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Latest Israel News – 23rd May

In Israel, Trump calls visit ‘rare opportunity’ for peace

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Israel on Monday and declared his historic visit a “rare opportunity to bring security and peace” to the Middle East.

“I’m deeply grateful for your invitation and grateful to be with you,” Trump said after being welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at Ben-Gurion International Airport, shortly after Air Force One landed.

“On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States.

“In this land, so rich in history, Israel has built one of the world’s great civilizations. A strong, resilient determined and prosperous nation. It is also a nation forged in the commitment that we will never allow the horrors of the last century to be repeated. Let us build together a future where the nations of the region are at peace and all our children can grow up free from terrorism and violence.

“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony prosperity and peace. But we can only get there by working together,” Trump said.

Before taking the podium set up on the airport tarmac, Trump was welcomed by Netanyahu.

“Your visit here is truly historic. Thank you for this powerful expression of friendship to Israel,” Netanyahu said.

He also said that “Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians.”

“May your first trip to our region prove to be a historic milestone on the road to peace,” Netanyahu said. “I’m confident that under your leadership, the remarkable alliance between Israel and the U.S. will become very strong.”

Rivlin also welcomed the American president, saying, “You are a true friend to the Jewish people.”

“Israel needs a strong U.S., and may I say, the United States needs a strong Israel. We share common values and we share the hope for peace,” he said.

“It makes us very happy to know that the U.S. recognizes the importance of Jerusalem to Jews everywhere.”

Rivlin noted that Trump’s visit coincides with the week in which Israel marks the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Trump was prepared to invest his personal efforts into Middle East peace if Israeli and Palestinian leaders were ready to be serious about engaging in the process.

Tillerson also said a meeting between U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders was for a “later date,” rather than on this trip.

Trump arrived in Israel after visiting Saudi Arabia and ahead of a stop in the Vatican in his first foreign trip since taking office in January.

Air Force One touched down at Ben-Gurion International Airport shortly after noon on Monday, after what is believed to be the first direct flight from Riyadh to Israel. Trump arrived in Israel accompanied by his wife Melania, his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as a delegation of 800 people.

In addition to Rivlin’s and Netanyahu’s speeches, the short welcoming ceremony at the airport included an honor guard, a performance of both the American and the Israeli national anthems and an official reception with Netanyahu, Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to arrange for ministers to shake hands with Trump at the ceremony initially appeared to have failed, but ultimately the ministers got to shake the hand of the leader of the free world. Having learned that they would need to arrive no less than two hours ahead of Trump’s arrival and undergo a security check, and believing that they would not be allowed to shake hands with Trump or members of his entourage, several ministers said they did not plan to attend the ceremony. This prompted Netanyahu declare attendance at Monday’s ceremony mandatory, as well as at Trump’s scheduled speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Trump was scheduled to meet with Rivlin in Jerusalem soon after his arrival in Israel, followed by a private visit to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. A dinner for senior American and Israeli officials, scheduled to be held at the King David Hotel on Monday night, was canceled, and American officials said the president and first lady would dine privately with Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Trump was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday. Following the meeting, Trump was set to return to Jerusalem and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and then make a speech at the Israel Museum at 1 p.m.

The presidential visit is scheduled to conclude at around 4 p.m. Tuesday, when Trump leaves Israel for Italy.

On Sunday, in anticipation of Trump’s arrival, Netanyahu said that the Israeli public welcomes Trump with “open arms.”

“U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania will arrive tomorrow for a historic visit to the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet meeting Sunday.

“This is President Trump’s first visit outside the U.S., and the honor is ours that he has chosen to come to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and of course to the State of Israel.

“I will discuss with President Trump ways to strengthen even further our alliance with the U.S. We will strengthen security ties, which are strengthening daily, and we will also discuss ways to advance peace. Mr. President, we look forward to your visit. The Israeli public will receive you with open arms.”

Ahead of Trump’s visit, and at the American president’s request, Israel on Sunday authorized several economic concessions to the Palestinians, including: the building of two industrial zones, one in Jalameh, north of Jenin, and the other in Tarkumia, northwest of Hebron; keeping the Allenby Bridge crossing that connects the West Bank and Jordan open 24 hours a day; and easing restrictions on Palestinian construction in Area C in Judea and Samaria, which is under full Israeli military and civil control.

“The Diplomatic-Security Cabinet has approved economic measures that will ease daily civilian life in the Palestinian Authority after President Trump, who arrives tomorrow, asked to see some confidence building steps,” the cabinet said in a statement.

Habayit Hayehudi leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked opposed granting the Palestinians these concessions.

“The concessions made ahead of Trump’s visit do not harm Israel’s interests,” a senior source familiar with the issue said. “There are no security concessions and none of these steps are status-changing. Nothing has been changed with respect to core issues, should negotiations resume.”

The Diplomatic-Security Cabinet also voted to set up a committee to examine legalizing outposts across Judea and Samaria. The panel will comprise officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry and the Civil Administration, and would work for three years. Although the committee’s exact mandate has yet to be defined, recommendations for it are to be made to the cabinet within 21 days.

