Middle East wars: A scoping view

Recent wars include Israel’s war of independence, the Suez Crisis, the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day war, the October war, the Lebanon war, Israel and the Occupied Territories, The Iran-Iraq war, and the Gulf war.

THE Middle East Wars have been on the global watch for many years.

Recent wars include Israel’s war of independence, the Suez Crisis, the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day war, the October war, the Lebanon war, Israel and the Occupied Territories, The Iran-Iraq war, and the Gulf war.

We may add the Second Iraq war, the Arab Spring, the Libyan wars, and now, the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Put differently, the Middle East has been a geopolitical hotspot for decades, witnessing a series of conflicts that have not only shaped the region but also drawn the attention of hyperpowers and superpowers.

This article explores the evolution of Middle East conflicts, highlighting their impact on global dynamics, the creation of proxy and terrorist organisations, and the interventions by powerful nations.

War of Independence (1948-1949)

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 marked the beginning of regional tensions. The Arab-Israeli conflict was Israel’s first war, which drew the interest of superpowers like the United States and the Soviet Union.

The US supported Israel, while the Soviet Union aligned with Arab nations. This conflict set the stage for Cold War rivalries to manifest in the Middle East. For scholars of War Studies and global governance, the Middle East War in the mid and late 20 th Century has been described as ‘longer than the 30 years’ war, although shorter than the 100 years’ war.’

It has been compared to such wars because there have been instances of recovery, rearmament, diplomacy, and argument.

From the formation of the Zionist Organisation in Vienna in 1897 to the Balfour Declaration, which promised a Jewish homeland, echoes of Israel’s self-determination were heard.

In 1917, about 85000 Jews lived in Palestine, and increased to around 650 000 by 1947, the latter a figure almost at par with the Arab population of one million then obtaining. Tensions embedded in distrust and fear mounted leading to the 1948-9 War.

This war has been divided into six periods in general. The first was the pre-Statehood Tensions (1947-1948). The tensions between Jewish and Arab communities in British Mandate Palestine led the United Nations to propose a partition plan in 1947 to create separate Jewish and Arab  states.

Secondly, the Declaration of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948) on May 14, 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, was followed by an invasion by neighbouring Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, aiming to prevent the establishment of the new state.

Thirdly, there was the First Truce (June 11, 1948 - July 9, 1948), which was brokered by the United Nations to halt the fighting. However, both sides used this period to reinforce their positions and prepare for the resumption of hostilities.

Fourthly, there was intermittent fighting between Truces (July 9, 1948 - October 15, 1948) between the Jewish and Arab forces. The Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organisation, launched offensives to secure strategic areas and link isolated Jewish communities.

Five, the Second Truce (October 15, 1948 - July 18, 1949) was established to bring about a more lasting ceasefire. The armistice talks took place during this period, resulting in a series of armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbouring Arab states.

These agreements determined the borders and established demilitarised zones.

Lastly, the Post-Armistice Period (July 18, 1949 - March 1949), which followed the signing of the armistice agreements saw the active phase of the war largely subsiding.

Israel emerged as a recognised state, but the wider Arab-Israeli conflict persisted, setting the stage for future conflicts, such as the October 2023 Hamas attack.

Suez Crisis, Sinai Campaign

The Suez Crisis saw an attempt by Israel, the United Kingdom, and France to regain control of the Suez Canal. The crisis prompted the intervention of the United States and the Soviet Union, with both superpowers pressuring the aggressors to withdraw. The incident highlighted the Middle East's strategic importance in the global balance of power.

Conversely, the Sinai Campaign further underscored Cold War dynamics in the Middle East. As Israel, backed by France and the United Kingdom, clashed with Egypt, the US and the Soviet Union again intervened diplomatically.

The crisis demonstrated how regional conflicts could escalate and draw superpowers into the fray. While the conflict of 1956 is rarely described as a war, the art of rhetoric in war makes it a war.

Terminologically, Israelis preferred to call it the Sinai Campaign, something akin to the old Mosaic traditions and modern blockades in territorial wars, while the French and British preferred the Suez Affair.

It was called so to keep it to the level of “state of armed conflict” for reasons of public relations efforts by the British and French. This conflict only helped to show the uneasiness of the 1949 truce.

Six-day War (1967)

The six-day war reshaped the Middle East, with Israel gaining significant territories. In essence, many years after the 1949 truce, the warring parties had regrouped and rearmed.

The conflict intensified Cold War rivalries, leading the US to solidify its alliance with Israel, while the Soviet Union increased support for Arab states.

The aftermath set the stage for long-standing tensions and future conflicts. Egypt was socially and economically underdeveloped. In terms of military strategy, the Egyptian inventory of Soviet aircraft in the 1967 war was approximately 120 fighter bombers of the MiG-15 types and its successor the MiG 17, 60 MiG-19, 130 MiG-21 supersonic fighters and so forth.

Basically, the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, commonly known as the six-day war, was so named because of its remarkably short duration. The war took place from June 5 to June 10, 1967, lasting only six days.

Despite its brevity, the war had significant and far-reaching consequences for the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

The conflict began when Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against the air forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, as tensions had been escalating in the region.

The Israeli military achieved swift and decisive victories on multiple fronts, capturing the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

The permissibility or otherwise of Israel’s use of force depends on how one interprets the legality of pre-emptive strikes under international law, including the United Nations Charter. This, on the surface, is a complex and debated issue.

The UN Charter, in general, prohibits the use of force, but there are recognised exceptions, and the legality of a pre-emptive strike often depends on the specific circumstances and the principles of self-defence.

