Ted Thornton
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The Arab-Israeli Wars
1948 - 1973
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nasser.jpg (8064 bytes)
Egyptian President Gamal Abd al-Nasser (photo:  al-Majalla)

Roots of the Arab-Israeli Wars  

BBC Maps on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

See also Key Events in Modern Egyptian History

1948   On May 14, 1948, Israel proclaimed itself a sovereign state.  The First Arab-Israeli War began one day later. Egyptian troops (including a young army officer named Gamal Abd al-Nasser) were sent to fight in Palestine with faulty ammunition, a factor in the revolution of 1952 that toppled King Farouk.

In Syria there were three coups in 1948. On September 17, 1948, Count Folke Bernadotte, U.N. mediator in Palestine, was assassinated by Jewish commandos under the leadership of future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. 

1949  The Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwaan al-Muslimoon ) by 1949 had grown to an estimated 2,000 branches with almost half a million members. On February 12, the movement's founder, Hasan al-Banna, was gunned down in the streets of Cairo. The assailants, some alleged, were security agents of King Farouk's government which had become worried about the growing strength of the Brotherhood. The king's government had outlawed the Brotherhood in December, 1948, and the Brotherhood had responded by assassinating Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi the following month (January, 1949).

1950   In April, 1950, Jordan formally annexed the West Bank making it clear that there was little or no Arab support for a separate Palestinian state. (See Kirsten Schulze, The Arab-Israeli Conflict (New York: Longman, 1999), 21).   

On August 17, Israel expelled the inhabitants of Majdal. Also this year, in an operation dubbed "Flying Carpet," Israel airlifted 50,000 Yemeni Jews into the country. 

1951    Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In nationalizing the petroleum resources of his country and in being one of the first Middle Eastern leaders along with Saudi Arabia's Ibn Saud to recognize and exploit the power of radio to shape public opinion, Mossadegh established practices that leaders of other Third World countries (notably Egypt's Nasser) would put to use with equal success. The British responded to the nationalization of the AIOC by boycotting Iranian oil (they had considered invading Iran, but backed off when Truman said he wouldn't support the plan). Iran plunged into an economic crisis, and this set the stage for the CIA backed coup that restored the Shah to power in 1953

On July 20, 1951, Abdullah, King of Jordan, was assassinated by a Palestinian in the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. He was succeeded by his mentally unstable son Talal whom the Jordanian Parliament deposed one year later. Talal's seventeen year old son Hussein succeeded him on August 11, 1952 and ruled until his death in 1999.

In 1951, Egypt renounced its 1936 treaty with Great Britain.

1952    Libya gained its independence on January 1. Idris al-Sanusi became king. .

Revolution in Egypt (1952):   A rebellious group of army officers in Egypt, motivated by hatred of British meddling and by King Farouk's corruption and incompetence (see) seized power on July 23. King Farouk abdicated on July 26 and went into exile. On September 9, Egypt's ruling "Free Officers" instituted the first of a series of land reforms aimed at redressing what was seen as an imbalance in land ownership (70% of the arable land had been in the hands of 1% of the population).  (By 1970, land ownership had increased to 10% of the population.)  (more on the revolution)

In Morocco, Sultan Sidi Muhammad Ben Youssef (Muhammad V) joined forces with the Istiqlal ("Independence") Party. That same year riots in Casablanca over the death of labor leader Ferhat Hached. left 38 dead. 

1953   In the summer of 1953, Israel began moving government offices from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The U.S. protested that the move violated the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan declaring Jerusalem to be an internationalized zone.

In August, 1953, Israeli army "Unit 101" under the command of Ariel Sharon attacked the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Bureig in the Gaza Strip killing twenty residents, mostly women and children. The Israeli raids were in retaliation for Arab paramilitary fedayeen ("commando") raids against Israel. Later in the year, on October 14, Sharon and Unit 101 struck again, this time at the Jordanian village of Qibya, killing 70 residents inside their homes during a night of shooting. The residents had allegedly launched an attack  against an Israeli village in which a woman and two children had been murdered. Ben Gurion initially denied IDF involvement in the raid, then later admitted it.

Throughout the early 1950s, there was an exodus of Jews from Iraq, the result of panic induced by Zionist agents who bombed synagogues and the U.S. Information Service library. (Sheldon Richman, The Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, January, 1991, 29)

Also in 1953, Ben Gurion was replaced as Prime Minister by the more moderate Moshe Sharret who attempted to advance the cause of making peace with the Arabs. His tenure was short lived: Ben Gurion was returned to power in 1955.

On August 16, 1953, the Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Pahlevi fled into exile for five days after an American CIA planned coup to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a coup which the Shah was a party to, hit some snags. The coup was engineered by Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt's grandson. (Kermit also played a role in funding support of anti-Communist interests in Egypt following the 1952 revolution there). Five days later on August 21st and after the coup had been successfully executed, the Shah was flown back to Tehran aboard a CIA airplane.  (see Steven Kinzer, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (Hoboken, NJ:  John Wiley and Sons, 2003)

A New York Times special report on the Iran coup was published on April 4, 2000.   The report summarizes a history of the affair written by the CIA itself, and, claims that:

1.  The idea for the coup was hatched by the British who, angered by Mossadegh's nationalization of British oil interests in Iran in 1951, pressed the United States to join them in an operation to remove Mossadegh.

