Alternative Insight

Israel's Wars

The more publicized reports shape the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as an embattled Israel that struggles for security by repelling attacks from antagonists. By removing ourselves from the cinematic Exodus perspective, and briefly examining the Middle East wars with less publicized information, another dimension to the struggles is revealed; how the world misperceived each crisis, and allowed Israel to extend its territory and guide the Middle East conflict in its own direction.

In the 1948 war, contrary to the over-expressed statement that the Egyptians, together with other Arab armies, intended to “throw the Israelis into the sea,” the Arab forces did not have the military strength to accomplish the task. Egyptian troop movements indicate a defense of the new Palestinian state rather than intent to occupy the new Israeli state. The Egyptian army, which entered the battle after David Ben Gurion's May 14, 1948 declaration of a new independent nation, and months after hostilities had enabled the Zionists to gather territory, refrained from entering land that United Nations (UN) Resolution 181 placed in the Israeli state. It stopped at Ashdod, the northernmost extension of the southern coastal territory awarded to the Palestinians. Elements of the force crossed the northern Negev (awarded to Israel), and only attacked Jewish settlements that stood in the advance to defend Beer Sheeva, which had been given to a Palestinian state. The same army then continued through Palestinian territory to safeguard Hebron. Egyptian military attacked Tel Aviv by air and sea, but the Egyptian army did not enter territory awarded to Israel. The reality is that the Israelis figuratively threw the Palestinians “into the sea,” or at least into refugee camps, by being complicit in the leaving and expulsion of 750,000 of the 900,000 Palestinians who inhabited the British Mandate, and by barring return to the lands and homes their families had possessed for centuries.

It is no coincidence that Israel invaded and occupied the Sinai in 1956 before French and British coordinated attacks against Nasser's Egypt. Rarely mentioned is a controversial meeting, known as the Protocol of Sèvres,1956, and reported in Anatomy of a War Plot, Avi Shlaim International Affairs, 73:3 (1997), pp.509-530, which describes Israel Prime Minister David ben Gurion's proposed plan to Great Britain and France. Although the meeting records are not available in French and British government archives, the meeting occurrence and parts of ben Gurion's plan are confirmed in Shimon Peres: the biography By Michael Bar-Zohar.

The session started at 4 p.m. on Monday, 22 October, in the conservatory of the villa and it was intended to enable the leaders of the two countries to get to know each other and to have a preliminary discussion. Ben-Gurion opened the discussion by listing his military, political and moral considerations against ‘the English plan’. His main objection was that Israel would be branded as the aggressor while Britain and France would pose as peace-makers but he was also exceedingly apprehensive about exposing Israeli cities to attack by the Egyptian Air Force. Instead he presented a comprehensive plan, which he himself called ‘fantastic’, for the reorganization of the Middle East. Jordan, he observed, was not viable as an independent state and should therefore be divided. Iraq would get the East Bank in return for a promise to settle the Palestinian refugees there and to make peace with Israel while the West Bank would be attached to Israel as a semi-autonomous region. Lebanon suffered from having a large Muslim population which was concentrated in the south. The problem could be solved by Israel’s expansion up to the Litani River, thereby helping to turn Lebanon into a more compact Christian state. The Suez Canal area should be given an international status while the Straits of Tiran in the Gulf of Aqaba should come under Israeli control to ensure freedom of navigation. A prior condition for realizing this plan was the elimination of Nasser and the replacement of his regime with a pro-Western government which would also be prepared to make peace with Israel.

At the start of the 1967 war, Israel claimed that Arab armies had prepared an attack, which forced Israel to defend itself. The media didn't accurately portray the hostilities that preceded the battle. Israel reacted to events with its own provocative behavior and initiated the offensive that started the 6-day war.

Moishe Dayan has been quoted as saying,... "at least 80 percent of two decades of border clashes were initiated by Israel. We would send a tractor to plow some (disputed) area...and we knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that's how it was."

As in previous engagements, Israel fought a defensive war in an offensive manner and seized large amounts of territory. The war created another flood of Palestinian refugees, a total of 300,000 fled the West Bank and Gaza, of which 180,000 were first time refugees and another 120,000 were already refugees from previous actions. One clue to the reason for the war - Illegal settlements under direction of the Labor government quickly followed the occupation of the West Bank.

The first Lebanon war (1982-1985) started from Israel's pronouncement that, despite a July 1981ceasefire between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the PLO committed 240 “terrorist actions” against Israeli targets, an exaggerated number that included the PLO units that attempted to enter from Jordan. President Johnson's UN ambassador George Ball stated that the PLO had observed the ceasefire and observed. "Israel continued looking for the internationally recognized provocation that Secretary of State Alexander Haig said would be necessary to obtain American support for an Israeli invasion of Lebanon." George W.Ball, Error and Betrayal in Lebanon, p. 35.

The second Intifada (2000-2004) and its suicide bombings erupted from Israel's aggressive tactics. Statistics from Israel Human rights organization, B'Tselem, show that from the date of Ariel Sharon's unnecessary excursion on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif in September 29, 2000 until the beginning of the year 2001 Israeli forces killed 237 Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories. More than 100 Palestinian civilians, of which about 1/2 were minors under 18 years of age, had already been killed before two terrorist bombings killed four civilians in Israel. (

In the second Lebanon war (2006), Hezbollah militants crossed into Israel, abducted two Israeli soldiers, killed three others, and fired two harmless rockets close to Shlomi, an Israeli town near the border. Without seeking international support to free its abducted soldiers, and immediately after a military excursion into Lebanon failed to locate its captured soldiers, Israel's navy blockaded Lebanon and its air force bombed several targets, including Beirut's airport and Hezbollah's headquarters in southern Beirut. More than twenty four hours after these attacks, Hezbollah fired long range rockets into Israel.

By killing several Israeli soldiers and abducting two of them, while firing mortars at the Israel town of Shlomi, Hezbollah started an unjustified skirmish; no doubt about that. However, Israel, after learning it could not use a ground campaign to retrieve its military personnel, escalated hostilities that could have and should have been contained, and started a pulverizing war. Hezbollah started a low-level conflict and Israel propelled the skirmish into a violent war with the intent of rousing the Lebanese against Hezbollah and destroying the Shiite militia.

Operation "Cast Lead" (December 2008 to January 2009) ostensibly resulted from Israel's attempt to silence rocket fire from Gaza. Ignored were Israel's punishing tactics against the Gazans, which provoked the rocket attacks, and that, in the three months preceding the invasion, the rockets did no damage. "Cast Lead' managed to kill many Palestinians and destroy Gaza infrastructure but did not end hostilities between Israel and the rocket firers.

Since Israel did not satisfy its stated objective for its attack, which was to "stop the rocket firing," other reasons and objectives prevail. Israel's attack on Gaza tested new invasion strategies and weapons for future wars.

Did any of these endless wars have to happen? Offense under the title of security, rather than defense under the banner of protection, moved Israel's forces across borders, acquiring territory, relinquishing territory, but gaining much in the end. Did these wars come about solely from a genuine concern of threat to those who desired to in-breed and live in a foreign land they associated with their self-defined ethnicity or did they mainly arise from the threat they imposed upon the indigenous people? If Zionists had been satisfied with only settling and mingling with the Arabs who had lived for generations in the area and not disturbed them by their self-serving actions, acquisitiveness, and appetite for more, would the wars have occurred? Who offended and who defended? A one hundred year history of violence and displacement of the Palestinian people from lands they tilled for millennia tells the real story.

october 2011