Palestinian demands at the negotitating table; instead they told him to go back and take Israel's generous offer. Clinton tried once more to win peace, at a conference in Taba, Egypt in December 2000. By this time both he and Barak were lame ducks on the way out, so the leverage just wasn't there. Moreover, the next war had already started, and Arafat was willing to sacrifice as many of his own people as it would take to get what he wanted--especially if he could do it on television. In January 2001, three days before Clinton left office, Arafat called to say goodbye, telling him, "You are a great man." Clinton responded, "The hell I am. Iím a colossal failure, and you made me one."
Since its creation in 1994, the PA has overseen the implosion of a once lively economy. The GDP declined nearly 70 percent; public health standards, the highest of the Arab world in 1993, are now among the lowest. And the fighting between Palestinians and Israelis has only made matters worse. Unemployment is so high in the PA (estimates vary, but the rate is somewhere between 40 and 70 percent), that many Palestinians still work for Israeli employers, and not only does every act of violence threaten their jobs, it also makes it difficult for them to go to work. By 2000, the Palestinians were living under the worst conditions they had seen since 1948. It is possible that Arafat walked away from Camp David because it was easier to blame Israel for his problems than it was to solve them.
Because nobody expected the PA economy to stand on its own for some time to come, other nations, especially western Europe, gave generously. Foreign aid peaked at $548,727,000 in 1997, and the same year saw Israel contribute $800 million from the taxes it collected, but nearly 40 percent of the money simply disappeared, and the PA couldn't explain where it went. Arafat is believed to have diverted much of it into personal accounts--not for his own use, but to reward his most loyal lieutenants. Instead of building an infrastructure and encouraging outside investment, the PA limited economic development to projects that brought immediate revenue to the government, like a gambling casino in Jericho.(13) An investigation by Newsweek Magazine in mid-2000 revealed abuses at almost every level of the PA:
"Many top ministers staff their offices with cronies, dole out valuable contracts without oversight and create their own monopolies, which crush competition and drive up prices paid by hard-pressed consumers. The courts are powerless because Arafat simply ignores any inconvenient rulings. His 14 separate police forces enforce the whims of PA officials rather than laws aimed at protecting ordinary Palestinians. 'It's a mafia state,' says Abdul Jawad Saleh, a former agriculture minister who was beaten by security forces recently for leading an anticorruption protest."
Speaking of the mafia, law and order as we know it is almost non-existent in the PA. Each city has one or more militias that claims to rule in the name of Arafat--when they aren't fighting other militias in street battles. They shoot drug dealers or those accused of committing "moral crimes" in the legs, but the most hated Palestinians are those accused of collaborating with the Israelis, or selling land to them; they often get a minimal trial, followed by a public execution. Reports have also come out of routine detentions, beatings and tortures. Officially the PA is supposed to be a secular state, but a Moslem who converts to another religion, and those caught eating, drinking or smoking in the daytime during Ramadan, are considered criminals, too.
Arafat's greatest success was in poisoning the minds of an entire generation. Instead of preparing his people for peace, he prepared them for war. The PA-controlled media, working hand in glove with Moslem clerics, broadcast a steady stream of messages calling for a Palestinian state in place of Israel, rather than alongside of Israel, and spewed forth the worst anti-Semitism the world had seen since the fall of Nazi Germany.(14) From as early as the pre-school level, the PA educational system taught hatred of the Jews and distorted history. For example, all PLO/PA logos, insignia, stationery letterheads, and posters portraying 'Palestine' showed it occupying all of Israel. Israel and Tel Aviv did not appear on maps in Palestinian schools. Children were taught that it was greater to die as martyrs, than to become successful at anything in the present world; summer camps gave them military training, instead of teaching them how to pitch a tent or paddle a canoe.
