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Thursday, February 15, 2024

How the Arab-Israeli Wars shaped Pakistan’s security paradigm?

In the wake of heightened tensions in the months before the outbreak of the war in June 1967,  Israel reiterated its post-1956 position that another closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping by Egypt would be a definite casus belli- an act or an event that either provokes or is used to justify a war. In 1967, 90% of Israeli oil passed through the Straits of Tiran.

The state of Israel was proclaimed in May 1948 and was immediately attacked by armies of its Arab neighbors. Relations between Israel and Arab states were not normalized even after the First Arab-Israel War ended with the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and each of its Arab neighbors.

In the Armistice Agreement, signed between Israel and Egypt, Israel was guaranteed that the Straits of Tiran would remain open. A peacekeeping contingent known as the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was deployed along the Egypt –Israel border, but there was no demilitarization agreement between the two sides. Despite the agreement, Egypt did not accept the Israeli right to navigation through the Straits of Tiran and imposed a naval blockade that remained in force till 1956.

The Straits of Tiran are the narrow sea passages between the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas which separate the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea proper. The distance between the two peninsulas is about 13 km (7 nautical miles). Access to the Israeli and Jordanian ports of Eilat and Aqaba respectively is through the Gulf of Aqaba, which gives the Straits of Tiran strategic importance.

Read more: US President postpones Saudi Arabia and Israel visits

Looking at the excerpts from history

In 1956, Israel, Britain, and France invaded Egypt after President Jamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Whereas Britain and France had attacked Egypt intending to reverse the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Israel had its ax to grind. By leaning on Britain and France during the Suez Crisis, Israel’s goal was to force the reopening of the Straits of Tiran which had been closed by Egypt for all Israeli shipping since 1948.

In the wake of heightened tensions in the months before the outbreak of the war in June 1967,  Israel reiterated its post-1956 position that another closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping by Egypt would be a definite casus belli- an act or an event that either provokes or is used to justify a war. In 1967, 90% of Israeli oil passed through the Straits of Tiran.

The Six-Day War was fought from 5 to 10 June 1967 between Israel and a coalition of Arab states comprising Jordan, Syria, and Egypt(then known as the United Arab Republic or UAR ).  In May, President Nasser announced that the Straits of Tiran would again be closed to Israeli vessels, subsequently mobilized the Egyptian military along the border with Israel, and ordered the immediate withdrawal of all UNEF personnel. On 5 June, as the UNEF was in the process of leaving the zone, Israel launched a series of airstrikes against Egyptian airfields and other facilities, resulting in the killing of 15 UN peacekeepers from India and Brazil. Israel initially claimed that it had been attacked by Egypt first, but later stated that its airstrikes had been preemptive

Egyptian forces were caught by surprise, and nearly the entire Egyptian Air Force was destroyed with few Israeli losses in the process, giving Israel the advantage of air supremacy. Simultaneously, the Israeli military launched a ground offensive into the Egyptian–controlled Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. By the end of the Six-Day War, Israel had captured the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, the West Bank of River Jordan, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

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Naser’s rule in Egypt

During Nasser’s rule (1952-70), Egypt was a bulwark of Arab nationalism and the nerve center of the Arab world. A towering personality, Nasser commissioned Nazi scientists who helped UAR in producing supersonic fighter aircraft, biological weapons, and a delivery system (providing the backdrop for Frederick Forsyth’s thriller “The Odessa File”). Interestingly, while Messerschmitt was busy designing UAR’s Helwan fighter aircraft, Kurt Tank, another Nazi aeronautical engineer, was constructing the HF-24 Marut for India. Both these aircraft were to be powered by the Egyptian E-300 Brandner jet engine. Nasser and Nehru were aware that the foundations of the aerospace programs of both the United States and the Soviet Union rested on WWII German military technology.

Hinting at Israel while witnessing a military parade, Nasser had commented that his rockets could land south of Lebanon. While considering the threat from Israel, perhaps Nasser ignored that during WW II many of the future Israeli military commanders had served on the Allied general staff’. After its defeat during the 1967 Arab- Israel War, Egypt gradually lost its clout in the Arab world.

The impact of the 1967 War on the Arab world and countries on its periphery cannot be fully comprehended without taking into account the 1973 Arab-Israeli War also which was a corollary to the 1967 War. In 1973, Anwar Sadaat, Nasser’s successor, tried to restore the status quo ante bellum by attacking Israel in a two-front war planned with Syria.

The war ended in a stalemate in which the Egyptian Third Army was trapped by the Israeli armor when it exploited a gap in the Egyptian defenses on the east bank of the Suez Canal. The gap was indicated to the Israelis by US satellite photos. However, Sadaat achieved his strategic objective of recovering the Sinai Peninsula from Israeli occupation.

The Camp David Accords, signed by US President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978, established a framework for a  peace treaty concluded between Israel and Egypt in March 1979. Felt betrayed, the other front-line Arab states – Jordan and Syria, along with the rest of the Arab world boycotted Egypt. Though over the period Egypt has come out of isolation, it no more represents the Arab political consciousness.

Keeping in view its political and economic interests at the time of partition of the Sub-continent, India voted against the 1947 UN plan to partition Palestine and Israel’s admission to the UN in 1949. Nehru considered India the successor to the British Raj and craved symbols of geostrategic aristocracy- an aircraft carrier, a nascent nuclear program with a military dimension, and even a power bloc of his own known as the Nonaligned Movement led by India, Egypt, and Yugoslavia. The Nonaligned Movement was one of the many Trojan horses sponsored by either of the superpowers during the Cold War.

Read more: India-Israel Defense Ministers holds “Productive” talks to strengthen relations

On 17 September 1950, India officially recognized the State of Israel

New Delhi’s military ties with Tel Aviv, however modest, began by the 1960s. Not only did Israel provide military assistance to India in its wars in 1962, 1965, and 1971, but Tel Aviv was also one of the first countries to recognize Bangladesh. When the traditionally pro-Israel Hindu right-wing Jan Sangh (precursor of BJP)-led government was briefly in power from 1977 to 1979, Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan paid a secret visit to New Delhi in August 1977to strengthen the bilateral ties.

After decades of non-aligned and pro-Arab policy, India formally established relations with Israel when it opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992. Ties between the two nations have flourished since, primarily due to common strategic interests. In 1999 Israel supported India in Kargil War by providing arms and ammunition. Reportedly, Israeli ammunition was used in the failed IAF attempt to bomb Balakot on 26 February 2019.

Read more: Arabs, Pakistan, and Israel

Since 2014, the India- Israel relationship has been very close and warm under the premiership of Narendra Modi. In 2017, he was the first-ever Prime Minister of India to visit Israel. India continues to be the largest customer of Israeli arms. Defense relations between the two countries are longstanding and a threat to Pakistan. I had written earlier that Pakistan should reconsider its relationship with Israel because India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy, has a strategic relationship with Israel. This relationship allows India access to the cutting-edge Israeli military technologies stolen from the United States.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.