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The Middle East has been in constant turmoil since before I was born and pretty much has been since the end of the Second World War, however the powder keg was set after World War One.
Before World War One the Ottoman Empire held control over most of the Middle East. The Empire was in decline before the war and had recently lost most of its European territory in the First Balkan war and lost its Libyan territories in the Italo-Turkish War. However at the end of the war the empire was divided between the Entente powers and the new Turkish state. The problem with this is that the British Promised that the Arabs would gain independence if they decided to fight for the British which they did in various battles (Yanbu, Mecca, Medina) and ended up only getting a fraction of lands that they were promised. Of the land of this Palestine was promised not only to the Arabs, but Jews the land.
The British ended up establishing the British Mandate of Palestine and under it the Jewish Population grew by 320,000. The Jews then proceeded to buy the land from Arabs and evicted the people who lived and worked there only fanning the flames of ethnic tension as both groups believed the lands were their own and leading to a revolt against the British by the Arabs in 1936 which was put down by British forces and Jewish Militias and lead to a restriction of Jewish Immigrants to the Mandate. Though this was the only conflict that was the only conflict between Arabs and Jews before World War 2 ended, this is an important event foreshadowing how the 20th century would play out.
During World War 2 the relations between Arabs and Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine had normalized. However after the war hundreds of thousands of Jews were left homeless due to having their property stripped away by the Nazis. Left with nothing they applied for asylum in Britain and those that were accepted were settled in the British Mandate of Palestine. This reopened the wounds between Arab and Jew that had only recently healed. Fearing conflict the British handed the mandate over to the newly formed United Nations along with creating several Arab states along with France. In 1947 the UN made a proposal for 2 separate states but the Palestinian Arabs didn’t take too kindly to this and with the support of the new Arab states; Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia launched an attempted invasion of Israel. The fighting lasted just under 10 months and against all odds Israel managed to defeat the Arab forces. To stop Israel from annexing all of the Palestinian lands Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip however Israel annexed much of the territory. In the same way that Canada won its independence in Vimy Ridge Israel won its independence in the First Arab-Israeli War, However this was not the last conflict between Israel and the Arab states.
For 9 years after the First Arab-Israeli war the Middle East was relatively peaceful, the most that happened was minor skirmishes on the Jordan-Israeli border and General Gamal Abdel Nasser taking power in Egypt with his military Junta. However a powder keg was set with Gamal Abdel Nasser was elected president and nationalized the Suez Canal that was controlled by a joint British-French company, at this point, the British and French Empires being eclipsed by the 2 emerging superpowers of the United States and The Soviet Union. So in a final attempt to stay attempt to stay relevant on the world stage they made an alliance with Israel and plotted to how to respond while in the meantime the USSR started supplying Egypt with Arms.
On October 29th Israel invaded and occupied the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip and advanced to within 42km of the Suez Canal. France and Britain ordered both Israel and Egypt to withdraw from the Suez (this was planned with the Israelis) but the Egyptians didn’t back down, because of this Britain and France started to bomb the canal. Since Egypt had good relations with the Soviets the US urged the British and French to make peace as to avoid being drawn into a war. This caused the biggest rift between the two allies in the 20th Century.
Before the bombing started Canada’s foreign minister and UN delegate Lester B. Pearson tried to resolve the situation diplomatically but once things heated up he instead pushed for a larger peacekeeping force. On November 4th the motion passed and in the UN with 57 votes for and 19 abstaining with no countries voting against it, the first time something passed this unanimously in the UN. Two days later a ceasefire was agreed upon and UN Peacekeeping forces and allowed the “Britain, France and Israel to withdraw their forces without giving the appearance of having been defeated.” This ended what we know now as the Suez Crisis or the Second Arab-Israeli War. This resulted in Sinai being occupied for 4 months, the end of the United Kingdom’s rule of Superpower with the resignation of the British Prime Minister Anthony Eden. Pearson’s success in bringing peace led him to win the Position of Prime Minister, 1963.
Though the crisis only lasted 9 days, it sent ripples across global politics forever changing not only the Middle East, but the world. 2 Years after the Suez Crisis Pan-Arabism, an ideology espousing unification of the Arab world was popular across the Middle East.
With the recent Israeli aggression, Syria pushed for a political union with Egypt due to Egyptian President Nasser being viewed as a hero, the shared border with Israel and the political instability of the nation following the coup in 1954. Due to this Egypt and Syria offered referendums to unite the countries under the political union of the United Arab Republic. Though the union only lasted 3 years, with only minor socialist reforms being passed, it was the first step in setting Syria down a path that would eventually lead the 2011 civil war that is still raging today.
There weren’t any big conflicts in the Middle East after the Second Arab-Israeli War (Suez Crisis) for a while; the small conflicts that did break out were mainly due to ethnic conflicts that resulted in skirmishes or civil wars to oust monarchs.
However in 1967 another powder keg between Israel and Egypt was set. Disputes over land and water between Israel and her neighbours had only increased after the Second Arab-Israeli war and Israel threatened war if Egypt were too bad Israeli ships from the Strait of Tiran. The Egyptians ignored the Israeli threats and banned Israeli shipping anyways and mobilized its Army on the Israeli border in late May. This prompted Israel to launch what they deem as preemptive strikes on Egyptian air bases on July 5; catching the Egyptians by surprise which gave Israel Air Superiority while simultaneously launching a surprise offensive into the Gaza strips. Egypt on the losing side convinced most of the other Arab states that had fought Israel before to join in the war in order to both gain back lost Palestinian territory and to save Sinai from once again falling into Israeli hands. Israel responded to this by absolutely annihilating the opposition killing over 15,000 Arabs while only suffering around 1000 casualties.
On the 11th of July a ceasefire was signed, Israel once again occupied Sinai along with the West Bank from Jordan and Golan Heights from Syria. This war proved Israel was able to not only hold against enemies from all sides, but was objectively a more powerful nation then all of its Arab Neighbors, but would this superiority last.
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