Arab Israeli Conflict History Essay Ideas

The Middle East region has probably suffered more rivalry and conflict than any other part of the world. The 1948 Arab-Israeli war was the first instance of a bloody and hostile battle, triggered by the declaration of Israel’s independence on 14 May 1948 (Schulze 1999, p. 13). The 1948 war was caused by a number of ‘international and intraregional factors’ intertwining to create a complex situation and catalyst for war (Hurewitz 1952, p. 73). The war resulted in Israel’s victory, yet had significant consequences on not only regional politics of this area, but also international relations, which are still visible today. It is a highly complex and intricate topic which has been subject to great historiographical debate (Schulze 1999, p. 17). This essay will discuss three key causes: Zionism, Arab nationalism and British foreign policy, and four important consequences: the loss of life, the problem of Palestinian refugees, Arab divisions and territory changes.

These historic two movements of Arab nationalism and Zionism had been building up significantly since the nineteenth century with the aims of achieving ‘emancipation and self-determination’, both evolving around ‘the concepts of identity, nationhood, history, religion and culture’ (Schulze 1999, p. 1). The Classic Zionist idea originated in the ‘deep-rooted biblical tradition’ in the idea of a proclaimed ‘land of Israel’ where Jewish independence would be restored (Cohen 1987, p. 33).  However, it was within the context of centuries of European anti-Semitism and persecution that modern political Zionism arose. The ‘ideological foundation’ was based on the following: ‘the Jewish people constituted a nation and this nationhood needed to be affirmed; assimilation was rejected’ as it was neither desirable nor possible. Furthermore the idea that anti-Semitism could ‘only be overcome by physical separation from Europe and by self-determination’ made Zionism popular (Schulze 1999, p. 1). The ‘religious and cultural ties to the Land of Israel made Palestine the logical territorial claim’ and was perceived as the ‘only viable and permanent solution to the problem of the Jews’ (Schulze 1999, p. 2). Therefore Zionism promoted the belief that Jews were entitled to Palestine and fuelled their zeal in pursuing their fight and struggle to have self-determination. Moreover, the holocaust in Europe ‘generated a renewed and intense determination’ to create a Jewish state (Bell 2001, p. 171). Without Zionism, Arab-Israeli conflicts may never have occurred as the Jews perhaps would have had no desire to create a Jewish state, or at least not enough organisation and support to do so.

Arab nationalism, on the other hand, was born out of the shared language, religion (Islam) and history of the Middle East region and therefore Arab nationalists ‘aspired to political co-operation’ through the Arab League (Bell 2001, p. 176).  Modern Arab nationalism arose at the end of the eighteenth century, partly as opposition to European colonialism, which they believed was ‘superfluous in its attainment’ (Schulze 1999, pp. 2-3). The Arabs often perceived western rulers to be pro-Israel. To Arab nationalist radicals, Israel was not just an enemy because of the ‘injustice against their brethren in Palestine’, but also because of its ‘close association with what it perceived as Western imperialist aspirations towards the region’, particularly in regard to oil reserves (Hinchcliffe et al. 2001, p. 13). As a result of this, when the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish state, this confirmed their criticisms and suspicions of the West. Arab leaders did not understand why they should have to suffer as a result the holocaust (Bell 2001, p. 172).  Therefore Arab nationalism was an important cause of the 1948 war as it gave Arab nations a common enemy, enabling them to unite and fight against not only Zionism, but also western power. It can even be argued that the Arabs worsened the situation by boycotting The United Nations Special Committee for Palestine (UNSCOP). This was intended to consider the views of both Arabs and Jews in the area, and tried to improve tensions (Schulze 1999, p. 11).