Once the committee begins its work, it will present Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman with progress reports every three months.  (Israel Hayom)

Trump makes history as first serving US president to visit Western Wall

Fifty years after Israel captured the Western Wall, US President Donald Trump on Monday became the first sitting American leader to visit the holy site, in a historic visit that saw him accompanied by his Jewish relatives in Jerusalem’s ancient Old City.

Entering the Old City’s warren of alleyways on Monday — on lockdown by police for his visit — Trump and his wife Melania met the heads of various Christian denominations and began their tour at one of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed by Christians to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

Security camera footage showed the US entourage, numbering hundreds of people, strolling through the ancient city’s alleys from Jaffa Gate to the holy Christian site under unprecedented security.

The US president was greeted outside the ancient church by the Armenian and Greek Orthodox patriarchs of Jerusalem. After briefly stopping to be photographed, he entered the building, along with his son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

From there, the US delegation walked back to Jaffa Gate, where they entered the convoy of dozens of vehicles to drive to the Western Wall.

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and Western Wall Heritage Foundation director Mordechai Eliav met the black kippah-clad Trump at the entrance to the plaza, which was emptied of worshipers for the presidential visit.

From there, Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner strolled to the men’s section of the wall, in accordance with the gender-segregated Orthodox practice at the site, while Ivanka and Melania Trump headed to the women’s section.

Trump approached the wall, lingering to touch the stones for some 30 seconds and slipping a note inside. On the women’s side, Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, prayed at the wall, eyes shut, before stepping away. Melania Trump, too, stood in reverence at the wall.

The US president later read a chapter of Psalms along with the rabbis.

Trump

The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer. It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.

Monday’s visit comes two days before the 50th anniversary of Israel’s recapture of the city.

In a bid to keep the tour free of political undertones, US officials reportedly rejected a request for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join the visit, saying it would be “a private visit” by the president and that he would go on his own.

Last week, the White House confirmed that Trump would not be accompanied by any Israeli officials when he visits the holy site.

Earlier on Monday, police said a protest broke out near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. The protesters were Jews, but the precise agenda of the protest was not immediately evident.

Police officers on the scene quickly dispersed the protest and removed the demonstrators, as the area was closed off as part of the security precautions for Trump’s trip, a police spokesperson said.

Trump, who landed Monday afternoon for a whirlwind 28-hour visit, will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the King David Hotel at 6 p.m., followed by a dinner at 7:30 p.m. at the Prime Minister’s Residence where Trump and Netanyahu will be joined by their wives.

On Tuesday morning, Trump will head to Bethlehem at 10 a.m. for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He may visit the Church of the Nativity in the city.

The Israeli part of his visit then resumes Tuesday with a 1 p.m. wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

At 2 p.m. Trump is due to move on to deliver an address at the Israel Museum located across the street from the Knesset. This is set to be the main speech of his Israel trip.

The US president will then return to Ben Gurion Airport and lift off for Italy, and the Vatican leg of his trip, at 4 p.m.  (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu: I will discuss ‘ways to advance peace’ with Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel was welcoming US President Donald Trump “with open arms,” adding that he will “discuss ways to advance peace” with the US leader during his Israel visit on Monday-Tuesday.

“Mr. President, we look forward to your visit. The citizens of Israel will receive you with open arms,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“I will discuss with President Trump ways to strengthen even further the primary and strongest alliance with the US. We will strengthen security ties, which are strengthening daily, and we will also discuss ways to advance peace,” he said.

Netanyahu also noted the significance of Trump’s first presidential overseas trip including a visit to “Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

Trump’s arrival in Israel on Monday comes amid efforts by the US president to renew the peace process between the US and Israel.

The Haaretz daily reported Sunday the US president will ask Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to commit to confidence-building measures in order to lay the groundwork for restarting the peace process. A senior White House official said Trump will urge Netanyahu to restrict settlement building in the West Bank and take steps to strengthen the Palestinian economy, and urge Abbas to stop PA-sponsored incitement against Israel.

“The president has made a general statement regarding his position and he hopes the Israeli government will take it into consideration,” the White House official told Haaretz. “He was also very direct with President Abbas regarding incitement and the paying of stipends to the families of terrorists.”

Trump is scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday for meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas.

Trump and senior White House aides arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on the first leg of his trip to the Middle East.

The Saudis are confident Trump can conclude a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and are prepared to help, Riyadh’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Saturday evening, during a press conference with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Jubeir spoke of the “kingdom’s optimism that President Trump, with a new approach and determination, can bring a conclusion to this long conflict. He certainly has the vision, and we believe he has the strength and the decisiveness. And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands prepared to work with the United States in order to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and Israelis and Arabs.”

The US leader has repeatedly indicated that he would like to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and in an interview Thursday with the Israel Hayom newspaper said he “honestly, truly” thinks he can do so.

“I think that there is a great opportunity to reach a deal [between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas],” the president said. “I am working very hard so that finally the Israelis and Palestinians will have peace, and I hope that this can happen quicker than anyone ever imagined.”

Trump said that he believes that there is a good chance for peace because it is the right time and he has the right people negotiating a deal. “It is a great opportunity and it is good for everyone,” he said. “This deal is good for all. We have the right people working on it, [Ambassador] David Friedman and [Middle East envoy] Jason Greenblatt.”

