Arab-Israeli War 1948 The War Thesis

Length: 10 pages Sources: 4 Subject: History - Israel Type: Thesis Paper: #20068053 Related Topics: Jerusalem, Syria, Israeli Palestinian Conflict, Egyptian Revolution
Excerpt from Thesis :

It was after one of them bombed Cairo in July 1948, that the Israelis were able to establish air supremacy. Succeeding victories came in rapid succession on all three fronts. The Arab states all negotiated separate armistice agreements. Egypt was the first to sign in February 1949, followed by Lebanon, Transjordan and finally Syria. Iraq chose to withdraw its forces without signing an agreement. Israel significantly expanded its territory beyond the United Nations (UN) partition plan for Palestine at the expense of its Arab neighbors. The cost of victory was in more than 6,000 Israeli lives which represented approximately 1% of the population. After the peace agreement wartime recruits were rapidly dismissed. This made it difficult for the basic manpower problem of a small population faced with the need to mobilize a sizable army during a wartime emergency. After a study of the Swiss reservist system, Israel introduced a three-tiered system based on a small standing officer corps, universal conscription, and a large pool of well-trained reservists that could be rapidly mobilized (Israeli War of Independence 1948-1949, 2000).

The Israeli war for independence has really never come to an end. Te issues in the conflict remain not only unresolved, but often violently contested. Three of the Arab states that invaded Israel in 1948, (Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq) remain legally at war with Israel. The Arab refugees who fled the war zone still remain stateless persons. The fact that the war is ongoing has impeded efforts to tell the war's story. The archives of the states surrounding Israel remain closed (Israeli War of Independence 1948-1949, 2000).

The history of the war can be broken down into two phases. The first phase took place within the borders of Mandatory Palestine. From the time the British decided to quit Palestine a guerilla war erupted inside the Mandatory territories. Provoked by their catastrophically extremist and incompetent leadership, Palestinian militias conducted attacks on Jewish settlements, using tactics that often crossed the line from irregular to frankly terroristic (Frum, 2009).

In the beginning, these attacks had some success. The small Jewish settler community the Yishuv as it was called lacked almost all the fundamentals of war. But it had huge advantages on its side. Above all it had a powerful sense of community and sacrifice. These were people for whom extermination was not an abstract threat. Seldom has there been a more spectacular demonstration of Tocqueville's observation about the military power of a democracy on the defensive (Frum, 2009).

Palestinian society by contrast proved to be very fragile. It crumbled under pressure. King Abdullah of Jordan insisted that everybody remain to fight the Jews except for the old, the sick, women, children and the rich. In 1947, the Palestinians paid a very high price for the Arab uprising. That year's strife had begun as an assault against the Jews and ended as a civil war within the Palestinian community. The grand mufti of Jerusalem instigated the uprising and then devoted as much energy to murdering his internal Arab opponents and clan rivals as to fighting the Jews or the British. The uprising ended in a defeat that left Palestinian society not only weaker and poorer, but also driven by family feuds and internecine hatreds (Frum, 2009).

Eventually the Palestinians cracked under the strain of a war they had themselves launched. Dissident groups within the Yishuv submitted to political authority and the Palestinians turned on each other. The Jewish militias came to look and act more and more like a regular army while the Palestinian militias disintegrated into localized gangs. By the time the British evacuated Palestine in 1948, the internal phase of the war had ended in a bloody but decisive victory for the Jews. This unexpected and unwelcome turn of events presented the neighboring Arab states with an unhappy dilemma. Their populations utterly...


Their armies were intended for repression at home, not battle beyond their borders. Unfortunately none of the Arab leaders could admit this. They often bragged and boasted to each other, creating a grimly humorous situation in which each knew its own weakness, but credited its neighbors with great strength. The Egyptians invaded only because King Farouk feared that King Abdullah of Jordan would otherwise gobble up the whole of Palestine for himself. The Syrians and Iraqis could not afford to lag behind. And the shaky Christian-led government of Lebanon dared not expose itself as less Arab than the rest (Frum, 2009).

Adding to the strange ironies of the situation were the actions of the international community. It is almost impossible to generalize about the intentions of so many different national governments. But as expressed in the actions of the United Nations, the outlook of the international community could be summed up as follows:

The leading countries of the English-speaking world dreaded both an Israeli victory and an Israeli defeat. The U.S. was leaning slightly more in favor of Israel and Britain tilting slightly against. All the governments wanted to avoid a massacre of the Jewish population. However they also wanted to pressure the Israelis to accept something less than the already narrow borders they had been awarded in 1947 and Israeli success threatened to win something more. The result: a series of diplomatic initiatives intended to restrain Israel, all of which backfired badly (Frum, 2009).

The first initiative that was undertaken was that of an arms embargo imposed equally on all sides. This embargo was expected to help the Arabs, since they started the war with a vastly larger inventory of weapons. But in fact, it did just the contrary. The embargo cut the Arabs off from supplies that they desperately needed. The Israelis bought World War II surplus on the international black market and did deals with Eastern European governments. And as the war advanced, they began to build their own thanks to their emerging industrial capacity (Frum, 2009).

The international phase of the war saw two truces, each imposed at a moment when the Arabs had suffered a bad defeat. The thought was to open a space for negotiation before the Arab position deteriorated further. But the Arabs who were terrified of their own populations, unwilling to expose weakness to rival Arab regimes, refused to negotiate. Consequently the pauses instead assisted the Israelis, whose strength grew over time while the Arab strength diminished. In May 1948, the Israelis had no air force to speak of but by January 1949, they had won clear air superiority. This was thanks in great part to the many international volunteers, Jewish and Christian, who arrived to pilot the antique aircraft the Israelis had foraged from around the world (Frum, 2009).

The war did eventually end, not in peace but in armistice. The new state of Israeli was established and one by one the Arab belligerents collapsed into instability. The Egyptian monarchy was overthrown in 1953 and Iraq's in 1958. Jordan's King Abdullah was assassinated. Syria fell into 20 years of coups and counter-coups. The refugees were refused safe haven by their host governments and left to welter and fester in refugee camps. And the 1949 armistice lines, lines that might have become accepted international borders had the Arabs been willing to sign a peace treaty, were soon expanded by further rounds of fighting (Frum, 2009).

The up rise of Israel since 1948 has been the most astonishing act of state-building of the 20th century. Over the next 60 years, we have heard that time was not on Israel's side. But those who wait for time to win their battles for them will discover how very, very, long time can take (Frum, 2009).

The Arab states went to war in 1948 because they had used the issue of Palestine to generate public enthusiasm for their own regimes. When the time came, they found themselves trapped in their own rhetoric. If they didn't go to war, the masses would collapse them as traitors. Following the defeat in 1948, this dynamic was increased. Arab leaders used the Israel issue for political purposes, in order to maintain nationalist fervor. In the countries of Egypt and Syria, revolutions forced the failed rulers from power. This promised to wipe out the Zionist entity and reversing the results of 1948. They put on confrontations in order to mobilize support for their regimes, and competed with each other in their zeal against the Zionists. They found that once they had started a sequence of events they then couldn't control it. They had trapped themselves in their own rhetoric, and the masses now demanded action (Israel War of Independence, 2008).

Each battle of this war had its own story, and the pattern of the conflict revealed in round one would repeat again and again. Previous to each round, the numerical superiority of Israel's enemies would look an awesome advantage. The expression of enemy leaders from the Grand Mufti to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would threaten…

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Works Cited

"1948 Arab-Israeli War." 2007. 10 November 2009 <>

Frum, David. 2009. "1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War." 10 November 2009

Cite this Document:

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