Myths and Facts About the Middle East Wars

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Myths and Facts about The Wars

-The 1948 War
-The 1956 War
-The 1967 war
-The 1973 War
-The 1982 war

Since the establishment of Israel there have been five major wars between Arabs and the Israelis. These wars occurred in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982. Israel claims that the Arabs started all the wars. Although there has been low-intensity conflict in the intervening years and major conflagrations during the “War of Attrition” in 1969-1970 and the 1978 invasion of Lebanon, massive civil disobedience during the Uprising of 1988, and in 2000-2001 during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, it is these five wars Israel refers to when it makes its claims, creating the impression that Israel has only acted “in self-defence”.

-The 1948 War


The roots of the 1948 war go as far back as the first recognition on the part of the Palestinians that the Zionists wished to establish a Jewish state on their land. In late 1947 the United Nations proposed that Palestine be divided into a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state. The UN Partition Plan recommended that 55 percent of Palestine, and the most fertile region, be given to the Jewish settlers who compromised 30 percent of the population. The remaining 45 percent of Palestine was to comprise a home for the other 70 percent of the population who were Palestinians. The Palestinians rejected the plan because it was unfair. Israel and its supporters claim that the Arabs first attacked in Janurary 1948 and then invaded Israel in May 1948.


The truth is that by May 1948 Zionist forces had already invaded and occupied large parts of the land which had been allocated to the Palestinians by the UN Partition Plan. In January 1948 Israel did not yet exist.

The evidence that Israel started the 1948 war comes from Zionist sources. The History of the Palmach which was released in portions in the 1950s (and in full in 1972) details the efforts made to attack the Palestinian Arabs and secure more territory than alloted to the Jewish state by the UN Partition Plan (Kibbutz Menchad Archive, Palmach Archive, Efal, Israel). Already, Zionist forces were implementing their “Plan Dalet” to “control the area given to us [the Zionists] by the U.N. in addition to areas occupied by Arabs which were outside these borders and the setting up of forces to counter the possible invasion of Arab armies after May 15” (Qurvot 1948, p. 16, which covers the operations of Haganah and Palmach, see also Ha Sepher Ha Palmach, The Book of Palmach).

1. Operation Nachson, 1 April 1948
2. Operation Harel, 15 April 1948
3. Operation Misparayim, 21 April 1948
4. Operation Chametz, 27 April 1948
5. Operation Jevuss, 27 April 1948
6. Operation Yiftach, 28 April 1948
7. Operation Matateh, 3 May 1948
8. Operation Maccabi, 7 May 1948

9. Operation Gideon, 11 May 1948
10. Operation Barak, 12 May 1948
11. Operation Ben Ami, 14 May 1948
12. Operation Pitchfork, 14 May 1948
13. Operation Schfifon, 14 May 1948

The operations 1-8 indicate operations carried out before the entry of the Arab forces inside the areas allotted by the UN to the Arab state. It has to be noted that of thirteen specific full-scale operations under Plan Dalet eight were carried out outside the area “given” by the UN to the Zionists.

Following is a list drawn from the New York Times of the major military operations the Zionists mounted before the British evacuated Palestine and before the Arab forces entered Palestine:

* Qazaza (21 Dec. 1947)
* Sa’sa (16 Feb. 1948)
* Haifa (21 Feb. 1948)
* Salameh (1 March 1948)
* Biyar Adas (6 March 1948)
* Qana (13 March 1948)
* Qastal (4 April 1948)
* Deir Yassin (9 April 1948)
* Lajjun (15 April 1948)
* Saris (17 April 1948)
* Tiberias (20 April 1948)
* Haifa (22 April 1948)
* Jerusalem (25 April 1948)
* Jaffa (26 April 1948)
* Acre (27 April 1948)
* Jerusalem (1 May 1948)
* Safad (7 May 1948)
* Beisan (9 May 1948).

David Ben-Gurion confirms this in an address delivered to American Zionists in Jerusalem on 3 September 1950:

“Until the British left, no Jewish settlement, however remote, was entered or seized by the Arabs, while the Haganah, under severe and frequent attack, captured many Arab positions and liberated Tiberias and Haifa, Jaffa and Safad” (Ben-Gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1954, p. 530).

Although late PM Ben-Gurion speaks of “liberating” Jaffa it was alloted to the Palestinians by the UN Partition Plan.