Trump refused to say whether the US would seek to impose a construction freeze in West Bank settlements. The president also remained non-committal on whether he would fulfill his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “There are many interesting things that we are working on,” he said. “We’ll speak about [the embassy] later.”  (the Times of Israel)

Israel’s security cabinet approves good-will package for Palestinians

Israel’s security cabinet approved a series of goodwill gestures to benefit Palestinians on Sunday, just ahead of US President Donald Trump’s first visit to the country.

Eight ministers supported Prime Minister Netanyahu in passing the measure, while two Bayit Yehudi ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, objected.

The series of economic measures included the establishment of an industrial zone in Tarquimiya and Jalameh, easement of restrictions at the Allenby border crossing, and new allowances for Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank.

According to Arab media reports, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked in a meeting with Trump in Washington for relief for Palestinians in Area C, allowing them more freedom of movement and economic development.

Trump’s special envoy to the region, Jason Greenblatt, spoke about the importance of economic initiatives as part of the rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians.

In his speech in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Trump referred to the possibility of achieving peace in the Middle East, stressing that cooperation between Abrahamic religions can bring peace to the world, including between Israelis and Palestinians. It would seem that this latest measure on the part of Israel’s security council is Israel’s way of saying they’re ready to come to the negotiating table.           (Jerusalem Post)

Ministers concerned Saudi arms deal might blunt Israel’s military edge

Israeli ministers have voiced concern about Israel’s ability to retain its qualitative military edge following the signing of a “tremendous” arms deal by US President Donald Trump with Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Riyadh will receive $110 billion effective immediately, plus at least another $350b. over the next 10 years in a deal aimed at supporting the Sunni kingdom in the face of the threats posed to it by Iran and its proxies.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s second largest arms importer and according to the US State Department, the wide-ranging deal will cover border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air and missile defense systems as well as cybersecurity and communications technology.

The package also includes defense equipment such as tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters, Patriot and THAAD anti-missile system as well as multi-mission surface combatant ships, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems.

The deal will also see the modernization of the kingdom’s air force including a commitment by Lockheed Martin to assemble 150 Blackhawk S-70 helicopters for $6b.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced a desire to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said before the weekly cabinet meeting that “this is a matter that really should trouble us.”

“Saudi Arabia is a hostile country and we must ensure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is preserved. Hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons deals is something we should receive explanations about.”

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz stated that “President Trump’s visit strengthens the anti-Iranian camp in the region and presents an opportunity to advance regional security and economic cooperation as a foundation for regional peace.”

But, he stressed, “at the same time Israel’s qualitative military edge should be maintained.”

In September, Israel and the US signed what was at the time a “historic” arms deal which takes effect on October 1, 2018, and would see Jerusalem receive $38b. in military aid over a decade. Under the terms of the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) Israel will receive $3.1b. in foreign military financing in the next fiscal year, followed by $3.3b. in the subsequent years, plus $500 million designated to missile defense.

At least $7b. of the MoU is earmarked for purchasing 50 of the world’s most advanced fighter plane, the F-35s, to make two full IAF squadrons by 2022. That plane has been touted as being instrumental in giving Israel complete air superiority in the region for the next 40 years.

The Israeli military is also working on two large deals with the US, including the procurement of fighter jets – either advanced versions of Boeing’s F-15 fighter jets or a different variant of the F-35 – and helicopters in order to upgrade two air force squadrons.

But the agreement entailed concessions by Netanyahu, such as for the first time Israel would not receive additional funds from Congress. In 2016, for example, Congress allocated an additional $206m. for three missile defense systems and Jerusalem will also move toward spending all of the aid within the US, whereas in the past Israel used 26% of the funds domestically.

According to a February report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, arms imports jumped by 86% between 2012 and 2016 in the Middle East, accounting for 29% of global arms purchases, an increase of almost double from the previous five-year period due in part to conflicts raging in the Middle East.  (Jerusalem Post)

‘Israel’s population to reach 20 million by 2065’

The nation’s population is expected to reach some 20 million by the end of 2065, with haredim comprising nearly a third of the population, according to a report the Central Bureau of Statistics released on Sunday.

At the end of 2015, 8.5 million people lived in Israel. The population is projected to grow to 10 million by the end of 2024, to 15 million by the end of 2048, and to 20 million by the end of 2065.

The researchers expect no significant changes in the proportion of the population made up by Jews, Arabs and others.

The population makeup in 2040 is forecast to be similar to that of 2015 – 79% Jews (and others) and 21% Arab.

In 2065, the Jewish (and other) population is expected to rise to some 81% of the population while the Arab proportion of the citizenry is projected to decrease to 19%.

The proportion of ultra-Orthodox in the population is expected to increase from 11% in 2015 to 20% by 2040 and 32% by 2065.

The ultra-Orthodox are forecast to comprise 40% of the Jewish (and other) population in 2065 – up from 14% in 2015 and 24% in 2040.

In 2015, 75% of Israeli children aged 0-14 were Jews or others, including 19% of all children who were ultra-Orthodox.

This share is expected to rise to 84% of the child population in 2065, of them 49% ultra-Orthodox.

In contrast, 25% of Israeli children aged 0-14 in 2015 were Arab; this proportion is expected to decrease to 15% by 2065.

