Egypt-Israeli Conflict and the West


The History of the conflict in the Middle East is long and 
well documented. To both, and to many biased observers the history
of the Egyptian/Israeli conflict is very one sided, with one 
government, or one people causing the continued wars between the
two neighboring states. But, as any social scientist of any reputation 
will state, all international conflicts have more than one side, and 
usually are the result of events surrounding, and extending over the 
parties involved. Thus, using this theory as a basis, we must assume 
that the conflict between Israel and Egypt is more complicated than a 
partial observer would see it. For the purpose of this paper, we are 
going to examine the basic factors of Egypt's Involvement and conflict 
with Israel, with some emphasis on the involvement of the United 
State, and the Western Nation in this conflict. Also, I wish to pay 
particular attention to the question of who, or what brought these 
countries into conflict. Were they both victims of their situation, or 
did they become actively involved in promoting conflict, or perhaps a 
third party source, such as the US pushed them into conflict?

 In 1948, the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of 
Israel was read by David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv. The Egyptians, like 
most of the Arab states saw this as a creation of a Western State, 
backed by the British Empire, and thus an imperialistic entity in the 
Arab homeland. Considering the past 20 years of the Egyptian state, 
and of most of the Arab nations, was a continual conflict again 
imperial powers, the Egyptian were naturally weary and afraid of any 
new imperialistic powers developing in the Middle East. In September 
1947, the League of Arab States decided to resist by force the plan 
for the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish State, and 
when the Jewish state was created, the armies of the various Arab
states entered into Palestine to save the country for the Arabs again 
"Zionist" aggression. The Arabs were defeated and the Arab Countries 
saved a small amount of land, the Transjordon, and the West Bank. 
Similarly Egypt saved strip of territory around Gaza.

 The causes of this war, and Egypt's involved can be examined 
in several ways. Obviously, the creation of the State of Israel by
Ben-Gurion and his supporters provided a excuse for the Arab Nations, 
and Egypt to attack the Jewish population in Israel. As mentioned, the 
Egyptians saw the formation of Israel as an Imperialist state, and 
they were defending the land for the Palestinians, and more 
importantly for the newly developing arab unity. While the United States was not actively involved in the war, either by providing arms 
or providing much assistance, their actions did create an interesting 
and volatile atmosphere. As soon as the state of Israel was created, 
the United State quickly recognized the state and started diplomatic 
relations with the newly formed government. At the same time, the USSR 
recognized Israel, not wishing the US to be seen as the champion for
the newly found state. Although there is no definitive proof, one can 
assume that Egypt, and the rest of the Arab nations felt the need to 
quickly react to the situation, in almost a type of fear that powers 
outside their Arab influence, such as the United States were quickly 
impeding on their territory, by using Israel as a means of their 
peaceful aggression. 

 Still, Egypt was clearly the main aggressor in this instance, 
and was not defending their own territory, but instead attempting to
obtain territory, which they did succeed in acquiring, through the 
Gaza Strip. The Egyptian actions quickly set the tone of conflict in 
the Middle East, giving the Israelis no option but the take an initial 
purely military response in defense of their newly formed state. In 
the minds of the Israeli leaders, Egypt was nothing but a threat to 
the existence of the Jewish state, and thus, perhaps rightly, should 
only be dealt with as an enemy.

 From the outcome of this poorly prepared war emerged Gamal 
Abdul Nasser, who commanded an Egyptian Army in Palestine. He 
organized a clandestine group inside the army called the Free 
Officers. After the war against Israel, the Free Officers began to 
plan for a revolutionary overthrow of the government. In 1949 nine of 
the Free Officers formed the Committee of the Free officers' Movement 
and in 1950 Nasser was elected chairman. In 1952, the Free Officers 
Movement led a revolution in Egypt and took power, under the newly 
formed Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) , with Muhammad Naguib as 
president and commander in Chief. Almost all leader in the RCC were 
soldiers, many who had fought in the 1948 war and this seriously 
affected the outlook of them towards Israel, and their policies 
towards Israel as a state. Most of them had some type of conflicts 
with the British and were totally, and completely against colonial 
power in the Middle East, of any kind.

 While Naguib was the head of the RCC and the government, 
Nasser was the real power behind Egypt. Although the first 2 years of 
the RCC's existence was a struggle of power, Nasser eventually won, 
and the Egyptian foreign policy was dictated by him. Within a few 
months Naguib officially began prime minister, minister of war, 
commander in chief and the president of the RCC. Interestingly enough, 
Nasser took no direct actions during the next few years against 
Israel, but instead focused on internal colonization, by trying to get 
the British out. 

