Caught in the Middle East: U.S. Policy toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1945-1961

Caught in the Middle East: U.S. Policy toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1945-1961

Caught in the Middle East: U.S. Policy toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1945-1961

Caught in the Middle East: U.S. Policy toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1945-1961


American postwar efforts to ameliorate Arab-Israeli relations entangled the United States in the Arab-Israeli conflict in complex ways. Peter L. Hahn explores the diplomatic and cultural factors that influenced the policies of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower as they faced the escalation of one of the modern world's most intractable disputes.

Truman tended to make decisions in an ad hoc, reactive fashion. Eisenhower, in contrast, had a more proactive approach to the regional conflict, but strategic and domestic political factors prevented him from dramatically revising the basic tenets Truman had established.

American officials desired--in principle--to promote Arab-Israeli peace in order to stabilize the region. Yet Hahn shows how that desire for peace was not always an American priority, as U. S. leaders consistently gave more weight to their determination to contain the Soviet Union than to their desire to make peace between Israel and its neighbors.

During these critical years the United States began to supplant Britain as the dominant Western power in the Middle East, and U. S. leaders found themselves in two notable predicaments. They were unable to relinquish the responsibilities they had accepted with their new power--even as those responsibilities became increasingly difficult to fulfill. And they were caught in the middle of the Arab-Israeli conflict, unable to resolve a dispute that would continue to generate instability for years to come.


Because of the Cold War, the United States became deeply involved in the Middle East after 1945. Committed to containing communism around the globe, the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower administrations strove to maintain access to petroleum resources, military bases, and lines of communication in the Middle East and to deny these assets to the Soviet Union. Under these two presidents, the United States also sought to promote peace in the region, to sustain governments supportive of Western political objectives, and to maintain a liberal economic system conducive to U.S. commercial interests. In short, U.S. officials sought stability in the Middle East on behalf of their objectives in the region and around the world. Stability in the region, these leaders assumed, would help them safeguard their vital interests and prevail in the Cold War. Conversely, they feared that instability would open the region to Soviet influence, ruin indigenous goodwill toward the West, and possibly spark another world war.

The Arab-Israeli conflict directly threatened Middle East stability in the late 1940s and 1950s. Unrelenting antagonism triggered two wars and numerous skirmishes. Peace proved elusive as leaders on both sides expressed a preference for conflict over compromise. Israel refused to repatriate Arab Palestinian refugees, who became a political cause for the leaders of Arab states. Restrictions on trade and shipping and disagreements about territorial boundaries and waterways embittered all of the protagonists. The conflict destabilized the Middle East and thereby imperiled U.S. vital interests.

This book analyzes U.S. policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1945 to 1961. To stabilize the Middle East, U.S. officials sought in principle to resolve the conflict. They worked to avert Arab-Israeli hostilities and to end the wars that erupted in 1948 and 1956. In the interim, the U.S. government tried to negotiate permanent peace settlements among the belligerents and resolved to settle specific controversies regarding borders, the treatment of Palestinian refugees, Israeli access to Arab waterways, the dispensation of Jordan River water, and the status of Jerusalem. In short, U.S. officials wished to end the Arab-Israeli conflict before it damaged American interests.

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