Late PM Menachem Begin adds: “In the months preceding the Arab invasion, and while the five Arab states were conducting preparations, we continued to make sallies into Arab territory. The conquest of Jaffa stands out as an event of first-rate importance in the struggle for Hebrew independence early in May, on the eve [that is, before the alleged Arab invasion] of the invasion by the five Arab states” (Menachem Begin, The Revolt, Nash, 1972, p. 348)

On 12 December 1948 David Ben Gurion confirmed the fact that the Zionists started the war in 1948: “As April began, our War of Independence swung decisively from defense to attack. Operation ‘Nachson’…was launched with the capture of Arab Hulda near where we stand today and of Deir Muheisin and culminated in the storming of Qastel, the great hill fortress near Jerusalem” (Ben Gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1954, p. 106).

Israeli historians have themselves refuted the claim that the Arabs started the 1948 war. Benny Morris uncovered a report from the Israeli Defense Force Intelligence Branch (30 June 1948) that shows a deliberate Israeli policy to attack the Arabs should they resist and expel the Palestinians (Benny Morris, “The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Branch Analysis of June 1948”, Middle Eastern Studies, XXII, January 1986, pp. 5-19).


In sum, it is not true that the Arabs “invaded Israel” in 1948. First, Israel did not exist at the time of the alleged invasion as an established state with recognised bounderies. When the Zionist leaders established Israel on 15 May 1948 they purposely declined to declare the bounderies of the new state in order to allow for future expansion.

Secondly, the only territory to which the new state of Israel had even a remote claim was that alloted to the Jewish state by the UN Partition Plan. But the Zionists had already attacked areas that were alloted to the Palestinian Arab state.

Thirdly, those areas which the Arab states purportedly “invaded” were, in fact, exclusively areas alloted to the Palestinian Arab state proposed by the UN Partition Plan. The so-called Arab invasion was a defensive attempt to hold on to the areas alloted by the Partition Plan for the Palestinian state.

Finally, the commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, was under orders not to enter the areas alloted to the Jewish state (Sir John Bagot Glubb, “The Battle for Jerusalem”, Middle
East International, May 1973).

-The 1956 War


Israel blames the 1956 Sinai war on Egypt’s aggressive behavior, including the closing of the Suez Canal.


The facts concerning the Sinai war come from Israeli sources.

A decisive and authoritative contribution exploding the myth of Israel’s accusations are the relevations from former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett’s Personal Diary (Moshe Sharett, Yoman Ishi, Ma’ariv, 1979, in Hebrew with portions trans. in Livia Rokach, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism: A Study Based on Moshe Sharett’s Personal Diary and Other Documents, AAUG, 1980).

The main reason often given for the origin of the 1956 war was Egypt’s closing of the Suez Canal. Moshe Sharett reveals that the Israeli leadership was planning the territorial conquest of the Sinai and Gaza as early as the fall of 1953. The Israeli attack on Gaza in February 1955 was undertaken as a conscious preliminary act of war. David Ben-Gurion became Prime Minister and Israel soon became very aggressive. On 28 February 1955 Israeli troops invaded Gaza killing 37 Egyptians and wounding 31. The attack came out of the blue. Egyptian President Gamal Nasser said it “was revenge for nothing. Everything was quiet there” (Kennett Love, Suez: the Twice Fought War, McGraw-Hill, 1969, p. 83). The Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation, Swedish General Carl von Horn, confirmed Nasser’s claim, asserting that there had been “comparative tranquility along the armistice demarcation lines during the greater part of the period November 1954 to February 1955” (Report to the Security Council, UN Doc. S3373, 17 March 1955).

In the 1950s few people believed that Nasser had aggressive intentions towards Israel. Richard Grossman, a British Zionist, wrote in 1955 that: “not only Egypt, but the whole Middle East must pray that Nasser survives the assassin’s bullet. I am certain that he is a man who means what he says, and that so long as he is in power directing his middle-class revolution, Egypt will remain a factor for peace and social development” (Richard Grossman, New Statesman and Nation, 22 January 1955).

The Gaza raid changed everything. Arab public opinion was outraged and demanded action, as it was intended to. Nasser needed arms to equip his army which was hopelessly outgunned by Israel. Western Intelligence was convinced that Egypt had no intention of attacking Israel. The Americans rebuffed Nasser in any case and Egypt turned to the Russians who orchestrated the famous Czech arms deal which was used by Israel for feigned outrage. The Russians had also used the Czechs to supply arms to Israel in 1948.