 It should be mentioned that around this time, the great 
contracts against the USSR were formed and implemented. The North
Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Southeast Treaty organization 
were supposed to contain the Soviet Union in the west and east. The 
Baghdad pact, brought Britain, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq to form 
a barrier on the USSR's south borders. It seems that Nasser failed to 
see this importance, even when Britain initially refused to talk about 
leaving Egypt until Nasser agreed to an alliance. This decision 
affected him later, when he sough foreign aid.The United States seeing 
the growing cold war conflict in this region sought to use the 
conflict between Israel & Egypt to its advantage. While they didn't 
wish to offend either side, at the time, they couldn't yet pledge 
allegiance to either side.

 When in 1955, after the British had agree to eventually leave 
the Canal Area, Nasser started to become convinced once again that 
Egypt had to arm to defend itself against Israel. Still, the first 
attack in 1955 was Israel, when they attacked Egyptian Military 
outposts in Gaza. Quickly, realizing his possible situation, Nasser 
sought western aid only to find that neither the U.S., France or 
Britain was willing to help. Because Nasser had refused to join an 
anti-USSR alliance, he was seen as a threat, especially by people such 
as the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Nasser, then turned to 
the USSR and accepted soviet weapons, which put them directly against 
the western push for influence in the Middle East. This decision 
effected Nasser influence on the Western powers for it made sure than 
in later years that Israel, and not Egypt would get assistance from 
the United States or Britain. Yet, they he had no choice, except to 
arm himself in this manner.

 In Secret Britain, the United States and Israel agreed to 
allow Israel to attack the Canal from across the Sinai Desert. When
Israel neared the canal, Britain and France would issue an ultimatum 
for an Egpytian and Israeli withdrawal from both sides of the Canal, 
and Anglo-French force would then occupy the canal and prevent further 
fighting, and keep in open for shipping. Israel did not agree to this 
plan, unless first Britain and France agreed to destroy the Egyptian 
Air Force. British Bombing did destroy the Egyptian Airforce and 
Israel occupied Sinai. The United States was angered because it had 
not been informed by its allies of the invasion, and realized that it 
could not allow the Soviet Union to appear as the champion of the 
Third World against Western Imperialism. Thus, the US put pressure on 
the British and French to withdraw.

 While France and Britain withdrew, Israel was very reluctant. 
Eisenhower placed a great deal of pressure on Israel with withdraw 
from all of its territorial acquisitions, and even threatened 
sanctions if Israel did not comply. The Israelis did withdraw, but 
carried out a scorched earth policy destroying everything they passed. 
For the first time in a while, Egypt saw the United States as a 
possible friend to their cause, and realized that the US would not 
always support Israel. Nasser began to look at the United States as a 
possible ally against Israel, if his connections with the USSR failed, 
and saw the possible opportunity of gaining this through the 
superpower conflict. Similarly, Nasser realized that his new found 
status as the champion of the Arab nations against the Imperial powers 
made him a more powerful figure than before. 

 During the mid-1960's the Tension between Israel and Egypt 
increased. In November 1966, Egypt signed a 5 year defense pact, and 
Israeli forces crossed into the West Bank of Jordan and destroyed the 
village of As Samu. IN 1967 Israeli leaders threatened to invade 
Syria, and serious Air Battle Begain. Soon after, Egypt attacked place 
troops on the border, but did not strike (although Nasser's commanders 
urged him to). Then, when in June 5, Israel launched a full-scale 
attack and defeated all of Egypt's forces within 3 hours.

 After the 1967 war, the first move of the Arabs was to hold a 
summit in Khartoum in September 1967. At that meeting, Saudi Arabia 
agreed to give Egypt the financial aid needed to rebuild its army and 
retake land lost to Israel. At this conference the Arab leaders were 
united in their opposition of Israel and proclaimed what became known 
as the three "no's" of the Khartoum summit: no peace with Israel, no 
negotiations, no recognition.

 At the UN in November, the Security Council unanimously 
adopted resolution 242 which provided the framework for the settlement 
of the June 1967 War. This resolution called for Israel to withdraw 
"from territories occupied in the recent conflict", for the 
termination of the state of belligerency and for the right of ALL 
states to exist in that region. In 1968 Egypt agreed to accept the 
resolution if Israel agreed to evacuate all occupied areas. By 
accepting this agreement, for the first time Egypt recognized the 
State of Israel. The rest of the Arab nations, not agreeing with this 
plan, saw the Egyptian government as being a sell out. Sadly, Israel 
rejected the agreement, and Nasser believed that since Israel refused 
to support resolution 242, while Egypt accepted it, he had no choice 
"but to support courageous resistance fighters who want to liberate 
their land." Thus, the "War of Attrition" broke out, where Egypt 
attacked, through artillery Israeli forced dug along the canal. The 
result was Israeli air response which virtually destroyed the Egyptian 