Sharon did not enter any mosques on the Temple Mount, but his presence was an "in your face" gesture, and the Palestinians saw it as a desecration nonetheless. The next day was a Friday, and the preacher at the Al-Aqsa mosque called on the faithful to "eradicate the Jews from Palestine." Official Palestinian television began playing scenes from the 1987-93 intifada; then the Voice of Palestine radio began playing patriotic war songs; Arafat closed the schools and declared a general strike, causing everyone to go out into the streets.(15) As war "broke out," the doves were stunned, realizing that they had been misled for years. Avraham Burg, speaker of the Knesset and a leader in the peace process, wrote with bewilderment: "Do we really understand what is going on? After everything was given, there are still demands on the other side . . . Suddenly we discovered that what we mean by peace--which is mutual reconciliation--is not being met by the other side."
The reason for the uprising--which Palestinians soon called the "Al-Aqsa Intifada" (some Israelis called it the Oslo War)--was to change the rules of the game. Instead of receiving the blame for the deadlock at Camp David, Arafat now discredited the Barak government. Barak had to resign as prime minister, and called for new elections in February 2001. Benjamin Netanyahu had stayed out of politics since the last election, so Likud now rallied behind Ariel Sharon. During the campaign, Sharon stressed two things, that the security of Israelis would be his administration's primary concern, and that the Oslo peace process was dead; the violence must stop before any more negotiations could take place. Voters turned to Sharon in droves, replacing the most dovish prime minister in their history with one who promised to be the most hawkish. The man who had previously been seen as unelectable (and possibly a war criminal), won by a landslide.
Sharon assembled a broad-based government that included several noted Labor Party members, including Shimon Peres as foreign minister. Because of these opponents in his cabinet, and more than a little pressure from the United States, Sharon acted with much restraint at first; for example, he accepted a US-mediated cease-fire until it proved worthless.
For nearly a year, the war seemed to go Arafat's way. The Palestinians won the first battles. In October 2000, Palestinian mobs captured Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, destroyed a Jewish shrine, and turned the rest of the structure into a green-domed mosque. Also in October, horrified TV viewers witnessed two IDF soldiers beaten to death at the Ramallah police station by another mob, followed with scenes of a body dragged through the streets and a young Palestinian raising his bloody hands in triumph to the cheering crowd. Many of the armed Palestinians came from the Tanzim, Arafat's own militia, and a new group with close ties to the PLO, the "Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade." In Beit Jala (a Christian neighborhood of Jerusalem) and Hebron, Palestinian gunmen occupied several houses, and used them to shoot at adjacent Jewish communities.
World opinion was generally on Arafat's side; organizations like the news networks, the UN and the European Union were far more outraged by Israel's efforts to defend its civilian population than by Palestinian Arab terrorists. Apparently Arafat expected the armies of the Arab world to join him, but other Arabs only sent money (Saudi Arabia and Iraq each paid as much as $25,000 per suicide bomber); Egypt(16) and Jordan were not willing to break their treaties with Israel, Syria and Lebanon still didn't like Arafat, and (except for Iraqi missiles) the rest were too far away. Still, unconventional warfare was visibly wearing down the Israelis. Soon they were afraid to go to the mall, to a movie theater, or to drive out of town--too many innocents had been killed that way. The suicide bombings were particularly demoralizing; attacks on a Tel Aviv disco (June 2001) and a Jerusalem pizza parlor (August 2001) showed that children and teenagers were the primary target. Israel's responses were restrained and nearly bloodless, but still were denounced by the US State Department as "provocative," "escalation," and "disproportionate."
The Palestinians suffered more casualties than the Israelis--1,500 deaths by mid-2002, compared with 600 Israelis--but a 2.5:1 ratio was much better for them than what they went through in the first intifada. And if the shooting of Palestinian children could be captured on television, it made for great publicity in the news. The media's fondness for stories about crime and violence ("if it's a bleeder, it's a leader") succeeded in crushing the tourism industry; now only the bravest tourists came to Israel. Gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine assassinated the minister of tourism, Rehavam Zeevi, in retaliation for the IDF's killing of PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa (George Habash had stepped down in 2000). Even the "Zionism is racism" charge was resurrected, at a UN conference on racism, no less.