The ultra-Orthodox and Arabs – two groups with low labor force participation rates – are expected to comprise an increasing share of the working age (25- 65) population.

In 2015, 81.2% of the working age population were Jews or others, including 7.5% of the total working age population who were ultra-Orthodox. By 2065, the ultra-Orthodox are expected to make up 26% of working age Israelis.

Similarly, in 2015 Arabs made up 18.8% of the working age population, and this figure is expected to rise to 21.8% in 2065.

Israel’s population – like the rest of the world – is an aging one, the report found.

In 2015, 11.1% of Israelis were aged 65 or older; this is forecast to rise to 14.3% in 2040, and to 15.3% in 2065.  (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinians: Tomorrow’s Secret ‘Day of Rage’

by Bassam Tawil           The Gatestone Institute

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/10393/palestinians-trump-rage

  • What is really driving this Palestinian hatred of Trump and the U.S.? The Palestinians and the Arabs have long been at war with what they regard as U.S. bias in favor of Israel. What they mean is that U.S. support for Israel stands in their way of destroying Israel.
  • Abbas is not going to tell Trump about the “Day of Rage” because it flies in the face of his repeated claim that Palestinians are ready for peace and are even raising their children in a culture of peace.
  • Once again, Abbas is playing Americans and other Westerners for fools. His people remain unwilling to recognize Israel’s very right to exist as a state for Jews. And so, Abbas will talk peace and coexistence while his people organize yet another “Day of Rage.”

Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority (PA), preparing to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump to Bethlehem, are seeking to create the impression that their sentiments are shared by their people. Yet many Palestinians are less than enthusiastic about the visit.

It is in the best interests of Abbas and the PA to hide the truth that many Palestinians view the U.S. as an Israel-loving enemy.

While the PA president and his aides attempt to bury that inconvenient fact, they are also doing their best to cover up the truth that many Palestinians have been radicalized to a point that they would rather aim a gun or knife at Israelis than aim for peace with them.

The strongest and most vocal protests against Trump’s visit have thus far come from Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians.

Ramallah is regularly described by Western journalists as a base for moderation and pragmatism. It is in this city that Abbas and the top PA leadership live and work.

In a statement published earlier this week, the National and Islamic Forces in Ramallah and El-Bireh, a coalition of various Palestinian political and terror groups, called for a “Day of Popular Rage” in the West Bank to protest the imminent presidential visit.

In Palestinian-speak, a “Day of Rage” is a call for intensified violence and terrorism directed mainly against Jews.

The term was formally introduced during the First Intifada, which erupted in late 1987, and consisted of stone and petrol-bomb attacks against Israel Defense Force soldiers and Jews residing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Similarly, during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, Days of Rage were associated with suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other acts of terrorism and assorted crimes perpetrated against Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as within Israel.

In recent years, Abbas’s Fatah faction and other groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have used different occasions to urge Palestinians to declare a Day of Rage against Israel.

Generally speaking, such calls come in response to Jewish visits to the Temple Mount — visits that have been taking place since East Jerusalem was liberated from Jordanian occupation in 1967.

The visits were temporarily suspended, however, for security reasons in the first years of the Second Intifada, out of concern for the safety of visitors. It is worth noting that non-Muslims are allowed to tour the Temple Mount, as has been true for the past five decades. The Palestinians, however, are specifically opposed to Jews visiting the site, under the false pretext that Jews are plotting to rebuild their Temple after destroying the Islamic holy sites there. This charge is, of course, another Palestinian blood libel against Jews.

So here we are again. Palestinians are calling for marking Trump’s visit with a Day of Rage (read: heightened terrorism). The statement issued by the National and Islamic Forces in Ramallah and El-Bireh is a clear and direct invitation to Palestinians to take to the streets and mow down Jews.

What is really driving this Palestinian hatred of Trump and the U.S.?

From the Palestinian point of view, were it not for the U.S., the Palestinians and the Arabs would have succeeded long ago in achieving their goal of destroying Israel.

“We reject American bias in favor of Israel,” read the statement. “We call for popular marches and rallies to affirm our people’s adherence to their legitimate rights, including the right of return and self-determination.” The statement also warned against U.S. pressure on Abbas and the PA leadership to return to the negotiating table with Israel.

The so-called “right of return” demanded by Palestinians means the right to flood Israel with millions of Palestinians, in order to create an Arab-majority state where Jews would live as a minority. This would come in addition to the creation of another Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians and the Arabs have long been at war with what they regard as U.S. bias in favor of Israel. What they mean is that U.S. support for Israel stands in their way of destroying Israel. They are saying: Only if Americans would stop supporting Israel financially, militarily and politically, we would be able to remove Israel from the face of the earth.

Neither Trump nor any members of his entourage is likely to notice the latest Palestinian Day of Rage. The strict, unprecedented security measures surrounding Trump’s planned visit to Bethlehem, and the fact that the stop is to last for only for 45 minutes, will make sure of that. Trump will not see Palestinians protesting against his visit. Nor will he see, during his visit, Palestinians closing their businesses and hurling stones and petrol bombs at Jews.

Trump’s Palestinian hosts will do their utmost to disguise many unpleasant truths. For instance, they probably will not mention that Palestinians are taking to the streets to protest his visit as well as to go after Jews. Abbas is not going to tell Trump about the Day of Rage because it flies in the face of his repeated claim that Palestinians are ready for peace and are even raising their children in a “culture of peace.”

The Palestinian Day of Rage during Trump’s visit is a further sign of the increased radicalization among Palestinians and their unwillingness to accept Israel’s right to exist as a state for Jews. Days of Rage are far from contained responses to particular Israeli policies or actions on the ground. The Day of Rage can be traced to the Arab and Muslim world with the establishment of Israel in 1948, and continues to be used by Arabs and Muslims as a tool of terrorism.

In truth, such days are an expression of rage over the presence of Jews in a sovereign state in the Middle East, and of wrath over U.S. support for Israel and of Palestinian support for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups. Days of Rage will continue as long as Palestinians continue to believe that Israel can and should be destroyed.

Once again, Abbas is playing Americans and other Westerners for fools. His people remain unwilling to recognize Israel’s very right to exist. And so, Abbas will talk peace and coexistence while his people organize yet another Day of Rage

The Six-Day War: An Inevitable Conflict

By Prof. Efraim Karsh                     BESA Center  (Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)

The Six-Day War: An Inevitable Conflict

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: It has long been conventional wisdom to view the June 1967 war as an accidental conflagration that neither Arabs nor Israelis desired, yet none were able to prevent. This could not be further from the truth. Its specific timing resulted of course from the convergence of a number of particular causes at a particular juncture. But its general cause—the total Arab rejection of Jewish statehood—made another all-out Arab-Israeli war a foregone conclusion.

The standard narrative regarding the Six-Day War runs as follows: Had Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser not fallen for a false Soviet warning of Israeli troop concentrations along the Syrian border and deployed his forces in the Sinai Peninsula, the slippery slope to war would have been averted altogether. Had Israel not misconstrued Egyptian grandstanding for a mortal threat to its national security, if not its very survival, it would have foregone the preemptive strike that started the war. In short, it was a largely accidental and unnecessary war born of mutual miscalculations and misunderstandings.

This view could not be further from the truth. If wars are much like road accidents, as the British historian A.J.P. Taylor famously quipped, having a general cause and particular causes at the same time, then the June 1967 war was anything but accidental. Its specific timing resulted of course from the convergence of a number of particular causes at a particular juncture. But its general cause—the total Arab rejection of Jewish statehood, starkly demonstrated by the concerted attempt to destroy the state of Israel at birth and the unwavering determination to rectify this “unfinished business”—made another all-out Arab-Israeli war a foregone conclusion.

Pan-Arabism’s Politics of Violence

No sooner had the doctrine of pan-Arabism, postulating the existence of “a single nation bound by the common ties of language, religion and history…. behind the facade of a multiplicity of sovereign states” come to dominate inter-Arab politics at the end of World War I than anti-Zionism became its most effective rallying cry: not from concern for the wellbeing of the Palestinian Arabs but from the desire to fend off a supposed foreign encroachment on the perceived pan-Arab patrimony. As Abdel Rahman Azzam, secretary-general of the Arab League, told Zionist officials in September

1947:

For me, you may be a fact, but for [the Arab masses], you are not a fact at all—you are a temporary phenomenon. Centuries ago, the Crusaders established themselves in our midst against our will, and in 200 years, we ejected them. This was because we never made the mistake of accepting them as a fact.

On rare occasions, this outright rejectionism was manifested in quiet attempts to persuade the Zionist leaders to forego their quest for statehood and acquiesce in subject status within a regional pan-Arab empire. Nuri Said, a long-time Iraqi prime minister, made this suggestion at a 1936 meeting with Chaim Weizmann while Transjordan’s King Abdullah of the Hashemite family secretly extended an offer to Golda Meir (in November 1947 and May 1948) to incorporate Palestine’s Jewish community into the “Greater Syrian” empire he was striving to create at the time. For most of the time, however, the Arabs’ primary instrument for opposing Jewish national aspirations was violence, and what determined their politics and diplomacy was the relative success or failure of that instrument in any given period. As early as April 1920, pan-Arab nationalists sought to rally support for incorporating Palestine into the short-lived Syrian kingdom headed by Abdullah’s brother, Faisal, by carrying out a pogrom in Jerusalem in which five Jews were murdered and 211 wounded. The following year, Arab riots claimed a far higher toll: some 90 dead and hundreds wounded. In the summer of 1929, another wave of violence resulted in the death of 133 Jews and the wounding of hundreds more.

For quite some time, this violent approach seemed to work. It was especially effective in influencing the British, who had been appointed the mandatory power in Palestine by the League of Nations. Though their explicit purpose was to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, the British authorities repeatedly gave in to Arab violence aimed at averting that purpose and to the demands that followed upon it. In two White Papers, issued in 1922 and 1930 respectively, London severely compromised the prospective Jewish national home by imposing harsh restrictions on immigration and land sales to Jews.