2.  The U.S. CIA and the British Intelligence Service handpicked General Fazollah Zahedi to take over as Prime Minister, funneling $5 million to Zahedi's regime two days after the coup.

3.  Iranian CIA operatives posing as Communists harassed Iranian religious leaders and staged a bombing of a cleric's house in a campaign to turn Iran's Muslims against the Mossadegh government.

4.  The Shah was not a courageous man. His overly cautious and timid nature nearly ruined the CIA operation.  He hesitated to sign CIA-written "royal" firmans ("decrees") authorizing Mossadegh's removal.  Kermit Roosevelt sent the Shah's twin sister Princess Ashraf Pahlevi along with General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the 1991 Desert Storm commander, to try to embolden him. But, as a result of the confusion and a series of mishaps surrounding the operation, the Shah ending up fleeing.

In 1953 in Morocco, Sultan Sidi Muhammad was exiled.

Also in 1953, in Jordan and Saudi Arabia a new revivalist movement appeared:  Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami ("The Islamic Liberation Party").  The party's founders were refugee Palestinians led by Sheikh Taqiuddin an-Nabhani Filastini. 

Also in 1953, Saudi Arabia's King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud died. The king's eldest son, Prince Saud, became king.

1954    A foreign consortium was set up to manage Iran's oil.

In Egypt on April 17, 1954, a republic was proclaimed with Gamal Abd al-Nasser as prime minister. General Neguib retained the office of President but without power.  In November he was deposed altogether and placed under arrest. 

Gamal Abd al-Nasser, 1918-1970
Revolution, 1952
Prime Minister, 1954
Support for Algeria, 1954
Assassination attempt, 1954
Refused Baghdad Pact, 1955
Bandung Conference, 1955
Czech arms deal, 1955
President, 1956
Suez Canal Co. Nationalized, 1956
Second Arab-Israeli War, 1956
Egypt-Syria union, 1958
End Egypt-Syria union, 1961
al-Azhar nationalized, 1961
Muslim World League, 1962
Yemen, 1962
PLO founded, 1964
End of American aid to Egypt, 1964
Arrest of Sayyid Qutb, 1965
Arab-Israeli War, 1967
Withdrawal from Yemen, 1967
War of Attrition, 1969
al-Aqsa fire and OIC, 1969
Nasser's death, 1970

In June, 1954, elections were held in Iraq during which opposition parties gained seats in the parliament.  (Baltimore Sun, Jan. 30, 2005)

In July, 1954, Israeli Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon instigated commando operations in Egypt in an attempt to depose Nasser. Some of these attacks were directed against U.S. interests in an effort to drive a wedge between Egypt and America. Israeli frogmen were captured as they came ashore in Alexandria.  This incident became known as the "Lavon Affair." (see The Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, October, 1991)

On October 19, an Anglo-Egyptian Agreement was concluded: British troops were to withdraw from the canal zone within 20 months. The last British troops departed June 13, 1955.

On October 26, 1954, an assassination attempt against Nasser failed. In December six members of the Muslim Brotherhood were hanged for their alleged roles in the plot. The Brothers fell under an official ban. Many were arrested, including radical polemicist Sayyid Qutb.

On October 31, 1954, the Algerian war of independence against French colonial rule broke out.  It lasted until 1962 and claimed over one million Algerian lives.  One of the bloodiest episodes was the six month long "battle of Algiers" in 1957Nasser's support of the Algerians angered the French and contributed to their decision to participate in the war against Nasser in 1956

Also in 1954, the Soviet Union, which had supported the creation of the state of Israel and supplied arms to it, switched sides and began supporting Arab interests.  As Michael Oren put it, "The Cold War had come to the Middle East..." ( Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War:  June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (New York:  Ballantine Books, 2003), 8.)

1955     On 24 February, 1955, the Baghdad Pact was signed: Iraq joined an anti-Soviet, pro-Western defense pact with Turkey, the United States, Great Britain, Pakistan and Iran. Nasser refused to join the pact.  Later in the year when he signed an arms pact with Czechoslovakia, Western hopes for being able to deal with Nasser took a turn for the worse. 

On 28 February, 1955, Israel raided Gaza and killed 38 Egyptian soldiers.  The raid was authorized by Israeli Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon (of "Lavon Affair" fame) in retaliation for a raid by Egyptian intelligence agents from Gaza who killed an Israeli cyclist near Rehovot (see Kirsten E. Schulze, The Arab-Israeli Conflict (Essex, U.K.:  Addison-Wesley-Longman, Ltd., 1999), 26).  The raid was a turning point for Nasser. He came away convinced that he had to secure an arms deal in order to defend Arab interests against Israel. 

In April, 1955, a conference of  twenty-nine Asian and African countries gathered in Bandung, Indonesia.  Indonesia's President Sukarno opened the conference on 18 April.  He struck an anti-imperialist tone, speaking out against the "moral violence" of the big powers and noting that the delegates could draw strength and inspiration from the fact that they represented more than half the human race at that time (1.4 billion people). Egypt's President Nasser attended.  The conference marked  Nasser's debut as a world leader.  His developing sense of mission on an international scale surfaced for the first time at Bandung.  He succeeded in bringing the cause of the Palestinian people more centrally to world attention.  Palestine, he argued, was the cause of all Arab people.  Encouraged and supported by China's Chou en-Lai, who was endeavoring to curry favor among the Arabs, Nasser introduced the Palestine issue by embedding it in the context of ongoing colonialism in North Africa and racial discrimination in South Africa. Together Nasser and Chou lobbied for a resolution supporting the rights of Arab Palestinians and calling for the implementation of United Nations resolutions on Palestine and a peaceful settlement there.  

In 1955, former Israeli P.M. Ben Gurion was returned to power. Sharret became Foreign Minister, serving in this post until mid 1956 when he was succeeded by Golda Meir.

On August 26, 1955, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles delivered a speech in which he called for a resolution of the issue of Palestinian war refugees by means of the "...the resettling and, to such an extent as may be feasible, repatriation" of refugees. While acknowledging that, "some of the refugees could be settled in the area presently controlled by Israel, most could more readily be integrated into the lives of the neighboring Arab countries." (see Fred J. Khouri, The Arab-Israeli Dilemma, Third edition (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1985), 143, 299)

In September, 1955, Egypt's Nasser purchased $200 million worth of Soviet made arms from Czechoslovakia after being turned down by the West (which feared the weapons would be used against Israel).

In December, 1955, the United States, Great Britain, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development reached an agreement with Egypt that included loans to build the Aswan Dam. (see also)

Also in 1955, civil war broke out in the Sudan between the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian and animist south. The first stage was fought between 1955 and 1972 and a second stage from 1983 until 2003. Sudan gained its independence from Great Britain the in 1956

1956 - 1970    Presidency of Gamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt.

1956  On March 2, 1956, Morocco gained its independence from France. Sultan Muhammad ben Youssef, known as "The Liberator," a national hero and leader of the resistance movement against French control, established a constitutional monarchy with himself ruling as King Muhammad the Fifth.

On March 20, France granted independence to Tunisia.

In July, 1956, U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, angry because Nasser had purchased arms from Czechoslovakia, suddenly withdrew the Aswan Dam loan offer in an attempt to punish him.

Nasser responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal Company on July 26, 1956, hoping to use its profits to pay for the dam. He delivered his nationalization speech before a huge crowd in Alexandria on the evening of July 26,1956 (the fourth anniversary of King Farouk's abdication).  Speaking from the balcony of the Bourse, Nasser first reviewed the history of the Suez Canal evoking the memory of the French diplomat-promoter who developed the project, Ferdinand de Lesseps.  "De Lesseps" was the prearranged code word, the signal army Colonel Mahmoud Yunis, the officer in charge of seizing the canal, was waiting to hear on his radio in Port Said.  It came two hours into the speech at 10 p.m.  To make sure the signal got through, Nasser repeated the code word fourteen times during the next ten minutes of his speech after which he made the official announcement that the Suez Canal Company was being nationalized as he spoke. The crowd went wild. Nasser continued to work the crowd up into a frenzy using a blend of classical and colloquial Arabic.  Then came the climax, the moment Nasser stuck it to the United States for pulling out of the Aswan Dam finance deal.  He cried out, "Whenever I hear any talk coming out of Washington, I will say to them, 'Drop dead of your fury (mautu bi-ghaizikum! )!'"  (Amin Said, al-Thawra min 23 Yulio 1952 illi 29 October 1956 [The Revolution From July 23, 1952 Until October 29, 1956) (Cairo: Isa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1959), 370;  see also Kennett Love, Suez:  The Twice-Fought War (New York:  McGraw-Hill, 1969, 345)

But, it was probably the British and the French, not the Americans, who were dropping dead from their fury:  they were the biggest users of the canal. After this, Nasser saw no alternative but to ask the Soviets to finance the Aswan Dam project. The "Suez Crisis" was the catalyst for the Second Arab-Israeli War.

The Arab-Israeli Wars
Roots
1948
1956
1967
1973

Palestinian Intifadas:  1987, 2000

War: Summer, 2006

BBC Maps on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Second Arab-Israeli War, 1956

On October 29, 1956, the second Arab-Israeli War (also referred to as "The Suez War") broke out with Israel, Great Britain, and France arrayed against Egypt and aiming to depose Nasser

Israel was motivated by three chief factors.  First, it considered the Egyptian-Czech arms deal Nasser had negotiated the year before as a dangerous shift in the balance of power in the region.  Second, Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal Company after the U.S. in July reversed itself and withdrew its offer of a loan to build the Aswan Dam.  Third, Nasser had blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba between the Tiran Straits and the Red Sea.  Great Britain, whose influence in the region had been on the wane since the end of World War II, saw the conflict as a way to regain lost ground.  The French were angry with Nasser for his support of the insurrection in Algeria, France's colony.  Britain's Prime Minister Eden and French Premier Mollet regarded Nasser as a dangerous demagogue.  France, Britain, and Israel hit upon a plan (The Sèvres Protocol, Oct. 24, 1956) whereby Israel would seize the canal.  Britain and France would then demand that both Israel and Egypt withdraw from the canal zone.  When Egypt refused, as expected, Britain and France would intervene and force the Egyptians out. 

Israel initiated hostilities on October 29 by invading Gaza and the Sinai and then moved into the Suez Canal zone on October 30. The United States, furious with Israel, Britain, and France and motivated even more by fears that the Soviet Union would be drawn into the fray, sponsored a U.N. resolution condemning the attack, which was passed on November 2.  Meanwhile, British and French troops, the ultimatum to Israel and Egypt having been ignored as expected, were busy trying to take control of the canal zone. Hostilities ended on November 6 after a ceasefire took effect.  In December, a U.N. emergency force was dispatched to the area. The Suez was returned to Egypt.  (See Kirsten Schulze, The Arab-Israeli Conflict (London:  Longman, 1999), 22ff.). 

While Nasser was the loser militarily, he was the big winner politically.  His stature in the Arab world rose sharply, quickly dwarfing other leaders like Jordan's King Hussein and Iraq's Nuri al-Said who were perceived to be too beholden to Western interests.  Finally, the 1956 Arab-Israeli War marked the end of the British and French colonial period in the region and the end of the British Empire worldwide. (See BBC 50th anniversary coverage of the Suez crisis and the war that followed.)

Also in 1956, the Sudan gained its independence from Great Britain which had ruled the country since 1898

Also in 1956, Libya awarded American oil companies a concession to explore for oil.

1957 On January 28, the six month "battle of Algiers" broke out, provoked by an eight-day national strike called by Algerian rebels who had been fighting for independence from France since 1954.

Also in January 1957, the United States announced the "Eisenhower Doctrine":  a policy whereby the U.S. would dispense economic and military aid to Arab countries willing to take a stand against Communism.  Most Arab countries, except Lebanon and Iraq, did not welcome the initiative.  The Suez War, in their view, demonstrated they had more to fear from Zionism and Western imperialism than from Communism.  Saudi Arabia extended the lease of the Dharan air base to the U.S. for five more years in exchange for American military aid.

In March, Israel pulled back its troops from the Sinai and a special UN force was stationed in Gaza to act as a buffer between Israel and Egypt.

On July 25, 1957, the Bey of Tunis was deposed bringing monarchy to an end in Tunisia. Habib Bourguiba, a pro-Western secularist and modernist second only to Turkey's Ataturk, came to power. Bourguiba made French, not Arabic, the official language of government, education, and culture. Islamic Sharia courts were abolished, and wearing the veil (hijab, or headscarf) by women was banned. Bourguiba campaigned against the observance of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, offending many observant Muslims by deliberately drinking orange juice on national television during the fast. Bourguiba's anti-Islamic tendencies gave rise in the 1960's to such Islamist revival figures as Rachid Ghannoushi.

Also in 1957, Yasser Arafat, a civil engineer living in Kuwait, together with Khalil Wazir and Salah Khalaf, formed the Palestinian movement al-Fatah ("conquest" in Arabic; also, in reverse, an acronym for Harakat at-Tahrir al-Filistini, "Movement for the Liberation of Palestine"). Arafat's Fatah would join the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, and, in 1969 Arafat would be appointed "Chairman" of this umbrella organization.

1958   On February 1, 1958, Nasser's pan-Arabic nationalist dream resulted in the union of Egypt and Syria. Arab unity was the rallying call of both Nasser and Syria's Ba'ath ("Renaissance") PartyThe new entity called itself "The United Arab Republic" (UAR). It lasted until 1961 when Syria broke it offJordan and Iraq, feeling threatened by the new UAR, agreed to a union as well on May 12, 1958 calling themselves the "Arab Union," but the coup of July 14 in Iraq brought it to a swift end. Nevertheless, Iraq and Jordan remained closely linked through strong cultural and economic ties.  Jordan's population strongly supported Saddam Hussein's side in the 1990-1991 Gulf War putting King Hussein in the embarrassing and dangerous position of formally sitting on the fence during the conflict.

On July 14, 1958, a  military coup led by Gen. Abd al-Kareem Qasim overthrew the monarchy in Iraq. King Faisal II, who had reigned from 1953 until 1958, the crown prince, and Nuri al-Said were all executed. Qasim's government had close ties to the Communist Party in Iraq (see also) (see also). As this was going on, an Egyptian plot to overthrow King Hussein in July was uncovered and broken up. The king imposed martial law and appealed to the British and the United States for help.

Also in mid July, 1958, the first Lebanese civil war erupted between Muslim and Christian groups (a second and far more serious civil war erupted in 1975). Muslim rebels, cheered by the display of Arab unity that had led to the unification of Syria and Egypt, rose up to demand that Lebanon become an Arab entity in its own right free from Christian domination. Commander of the army Fouad Shihab (Chehab) refused to confront the rebels fearing the army would split up. So, Christian president Shamun (Chamoun), for his part fearful that what had just happened in Iraq (see above) might happen in Lebanon, too, called on the United States to intervene on the basis of the Eisenhower Doctrine. The U.S. Marines landed on the beaches of Beirut on July 15, greeted by bikini-clad bathers and vendors selling ice cream, but also by General Shihab's troops who challenged them. What could have been a dangerous confrontation was dissolved through quick diplomacy after it was arranged that Shihab would succeed Shamun in September. The Marines went home in October. -- Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Fourth Edition (New York:  St. Martin's Press, 2001), 263ff.

In 1958, there was a military coup in the Sudan.

1959   On October 7, a Ba'athist assassination team, including Saddam Hussein, wounded but failed to kill Qasim (Qasim would not be so lucky the next in 1963).  Saddam was exiled to Egypt until 1963.

1960   The Organization of Petroleum Exporting States (OPEC) was formed in Baghdad to halt falling oil prices. Founding partners were Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

On May 27, 1960 in Turkey, the military staged a coup to restore political stability.  Dissatisfaction had been rising over a government crackdown on the press, the sour economy, and government closure of universities.  The military restored civilian rule the following November. (Other army interventions in the civilian political life of the country occurred in 1971, 1980, and 1997).

On October 1, 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain (colonial rule had begun March 15, 1903).

1961   In September, a coup by right wing military officers reestablished Syrian independence from Egypt (Syria had resented being treated like a subordinate by Nasser rather than a full partner since unification in 1958). Kuwait gained its independence from Great Britain. Iraq refused to recognize Kuwait and massed troops on the border. Britain sent troops to defend Kuwait, and Iraq backed down.

Also in 1961, Morocco's King Muhammad the Fifth died and was succeeded by his eldest son, Hasan, who ruled as Hasan II.

In Egypt in 1961, Nasser nationalized al-Azhar. The Muslim world's oldest center of learning became an arm of the Egyptian government under the leadership of its pro-government rector, Mahmud Shaltut.

1962   In July, Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight year struggle. Algeria's leader, Ahmed Ben Bella and his National Liberation Front (FLN), aligned himself with Nasser. The FLN dominated Algerian politics through the end of the century.

In September, 1962, a Yemeni army coup deposed the imam (N. Yemen). Civil war broke out. Nasser sent in Egyptian troops to support the rebel military officers in San'a who proclaimed a republic. Saudi Arabia supported the monarchists, which led to Egyptian bombardments of royalist bases inside Saudi Arabia and included the use of poison gas, the first time in the history of Arab warfare (Oren, 15). Egypt remained bogged down in Yemen for five years. When Nasser pulled out, the republican regime he had backed fell from power.

Also in 1962, the Muslim World League was founded in Saudi Arabia to fill the leadership void in the Muslim world left by Nasser's nationalization of al-Azhar the year before and for the purpose of exporting Wahhabi teachings throughout the world. By the mid sixties, Wahhabi influence in the organization was supplemented by members of the Muslim Brotherhood who had fled Egypt in the wake of Nasser's persecution of them. They included Muhammad Qutb, the brother of Sayyid Qutb whom Nasser hanged in 1966. Muhammad Qutb arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1972 after his release from prison in Egypt. Other Muslim Brothers who found their way to the Saudi kingdom during this period included the Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, who became Osama bin Laden's teacher. Some of these thinkers influenced the sahwa ("awakening") movement that gained prominence in the 1980s with its blend of radical Wahhabi ideas and the thought of Sayyid Qutb 

In 1962, Egyptian agents failed in a bid to assassinate Jordan's King Hussein (they had tried and failed in 1960, too). 

In 1962, slavery was officially outlawed in Saudi Arabia

1963   In March, Ba'ath Party members in the Syrian army, including Hafez al-Asad, seized power. In  Iraq on February 8-9, 1963, Ba'athists overthrew General Abd al-Karim Qasim and executed him. There was a Ba'athist reign of terror against the Kurds. The Ba'athist regime embarked on a campaign of ethnic cleansing ("Arabization") of Kurdish areas: for forty years (up until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003), tens of thousands of Kurds were deported from Kirkuk and surrounding areas, their property seized and handed over to Arabs brought in from the south to settle there (see George Packer, The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005), chp. 10). A major benchmark in the Ba'athist "Arabization" of Kurdish areas was the "Anfal Campaign" (Feb.-Sept., 1988) in which tens of thousands of Kurds died. Saddam Hussein would be tried for genocide in 2006 in connection with this ethnic cleansing campaign (see also Halabja, March, 1988) (see also)

A brief attempt at unification of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt (a major plank in the Ba'ath Party platform) ended in failure after Ba'athists in both Syria and Iraq carried out purges of Nasserist sympathizers. The Ba'athists' inexperience forced them the following November to yield power to a new pro-Nasserist regime led by Abd al-Salam Arif. Arif was killed in a helicopter crash in 1966 and was succeeded by his brother who ruled until the Ba'athists staged their comeback in 1968.

Also in 1963, the "White Revolution," proclaimed by the Shah's government in Iran, called for land reform, nationalization of the forests, the sale of state-owned enterprises to private interests, electoral changes to enfranchise women, profit sharing in industry, and an anti-illiteracy campaign in the nation's schools. All of these initiatives were regarded as dangerous, Westernizing trends by traditionalists, especially the powerful and privileged Shiite ulema ("religious scholars") who felt keenly threatened. The ulema instigated anti-government riots throughout the country. The government used the secret police organization, SAVAK, to put the riots down, often with great brutality. One member of the ulema, a teacher of philosophy in the holy city of Qom, the Ayatollah ("sign of God") Ruhollah Khomeni was exiled to Iraq. These events, and the Shah's gargantuan coronation festival in 1971,  sowed the seeds of the 1979 Iranian Revolution

In 1963, Ben Gurion was replaced as Prime Minister of Israel by Levi Eshkol.

From August 20-25, 1963, Israeli and Syrian forces battled in the demilitarized zone north of the Sea of Galilee. A UN ceasefire brought hostilities to a halt.

Also in 1963, religious intellectuals in Algeria founded al-Qiyam al-Islamiyya ("Islamic Values") as a means of combating Westernization and promoting the idea of an Islamic state in Algeria.  They had been influenced by the ideas of Egypt's radical Islamist Sayyid Qutb

1964    The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in Cairo. Ahmad Shuqairi was named Chairman. Regard for the organization was mixed, even among Palestinians, some of whom saw it as an "establishment institution," or, as a "Ministry of Foreign Affairs without any state" (see Polk, 237). The PLO was seen by many as in large part the creation of Gamal Abd al-Nasser who had sought a way to corral Palestinian militants and keep them under his thumb (Seale, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 1988),121). One of the militant groups included in this umbrella organization called the PLO was Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. (see also ascendancy of Yasser Arafat in 1969.)

In 1964, the reign of King Faisal began in Saudi Arabia and ended in 1975 when he was assassinated by a deranged nephew. Faisal replaced his half brother King Saud, who was pressured into abdicating. Saud had brought the kingdom into severe economic distress through poor leadership and neglect.

Also in November, 1964, Israel and Syria fought a mini-war over water and cultivation rights along their common borders. The same month, rioters in Cairo attacked the U.S. embassy and Egyptian forces accidentally shot down a plane owned by American businessman John Mecom. When the American ambassador, John Battle, suggested to Nasser that he improve his behavior in order to maintain the flow of American wheat shipments, Nasser replied, "'The American ambassador says that our behavior is not acceptable.  Well, let us tell them that those who do not accept our behavior can go and drink from the sea...We will cut the tongues of anybody who talks badly about us...We are not going to accept gangsterism by cowboys.'"  (in Michael B. Oren, 21)  Nasser had been ridiculed by other Arab leaders for his dependence on American largesse. It was time for him to start looking tough and reclaiming lost prestige. 

1965   Israel's warnings to Jordan to stop Palestinian terrorism having failed (six Israelis had been killed in an attack in May), Israel launched reprisal raids against the West Bank towns of Qalqiya, Shuna, and Jenin.  Calls went up throughout the Arab world for war against Israel, confirming, it seemed, the strategy of al-Fatah, which was to use attacks on Israelis to provoke Israeli reprisals against Palestinians, which in turn would, it was hoped, start a new war of Palestinian liberation.

On June 19, 1965, Algeria's leader, Ahmed Ben Bella was forced out in a coup by Hawari Boumedienne backed up by the army.

In 1965, India attacked Pakistan in their ongoing dispute over Kashmir. Hostilities ended after 23 days.

The Nasser regime in Egypt, claiming that a new conspiracy against the President led by the Muslim Brotherhood (see 1954) had been uncovered, on August 30, 1965 arrested Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb, author of Milestones (Ma'alim fi-l Tariq ) which called for an end to secular government and the establishment of an Islamic state.  Qutb was hanged the following year

Civil strife broke out in 1965 in Indonesia (Java).  A purge of Communists occurred.  President Sukarno was edged out by General T. N. J. Suharto. Suharto, echoing policies of both the Dutch and Sukarno, kept a wary eye on Muslim political activity believing it to be a divisive force. 

1966   On February 23, Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party staged an internal purge led by Hafez al-Asad who became the new minister of defense. Those ousted included the party's cofounders Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. 

On April 30, Israel dedicated its new, $7,000,000 Knesset building in Jerusalem. Arabs protested the event (Khouri, 111).

On November 13, 1966, two Israeli armored columns attacked three Jordanian controlled towns west of the Dead Sea in retaliation for thirteen attacks alleged to have been launched against Israel from the area. Relations between Israel and Syria had been even more tense, but Syrian territory was more rugged than Jordan's.  Ironically, because of  Jordan's relatively more moderate approach toward Israel, which made it less likely it would strike back, and Israel's wish to wreak revenge on some Arab entity, Israel decided to target Jordan.

Egyptian Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb was hanged by the Nasser regime on August 29, 1966.

1967   The Third Arab-Israeli War broke out on June 5. It lasted only six days, and came, therefore, to be known familiarly as the "Six Day War." At the end, Israel had begun its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, areas claimed by Palestinians but which had been controlled since the end of the 1948 war by Jordan and Egypt respectively. The hardest pill for Muslims to swallow, though, was Israeli control over all of Jerusalem including the third holiest site of pilgrimage in the Muslim world: the Mosque of al-Aqsa and the adjacent Dome of the Rock.

Elsewhere in 1967, Egypt's Nasser withdrew from (North) Yemen (where Egypt had become embroiled in a futile effort to prop up a revolutionary regime since 1962). British troops left Aden (in South Yemen) and South Arabia. The British had long tried to combine Aden colony and the southern Arabian peninsula (which had been known as the "Aden protectorate"). When they at last gave up and pulled British troops out of the area, fighting broke out between two rival nationalist groups. The victorious faction proclaimed the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen).

1968   On March 21, a battle took place between Israeli forces and the Palestinian Fatah militia backed up by Jordanian troops, at the refugee camp of Karameh, northeast of Jericho, east of the Jordan River, and thus inside Jordanian territory. Arafat and his Fatah commandos suffered heavy losses, but managed to force the Israelis to withdraw. Palestinians considered Karameh a great victory, particularly from the standpoint of morale.  It paved the way for Yasser Arafat's election as PLO Chairman in 1969.

On July 23, 1968, the PLO hijacked an El AL flight from Rome to Lod. Thirty two persons were held hostage for five weeks.  The commandos were eventually given free passage to Algeria

Israel's first significant incursion into Lebanon came in 1968 when Israeli commandos blew up thirteen airplanes at the Beirut airport. Israel claimed the operation was in reprisal for an attack in Athens by PLO guerillas.

In 1968, Marxists took control in South Yemen.  In 1968, there were two bloodless military coups in Iraq. Saddam Hussein emerged as strong man at the head of Ba'ath ("renaissance") Party.

Arab nationalist Sati al-Husri died in 1968 (born in 1880).

1969   In February, al-Fatah, one of the armed guerilla wings of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) made its play to assume leadership of the PLO, which had been founded in 1964 Fatah had been established in Kuwait in 1957 by a civil engineer named Yasser Arafat.  Arafat was born in 1929 either in Gaza or Cairo (he claimed both at one time or another) and was educated in Cairo.  He emerged from the fifth PLO Congress in Cairo with leadership of the overall organization firmly in tow, and more: Fatah had authority amounting to a government in exile. Arafat was named "Chairman" and the PLO's eleven member executive committee fell under the control of Fatah members or sympathizers. Arafat died in 2004.

Also in February, 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died and was succeeded by Golda Meir. On June 15, 1969, Golda Meir was quoted in the Sunday Times of London as saying, "It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist..." (quoted in Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle:  The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, First Edition (Boston:  South End Press, 1983), 51)

In March, 1969, Nasser started a "War of Attrition" with Israel, which would last until the summer of 1970.  The two countries exchanged fire and engaged in commando raids across the canal zone. Nasser had actually begun the hostilities in September, 1968, but announced the formal policy as a means of drawing in the super powers who, so he  hoped, would work to resolve the conflict.  (This plan would indeed work, but not as soon as Nasser had hoped. It would be left to Egypt's Sadat and Syria's Asad to carry the plan through.  It was they who launched the 1973 war.)

On May 25, 1969, Col. Jaafar al-Nimeiri seized power in the Sudan.

On August 21, 1969, an Australian Christian set fire to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Arabs viewed this sacrilege against a place holy to Islam as further evidence that Israel was a profane and ungodly nation that must be fought until God's victory was assured. Nasser, in a message to his armed forces, said "...the next battle is not a battle of liberation only, it has become necessary for it to become one of purification." An Islamic summit was held in Rabat in September to address the problem from a more Muslim perspective (many Muslims had been suspicious or disapproving of Nasser's nationalism).  The Organization of the Islamic Conference was created with main offices in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Its avowed mission was to protect Muslim holy places, promote the struggle of Palestinians "'to recover their rights and liberate their land,'" and to safeguard the independence, dignity, and rights of Muslims everywhere.  (see Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2002), 74 )  The OIC represented the beginning of Saudi (Wahhabi) religious preeminence in the Muslim world.

The PLO and Lebanon forged a pact in November, 1969 ("The Cairo Agreement). Lebanon pledged to give the PLO a free hand to conduct raids across the border of southern Lebanon into Israel in exchange for which the PLO promised to keep out of Lebanese affairs. An estimated 560 raids into Israel from the Lebanese side of the border took place from 1969 to 1970 meaning that Lebanon (and Jordan) increasingly became targets for Israeli retaliatory attacks. (Schulze, 44)  The PLO was seen more and more as a destabilizing force in the region.  (see "Black September" - 1970 - below)

Also in 1969, Col. Muamar Qaddafi led a successful coup against the monarchy of Libya.

1970   On August 7, the Rogers Plan (named after the American Secretary of State, William Rogers and dated June 19 -- Text at UNISPAL) calling for a temporary ceasefire in the War of Attrition was accepted by Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.

The spring and summer of 1970 was a period of critical instability in Jordan. In the late spring, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas were suspected to have been behind a June 9 attempt to assassinate Jordan's King Hussein. Palestinians constituted more than half the population of Jordan, and the PLO had become something of a shadow government posing a clear challenge to the monarchy. The PLO was especially angered by Jordan's signing of the Rogers Plan. The assassination attempt was seen as the first of a series of ploys to take over the country that came to a head in September, 1970, a month henceforth remembered as "Black September."  The royal palace and the radio station came under rocket attacks fired by the guerillas. The radical PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), led by Dr. George Habash, occupied two hotels in Amman and held 60 hostages. The PLO demanded that the Jordanian commander of the armed forces, an uncle of the king, be dismissed, among other senior royalist officials. To everyone's surprise, King Hussein complied with the demand to dismiss his uncle and some of the other officials, but warned that this concession would be his last. The PLO aim of creating a pliant Jordanian government, had become transparently clear to all.  The New York Times reported on June 12, "The pact King Hussein has signed with guerrilla leader Yasser Arafat comes close to granting the Palestinian militants full partnership in Jordanian affairs (Polk, p. 244)." The spring and summer of 1970 marked the high water mark of PLO military strength.

Then, between September 7 and 9, four commercial airliners (one Swiss, two American, and one British) were hijacked by Palestinian PFLP guerrillas under Habash's command in Jordan, and the passengers and crews held hostage. Embarrassed and humiliated, King Hussein finally cracked down. On September 15, the Jordanian army attacked Palestinian positions and expelled PLO officials and commandos from Jordan. The shelling of Palestinian neighborhoods and refugee camps resulted in approximately 20,000 casualties. The PLO moved its base of operations to Beirut, Lebanon. Thousands more Palestinians fled to Lebanon as well upsetting the delicate balance of power in that country and paving the way for the civil war that erupted in 1975 there. (See Seale, Asad, pp. 159-161.)

What finally pushed King Hussein to take action against the Palestinians was Syria's decision to send troops into Jordan in support of the PLO. Hussein, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, then did the unthinkable for an Arab or a Muslim leader: he called upon both Washington and Israel to come to his rescue.  Israel took full advantage of the propaganda mileage and made highly publicized preparations to strike by air. This prompted Asad to withdraw Syrian troops on September 22. From this moment on, the U.S. began to regard Israel as the key to stability in the region, and began to commit vast sums of foreign aid to keep its ally well supplied.

On September 28, 1970, Nasser was stricken with a heart attack on returning from the airport where he had just seen off a party of visiting Kuwaitis. He died that evening. Anwar Sadat succeeded him. Four million people marched in Nasser’s funeral procession making it one of the largest funerals in history.

There was a massive Soviet arms buildup in Egypt in 1970.

The Americans and the British vacated their bases in Libya in 1970.

1971  In February, 1971, U.N. Ambassador Gunnar Jarring tried unsuccessfully to broker a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel on the basis of U.N. 242. Egypt quickly accepted the terms (Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 war borders including return of the Sinai to Egypt, Israeli rights of navigation in the Suez Canal, Egyptian recognition of Israel's independence and right to exist within secure borders, cessation of Egyptian belligerency against Israel). Israel rejected the offer. (see Charles D. Smith, 225f.)  The two countries tried again in 1978 and that time they succeeded. 

On March 12, 1971, the Turkish army deposed Prime Minister Demirel claiming his government was unable to maintain law and order.  Martial law was imposed and civil liberties were curtailed.  Full civilian control was restored in 1973.  (other coups: 19601980, and 1997 )

On March 14, 1971, Col. Hafez al-Asad, from the minority Alawite branch of the Ba'ath ("Renaissance") Party, was sworn in as president of Syria. He ruled until his death in 2000. The Alawites were a minority in Sunni Syria, a sub-sect of the Shiites often criticized as lacking in piety (for example, drinking of wine was permitted on festive occasions).

In Libya in 1971, Col. Qaddafi nationalized British Petroleum operations. Bahrain and Qatar became independent. British forces left the Persian Gulf region.

One day before independence of the United Arab Emirates was granted by Great Britain in 1971, Iran occupied strategic islands in the Persian Gulf.

Also in 1971, Iran's Mohammed Reza Shah and his queen staged a gargantuan celebration to mark Iran's 2,500th anniversary. The celebration consisted of a ceremony of self-coronation catered by Maxim's of Paris at a cost of $100 million and included 25,000 bottles of wine. The Shah sculpted the event to call to mind the glories of Iran's Persian past, which deeply offended Iran's Shia clergy and devout lay people. At one point in the ceremony, the Shah stood before the tomb of Cyrus the Great and intoned, "'Sleep well, Cyrus, for we are awake.'"  (Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet (New York, Pantheon Books, 1985), 327).  Together with such policies of the Shah as his "White Revolution" (1963) this event sparked the Shia into action.  Dissident groups devoted to the overthrow of the monarchy began to spring up, and momentum began to build toward the revolution of 1979

The Congress of Morocco, ruling on the subject of Islam and family planning, determined in 1971 that birth control was permissible under Islam.

In 1971, civil war broke out between East and West Pakistan.

1972   Palestinian commandos assassinated members of the Israeli Olympic team at Munich. Eleven Israelis and five Palestinians died. Israel avenged this attack the following year.

On June 1, 1972, Iraqi President Bakr announced the nationalization of the Iraq Petroleum Company.

In Egypt, Sadat expelled 17,000 Soviet military advisors. The civil war in the southern Sudan entered a lull.

Civil war in Pakistan having ended in December, 1971, the independent nation of Bangla Desh was proclaimed in what had formerly been East Pakistan.

1973   In April, Israeli commandos, including Ehud Barak who would serve as Foreign Minister in Shimon Peres' government in 1996 and become Prime Minister himself in 1999, entered Beirut and, with Barak disguised as a woman, assassinated three PLO officials whom Israel claimed had been involved in the attack on Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972.

On July 17, 1973 in Afghanistan, former Prime Minister Sardar Mohammed Daud deposed his cousin and brother-in-law King Zahir Shah (1914-2007) who had ruled since 1933.  Zahir went into exile in Rome and the Durrani Dynasty, which had ruled Afghanistan since 1761, came to an end.  Daud declared Afghanistan a republic. The new republic lasted only one year (see).  (see also Communist takeover in 1978)

On September 1, 1973, Libya seized control of all foreign oil companies in the country and completely nationalized three American oil companies.

October 6 - 24, 1973: The Fourth Arab-Israeli War.

Elsewhere during the year, an Arab summit in Algiers declared the PLO the only representative of the Palestinian people.

An Arab oil boycott, in tandem with price hikes and production cutbacks, put pressure on Israel and its supporters. An astronomical rise in oil and gas prices in the U.S. (which was dependent on the Arab region for 6% of its oil needs) was accompanied by shortages and long lines at fuel pumps.  In 1973, the US was dependent on the Arabs for 6% of its oil needs. (In the Fall of 1989, by comparison, the US was dependent on the Arabs for 30% of its oil.)

In Israel, the right-of-center Likud ("Consolidation") Party was formed in 1973 through a union of the Laam, Gahal, and Free Center movements largely through the leadership of General Ariel Sharon (born 1928), who became embittered after he was passed over for a command assignment (Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Third Edition (New York:  St. Martin's Press, 1996), 232).  Likud became heir to the revisionist ideas of Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky and the underground Irgun organization.  In the December 1973 elections Likud made a good showing even though it lost to Labor. Likud's first electoral victory came in 1977. Both Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu became prominent Likud politicians at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries.


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