Nasser did not realise that he was being set up for the Israeli invasion, although he did recognise that the situation was heating up. In October 1955, a year before the war, Israeli PM David Ben-Gurion ordered his Chief of Staff, General Moshe Dayan, to prepare invasion plans. Ben Gurion was determined, according to Dayan, “not to miss any politically favorable opportunity to strike at Egypt” (Moshe Dayan, Diary of the Sinai Campaign, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966, p. 37).

Dayan expressed the hopes of the Israeli leadership when he said in December 1955: “One of these days a situation will be created which makes military action possible” (Kennet Love, Suez: The Twice Fought War, McGraw-Hill, 1969, p. 106).

The opportunity to make war against Egypt came in July 1956 when Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, an act within the legal right of the Egyptian state. The Suez Canal was controlled by foreigners in 1956 and represented an important vestige of colonialism affronting the Arab people. Nasser’s action was popular although, in hindsight, politically cataclysmic. France and Britain, in one of the last spasms of European colonialism, colluded in a secret alliance with Israel to invade the Sinai and destroy Nasser. On 29 October 1956 Israel attacked Egypt and occupied the entire Sinai. French war equipment poured into Israel and French and British warships bombarded the Egyptian coast.

French and British troops landed and helped the Israeli armed forces. Eisenhower, who had been in the dark about the invasion plans and the secret alliance, demanded that Israeli forces withdraw from Egyptian territory. Israel refused, leading Eisenhower to exclaim: “Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of U.N. disapproval be allowed to impose conditions on its own withdrawal? If we agree that armed attack can properly achieve the purpose of the assailant, then I fear we will have turned back the clock of international order…” (Address to the nation, 20 February 1957).

-The 1967 War


Israel claims that its attack against Egypt in June 1967 was a defensive measure to prevent Gamal Abdel Nasser from attacking.


Israel began planning the re-conquest of the Sinai soon after its forced withdrawal in 1956. In 1967, as in 1956, Israel waited for favorable circumstances to put its plan into action.

In 1967, however, Israel had a greater appreciation of the necessity and utility of a sophisticated publicity campaign, waged through the international media, to convince Western opinion that any Israeli military actions could only be construed as acts of self-defense. This publicity campaign was two-pronged: stressing that the Arabs attacked Israel and that Israel was in danger of annihilation. Both presuppositions were patently false.

In the early hours of 5 June 1967, Israel announced to a credulous Western world that the Egyptian Air Force had initiated hostile actions. In fact, it was the Israelis who had attacked the Egyptians and destroyed virtually the entire Egyptian Air Force while its fleet was still on the ground.

General Matityahu Peled, one of the architects of the Israeli conquest, committed what the Israeli public considered blasphemy when he admitted the true thinking of the Israeli leadership: “The thesis that the danger of genocide was hanging over us in June 1967 and that Israel was fighting for its physical existence is only bluff, which was born and developed after the war” (Ha’aretz, 19 March 1972). Israeli Air Force General Ezer Weizmann declared bluntly that “there was never any danger of extermination” (Ma’ariv, 19 April 1972). Mordechai Bentov, a former Israeli cabinet minister, also dismissed the myth of Israel’s imminent annihilation: “All this story about the danger of extermination has been a complete invention and has been blown up a posteriori to justify the annexation of new Arab territories” (Al Hamishmar, 14 April 1972).

After the 1967 war Israel, claimed it invaded because of imminent Arab attack. It claimed that Nasser’s closing of the Straits of Tiran constituted an act of war. It also cited Syrian shelling on the demilitarized zone of the Syrian-Israeli border. The claim that the Arabs were going to invade appears particularly ludicrous when one recalls that a third of Egypt’s army was in Yemen and therefore quite unprepared to launch a war. On the Syrian front, Israel was engaging in threats and provocations that evidenced many similarities to its behavior in the lead up to the Gaza raid of 1955.

The demilitarized zone on the Syrian-Israeli border was established by agreement on 20 July 1949. Israeli provocations were incessant and enabled Israel to increase and extend its sovereignty by encroachment over the entire Arab area. According to one UN Chief of Staff, Arab villagers were evicted and their homes destroyed (E.L.M. Burns, Between Arab and Israeli, Ivan Obolensky, 1962, pp. 113-114).