For starters, Article 51 of the UN Charter recognises the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations.

In the case of the six-day war in 1967, Israel argued that its pre-emptive strike was an act of self-defence against an imminent threat.

The concept of imminent attack gives the defending state a legitimate reason to believe that an armed attack is imminent. In the case of Israel's pre-emptive strike, the Israeli government contended that the massing of Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula and the closure of the Straits of Tiran by Egypt constituted an imminent threat to Israel's security.

Linked to this was the doctrine of Anticipatory Self-Defence, which suggests that a state may use force to counter an anticipated attack if it believes that an attack is imminent.

The pre-emptive strikes were followed by UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted on November 22, 1967, which called for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the conflict and recognised the need for "secure and recognised boundaries".

The resolution did not explicitly label Israel's actions as illegal, and its wording left room for interpretation. This has been one of the issues that have delayed the implementation of a two-state Palestine to date.

The legality of Israel's pre-emptive strike has created scholars who justify the act, while others contend that the strike was a violation of international law.

October War (1973)

The Yom Kippur War, or October War, witnessed direct superpower involvement, with the US aiding Israel and the Soviet Union supporting Arab nations.

The conflict highlighted the Middle East's ability to trigger superpower confrontations and showcased the region's importance in global politics.

We now know from reading Henry Kissinger’s book, Crisis: the anatomy of two major foreign policy crises, that this war was resolved by diplomacy without urgency.

The United States played the role of avoiding the position of a more peaceful resolution, in favour of a more stable position leading to peace, whatever that meant.

It included avoiding formal United Nations (UN) Security Council meetings to enable then Soviet Union (now Russia) not to oppose with the US. This was also important in allowing Egypt and Israel to be in touch with the US.

To prevent a situation where the UN would be totally discredited, the US again proposed a non-formal resolution, or rather, its own view, to have cessation of hostilities.

This approach was favourable to the Arab States because Israel was gaining the upper hand. Put simply, US’ approach was guided by the statement, “the gods are offended by hubris”, which technically was a perceptive term.

The term "hubris" in this context refers to excessive pride, arrogance, or overconfidence and Kissinger's remarks was aimed at both Egypt and Israel.

While Egypt and Syria had launched a surprise attack on Israel on the holiest day in Judaism, Yom Kippur, the element of surprise initially had given the Arab forces some success, catching Israel off guard.

Kissinger's comment about hubris could be understood as a commentary

on the overconfidence displayed by Israel and the assumption that they were invulnerable to such an attack.

Lebanon War (1982-2000)

Israel's involvement in Lebanon during the 1980s led to proxy conflicts involving the US and the Soviet Union, each supporting different factions.

This period saw the rise of Hezbollah, a prominent terrorist organisation with Iranian backing, setting the stage for future tensions in the region.

Between 1980-1988, the Iran-Iraq War witnessed a complex web of alliances, with the US initially supporting Iraq and the Soviet Union leaning towards Iran.

The conflict created a power vacuum that allowed the emergence of non-state actors, including extremist groups, laying the groundwork for future instability.

The Gulf War (1990-1991) marked a collective response by the international community against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The US-led coalition, with the support of the United Nations, demonstrated a unified effort against aggression.

Full article on www.theindependent.co.zw

Hofisi is a lawyer, conversationalist and transdisciplinary researcher. He has interests in governance and international law. — [email protected].

This conflict highlighted the potential for worldwide intervention in the Middle East. The Second Iraq War (2003-2011) saw the invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition in 2003 and resulted in the removal of Saddam Hussein.

However, it also led to power vacuums, sectarian tensions, and the rise of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in Iraq, later evolving into ISIS. The war showcased the challenges of post-conflict stabilisation, including the creation of the axis of evil, and rise of nuclear capable and nuclear potential states.

Added to these is the Arab Spring (2010-2012), which witnessed uprisings that led to regime changes across the Middle East in countries lie Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. International actors, including the US and Russia, navigated complex political landscapes, with varying degrees of success. The aftermath again witnessed the rise of extremist groups and increased geopolitical competition.

African countries were cowed during the Libyan War (2011), which witnessed the NATO intervention in Libya, aimed at preventing what initially was a humanitarian crisis, but resulted in the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi and death of his vision of a United States of Africa.

However, the power vacuum led to ongoing conflicts and the proliferation of militant groups. The Libyan situation highlighted the unintended consequences of foreign interventions.

It has given rise to grey zone conflict areas as well as incessant civil wars. At Africa’s level, we have seen an abandonment of a common voice when a No-fly-zone area was supported by African leaders who reactively woke up claiming that they were duped and didn’t think Gaddafi would be killed. Current Israel-Palestine Conflict The Israel-Palestine Conflict remains a persistent flashpoint, drawing the attention of global powers. The US has historically supported Israel, while other nations and international organisations seek to mediate and find a lasting solution.

The conflict continues to fuel regional tensions and attract the interest of various actors. While Hamas attacked Israel and forcibly took hostages following the October 2023 mutiny, concern has also been raised on how Israel has responded by attacking civilians.

A discussion of Hamas' attacks on Israel and Israel's heavy response is linked to the broader context of Middle East wars due to the longstanding and complex nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The conflict has deep historical roots and has been a recurring source of tension and violence in the region.

The next instalment of this article will examine the seven aspects in this regard. These include the historical context already discussed, the regional dynamics at play, its impact on Middle East stability, international involvement, the issue of proxy dynamics currently obtaining, terrorism and security concerns, and the humanitarian consequences attached.

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