 During this time, the Israeli Military was supplied by the 
Nixon Administration, because it supposedly regarded Israel as a
bulwark against Soviet expansion in the area. Nassar, seeing that his 
chances were few, flew to Moscow and asked the Soviet Union to 
establish an air defense system manned by Soviet pilots and 
anti-aircraft forces protected by Soviet troops. To obtain this aid, 
Nassar agree to grant the Soviet Union control over a number of 
Egyptian airfields as well as operational control over a large portion 
of the Egyptian. Although recent and possibly future analysis may see 
otherwise, it currently seems that the Soviet Union took a calculated 
risk of possible superpower confrontation over the Middle East. It 
seemed possible at the time, that the two superpowers were using these 
two countries as pawns in their larger game. But, when Nasser 
returned, he and the Israelis accepted the Rogers Plan, and in August 
of 1970, the fighting halted along the Suez Canal, and a 90 day truce 

 This truce was criticized once again by some of the Arab 
powers, including the Newly formed PLO, who openly advocated the
removal of Nasser from power. This led to a conflict between the PLO 
and Egypt, and many PLO members were expelled from Egypt. During this 
time, Egypt desiring a true, in conjunction with Jordan attacked PLO 
and other territory bases in order that they would not jeopardize the 
treaty. During this time, when Nassar was attempting to bring the PLO 
together once again with the rest of the Arab world, Nassar became 
sick and died. 

 When Nasser died, it became apparent that his successor, Anwar 
as Sadat, did not intend to be another Nasser. As Sadat's rule 
progressed, it became clear that his priority was solving Egypt's 
pressing economic problems by encouraging Western financial 
investment. He wished to regain relations the United State, hoping for 
US investment into his country, and pushed the idea of peace as a 
means for prosperity.

 On February 4, 1971, Sadat announced a new peace initiative 
with Israel, that called for peace in return for a partial withdraw
from Sinai. A timetable would then be set for Israel's withdrawal from 
the rest of the occupied. Egypt would reopen the canal, restore 
diplomatic relations with the United. Sadat's initiative fell on deaf 
ears in Tel Aviv and in Washington. According to sources at the time, 
the State Department still viewed Egypt as a threat in the cold war 

 Internally, the Egyptian economy was being steadily drained by 
the confrontation with Israel. Economic problems were becoming more 
serious because of the tremendous amount of resources directed toward 
building up the military since the June 1967 War, and it was clear 
that Sadat would have to demonstrate some results from his new policy. 
In the last half of 1972, there were large-scale student riots, and 
some journalists came out publicly in support of the students. Thus, 
Sadat felt under increasing pressure to go to war against Israel as 
the only way to regain the lost territories. 

 On October 6, 1973, Egyptian forces launched a successful 
surprise attack across the Suez Canal. The Syrians carried out an
attack on Israel at the same time. For the Arabs, it was the fasting 
month of Ramadan, and for Israel it was Yom Kippur. The next day, 
President Nixon formally asked Congress for emergency funds to finance 
the massive airlift of arms to Israel that was already under way. 
During this time, the Major Oil producers in the region cut back 
production to the United States as an embargo because of these 

 Israel was able to counterattack and succeeded in crossing to 
the west bank of the canal and surrounding the Egyptian Army. Sadat 
appealed to the Soviet Union for help. On October 22, the UN Security 
Council passed Resolution 338, calling for a cease-fire by all parties 
within twelve hours in the positions they occupied. Egypt accepted the 
cease-fire, but Israel, alleging Egyptian violations of the 
cease-fire, completed the encirclement Army to the east of the canal. 

 The Soviet Union was furious, believing it had been 
double-crossed by the United States. On October 24, the Soviet
ambassador handed Kissinger a note from Brezhnev threatening that if 
the United States was not prepared to join in sending forces to impose 
the cease-fire, the Soviet Union would act alone. Luckily the UN sent 
a force there to enforce the cease-fire.

 Meanwhile, Syria felt betrayed by Egypt because Sadat did not 
inform his ally of his decision to accept the cease-fire. Two days 
after Sadat, Syria accepted the cease-fire as well. The Israelis, 
however, paid a heavy price for merely holding their attackers to an 
inconclusive draw. The war had a devastating effect on Israel's 
economy and was followed by savage austerity measures and drastically 
reduced living standards. For the first time, Israelis witnessed the 
humiliating spectacle of Israeli were seen on Arab television. Also, 
for the first time captured Israeli hardware was exhibited in Cairo. 