Another Chief of Staff described how the Israelis ploughed up Arab land and “advanced the ‘frontier’ to their own advantage” (Carl von Horn, Soldiering for Peace, Cassell, 1966, p. 79). Israel attempted to evict the Arabs living on the Golan and annex the demilitarized zone. When the Syrians inevitably responded, Israel claimed that “peaceful” Israeli farmers were being shelled by the Syrians. Unmentioned was the fact that the “farmers” were armed and using tractors and farm equipment to encroach on the demilitarized zone (David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch: the Roots of Violence in the Middle East, Faber and Faber, 1984, pp. 213-15). This was part of a “premeditated Israeli policy [..] to get all the Arabs out of the way by fair means or foul.”

Shortly after the Syrian response on 7 April 1967, the Israeli Air Force attacked Syria, shooting down six planes, hitting thirty fortified positions and killing about 100 people (Hirst, op. cit., p. 214). It was unlikely that any Syrian guns would have been fired if not for Israel’s provocation. Israel’s need for water also played a role in the 1967 attack. The invasion completed Israel’s encirclement of the headwaters of the Upper Jordan River, its capture of the West Bank and the two aquifers arising there, which currently supply all the groundwater for northern and central Israel.

The Israelis followed-up their massive retaliation with stern warnings. On 11 May 1967, General Yitzhak Rabin said on Israeli radio: “The moment is coming when we will march on Damascus to overthrow the Syrian Government” (Godfrey Jansen, “New Light on the 1967 War”, Daily Star, London, 15, 22, 26 November 1973). Syria sought Egypt’s assistance under their Mutual Defense Pact of November 1966. Nasser could not afford to stand idly by. He ordered the removal of the small UN force stationed in Sinai and closed the Straits of Tiran. This action provided the casus belli that Israel soon invoked.

Nasser’s move was a gesture of solidarity with Syria and no threat to Israel’s economy or its security. The closure of the Straits did not force Israel into war. Claims of economic strangulation were absurd since only 5 percent of Israel’s trade depended on free movement through the Straits of Tiran. No Israeli merchant vessel had passed through the Straits during the previous two years (Michael Howard and Robert Hunter, Israel and the Arab World: the Crisis of 1967, Adelphi Papers 41, Institute for Strategic Studies, 1967, p. 24).

In sum, the threat to Israel’s survival in 1967 was non-existent. According to the British newspaper The Observer, Nasser’s purpose was clearly “to deter Israel rather than provoke it to a fight” (The Observer, London, 4 June 1967). New York Times columnist James Reston reported that “Egypt does not war […] certainly is not ready for war” (New York Times, 4 and 5 June 1967).

The Israelis themselves were perfectly aware of this, given their sophisticated military intelligence capabilities. Later, in the first few days of the war, they were so concerned that their plans for attacking Syria would be discovered that they deliberately attacked the USS Liberty, killing 33 American sailors, in an attempt to prevent it from monitoring war preparations.

A few months after the war, Yitzhak Rabin remarked: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai on 14 May would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it” (Le Monde, 29 February 1968).

Israeli General Peled was even more frank: “To pretend that the Egyptian forces massed on our frontiers were in a position to threaten the existence of Israel constitutes an insult not only to the intelligence of anyone capable of analyzing this sort of situation, but above all an insult to the Zahal [Israeli army]” (Ha’aretz, 19 March 1972).

Finally, in 1982, the Israelis admitted that they had started the war (although official Zionist propaganda in the United States still does not acknowledge this fact). Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in a speech delivered at the Israeli National Defense College, clearly stated that: “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him” (Jerusalem Post, 20 August 1982).

-The 1973 War


The 1973 war – the Yum Kipur war – holds a special place in Israeli mythology. Again, the myth is that Israel was attacked unprovoked, that its existence was again at stake, and that Israelis were at the periloud risk of annihilation.


After coming to power in late 1970, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat indicated to the United States that he was willing to negotiate with Israel to resolve the conflict in exchange for Egyptian territory lost in 1967. In February 1971 he offered a full peace treaty to Israel, which it rejected, although international consensus supported the Sadat offer which conformed to the US position (John Kimche, There Could Have Been Peace, Dial, 1973, p. 286).