Another arguable cause of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war is the impact of British foreign policy and consequently United Nations’ (UN) policy regarding the Middle East. After the First World War, both sides (Zionists and Arab nationalists) ‘believed Palestine had been promised to them’ by the British (Schulze 1999, p. 5). Therefore there were already inconsistencies in British policy as neither side knew where they stood. After the Second World War, Britain held the mandate for Palestine. However the circumstances were ‘utterly transformed by the massacre of European Jews by Nazi Germany’. Due to the ‘wave of sympathy’ felt towards the persecuted Jews of Europe along with the sense of responsibility, ‘Britain came under increasing pressure to permit Jewish immigration into Palestine’, especially from America (Bell 2001, p. 171).  The British were in an impossible situation, caught between two conflicting but understandable viewpoints. Therefore they decided to hand the problem over to the UN and withdrew from Palestine in 1948.  The UN established a Special Committee for Palestine (UNSCOP), which came to the same conclusion as previous commissions: that the Jewish and Arab claims were of ‘equal validity’ and that ‘the only viable solution to the conflict was the separation of the two communities’ (Schulze 1999, p. 11). Therefore UNSCOP drew up the Partition Plan. However, this was naturally problematic, and as a result, both Jews and Arabs ‘started to arm themselves’ (Schulze 1999, p. 12). Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan, arguing that it was ‘inherently biased and ignored the legitimate rights of Palestinians’ (Hinchcliffe et al. 2001, p. 11).

There have been several major consequences of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. One main obvious consequence was of course the destruction and loss of life. Not only was there the loss of life from soldiers in both sides, but also innocents were murdered. For example, the Deir Yassin massacre witnessed the death of 245 men, women and children. Moreover, the same month, the Arabs retaliated, killing 77 mainly Jewish doctors and nurses (Ovendale 1999, p. 135).

Another major consequence of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 was the problem of Palestinian refugees. By the end of the war, the UN estimated that the total refugee population by June 1949 was 940,000 from 369 Palestinian towns and villages. However there are disputes over how many Palestinians actually left, as sources vary (Schulze 1999, p. 16). Regardless of the exact number, the truth remains that there was a significant number of Palestinians who were left homeless as a result of the war. It is the solution to this problem which caused further dispute between Arabs and Jews. The Jewish argument was that Palestinians should be integrated into the Arab states, whereas the Arabs argued that refugees should be able to return to their rightful homes (Schulze 1999, p. 16).

The Arab defeat also had significant consequences. Firstly it demonstrated the lack of united aims and cooperation between the so-called Arab League. The Arab governments ‘all pursued their own objectives’, with King Abdullah of Transjordan willing to accept a Jewish state in return for territorial gains. Therefore the Arab states were divided, with Palestine playing a fairly passive role (Bell 2001, p. 174). However, most significantly, the Arab defeat had ‘important domestic repercussions’. It ‘de-legitimised the existing leadership, leading to revolutions, military coups and instability’ (Schulze 1999, p. 15). For example in Syria, the 1948 defeat was a ‘great tragedy’ and a ‘personal failure’ considered a ‘national calamity’ (Freedman 1979, p. 259). This had an impact on future wars.

Another consequence of the Arab-Israeli war was the territory changes. For Israel this was arguably positive, having increased its territory by 21 per cent in comparison to the partition resolution boundaries. Contrarily, this could also be viewed as negative as it increased hostility from the Arabs who believed Israel should have no land whatsoever. The Arab states increased their territory, with Transjordan gaining the West Bank and Egypt gaining the Gaza strip. This all proves that the Arabs also had the intention of expanding their power and territory. Palestine, however, ‘lost any possibility of a state of their own’ due to the acquisition of land of the Arabs or Israel (Schulze 1999, p.15). To this day, ‘partition remains controversial among Palestinians’. It has been considered that the Palestinians have undergone ‘extraordinary change since 1948’ having been transformed into a ‘mobile people’ (Freedman 1979, p. 218).