With hindsight, we can see that the tide began to turn in favor of Israel on September 11, 2001. Ironically, this was because of Al Qaeda's devastating attack on the United States (see the section on Saudi Arabia in Chapter 18). When the Palestinians heard the news, they celebrated by dancing in the streets and handing out candy--until the PA found out and ordered foreign reporters to leave. Although the new US president, George W. Bush, and Secretary of State Colin Powell continued to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict, with the creation of a Palestinian state, American pressure on Israel eased. Many Americans, both public officials and private citizens, could sympathize with Israel's situation, and found it hypocritical to criticize Sharon's use of military force on a nest of terrorists, when the United States was using force to uproot another nest of terrorists in Afghanistan. In December, after a raid left ten Israelis dead and dozens wounded, Sharon cut off all contacts with Arafat, telling him bluntly, "You are no longer relevant." Arafat suffered another major embarrassment in January 2002, when the Israelis intercepted an Iranian ship, the Karin A, in the Red Sea, and found fifty tons of illegal weapons; Arafat first denied, and later admitted, that the shipment was purchased by a high-ranking Palestinian official.
Sharon stopped pulling his punches after one of the most hideous suicide bombings to date. On March 27, 2002, a bomber blew himself up in a hotel in the coastal city of Netanya, where several families had gathered for a Passover meal; 29 were killed and 172 wounded. The Israeli response was "Operation Defensive Shield"; for the first time in years, IDF troops went into all West Bank cities, except for Hebron and Jericho, to capture terrorists and destroy the terrorist infrastructure. Among the 4,000+ Palestinians they arrested was Marwan Barghouti, Arafat's second-in-command. The fiercest battle lasted for nine days in Jenin; Jenin's refugee camp had provided more than half of the suicide bombers. At first the world media reported a massacre in Jenin, but when the figures came out, they told another story: most of the residents had taken to the hills before the IDF arrived, and the Israelis lost 23 men, while the Palestinians lost 52, almost none of them civilians. Three weeks later, Operation Defensive Shield was declared over, and the Israelis pulled out, except in Ramallah, where Arafat was kept under siege in his headquarters, and Bethlehem, where armed Palestinians took over the Church of the Nativity and held it hostage, along with its priests. Arafat was released in May, while an Italian-brokered agreement allowed the Bethlehem militants to go to Cyprus. The long-term result was that "Area A" no longer existed; the IDF would now be the sole maintainer of Israel's security.
After that, President Bush stopped pretending that the Oslo peace process could be restored. In June 2002, he declared that the United States would continue to work at setting up a Palestinian state, but only after the Palestinians replaced their current leaders with ones who were untainted by terrorism. Arafat responded with an announcement that he was ready to accept the proposal that Clinton and Barak had offered to him, nearly two years earlier! When an air strike on Gaza killed Salah Shehadeh, the leader of Hamas' military wing and the mastermind behind many suicide attacks, Washington gave only muted protests.
We noted previously that Lebanon had a Christian majority in the early twentieth century. Most of them have gone abroad, to escape the 1975-90 civil war, and oppression at the hands of the Syrians. Today there are 1.5 million Lebanese Christians in their homeland, but more than 7 million elsewhere. It is a similar story in most surrounding countries. In 1900, the Middle East was more than 20% Christian, but today the figure is less than 5%.
In Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran, the Christians have long been oppressed, and now are actively persecuted, so all of their communities have shrunken in recent years. Even in Jordan and Turkey, which are officially tolerant, secular states, the Church is dying. If these trends continue, the twenty-first century will see Christianity disappear from all predominantly Moslem countries.
