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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Cole: Israel to Blame for 1956 and 1967 Wars


Middle East expert Juan Cole, who usually makes a lot of sense, and is certainly very knowledgeable, seems to have a blind spot about Israel. Perhaps this is because the Arab-Israeli conflict isn't his specialty. Perhaps it's because he's heard the Arab interpretation of events too many times. Whatever the reason, his writings come across as misleading propaganda:
The United States should protect Israel from aggressive attack, if necessary. United Nations members are pledged to collective security, i.e. to protecting any member nation from aggression at the hands of another. But given that Israel is a nuclear power with a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction; given that Egypt and Jordan have long-lived peace treaties with Israel; and given that Syria and Lebanon are small weak powers, there is not in fact any serious military threat to Israel in its immediate neighborhood. In contrast, Israel launched wars against neighbors in 1956, 1967, and 1982 (all of which it won so easily as to bring into question the necessity for the wars in the first place if they were defensive).
How generous of Cole to concede that these wars might possibly have been defensive, even while doubting their necessity. Let's review the causes of the 1956 and 1967 wars. I'll ignore the 1982 war, since there Cole has the strongest case.

Israel's 1956 invasion of Egypt was provoked by two major acts of war on the part of the Egyptians. First, Egypt had been launching cross-border terrorist attacks on Israel that killed dozens each year. Second, Egypt blockaded Israel's Red Sea port.

Israel's 1967 war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan was provoked when Egypt again blockaded Israel's Red Sea port, Egypt moved large number of troops to the Israeli border, Arab leaders called for a genocidal war with Israel, and when Egypt expelled UN peacekeepers. Provocations from Syria and Jordan were fewer, excepting calls for genocide, but these countries were closely allied. For example, in the build up to the war, an Egyptian general was placed in command of Jordan's army.

So Cole doubts the necessity of these wars? Israel had tolerated Egypt's terrorist attacks for years. I suppose they could have continued to do so, but the attacks had been escalating since 1949, from theft and sabotage, to rape and murder by irregulars, to raids by Egyptian army units. In 1967, Israel could have tolerated the blockade, although it violated the international law that Cole is always invoking. They could have hoped that the expulsion of UN peacekeepers, hostile troop movements, and calls for a genocidal war were just a bluff. But waiting for the Arabs to attack on their own terms would have been foolishly suicidal.

I don't think that Cole necessarily means to deny that Israel has a right to defend itself, but by questioning the necessity and defensive nature of the 1956 and 1967 wars, that's exactly what's he's doing.

Too strong? Notice that Cole, in dismissing threats against Israel, doesn't acknowledge the two most important threats: from Iran and from Palestinian terrorism. Notice the charge that Israel "is a nuclear power with a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction." A nuclear power yes, but I'm not aware that Israel has any other WMDs: chemical or biological weapons. Perhaps Cole has in mind conventional weapons, but that is not the usual meaning of "weapons of mass destruction." Finally, notice the irony Cole's invocation of the 1967 war in calling on Israel to act less aggressively against terrorist attacks, relying instead on US and UN assistance. In 1967, the US didn't live up to its commitments to maintain Israel's access to international waterways, and UN peacekeepers fled.


Addendum.

It's instructive to review Arab leaders' calls for genocide against Israel just before the 1967 War.
In Israel, which could not but be influenced by the hourly radio reports of Arab war frenzy and announcements of Israel's impending demise, there was a feeling of a noose tightening around the nation's neck--especially among Holocaust survivors. Damascus Radio told its listeners on May 23: "Arab masses, this is your day. Rush to the battlefield...Let them know that we shall hang the last imperialist soldier with the entrails of the last Zionist." The director of the Voice of the Arabs (Cairo), Ahmed Said, chimed in: "The Zionist barracks in Palestine is about to collapse and be destroyed...Every...Arab has been living for the past 19 years on one hope--...to see the day Israel is liquidated." The prime minister of Iraq spoke of "a rendezvous with our brothers in Tel Aviv," and [PLO leader] Shukeiry declared: "[T]here will be practically no Jewish survivors." [Source: Benny Morris, "Righteous Victims," pp. 309-310.]
Egyptian dictator Nasser declared a week before the war that it wasn't Israel's Red Sea port but Israel's "existence" was at issue. A few days earlier he had declared, "If Israel wants war--well then, Israel will be destroyed!" [Morris, pp. 306 & 308.]
 
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