To summarise, having analysed Zionism, Arab nationalism and British foreign policy as three key causes of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, as well as three major consequences of the war, this essay can conclude that the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was a highly complex conflict with its origins going as far back as biblical times. The impacts of the First and Second World War contributed to the foreign policy of the British in handing over the Palestine Mandate to the UN, which consequently resulted in the declaration of independence for Israel. It was this declaration which created uproar amongst Jews and Arabs alike, and instigated the war. The consequences of this war have been catastrophic in shaping Middle Eastern politics even until today. Hinchcliffe states that ‘while major military confrontation between Israel and its Arab neighbours’ has not occurred since 1982, the ‘absence of meaningful peace’ has continued to the end of the century (Hinchcliffe 2001, p. 9).


Bell, P. M. H. (2001) The World Since 1945 – An International History, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Cohen, M. J. (1987) The Origins and Evolution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, London: University of California Press Ltd.

Fraser, T. G. (1980) The Middle East 1914-1979, Documents of Modern History, London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd.

Freedman, R. O. (ed) (1979) World Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Oxford: Pergamon Press Inc.

Hurewitz, J. C. (1952) ‘Arab-Israel Tensions’, Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, 24:4, pp. 73-81

Milton-Edwards, B. and Hinchcliffe, P. (2001) Conflicts in the Middle-East since 1945, London: Routledge

O’Ballance, E. (1957) ‘The Arab-Israeli War, 1948’,  Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, [Review by Duker, A. G.] 313, pp. 175-176   

Ovendale, R. (ed) (1999) The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Wars, Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

Schulze, K. E. (1999) The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

Young, J. W. and Kent, J. (ed) (2013) International relations since 1945, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Written by: Selina Kaur Rai
Written at: University of Leicester
Written for: Professor Mark Phythian
Written: 11/2013

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International Effects of the Yom Kippur War The Arab-Israeli War of 1973 was an armed conflict between Israel and the Arab countries of Egypt and Syria, fought during the month of October 1973. Egypt and Syria initiated the conflict to regain territories that Israel had occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967. Although both sides suffered heavy losses during the 1973 war, Israel retained control of the territories. Because the conflict began on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and took place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the war is also called the Yom Kippur War by Israelis and the Ramadan War or the October War by Arabs. Although it brought about no significant changes to territorial boundaries, the 1973 war and its aftermath had far-ranging effects on the participant nations and their relations with world superpowers. Egypt moved steadily away from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which had provided military and economic aid to Egypt since the 1950 s, and into a closer relationship with the United States.

Syria emerged from the war as the staunchest defender of Arab rights and the closest Middle Eastern ally of the USSR. In Israel, the war increased criticism of the country's leaders, who eventually resigned. Finally, the war signaled an increased commitment by the United States to negotiate and guarantee Arab-Israeli agreements. Such agreements would center on the return of Israeli-held lands to Arab control, in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel and security guarantees. The long-standing conflict between Jews and Arabs over control of historic Palestine had resulted in wars in 1948, 1956, and 1967.

The Arab opposition to the Jewish state of Israel included neighboring Arab states and, after 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a political body working to create a state for Palestinian Arabs. In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, previously controlled by Egypt; the Golan Heights, formerly belonging to Syria; and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, formerly administered by Jordan. Later that year, the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal from these areas in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's independence and security. However, neither side met these conditions, and cross-border attacks and reprisals continued. In 1969 Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser launched a campaign on the Suez Canal known as the War of Attrition. The conflict, which did not escalate into a full-scale war, ended with a U.

S. -brokered cease-fire in 1970. In the early 1970 s Nasser's successor, Anwar al-Sadat, pushed for Israeli withdrawal through diplomatic means, while simultaneously preparing Egypt's military for war. Each year the UN passed resolutions calling for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Israel refused to withdraw, and the United States suffered criticism from the international community for its support of Israel. Meanwhile, the stalemate continued. Arab nations generally refused to negotiate until Israel withdrew.

Israel, which refused to withdraw without guarantees of peace and security, fortified its positions in the occupied Arab territories. Neither the United States nor Israel believed that Arab forces could challenge Israel's proven military power. The USSR, which had supported the Arab nations during previous wars with Israel and had resupplied Egypt militarily, knew that Egypt was preparing for war, but underestimated Sadat's commitment to use a military option against Israel. Furthermore, neither Washington nor Moscow was fully aware of the profound differences in policy between the Egyptian and Syrian leaders. Although the ultimate goal for both leaders was to regain their territories from Israel, Sadat was willing to combine military means with the initiation of a diplomatic process, whereas Syrian president Hafez al-Assad did not want to sign any agreement with Israel that might recognize Israel's legitimacy. Sadat, unlike Assad, also was willing to orient Egypt's foreign policy away from the USSR and toward the United States.

With mounting economic pressures at home, Sadat believed that the United States, rather than the USSR, would help Egypt more in the long term. Despite these differences, mutual frustration and impatience with the diplomatic status quo led Sadat and Assad to plan an attack in collusion. Because the two Arab leaders were focused more on their own particular national interests, rather than on other Arab-Israeli issues such as the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem and the issue of Palestinian statehood, they omitted Jordan and the PLO from the planning of the war. Egypt and Syria launched their attack against Israel on October 6, 1973.

It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. With much of its citizen army in synagogues, its national radio off the air, and its people in a generally relaxed mood, Israel was caught off guard by the coordinated attacks. Israeli intelligence sources had discounted the probability of an Arab assault, and Israel's military was not fully prepared for war. Sadat's armies quickly crossed the Suez Canal. In doing so, Egypt overcame the Israeli string of fortifications along the canal's east bank known as the Bar-Lev line, which Israel had believed to be impenetrable.

Egypt established strongholds to defend its position. Aware of his army's limited firepower, Sadat did not order an advance across all of the Israeli-held Sinai. Instead, his armies took a small slice of land along the entire length of the canal's east bank. Meanwhile, Syrian forces advanced into the Golan Heights. During the first week of the war, both Syria and Egypt could have done more damage to Israel's army, taken more territory, and inflicted severe damage on Israeli civilian centers.

However, both armies failed to take advantage of their early gains, Israel's lack of preparedness, and initial Israeli losses. Irregular and inaccurate communications between Cairo, Egypt, and Damascus, Syria, and between Moscow and these Arab capitals, inhibited additional Arab military successes. By mid-October, Israel had mobilized its troops and launched a series of counterattacks on both fronts. Despite severe initial casualties, Israeli forces retook the land that Syria had captured and pushed past the Syrian border, soon making their way within artillery range of Damascus. Meanwhile, Israel launched a counteroffensive against Egypt, crossing the Suez Canal, advancing into Egypt, and surrounding Egypt's Third Army.

By the end of the war, Israeli forces had advanced to within 60 miles of Cairo and 25 miles of Damascus. However, Israel saw no political reason to occupy the two Arab capitals. The precarious state in which the Arab armies found themselves hastened the war's conclusion. It also prompted immediate intervention by the United States, which had supplied weapons to Israel during the fighting, and by the Soviet Union, which had supplied the Arab forces. Israel's threat to eradicate the Egyptian Third Army prompted U.

S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger to visit Moscow to negotiate a cease-fire resolution with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. On October 22 the UN passed the resolution, which also called for direct negotiations between the Israelis and Arabs. Israel and Egypt both broke the terms of the cease-fire, and Israel continued its encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army.

Brezhnev, viewing an Egyptian defeat as potentially destabilizing to Sadat's government, implied in communications with U. S. president Richard Nixon that Israel's failure to halt military actions would prompt a Soviet response, including intervention to preserve the Third Army. In response, Kissinger asked for and received Nixon's permission to put American troops on a nuclear alert. Both the Soviets and the Americans almost immediately stepped back from a confrontation. A final cease-fire took effect on October 25.

Israel's desire to have its prisoners of war returned, combined with the precarious existence of the Egyptian Third Army, hastened military talks between Israel and Egypt. These talks took place at Kilometer 101 of the Cairo-Suez Road from October 28 until late November. Kissinger, desiring greater American participation, arranged a Middle East peace conference with the United States and the Soviet Union as chairs, to continue the negotiations. The conference convened in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 21. Although Jordan participated, Syria declined to attend, and the PLO was not invited.

After two days of public posturing, the conference was suspended and failed to reconvene. During the next two years, Kissinger used a negotiating technique called "shuttle diplomacy, " flying back and forth between the Arab capitals and Israel and acting as a mediator. This technique yielded the first Egyptian-Israeli military disengagement agreement, calling for Israel's withdrawal back across the Suez Canal and the restoration in January 1974 of a UN peacekeeping force in the canal zone. (The UN force had been instituted after the 1956 war and was in place until 1967. ) In May 1974 Syria and Israel, with Kissinger's help, concluded a disengagement agreement by which Israel returned Syrian territory captured in the 1973 war, along with the town of Al Qunaytirah in the Golan region. It also established a UN buffer zone between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan. A second Egyptian-Israeli agreement was concluded in September 1975. Although the war yielded no immediate territorial concessions, it had many far-reaching effects on the wider Arab-Israeli conflict.

While Arab casualties were far greater than Israeli casualties, both sides claimed victory. The Arab forces had proven that they could launch a successful coordinated attack. With their initial gains, they shattered the myth of Israel's invincibility that had persisted since the 1967 war. Meanwhile, despite significant early losses, Israel had successfully regrouped in a matter of days, pushing the Arab forces back beyond the 1967 borders. While the war did not affect Syria's close alignment with the Soviet Union and strong opposition to the United States and Israel, it initiated drastic changes in Egypt's foreign relations. Kissinger's newly developing relationship with Sadat reduced Soviet influence over Egypt and brought the country closer to the United States.

Each successful agreement also generated trust between Israel and Egypt. Both of these developments established the foundation for the U. S. -brokered Camp David Accords in 1978, which led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979. However, Egypt's improved relations with the United States and Israel also led to its separation and isolation from inter-Arab affairs in the 1980 s. Meanwhile, the diplomatic successes of the United States in the aftermath of the war made it the preferred mediator, confidant, and diplomatic guarantor of Arabs and Israelis alike in future negotiations.

The 1973 war also marked the first successful use of oil as a political weapon in the Arab-Israeli conflict. From October 1973 to November 1974, the oil-producing Arab countries maintained an embargo on oil exports to Western nations friendly to Israel, causing gasoline shortages and inflated oil prices. The embargo had a particularly negative effect on the U. S. economy. Finally, the war caused internal problems in Israel.

The Israeli military's lack of readiness called into question the capabilities of the country's leaders. The results of an ensuing investigation were highly critical of the military, prompting the resignations of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir and defense minister Moshe Dayan. Bibliography: Bibliography Armitage, M. J. , & Mason, R. A. (1985).

Air Power in the Nuclear Age. Urbana, Ill. : University of Illinois Press. Ball, B. (Ed. ). (1998). The River Jordan: An Illustrated Guide from Bible Days to the Present. Carta, Jerusalem: Carta Publications.

Epstein, L. (1998, September 28). Yom Kippur War: 25 Years Later. Jewish Bulletin of Northern California [Online]. Available: web bk 980925 / 1 arab 25. htm. Kimmerling, B. & Medal, J.

S. (1994). Palestinians: The Making of a People. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard U. P. Laqueur, W. , & Rubin, B. (Eds. ). (1995). The Israel-Arab Reader.

New York, NY: Penguin Books. Morris, B. (1999). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881 - 1999. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Rabinovitch, A. (1998, October 15).

Yom Kippur War: 25 Years Later. The Jerusalem Post: Internet Edition [Online]. Available: web 15. Oct. 1998 /Features/Article- 8. htmlSchulzinger, R. (1989). Henry Kissinger: Doctor of Diplomacy.

New York, NY: Columbia U. P. Tessler, M. (1994). A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Bloomington, Ind. : Indiana U.


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