On the other hand, Christianity has gotten a new lease on life in Georgia and Armenia, now that communism is gone; the Transcaucasus region contained Christians as early as the first century A.D., so those two republics consider the Church an essential part of their heritage. The only other place in the Middle East where the Church has grown is in Israel, going from 34,000 members in 1949 to more than 158,000 in 2013. Much of this comes from immigration.(17) However, there has only been growth in pre-1967 Israel; under the Palestinian Authority, the Church has suffered its most drastic declines. In the late 1940s, Bethlehem was 80% Christian and Nazareth was 60%. Now those percentages are 20% and 30% respectively, as militant Islam forces Arab Christians to flee. Before 1948, the 5,000 people of Ramallah were 90% Christian; now the city's population of 24,000 is mostly Moslem, though exact figures are not available. In Nazareth, a group called the Islamic Movement began building a giant mosque near the Church of the Annunciation, to commemorate a Moslem saint who lived in the area in the twelfth century. In the Holy City itself, Christians outnumbered Moslems in the 1920s, but today they number less than 2 percent of Jerusalem's population.
Yaakov Kirschen, the author of the Israeli comic strip "Dry Bones," gets it.
In Europe, Jews were traditionally a weak minority, living at the sufferance of the Christians around them. Now in Israel the situation is reversed, with Christians only doing well where there are Jews to protect them. That, along with the return of the Jews from the Diaspora, is a sign that the "time of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) has ended.
1. Economic stress. The Israelis estimate that the first two years of the current has cost them more than $1 billion. However, the Palestinians have suffered even more; at least 50 percent of residents on the West Bank and some 80 percent in Gaza live below the poverty line, according to one survey. We already mentioned the double-digit unemployment; the Chicago Tribune reported that "University graduates, architects and engineers, men who once wore suits, now hawk flavored water, fruit, paper napkins and chewing gum alongside street children with their hands for alms." Despite European contributions of ten million euros a month, the Palestinian Authority is unable to pay all its employees, and its institutions are starting to come apart. Even getting food is a problem; a recent Johns Hopkins University study found as many as 30 percent of the children in Palestinian areas suffering from malnutrition.
2. Depression. The war has made normal life impossible for the Palestinians. The population is often confined by curfews and border closings; transportation barely moves; most schools are closed; hospitals have trouble functioning; Christian tourists do not come to Bethlehem anymore. The result is severe depression. Those who can get out already have; approximately 150,000 Palestinans fled to Jordan, before the Jordanians closed the border in the summer of 2001. This has also caused problems for Palestinian recruiters. Public opinion polls taken in 2001 and 2002 showed an overwhelming majority (68-73 percent) of Palestinians favoring the current methods, including suicide bombings, but now for the first time, some are openly questioning whether this can go on. A few would-be bombers have been deterred by the latest Israeli countermeasures: destroying the houses of suicide bombers' families, and discontinuing any pensions those families may be receiving. Apparently the Palestinians are running out of men willing to kill themselves for Allah, because in early 2002 the PLO and Hamas started using women and teenagers. This, as well as the use of different means(18), is a sign that the rate of suicide attacks--200 in a three-year period--cannot continue.
It didn't help Palestinian morale to learn that their leaders would not make the same sacrifices that they were demanding of others. In 2002 the Israeli media broadcast a recording of a cell phone conversation where somebody pleaded with a Hamas leader's wife to let her son become "one of the martyrs"; she replied that the boy "is not involved in any of that . . . my son is busy with his studies."
3. Israeli determination. The current conflict has silenced the dovish element of Israeli society, whose calls for "peace now" were so loud a few years ago. The Jews have now remembered why they came back to the Holy Land in the first place--so that they could stand together and prevent another holocaust. This time they will not wait to be killed. No wonder anti-Semitism hasn't gone away; the rest of the world only seems to tolerate Jews if they act passive, and they no longer have to act that way, now that they have their own country again.
In times of peace the Israelis are so divided that one comedian joked that you only need three Israelis to represent four opinions! When war has come, however, they have put aside their differences and fought with a degree of skill that astonished everyone. If they are forced to make a last stand, the way their ancestors did at Masada, you can bet your last dollar that most of the deaths will be among the attackers. Since the 1973 war, stories have circulated about Israel building and hiding nuclear weapons, with plans to use them only if all other defenses fail. Let's hope the situation never arises where we'll find out whether this is an unfounded rumor, or Israel's worst-kept military secret!