In July 1937, Arab violence reaped its greatest reward when a British commission of inquiry, headed by Lord Peel, recommended repudiating the terms of the mandate altogether in favor of partitioning Palestine into two states: a large Arab state, united with Transjordan, that would occupy some

90 percent of the mandate territory, and a Jewish state in what was left. This was followed in May 1939 by another White Paper that imposed even more draconian restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases, closing the door to Palestine for Jews desperate to flee Nazi Europe and threatening the survival of the Jewish national project. Agitating for more, the Arabs dismissed both plans as insufficient.

They did the same in November 1947 when, in the face of the imminent expiration of the British mandate, the U.N. General Assembly voted to partition Palestine. Rejecting this solution, the Arab nations resolved instead to destroy the state of Israel at birth and gain the whole for themselves. This time, however, Arab violence backfired spectacularly. In the 1948-49 war, not only did Israel confirm its sovereign independence and assert control over somewhat wider territories than those assigned to it by the U.N. partition resolution, but the Palestinian Arab community was profoundly shattered with about half of its population fleeing to other parts of Palestine and to neighboring Arab states.

Preparing for the “Second Round”

For the next two decades, inter-Arab politics would be driven by the determination to undo the consequences of the 1948 defeat, duly dubbed “al-Nakba,” the catastrophe, and to bring about Israel’s demise. Only now, it was Cairo rather than the two Hashemite kings that spearheaded the pan-Arab campaign following Nasser’s rise to power in 1954 and his embarkation on an aggressive pan-Arab policy.

The Egyptian president had nothing but contempt for most members of the “Arab Nation” he sought to unify: “Iraqis are savage, the Lebanese venal and morally degenerate, the Saudis dirty, the Yemenis hopelessly backward and stupid, and the Syrians irresponsible, unreliable and treacherous,” he told one of his confidants. Neither did he have a genuine interest in the Palestinian problem—pan-Arabism’s most celebrated cause: “The Palestinians are useful to the Arab states as they are,” he told a Western journalist in

  1. “We will always see that they do not become too powerful. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean!” Yet having recognized the immense value of this cause for his grandiose ambitions, he endorsed it with a vengeance, especially after the early 1960s when his pan-Arab dreams were in tatters as Syria acrimoniously seceded from its bilateral union with Egypt (1958-61) and the Egyptian army bogged down in an unwinnable civil war in Yemen. “Arab unity or the unity of the Arab action or the unity of the Arab goal is our way to the restoration of Palestine and the restoration of the rights of the people of Palestine,” Nasser argued. “Our path to Palestine will not be covered with a red carpet or with yellow sand. Our path to Palestine will be covered with blood.”

By way of transforming this militant rhetoric into concrete plans, in January 1964, the Egyptian president convened the first all-Arab summit in Cairo to discuss ways and means to confront the “Israeli threat.” A prominent item on the agenda was the adoption of a joint strategy to prevent Israel from using the Jordan River waters to irrigate the barren Negev desert in the south of the country. A no less important decision was to “lay the proper foundations for organizing the Palestinian people and enabling it to fulfill its role in the liberation of its homeland and its self-determination.” Four months later, a gathering of 422 Palestinian activists in East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian rule, established the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and approved its two founding documents: the organization’s basic constitution and the Palestinian National Covenant.

These events made Nasser yet again the undisputed leader of the Arab world, the only person capable of making the Arabs transcend, however temporarily, their self-serving interests for the sake of the collective good. He was nowhere near his cherished goal of promoting the actual unification of the Arab world under his leadership as he had seemingly been in 1958 when Syria agreed to merge with Egypt. Yet he had successfully hijacked pan-Arabism’s most celebrated cause and established a working relationship with his erstwhile enemies in Amman and Riyadh. In a second summit meeting in Alexandria in October 1964, the heads of the Arab states accepted Nasser’s long-term, anti-Israel strategy. This envisaged the laying of the groundwork for the decisive confrontation through the patient buildup of Arab might in all areas—military, economic, social, and political—and the simultaneous weakening of Israel through concrete actions such as the diversion of the Jordan River estuaries. The PLO was authorized to create an army of Palestinian volunteers, to which the Arab governments pledged to give support, and a special fund was established for the reorganization of the Lebanese, Syrian, and Jordanian armies under a united Arab command.

The Slide to War

Before long, this organized pan-Arab drive for Israel’s destruction was disrupted by an unexpected sequence of events that led, within a few weeks, to the third Arab-Israeli war since 1948; and the event that triggered this escalation was a Soviet warning (in early May 1967) of large-scale Israeli troop concentrations along the border with Syria aimed at launching an immediate attack. As pan-Arabism’s standard-bearer, Nasser had no choice but to come to the rescue of a (supposedly) threatened ally tied to Egypt in a bilateral defense treaty since November 1966, especially when the pro-Western regimes in Jordan and Saudi Arabia were openly ridiculing his failure to live up to his high pan-Arab rhetoric. On May 14, the Egyptian armed forces were placed on the highest alert, and two armored divisions began moving into the Sinai Peninsula, formally demilitarized since the 1956 Suez war. That same day, the Egyptian chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Muhammad Fawzi, arrived in Damascus to get a first-hand impression of the military situation and to coordinate a joint response in the event of an Israeli attack. To his surprise, Fawzi found no trace of Israeli concentrations along the Syrian border or troop movements in northern Israel. He reported these findings to his superiors, but this had no impact on the Egyptian move into Sinai, which continued apace. Fawzi was to recall in his memoirs,

From that point onward, I began to believe that the issue of Israeli concentrations along the Syrian border was not … the only or the main cause of the military deployments which Egypt was undertaking with such haste.

