This post is a return to the interrupted historical series on the history of Israel (here’s the Intro, Part 1, and Part 2); it picks up just after the 1967 war which won Israel the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula. To recap, the first two decades of Israel’s existence included near-constant war, boundaries that shifted repeatedly, and deeply inconsisent support from the United States until the ’67 war itself. Events in the 1970s quickly and painfully reinforced the last view.
In fact, one could say the 1970s was when Israel’s place in the world permanently shifted. She began the decade as the darling of the democratic left around the world, and ended it as a hero of the right. Her already small number of allies dwlindled further still. She watched numerous American presidents pledge fealty to her on the campaign trail only to leave her hanging once they reached Washington.
Things began to go wrong for Israel when Egypt’s new leader – Anwar Sadat – made it clear he wanted the Sinai back, and found an interesting way to win over American favor: he kicked out the Soviets. Suddenly, Israel had competition for America’s favor. Thus when Egypt went to war for the Sinai in 1973, Nixon refused to come to Israel’s aid until the last minute (which made it clear Israel was, once again, vulnerable). Arab nations, unhappy the U.S. provided any support to Israel, responded with an oil embrgo that shocked the American economy into its first “stagflation” – and further made it clear the American and Israeli interests did not always coincide.
Meanwhile, the American support for Israel – as weak as it was – alienated much of the left from the Jewish state. Given that Israel was still a social democracy, this came as quite a shock to her. Yet “anti-Zionism” quickly became gospel in left-wing circles around the world. Much of the democratic right was warming to Israel, but she had few, if any, contacts there. In the world of geopolitics, she was very much alone.
Despite this, things still looked bright when Israel made peace with Egypt. Sadat became the first Arab leader to make piece with Israel, a stunning move that seemed to mark an end to hostilies.
It took four years for the more painful reailty to hit home. In 1979, Israel oldest ally – Persia – had fallen to a radical anti-Semitic regime that turned a three-millenia friend into the vilest enemy. To drive the point home, the Iranian regime honored the assassins of Sadat (murdered in 1981), while Syria – now Iran’s new ally – used their Hezbollah puppets in Lebanon to wage guerrila war against Israel, who responded with an invasion in 1982.
By then, Ronald Reagan was president – a man who ran as a friend of Israel. Yet while Israel was battling its proxy war with Syria and Iran, the Reagan Administration refused to offer unvarnished support for its ally. For the third straight time, a Republican Administration had let Israel down – and even drove Prime Minister Menachem Begin to retire in frustration.
Once again, Israel was isolated, vulnerable . . . and lucky. Arab nations that normally could have united against her were instead taking sides in the Iran-Iraq War (the Iraq-allied Palestine Liberation Organization and Syria battled repeatedly in London, the former on occasion even tactically allying with Israel).
Amidst the chaos in the Arab world, Israel continued to survive. Egypt’s new leader – Hosni Mubarak – maintained peace with Isreal, but it was a “cold peace.” Jordan, long considered by Israel to the be the moderate force, officially handed its claim to the West Bank over to the PLO, granting Palestine its first claim to sovereignty in the modern era.
It was at this point that the call for “1967 boundaries” began in earnest. Yet few, if any, remembered that Israel had not been granted the ’67 lines, but won them through battle in 1948-49, with the fervent support of both superowers (whereas it now had only one), most of Europe (who now were distancing themselves from her) and Iran (which was now a virulent enemy).
In part it was Israel’s history of military victories that led to this global amnesia. It was simply assumed that Israel was invincible, and as such would be safe with 1967 boundaries. In reality, Israel had always relied on outside support to win its wars, and without that support, it was in trouble. Moreover, nothing had shown them that the Arab world would accept the 1967 lines (they were, in fact, preparing to wage war in 1967 itself to reverse Israel’s 1949 gains at the least, and destroy Israel altogether at the most).
Yet in the 1990s, Israel would try the peaceful route at the request of its American allies. The results should have been enough to convince anyone never to try it again. That, however, is for Part 4.
Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal