Did the US Go to War for Kuwait or for Israel?

By Nes, David | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 1991 | Go to article overview

Did the US Go to War for Kuwait or for Israel?


Nes, David, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Gulf war should be seen in the historical perspective of the various Arab-Israeli conflicts over the past 43 years, and of our national commitment to the security and economic welfare of Israel.

Throughout this period and for various obvious political and psychological reasons, Israeli governments have consistently portrayed that country to its own people and to the outside world in a David-and-Goliath posture -- fighting for survival against over-whelming odds. Until the Gulf war, the military threat to Israel has been dramatically exaggerated, as the wars of 1948-49, 1956, 1967 and 1973 well illustrate. Israel's highly educated, technically advanced, well organized and largely European community, imbued with great esprit and courage, and equipped largely by the US with the most advanced weapons, has in fact enjoyed over-whelming qualitative superiority. Additionally, in each of the conflicts mentioned, the Israeli military has been able to bring larger ground and air forces into actual combat than the various opposing Arab armies.

Debunking the Myth

The inapplicability of the David-and-Goliath myth is best illustrated by the 1948-49 war, when 65,000 Haganah and Irgun soldiers, many of them combat veterans of World War II allied armies, faced disorganized Palestinian and Arab forces from four countries totaling no more than 25,000 soldiers. Among these Arab forces, only Jordan's Arab legion of some 10,000 troops, commanded by British General Glubb Pasha, made a credible showing and saved the eastern portion of Jerusalem from Israeli occupation at that time. The Arab legion had orders not to cross the UN partition lines into the new Jewish state, and no other Arab army was able to do so. By contrast, the Israeli forces moved out and, between 1947 and 1949, conquered large areas set aside by the UN as an Arab state.

Casualty ratios are also indicative of overwhelming Israeli military superiority. In the 1956 Suez War, Israel lost 189 killed, compared to 6,500 Egyptians. In 1967, 19 Israeli aircraft were lost, compared to 300 Egyptian aircraft. Total 1967 casualties, both killed and wounded, were 5,400 Israelis and 18,000 Arabs.

The 1973 war involved, for the first time, an Arab military initiative and an Israeli intelligence failure. On October 6 the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal in a surprise attack. The objective announced by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was to take back the Sinai, occupied by Israel since 1967. After three days of initial Egyptian success, the Israeli military pulled itself together. An Israeli counter-offensive across the Suez Canal, most of it conducted after Egypt agreed to a cease-fire, left the Egyptian Third Army in the Sinai cut off from its supplies.

Similar surprise was achieved by Syria, which announced its goals were limited to reoccupying Syrian territory in the Golan Heights. By the time a cease-fire, partially negotiated by Henry Kissinger, brought the war to an end between October 22 and 24, Israel had reoccupied roughly the same Golan areas it had held ever since 1967.

In relating all this to the Gulf War, two realities must be considered. First, extreme Israeli sensitivity to the Arab threat, real or imagined, is essential to an understanding of the present situation. …

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