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From Khartoum to Chaos

The Arab World Fifty Years After the Six-Day War

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13 Nov 2017 (All day)
From Khartoum to Chaos

As the year of Jerusalem’s Jubilee comes to a close, and the events leading to the city’s reunification have been commemorated and celebrated, it is worthwhile to reflect on the historical aftermath of Jerusalem’s liberation.

Israel’s surprisingly swift victory in the Six-Day War of June 1967 was a pivotal moment in the modern history of the Middle East, and its repercussions continue to be felt throughout the region and world to this day.

To begin with, Israel’s military superiority over Soviet-backed Arab armies demonstrated to the democratic West that the reborn Jewish state could be a valuable asset in the Cold War struggle against Communist aggression. As a result, the United States soon became Israel’s most important ally and weapons supplier.

Yet the war also led to a deep societal rift within Israel over what to do with all the vast new tracts of land that came into its possession, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai, Golan and eastern Jerusalem. Leading doves in the ruling Labour party quickly sought to offer these territories in exchange for peace with the Arabs. But their humiliating defeat only hardened the resolve of Arab rulers to never accept Israel’s rightful place in the region.

This united Arab stand was cemented at the Khartoum conference in September 1967, when the Arab League issued its infamous “Three No’s”: no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no peace with Israel. Today, many might mistakenly view this as a stand taken on behalf of the Palestinian cause. But at the time it simply reflected the blanket Arab rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.

Until then, none of the Arab states were particularly interested in the rise of a Palestinian state. In every war launched against Israel – whether in 1948, 1967 or 1973 – the invading Arab nations, if victorious, would have claimed the land for themselves. Such was the case with Jordan and its 19-year military occupation of the West Bank. But over time, largely due to airline hijackings and other brazen acts of terrorism, the Palestinians were able to put their nationalist movement “on the map.” Arab leaders would later explain that peace with Israel could only come if there was first a just solution to the Palestinian conflict.

However, Egypt (in 1979) and Jordan (in 1994) would eventually break with the pack and seek separate peace deals with Israel. Both countries still supported Palestinian statehood, but Cairo and Amman were no longer willing to let the PLO have a veto over the future welfare of their nations and the region.

Meantime, those Arab states which have been the most adamantly opposed to Israel over recent decades are in utter turmoil today. For instance, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched unprovoked ballistic missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa in the First Gulf War of 1991. Ever since the Second Gulf War ended in 2005, Iraq has been riven with sectarian violence and is breaking apart, with most of the country now under Iranian dominance.

Libya under strongman Muammar Kaddafi was home to numerous training bases for PLO terrorists in the 1970s and 80s, and today it is a failed state swarming with jihadists.

Finally, Syria mocked Egypt for its peace treaty with Israel, proudly hosted the Arab League’s boycott office against Israel, and gave sanctuary to the heads of the dozen worst Palestinian terror militias. Today, Syria lies in complete ruin due to a brutal five-year civil war that has claimed 500,000 lives and uprooted an estimated twelve million citizens from their homes. This all appears to be the outworking of the divine promise that those who “curse” Israel will themselves end up cursed (Genesis 12:3).

So, where are we fifty years after the 1967 Six-Day War? Looking around the region, we find the Arab nations are no longer united in their hatred of Israel. Instead, they are internally divided by the rekindled flames of the ancient rift between Sunni and Shi’a Islam. The Shi’ite axis is led by Iran and includes the Arab Shi’ite majority in Iraq, the Alawite regime in Syria, and the Hezbollah terror militia which currently controls Lebanon. The Sunni Arab bloc is led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Both sides have been using the raging conflicts in Syria and Yemen to wage proxy wars against each other.

Most analysts say that Iran has effectively won the war in Syria. This does not mean that Tehran’s ally, the Assad regime, will fully regain control over all of Syria any time soon. But it does mean that Iran has been able to establish a strong military presence inside Syria which will be very hard to dislodge. The key point came when Assad loyalists used chemical weapons against Sunni rebels and the US failed to intervene immediately and forcefully, as forewarned. Russia read this as American weakness and placed its own ground troops inside Syria, a move which guaranteed the survival of the Assad dictatorship and allowed Iran to expand its foothold in the war-torn country.

Tehran is now attempting to establish a ‘land bridge’ directly linking Iran with Hezbollah in Lebanon via a narrow corridor running through western Iraq and eastern Syria. This contiguous “Shi’ite Crescent” would give Iran greater hegemony over the region, and the ability to open new fronts against Israel on several of its borders. The added threat of an Iranian nuclear capability would give Tehran an even larger advantage over its Sunni Arab rivals and would endanger the Jewish state with annihilation.

This has all led the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states to join with Egypt and Jordan in forming a discreet regional alliance with Israel. They quietly closed ranks with Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood up to an American president by delivering a speech to the US Congress bluntly warning of the dangers of the pending Iran nuclear deal. His courageous call for Washington to stand behind its traditional allies in the region earned Netanyahu much respect in several key Arab capitals. 

Although the Palestinian cause continues to galvanise and inflame the Arab street, the end result is that it is not a high priority for most Arab rulers today – just as when the Arabs provoked a war with Israel five decades ago that they would quickly come to regret. 


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