Within less than twenty-four hours, Nasser’s objective had been transformed from the deterrence of an Israeli attack against Syria into an outright challenge to the status quo established after the 1956 war. With Fawzi’s reassuring findings corroborated both by Egyptian military intelligence and by a special U.N. inspection, and the Israelis going out of their way to reassure the Soviets that they had not deployed militarily along their northern border, Nasser must have realized that there was no imminent threat to Syria. He could have halted his troops at that point and claimed a political victory, having deterred an (alleged) Israeli attack against Syria.

But it is precisely here that the Arab-Israeli conflict’s general cause—rejection of Israel’s very existence—combined with the particular causes to make war inevitable as Nasser’s resolute move catapulted him yet again to a position of regional preeminence that he was loath to relinquish. At a stroke, he had managed to undo one of Israel’s foremost gains in the 1956 war—the de facto demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula—without drawing a serious response from Jerusalem. Now that the Egyptian troops were massing in Sinai, Nasser decided to raise the ante and eliminate another humiliating remnant of that war for which he had repeatedly been castigated by his rivals in the Arab world: the presence of a U.N. Emergency Force (UNEF) on Egyptian (but not on Israeli) territory as a buffer between the two states.

As the U.N. observers were quickly withdrawn and replaced by Egyptian forces, Nasser escalated his activities still further. Addressing Egyptian pilots in Sinai on May 22, he announced the closure of the Strait of Tiran, at the southern mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, to Israeli and Israel-bound shipping. “The Gulf of Aqaba constitutes our Egyptian territorial waters,” he announced to the cheers of an ecstatic audience. “Under no circumstances will we allow the Israeli flag to pass through the Aqaba Gulf.” The following day the Egyptian mass media broke the news to the entire world.

Did Nasser consider the possibility that his actions might lead to war? All the available evidence suggests that he did. Initially, when he briefly believed in the imminence of an Israeli attack against Syria, he could not have taken for granted that the Egyptian deployment in Sinai would have deterred such an action, in which case he would have been forced to come to Syria’s defense. Moreover, the demilitarization of Sinai was seen by Israel as vital to its national security, which made its violation a legitimate casus belli. But then, Nasser was being rapidly entrapped by his imperialist ambitions. He began deploying his troops in Sinai out of fear that failure to do so would damage his pan-Arab position beyond repair. He continued to escalate his activities, knowing full well that there was no threat of an Israeli attack against Syria, because of his conviction that the continuation of the crisis boosted his pan-Arab standing.

It is true that the lack of a prompt and decisive Israeli response to the Egyptian challenge, together with the quick realization that there were no Israeli concentrations along the Syrian border, might have convinced Nasser that the risks were not so great and that war was not inevitable. Yet, when he decided to remove UNEF and to close the Strait of Tiran, Nasser undoubtedly knew that he was crossing the threshold from peace to war. “Now with our concentrations in Sinai, the chances of war are fifty-fifty,” he told his cabinet on May 21, during a discussion on the possible consequences of a naval blockade. “But if we close the Strait, war will be a 100 percent certainty.” “We all knew that our armaments were adequate—indeed, infinitely better than in the October 1973 War,” recalled Anwar Sadat, who participated in that crucial meeting:

When Nasser asked us our opinion, we were all agreed that the Strait should be closed—except for [Prime Minister] Sidqi Sulayman, who pleaded with Nasser to show more patience … [But] Nasser paid no attention to Sulayman’s objections. He was eager to close the Strait so as to put an end to the Arab maneuverings and maintain his great prestige within the Arab world.

The die was cast. Having maneuvered himself yet again into the driver’s seat of inter-Arab politics, Nasser could not climb down without risking a tremendous loss of face. He was approaching the brink with open eyes, and if there was no way out of the crisis other than war, so be it: Egypt was prepared. Daily consultations between the political and the military leaderships were held. The Egyptian forces in Sinai were assigned their operational tasks. In a widely publicized article in al-Ahram on May 26, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Nasser’s mouthpiece, Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, explained why war between Egypt and Israel was inevitable. A week later, at a meeting with the armed forces’ supreme command, Nasser predicted an Israeli strike against Egypt within forty-eight to seventy-two hours at the latest.

The coming of war is seldom a happy occasion. It is often fraught with misgivings and apprehensions. But if doubts assailed Nasser’s peace of mind, he gave them no public expression. The Egyptian war preparations were carried out in a confident and ever-extravagant fashion, in front of the watching eyes of the world media. The closer Nasser came to the brink, the more aggressive he became. “The Jews have threatened war,” he gloated in his May 22 speech, “We tell them: You are welcome; we are ready for war.” Four days later, he took a big step forward, announcing that if hostilities were to break out, “our main objective will be the destruction of Israel.” “Now that we have the situation as it was before 1956,” Nasser proclaimed on another occasion, “Allah will certainly help us to restore the status quo of before 1948.”