If all they have to sustain themselves is hate, the Palestinians will wear themselves out first. At this stage, it doesn't look like a peaceful, democratic state is in their future; if this was what they really wanted, they could have gotten it several times, between 1947 and 2000. Instead they will probably get one of the following:
#2 has been tried before, from 1967 to 1993. The Israelis got tired of it then, and chances are they would get tired of it again, bringing the Palestinians to one of the other options.
#3 is what the Palestinians were expecting, until they started calling themselves "Palestinians."(19) Unfortunately, they made a mess of Jordan and Lebanon, and later supported Iraq's looting of Kuwait, their Persian Gulf home. Thus, no Arab state wants to take them now.
#4 would keep a bunch of UN bureaucrats employed for a good long time, but as with #1, it's hard to see what anyone else would gain from it. UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for the Palestinian refugee camps, will proudly tell you that it has not only taken care of the 1948 refugees, but also their children, and their grandchildren. During the second half of the twentieth century, the numbers on their welfare rolls swelled from 600,000 to nearly four million. As is the case with other welfare states, this is misplaced compassion; the true measurement of compassion is not counting those receiving help, but counting those who don't need help anymore. Worst of all, UNRWA has failed to prevent the training and equipping of terrorists in the camps.
#5 has been proposed more than once, but is not likely to happen. Not only would true believers on both sides oppose it, but a government that emphasizes ethnic differences is unstable by nature. We have Austria-Hungary, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Yugoslavia and Rwanda as twentieth-century examples of such states, and every time one of them destabilized, a devastating war came next. Indeed, there are fewer examples of multinational states that succeeded; Switzerland, Belgium and Malaysia come to mind.
That leaves option #6, a modern-day version of apartheid, as the best (or the least intolerable) solution. Until recently only Jewish extremists have called for this, but it may be the only answer if Jews and Arabs cannot get along.
In the modern world, a culture that glorifies psychopathic killers, scorns personal achievement (especially intellectual achievement), and treats women as inferior beings is a dysfunctional culture. Germany became dysfunctional under the Nazis, and it took a total defeat, followed by a complete reconstruction of society, before Germany could be a respectable member of the world community again. Now the same condition is afflicting those countries that have accepted radical Islam. Dysfunctional cultures eventually fail, but they don't go down peacefully, and they take a lot of other people with them. The Palestinians have been particularly unlucky in this regard, saddled by leaders that have trained them to act stupid and vicious, and who have consistently allied themselves with every loser on the world's stage, from Adolf Hitler to Osama bin Laden. And a nation that sacrifices its children is a doomed nation. Just ask the Carthaginians, or the Moabites.(20)
Many of the author's friends feel that peace won't come until the Messiah appears. At any rate, it doesn't look like peace will be possible unless there is a major change of attitude, especially among the Palestinians, whose hearts have been so hardened that their idea of peaceful coexistence is adjacent graves in a cemetery. Since some of their recent victims were American citizens, they seem to be begging for attention, so that Israel and/or the United States will put them down. Then, if any of them are left afterwards, they will have a Dresden or Hiroshima to call their own.
Israel will not accept its own destruction as the price for peace, so the Palestinians will have to try less belligerent tactics, if they want to remain in the Holy Land. Nearly a century ago, Mahatma Gandhi showed how to fight a democracy without using weapons. If a crowd of unarmed Palestinian civilians knocked down the fence on Israel's border, marched in and claimed a plot of land by "squatter's rights," the Israelis would have an extremely tough time justifying any attempt to remove them. In fact, this is exactly how Morocco persuaded Spain to give up the Western Sahara in 1975. The Moroccans who went on the "Green March" carried copies of the Koran instead of guns and bombs, but ironically, with Islamic fundamentalism preaching violence as the first resort, it appears that most in today's Middle East cannot even think of acting this way. As for the Israelis, now that they are in their seventh war for survival since 1948(21), it will take years to restore the trust many of them expressed when Yitzhak Rabin signed the first Oslo accord.
