Israeli-Arab relations in the Middle East

Paul Fischer
Brandon Mills
HIST 351
13th April 2012

For the first fifty years of Israeli-Arab relations in the Middle East, the United States played a crucial role in mediation and the arming of both sides in the limited and escalating conflicts that arose between the new nation-state Israel and their neighbors. From the earliest point, American supported Israeli sovereignty, arming the small nation and providing the muscle necessary to permit permanent access to the Holy Lands, while acquiring a small outpost of power in the oil rich Middle East for obvious economic and strategic ends. Conflict in this region has remained at the center of media and political attention throughout the history of man. A series of conflicts, from the end of the Second World War through the Second Gulf War, are the most recent in an almost biblical stream of conflict in the region documented back to at least the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. What has separated this conflict, is not the mad pursuit of oil or drugs produced in the Middle East, but the almost atheistic refusal of nearly the entire christian world, excepting America, to participate or partake in any significant manner in the latest struggle to secure the religious holy lands.

This balance of power and the exertion of American influence through friendly regimes and various ams deals throughout the region allowed and continues to allow the American military, with the capability of striking nearly anywhere in the world in under fifteen minutes with Bill Clinton era drones, with enough oil to project considerable power. While modern internet technology such as IP addresses and sattelite imaging provide American forces with the intel needed to identify and eliminate terrorists actively working to radicalize and pervert peaceful interpretations of the Koran, and those that sympathize or support them. Although the United States has been criticized for the modern wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is necessary to understand these events as part of a historical narrative. One that is central to the Jewish and Christian faiths, as well as to Muslims. Equally important is the possibility that a limited nuclear war in the Middle East could potentially end all life on Earth. Combined with Cold War tensions, for many the Middle East was the flashpoint in which nuclear war could actually occur.
While initially neither side had nuclear arms, though Russia has engaged in warfare with Israel, after the War of Independence Israel was able to amass the third largest military in the world after the two global superpowers. Within a couple of decades the Israelis had amassed over two hundred nuclear weapons, leaving them in a strong position strategically. Fear of losing even one of these weapons, or of allowing Middle Eastern nations to
The nuclear weapons did not work as an effective deterrent against radical terrorist attacks for a couple of reasons, the first of which is unique to Islam and the Koran and the second of which is
As Egypt and Israel faced off in the sixties, the US had recently finished intervening in North Korea and would soon fight a massively ineffective war in Vietnam. Though the F-16’s that decided the brilliantly executed and carried out Israeli attacks were American made, when they created an unfair advantage on the battlefield, the US also provided the Egyptian dictator Nasser with the same planes, along with other arms at the time. In other conflicts, including the Iraq-Iran conflict of the eighties, the US also provided even chemical weapons to help countries fight each other. By playing both sides in the Middle East, the United States has exposed themselves to drawn out conflicts in which there are no clear ideological goals or values. In addition, however, many of the strongest forces in the region are indebted to the United States and reliant on American military aid to implement policy change at home and abroad.
While the first case perhaps of American intervention in the Middle East occurred as a result of trade dispute and pirate suppression in the region in the eighteenth century, though the US was less than effective, embarrassingly losing a battleship to pirates. Many members of the crew were imprisoned in Tripoli for over 18 months. In order that these pirates would not be able to use the ship, a team of US soldiers was able to destroy the ship (Long). This is typical of US foreign policy in the region: though the US recognizes the strategic importance of the Middle East, the reality of intervention or exerting any influence at best only destabilizes the region and at worst can arm the United States’ political and economic rivals. Today, a similar sort of situation with America’s extended attempt at destroying the weapons it left/sold to Middle Eastern countries.
Prior to US dominance of the global political sphere, the interests at play were primarily colonial, and the conflict was largely imperial in nature, with resource extraction and, for royal companies, profit the highest goal attainable. At the close of the Second World War, however, the United States dominated the global economy. Where once the Monroe Doctrine had driven colonial powers out of the Americas, now the United States had toppled the colonial powers at home, or at least rescued them from National Socialism anyway. The Marshall plan forced much of Europe into debt to America, while stimulating the economy. American foreign policy had the power and the impetus to demand a Jewish state in the Middle East, and more importantly, to block Russian power from extending south through arabian oil fields.
Immediate US support in the war of Israeli Independence and American military aid was soon overshadowed, however, by the six-day war in which Israel played an aggressive role to prevent a second possible holocaust (McCalister 111). While the United States was not actively involved in this conflict, and the Soviet Union agreed to stay out of the conflict as well, Israel was armed and funded by Jewish supporters in America. During the war, the United Jewish Appeal’s Israel Emergency fund raised more than $90 million in a week for Israeli efforts in the war. Just twenty years after Independence, many were strongly in favor of a powerful Israeli foothold in the Middle East. Despite the opposition to the war in Vietnam, the domino effect was still a very real political world view at this point, and American power was less imperial, still with the ideology of opposition to the evil Soviet empire.
This would change dramatically after the withdrawal from Vietnam, as public opposition to American power grew and politicians sought to clamp down on the territories that still operated as part of the “free world”. Even in supporting enemies of friends, America could ensure access to resources and rejection of Soviet ideals by giving friendly dictators and regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia extensive weaponry and means of support.  The United States’ decision to stop Israeli forces in 1973, led to major gains in economic power, political influence, and prestige for the Arab nations. In the future, in order to retain access to Arabian oil, the United States needed to make serious concessions, ones that would hurt the small state of Israel (McCalister 173). For many Israelis, this was a slippery slope during which the American umbilical cord would be cut, their support removed.
