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Modern History Notes

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Chapter 5:
The First Arab-Israeli War and the 1956 Suez Crisis

The war of 1947-49

Following Israel’s declaration of statehood the Arab armies attacked along all the borders of the Jewish state. Egyptian forces attacked from the south; Syria, Lebanon and Iraq attacked from the north and north-east. By 28 May 1948, the Jordanian Arab Legion had occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. After initial setbacks, however, the Israelis successful drove the Arab armies out of the north, regained the Negev from the Egyptians and secured a corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They were, however, unable to gain control of East Jerusalem. The UN secured a truce in January 1949, and by July, Israel and the neighbouring Arab states had signed separate armistices agreements. Yet, these left many issues unresolved: Israel refused to return to the borders laid out in the UN partition resolution, occupying 20% more of Palestine than the UN had agreed on. Israel would not permit Palestinian refugees (of which there were 725, 000) to return to their homes The Arab states and Palestinians refused diplomatic recognition to Israel and would not acknowledge the Jewish state’s right to exist.

How did Israel win the war?

1. One Zionist answer is the spirit and youthful determination of the Jews. According to Zionist historian A. L. Sachar, the Arabs “were almost listless by comparison, for they seemed to have little personal stake in the outcome of the war”. However, this is a very biased and simplistic analysis, and a closer look suggests a somewhat more complicated explanation. 2. Men and supply lines. The Israelis significantly outnumbered the Arabs (in December 1948, there were 95,000 Israeli troops, as opposed to 55,000 Arab troops). In addition, although the Israelis had few heavy weapons and no artillery or planes, they received a large shipment of weapons from Czechoslovakia at a crucial stage in the war. While the Arab states possessed armoured...