When these overtures were ignored by Washington and Tel Aviv, Egypt and Syria launched an coordinated action in October 1973 against Israeli forces occupying the Egyptian Sinai and Syrian Golan Heights. The devastating defeat of 1967 left Israel in control of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai. Israel rapidly moved to incorporate these occupied territories into its domain. Israel illegally annexed Jerusalem and began establishing colonial settlements in all the occupied territories.

It was clear that the Arab World could not go on indefinitely watching Israel expel Egyptians, Syrians and Palestinians while installing Jewish settlers in their thousands. By 1973 nearly 100 settlements had been established and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been displaced, expelled, imprisoned or deported.

On 6 October 1973 the Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai and on the Golan Heights in an attempt to liberate their territory occupied by Israel. The Secretary-General of the Arab League explained the Arab action: “In a final analysis, Arab action is justifiable, moral and valid under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. There is no aggression, no attempt to acquire new territories. But to restore and liberate all the occupied territories is a duty for all able self-respecting peoples” (Sunday Times, 14 October 1973).

-The 1982 War


In 1982, Israel claimed that its military objective was to attack, not Lebanon, but the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in order to ‘safeguard the
Galilee region from enemy artillery and infiltration’.


The facts are that Israel invaded Lebanon on 6 June 1982 in order to totally destroy the PLO, not only its insignificant military capability, but also all of its civilian functions.

The other basic war aim was described by Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon: “The bigger the blow and the more we damage the PLO infrastructure, the more the Arabs in Judea and Samaria, [the Biblical name for the West Bank used for obvious political reasons by Israel] and Gaza will be ready to negotiate with us” — The Times, 5 August 1982 — Israel had hoped that, with the destruction of the PLO, Lebanon could be ripped from its Arab moorings in order to create an Israeli puppet regime of pro-Israeli Maronite Christian Lebanese, a minority of the population.

As early as 1954, David Ben-Gurion had urged that one of the “central duties” of Israel’s foreign policy should be to push the Maronite Christians to “proclaim a Christian state”. Moshe Dayan had said that: “[the] Israeli army will enter Lebanon, will occupy the neessary territory, and will create a Christian regime which will ally itself with Israel” — Livia Rokach, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, op.cit., pp. 24-30. Also see, Laura Zittrain Eisenberg: My Enemy’s Enemy: Zionist Intentions in Lebanon. The Israeli claim that it had invaded Lebanon “in self-defense” is false.

Between August 1981 and May 1982 the PLO maintained a truce, sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia, on Lebanon’s southern border. Israel, on the other hand, violated the truce 2,777 times (United Nations records cited by Robin Wright in the Christian Science Monitor, 18 March 1982; Alexander Cockburn and James Ridgeway, Village Voice, 22 June 1982). [For the most thorough, as well as the most compelling treatment of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, see Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation] Once again Israel only needed an excuse to make war. This time the casus belli was the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to London, an act determined by Scotland Yard to have been conducted by the PLO-dissent Abu Nidal group. In any case, Israel’s excuse was so flimsy that, for the first time in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israeli propaganda was not taken on board without question by the international community.

At first the Israelis operated under the pretense that they were only securing their borders and stated that they did not intend to go beyond a 25 mile limit. But the truth was very different as described by the former chief of Israeli military intelligence, Aharon Yariv: “I know in fact that going to Beirut was included in the original military plan” — Jerusalem Post, 24 September 1982. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon has no validity in international law. Israel thus had no grounds to rely on the provision of the Charter of the United Nations concerning self-defense, while the means used to effect the invasion clearly lacked proportionality. The cease-fire of July 1981 had been observed scrupulously.

The objective of the 1982 invasion and war, therefore, was to achieve certain political and strategic aims at a high cost, which included breaches of some of the most fundamental rules of international law. As for the Israeli justification for the conduct of hostilities, the principle of military necessity cannot excuse the massive number of civilian casualties which resulted from Israeli attacks on refugee camps, hospitals, schools, cultural, religious and charitable institutions, commercial and industrial premises, Lebanese government and PLO offices, diplomatic premises and urban areas generally.

Particularly heinous was the August 8th bombardment of Beirut by the Israeli Air Force, which some correspondents compared to the WWII bombing of Dresden in its ferocity. Hundreds of innocent Beiruti civilians died as a result of this war crime. [See Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem; Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation; Jean Said Makdisi, Beirut Fragments; Chris Giannou, Besieged: A Doctor in Lebanon.]

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