 Sadat's prestige grew tremendously. The war, along with the 
political moves Sadat had made previously, meant that he was totally 
in control and able to implement the programs he wanted. He was the 
hero of the day. In 1977 the outlook for peace between Israel and 
Egypt was not good. Israel still held most of Sinai, and negotiations 
had been at a stalemate since the second disengagement agreement in 
1975. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin was a hard-liner and a 
supporter of Israeli expansion. He approved the development of 
settlements on the occupied West Bank and reprisal raids into southern 
Lebanon. After the food riots of January 1977, Sadat decided that 
something dramatic had to be done, and so on November 19, 1977, in 
response to an invitation from Begin, Sadat journeyed to Jerusalem, 
and agreed upon peace.

 Many Egyptians accepted peace with Israel if it meant 
regaining Egyptian territories. Of the Arab countries, only Sudan, 
Oman, and Morocco were favorable to Sadat's trip. In the other Arab 
states, there was shock and dismay. The Arabs felt that Sadat had 
betrayed the cause of Arab solidarity and the Palestinians. In spite 
of Sadat's denials, the Arabs believed that he intended to go it alone 
and make a separate peace with Israel. 

 In fact, that is what happened. In December 1977, Egypt and 
Israel began peace negotiations in Cairo. These negotiations continued 
on and off over the next several months, but by September 1978 it was 
clear that they were deadlocked. President Jimmy Carter had become 
closely involved in the negotiations. In an effort to break the 
deadlock, Carter invited Sadat and Begin to Camp David. The 
negotiations were tense and almost broke down several times. On 
September 17, however, Carter announced that the Camp David Accords 
had been reached. They consisted of two parts, the Framework for Peace 
in the Middle East and the Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace 
Treaty between Israel and Egypt. 

 The Camp David Accords made Sadat a hero in Europe and the 
United States. The reaction in Egypt was generally favorable, but 
there was opposition from the left. In the Arab world, Sadat was 
almost universally condemned. Only Sudan issued an ambivalent 
statement of support. The Arab states suspended all official aid and 
severed diplomatic relations. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League, 
which it was instrumental in founding, and from other Arab 
institutions. Saudi Arabia withdrew the funds it had promised for 
Egypt's purchase of American fighter aircraft. 

 In the West, where Sadat was extolled as a hero and a champion 
of peace, the Arab rejection of the Camp David Accords is often 
confused with the rejection of peace. The basis for Arab rejection was 
opposition to Egypt's separate peace with Israel. Although Sadat 
insisted that the treaty provided for a comprehensive settlement of 
the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab states and the PLO saw it as a 
separate peace, which Sadat had vowed he would not sign. The Arabs 
believed that only a unified Arab stance and the threat of force would 
persuade Israel to negotiate a settlement of the Palestinian issue 
that would satisfy Palestinian demands for a homeland. Without Egypt's 
military power, the threat of force evaporated because no single Arab
state was strong enough militarily to confront Israel alone. 

 The Camp David Accords brought peace to Egypt but not 
prosperity. With no real improvement in the economy, Sadat became 
increasingly unpopular. His isolation in the Arab world was matched by 
his increasing remoteness from the mass of Egyptians. While Sadat's 
critics in the Arab world remained beyond his reach, increasingly he 
reacted to criticism at home by expanding censorship and jailing his 
opponents. In addition, Sadat subjected the Egyptians to a series of 
referenda on his actions and proposals that he invariably won by more 
than 99 percent of the vote. For example, in May 1979 the Egyptian
people approved the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty by 99.9 percent of 
those voting. 

 Sadat's handpicked successor, Husni Mubarak, was 
overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum on October 24.
Mubarak's main concern in regard to the Israeli conflict was concerned 
to regain the Sinai Peninsula for Egypt and to return his country to 
the Arab fold. One of Mubarak's first acts was to pledge to honor the 
peace treaty with Israel. In April 1982, the Israeli withdrawal from 
Sinai took place as scheduled. A multinational force of observers took 
up positions in Sinai to monitor the peace. Egypt was allowed to 
station only one army division in Sinai. Since then, Egypt has had a 
decent relationship with Israel and the United States, and it has been 
seen by many Arab Countries as the traitor in many circumstances.

 It is perceivable that without the influence of the United 
States the peace in Israel would have been different, if not sooner. 
The United States, in order to push the cold war policies saw Israel 
and Egypt as pawn in their global game of politics. Especially in
the early years, neither country saw the United States as a enemy nor 
as a ally, and thus depended on it for little. Yet, both countries saw 
the possibility of gaining resources from the great western power, or 
at least its enemy the USSR. 

 Under Carter, however the United States, perhaps for the first 
time, played a peace-making role in the Middle East. Perhaps Carter 
was being the peaceful President, or more likely he realized the need 
for peace in the middle east in order to lower the gas prices, and for 
the US to harness the immense resources of the region.


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