A Survey of Arab-Israeli Relations 1947-2001

By David Lea | Go to book overview

Arab-Israeli Relations 1967-2001

PAUL COSSALI*

The early months of 1967 saw the escalation of existing tensions in the Middle East. The Israeli policy of raiding sites in its neighbouring countries suspected of being bases for attacks on Israel had developed throughout the 1960s, and gained most international attention when Israeli forces destroyed the Jordanian village of Samu, near Hebron on the West Bank of the River Jordan, in November 1966. The raid, ostensibly against a number of camps of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said to be in the settlement, was condemned by Resolution 228 of the UN Security Council. Discontent within Arab countries at their governments’ policies towards Israel increased, as opposition groups, most notably those active in Jordan, claimed that the attitudes amounted to appeasement.

A series of clashes on the Israeli-Syrian border in January-April 1967 increased tension on Israel’s northern borders, and Egyptian and Israeli troop manoeuvres near the countries’ mutual border extended this concern to Israel’s south. The UN force present on the armistice demarcation line between Egypt and Israel reported increased threat from both countries’ troops. In May the Egyptian President, Col Gamal abd an-Nasser, made a formal request to the UN that its force be withdrawn from the demarcation-line zone. Fearing for their troops’ safety amid the escalating Israeli-Egyptian tensions, the UN withdrew, removing the physical obstacle to direct confrontation. President Nasser subsequently ordered that his forces blockade the Straits of Tiran, the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, which provided Israeli shipping’s only route to the Indian Ocean. As the prospect of war became increasingly likely, Egypt and Jordan signed a mutual-defence agreement on 30 May. Iraq subsequently became a party to the agreement, although Syria refused, ostensibly owing to fears of Egyptian military dominance in the event of any conflict with Israel.

On 5 June Israel chose to pre-empt any action on the part of its Arab neighbours by attacking the air bases of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. All three air forces were virtually destroyed and, with aerial supremacy assured, Israel was able to advance into each of the three countries and swiftly gained substantial amounts of territory. On 7 June, with its forces unable to defend the country, Jordan signed a cease-fire with Israel, under the terms of which Israel remained in control of the territory it had gained from Jordan during the brief conflict, namely the West Bank and Old Jerusalem. Three days later, Egypt and Syria were forced to replicate this action, ceding control of the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights, respectively.

* Based on an original article by MICHAEL ADAMS with subsequent additions by DAVID GILMOUR, PAUL HARPER, STEVEN SHERMAN and the editorial staff.

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