In an imperfect world awaiting a Messiah, spreading democracy may be the next-best solution; democracies, as a rule, do not start wars against other democracies. There have been calls among educated Arabs for a serious attempt at political reform, as the remedy for their own stagnation. They only have to look as far as Iraq for a bad example; that country has much potential with its rich resources and a skilled population, but it has been a failure because of its appalling government. Unfortunately for them, those Arabs who make the loudest demands for democracy have been the Marxists and the fundamentalists, and neither of those groups intends to allow any opposition after it gets elected (columnist Daniel Pipes defined Middle Eastern democracy as "one man, one vote, one time"). Marxism lost its appeal when the Soviet Union fell, so the prospect of Islamic militants taking over is the most horrifying, with their desire to create a Utopia resembling Mohammed's small seventh-century community. Those who oppose the militants feel that a society run by clergymen will ban all foreign ideas and inventions, causing the Arabs to fall further behind the rest of the world--and they already rate dead last in several key factors of progress, like human rights. However, the secularists are under a strong disadvantage; if they give man-made laws precedence over the Shari'a, they will be rightly accused of being Humanists.(22) In Chapter 18 we will see how Turkey, which has traditionally been the most liberal of Moslem countries, suffered instability because of its own Islamic fundamentalist movement. The next few years may decide whether the Arabs' nostalgia for the past will remain a major handicap, or become a minor hobby.
The road ahead won't be easy for the Israelis, either. Since 1967, Israel has become increasingly dependent on the United States, for military and sometimes economic aid. Often that dependence has had an unfavorable effect on Israeli policy, like when US promises of loan guarantees decided the 1992 elections. Since the time of Abraham, the Chosen People have always been different from other nations(23), and attempts to imitate the nations have led to trouble. Furthermore, the Israelis have to accept the fact that the world will always hold them to a double standard, and will never be pleased with any action that is good for Israel as a whole. Thus, they have to cut their umbilical cord with Washington, and stop trying to please everyone else. No other nation bends over backward as often as Israel does, to explain why it has to defend itself. Just think of the American military response to the September 11 attack. Israel suffers its own equivalent of September 11 or the Oklahoma City bombing nearly every day; almost everybody in that little country knows someone who was killed or maimed by terrorism.
From the world's point of view this would mean going it alone, but the Jews have done that before, with only God on their side, when they were in greater danger of extermination than they are now. Rabbis like to say that a coincidence is a miracle caused when God acts incognito, and recent Jewish history has seen a lot of "coincidences," the Six Day War being the most obvious example. The author heard another example while writing this; a bomb was attached to an oil tanker and set to go off in a filling station. However, the driver had mechanical problems that put the truck two hours behind schedule, so instead of doing mega-damage, the bomb exploded under an empty tanker, in an empty parking lot!
You probably figured out from the length of this chapter that the world gives Israel a tremendous amount of attention. Just about everyone has an opinion on the ongoing conflict, and very few can be considered truly neutral. Thus, Israel's presence is a polarizing influence. The land Israel sits on does not have oil, precious metals or gemstones; North America has better farmland; Israel sits where Africa and Asia meet, but one can go around it with a detour of a few hundred miles. Why, then, are so many people concerned about who owns it? My answer is that this is the world's spiritual focal point. Here is the birthplace of monotheism; here, more than anywhere else, is where God is working out His plan for the earth, and here is where the devil will try the hardest to stop it. That is why custody of Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount, is the most sensitive issue in all negotiations. I think it's safe to say that God isn't finished here yet, and if you believe we are living in the "end times," keep on watching; the events happening here now may appear in the appendix of future Bibles.
This is the End of Chapter 16.
A General History of the Near East
Other History Papers