Prior to Vietnam, Israeli conflict with Soviet and Arab powers allowed it to serve as a focal point for American power, a sort of bulldog; they were the third largest military in the world, mostly paid for by international Jewry and through American support. With the close of the Vietnam war, OPEC’s assertions of economic might in the seventies, and various mounting racial tensions at home, the United States was no longer equipped to fight a multipolar war against communism. With taxes between 75 and 90 percent at the time, the war economy that Eisenhower warned of in his last address was strangling American interests globally. Furthermore, the country’s and the military’s dependence on oil put the nation’s interests at the mercy of unreliable dictators and royal families in the Middle East. Worse, it made it impossible to properly reassure Jews across the world that the fledgling state of Israel, though the third most powerful military in the world, was not vulnerable to abandonment from America and extermination by Arab countries.
While no one saw the Jewish state as fragile by 1967, there were still many who were concerned about how their hostile rich Arab neighbors would react to the dispossession of Palestinian peoples from their homelands and the establishment of a western foothold centered around the Jewish historical narrative in Israel. Worse than only the creation of such a state, however, was the removal of the previous Palestinians from the area, and the imminent threat posed by Israel’s massive, well-equipped military to regional security. With Iranian oil companies nationalized in the fifties, threatening the radicalization of other regimes or royal families in the region threatened American oil. And oil meant everything to the states: peace, security, and economic prosperity.  
While it is extremely difficult to find the reality of the origins of the modern Arab Spring and other modern movements in the Middle East, it is easy to identify several main themes that generally accompany the flexing of American power in the cold war. By treating these countries as third world resource depots and centers for cheap labour, however, the United States risked the very ideals of liberty and freedom that were supposed to be propagated by American foreign policy. The supporting of dictators, extraction of resources was not unsubstantiated though. In doing so, Americans believed, they were protecting themselves and these countries from violent communist revolutions and limiting the economic and political influence the USSR could exercise. First and foremost was a knee-jerk reactionary response to all manipulations or maneuvers made by the Soviet Union. Directly after the Second World War, this primarily meant developing faster, more effective, and stronger deterrent nuclear power. However, this strategy requires that a dualistic relationship exists between the nations that are sharing power. As it became clear that the two remaining superpowers in the world were diametrically opposed, and the conflicts would be increasingly multi-polar in nature, it became equally clear that the cold war doctrine would have to be fought through conventional methods as well. While Korean, Vietnamese, and Afghan wars all ended in stalemate for invading forces, these were part of an over-reaching global conflict in which two ideologies, two mind-sets, two economic superpowers clashed. To understand how conflict in the Cold War was precipitated, it is necessary to look at the machinations of colonialism.
The primary goal of many third-world countries was casting off the bondage of European colonialism and adopting or recovering their national and cultural identity lost through centuries of oppression. European powers were broken by two world wars, and while some nations were kept until decades later as colonial powers, the vast majority broke away from Europe in this time period. In the coming Cold War, these small nations provided a battlefield for conflict between the US and USSR. While America as a rule supported anti-colonial movements, the movement of third world countries such as Senegal, North Korea, and Vietnam towards socialism or international communism forced Americans to reconsider their foreign policy. Rather than encouraging anti-colonialists to adopt American values, though this did occur in more friendly former colonies, the policy became to instead fully oppose communist activities across the world. The radicalization of American thought and opinion towards Soviet Russia took place over decades through the McCarthy hunts and massive amounts of propaganda which permeated the entirety of the human consciousness.
The greater impact on foreign policy, and in some ways precipitating the massive public propaganda campaign, was made by a secret document  made by the National Security Council, Paper No. 68. This document identifies two themes in the world that were occurring at the time, 1950. First is the decline of the French and English Empires and the defeat of the axis powers, secondly is the rise of a new power in the Soviet Union, which is described as “animated by a new fanatic faith, anti-ethical to our own, and [sought] to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world” (Merrill 292) whose only salvation, the council goes on to argue in the paper, is by uniting behind an American hegemony. By assuming economic leadership, the United States would then be able to contain the Soviet Union on a non-militaristic, scaled back level. Concluding with a call for “a much more rapid and concerted build-up of the actual strength of both the United States and the other nations of the free world,” (294) this paper set the mode and tone for America for much of the Cold War.
Though the document was confidential, it was widely distributed and its values echo throughout the Cold War in America. In the USSR, the goal of countering capitalists across the world resulted in an unambiguous stance countering American interests. Without the common enemy of the Fascist powers in Europe and Japan, the two former allies were locked head-to-head. NSC 68 only attempts to put a nuclear armed superpower in Russia in context, and argues or asserts that the new USSR would not only be a world power, but also a threatening one to national security in the United States.
In the Middle East, the tendency was less towards populist or communist revolution or government change and American fears were instead of possible Soviet armed states or an all out invasion of smaller countries with port access. In the Russian wars against Afghanistan and Israel, the USSR brought more than cheap manufactured goods, but also one of the world’s two most powerful militaries. The failure in both scenarios was a part of a trend in which poorly equipped small nations were able to reject modern imperialist aims of either superpower and embarrass the greatest militaries in the world with only guerrilla warfare and/or nationalist forces. As one of the highest historically unfulfilled political goals of Russia, obtaining a port in warm waters was something America had a vested fear in preventing. In addition, access to the Arabian oil fields was vital to the United States’ capability of competing with the energy-rich Soviet Union.
For European allies of the United States, control of the Holy Lands has been a goal for over one thousand years. By creating a safe haven for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to the places of Pilgrimage, evangelical christians in America are achieving their own goals while fulfilling ancient prophesies about the home of the Jews. Unfortunately, just as in the Crusades of the middle ages, the extended conflict in the Middle East seems to have no resolution or end.
Long, David F. Long. (1983). Sailor-Diplomat: A Biography of Commodore James Biddle, 1783-1848 Boston: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 978-0-930-35039-0

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