Series of wars and territorial conflicts between Israel and various Arab states in the Middle East since the founding of the state of Israel in May 1948.
These include the war of 1948 – 1949, the 1956 Suez War between Israel and Egypt, the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israel captured territory from Syria and Jordan, the October War of 1973 and the 1982 – 1985 war between Israel and Lebanon.
In the times between the wars, tension has remained high in the area and has resulted in skirmishes and terrorist activity taking place on both sides.
1st Arab – Israeli War (15 May 1948 – 24 March 1949)
As soon as the independent state of Israel was proclaimed on 14 May 1948, it was invaded by combined Arab forces and full-scale war broke out, which ended finally with Israeli victory and a series of armistices.
Israel retained the western part of Jerusalem, Galilee, and the Negev, and went on to annex territory until it controlled 75% of what had been Palestine under British mandate.
The Arab states subsequently imposed an economic boycott on Israel and continued to make raids across the border, which eventually prompted an Israeli attack on the Egyptian garrison in the Gaza Strip in February 1955.
The war also produced a flood of Arab refugees from Israel and the war areas.
2nd Arab – Israeli War (29 October – 4 November 1956)
After Egypt had taken control of the Suez Canal and blockaded the Straits of Tiran, Israel, with British and French support, invaded and captured Sinai and the Gaza Strip, but finally withdrew its forces under heavy US pressure after the entry of a United Nations (UN) force in 1957.
3rd Arab – Israeli War – “Six-Day War” (5 – 10 June 1967)
In the events leading up to the war of 1967, Egypt (then the United Arab Republic) blockaded the Straits of Tiran and introduced troops into Sinai.
War broke out on three fronts on 5 June 1967, and within six days Israel’s military devastated the air and ground forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and occupied the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank (an area west of the Jordan River), and East Jerusalem.
The war established Israel as the premier military power in the Middle East – largely a product of American money and French armaments. This victory earned only a limited degree of peace, although the occupied territories greatly enhanced the Israelis” feelings of security.
4th Arab – Israeli War – “October War” or “Yom Kippur War” (6 – 24 October 1973)
This war was so called because the Israeli forces were taken by surprise on the Day of Atonement, a Jewish holy day.
It started with the crossing of the Suez Canal by Egyptian forces, who made initial gains, though there was some later loss of ground by the Syrians in the north. The war had 19,000 casualties and also led to a shift in international opinion against Israel.
5th Arab – Israeli War (6 June 1982 – February 1985)
From 1978 the presence of Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon led to Arab raids on Israel and Israeli retaliatory incursions, and on 6 June 1982 Israel launched a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.
The operation – code-named “Peace of Galilee” – aimed at driving the Palestine Liberation Organisation‘s (PLO) bases away from the northern border of Israel.
By 14 June Beirut was encircled, and PLO and Syrian forces were evacuated (mainly to Syria) between 21 and 31 August.
Shortly afterwards, when the United Nations confirmed the right of Israel to exist, PLO leader Yassir Arafat also signed documents confirming for the first time that the PLO believed the modern State of Israel, established in 1948, had the right to exist.
The United States, however, continued to deny the right of the PLO to exist as a legitimate body.
In February 1985 there was a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the country without any gain or losses incurred. Israel maintains a ”security zone” in South Lebanon, and supports the South Lebanese Army militia as a buffer against Palestinian guerrilla incursions.
Arab opposition to an Israeli state began after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which supported the idea of a Jewish national homeland. In the 1920s there were anti-Zionist riots in Palestine, which was then governed by the UK under a League of Nations mandate.
In 1936 an Arab revolt led to a British royal commission that recommended partition. This was approved by the UN in 1947, but was rejected by the Arabs, and, though the British mandate over Palestine did not end until May 1948, intermittent fighting broke out between the official Jewish forces and various Arab factions, including the Jordan Arab league, as early as March 1948.
The main fighting was for control of the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem road, which the Jewish forces managed to keep open at great cost. The Jewish side also gained complete control in Haifa, Jaffa, Safed, and Tiberias.
During the Cold War period, the Arab – Israeli conflict was sharpened and given East/West overtones by Soviet adoption of the Arab cause and US support for Israel, with the series of wars serving to increase confusion over who had a claim to what territory.
Terrorism was also practised widely, particularly by the PLO, in the period leading up to 1970, when the PLO were suppressed in Jordan by King Hussein.
International pressure for a settlement of the conflict grew during the 1970s, and in 1978 the Camp David Agreements brought peace between Egypt and Israel, though this was denounced by other Arab countries.
Israel withdrew from Sinai between 1979 and 1982, but no final agreement on Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank was reached.
Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continued into the 1990s in the face of a determined uprising (Intifada), but hope of a settlement emerged in September 1993 with the signing of an Israeli/PLO preliminary peace accord by the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yassir Arafat.
In mid-1996, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister of Israel by a margin of just 1%. Palestinian-Israeli relations grew even more hostile, and despite the Israel-PLO accord, Netanyahu opposed the idea of Palestinian statehood.
In 1998, US President Bill Clinton persuaded the two leaders to meet. The resulting Wye Agreement detailed the steps to be taken by the Israeli government and PNA to complete the peace process.
Arafat continued negotiations with Netanyahu’s successor, Ehud Barak, at the Camp David Summit in July 2000. Barak offered Arafat a Palestinian state in 73% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian percentage of sovereignty would extend to 91% (94% excluding Jerusalem) over a ten to twenty-five year period.
In exchange for the withheld areas of the West Bank where the main Israeli settlement blocks were situated, Barak offered the equivalent area in the Israeli Negev desert.
Arafat rejected Barak’s offer and refused to make an immediate counter-offer, saying to President Clinton, “the Arab leader who would surrender Jerusalem is not born yet”.
Following the election of Ariel Sharon in February 2002, the peace process took a steep downfall, and Sharon ordered Arafat to be confined to his Mukata’a headquarters in Ramallah, following an attack in the Israeli city of Hadera.