Once again imperialist pan-Arab winds were blowing. “This is the real rising of the Arab nation,” Nasser boasted while the few skeptics within the Egyptian leadership were being rapidly converted to belief in victory over Israel. In the representative words of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt’s foremost writer and winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize:

When Nasser held his famous press conference, before the June 1967 war, and spoke with confident pomp, I took our victory over Israel for granted. I envisaged it as a simple journey to Tel Aviv, of hours or days at the most, since I was convinced we were the greatest military power in the Middle East.

By this time, the conflict was no longer about the presence of U.N. forces on Egyptian soil or freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba, let alone the alleged Israeli threat to Syria. It had been transformed into a jihad to eradicate the foremost “remnant of Western imperialism” in the Middle East. “During the crusaders’ occupation, the Arabs waited seventy years before a suitable opportunity arose, and they drove away the crusaders,” Nasser echoed Azzam’s 1947 rhetoric, styling himself as the new Saladin: “[R]ecently we felt that we are strong enough, that if we were to enter a battle with Israel, with God’s help, we could triumph.”

Nasser’s militancy was contagious. The irritating chorus of criticism had fallen silent. His former Arab rivals were standing in line to rally behind his banner. On the morning of May 30, Jordan’s King Hussein, who at the beginning of the crisis still mocked Nasser for “hiding behind UNEF’s apron,” arrived in Cairo where he immediately signed a defense pact with Egypt. He returned to Amman later that day accompanied by Ahmad Shuqeiri, head of the PLO and hitherto one of the king’s archenemies. The following day, an Egyptian general arrived in Amman to command the eastern front in the event of war. On June 4, Iraq followed suit by entering into a defense agreement with Egypt, and Nasser informed King Hussein that their pact now included Iraq as well. By this time, Arab expeditionary forces—including an Iraqi armored division, a Saudi and a Syrian brigade, and two Egyptian commando battalions—were making their way to Jordan. The balance of forces, so it seemed to the Arabs, had irreversibly shifted in their favor. The moment of reckoning with the “Zionist entity,” as they pejoratively called Israel, had come. “Have your authorities considered all the factors involved and the consequences of the withdrawal of UNEF?” the commander of the U.N. force, Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye, asked the Egyptian officers bearing the official demand. “Oh yes sir! We have arrived at this decision after much deliberation, and we are prepared for anything. If there is war, we shall next meet at Tel Aviv.” The Iraqi president Abdel Rahman Aref was no less forthright. “This is the day of the battle,” he told the Iraqi forces leaving for Jordan. “We are determined and united to achieve our clear aim—to remove Israel from the map. We shall, Allah willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa.”

The Non-Accidental War

Yet for all his militant zeal, Nasser had weighty reasons to forgo a first strike at this particular time. His war preparations had not been completed: The Egyptian forces in Sinai were still digging in; the Arab expeditionary forces to Jordan had not yet been fully deployed, and coordination of the operational plans of the Arab military coalition required more time. Nasser also feared that an Egyptian attack would trigger a U.S. military response that might neutralize the new Arab political and military superiority over Israel, which had been gained by the most remarkable demonstration of pan-Arab unity since the 1948 war.

Nasser’s fears of U.S. intervention were compounded by the nature of the Egyptian operational plan, which envisaged deep thrusts into Israel’s territory. An armored division was to break out of the Gaza Strip and capture border villages inside Israel while another armored division was to cut off the southern Negev from the rest of Israel, thereby achieving the long-standing Egyptian objective of establishing a land bridge with Jordan. Given Nasser’s belief in the U.S. commitment to Israel’s territorial integrity, such plans could hardly be implemented if Egypt were to take the military initiative. Their execution as an act of self-defense in response to an Israeli attack was a completely different matter, however.

This explains Nasser’s readiness to play the political card, such as his decision to send Vice-President Zakaria Muhieddin to Washington on June 7. He had no intention whatever to give ground, and the move was aimed at cornering Israel and making it more vulnerable to Arab pressure and, eventually, war. Robert Anderson, a special U.S. envoy sent to Egypt to defuse the crisis, reported to President Lyndon Johnson that Nasser showed no sign of backing down and spoke confidently of the outcome of a conflict with Israel.

Anderson was not the only person to have heard this upbeat assessment. Nasser’s belief in Egypt’s ability to absorb an Israeli strike and still win the war was widely shared by the Egyptian military and was readily expressed to the other members of the Arab military coalition. In his May 30 visit to Cairo, King Hussein was assured by Nasser of Egypt’s full preparedness against an Israeli air strike: No more than 15-20 percent losses would be incurred before the Egyptian air force dealt a devastating blow to Israel. The other members of the Jordanian delegation heard equally confident words from Abdel Hakim Amer, Nasser’s deputy and commander of the Egyptian armed forces. When the Egyptian foreign minister Mahmoud Riad asked Amer about the armed forces’ state of readiness, he was told that “if Israel actually carried out any military action against us, I could, with only one third of our forces, reach Beersheba.”

The most eloquent public exposition of this euphoric state of mind was provided by Heikal’s May 26 al-Ahram article on the inevitability of war. “Egypt has exercised its power and achieved the objectives of this stage without resorting to arms so far,” he wrote:

Israel has no alternative but to use arms if it wants to exercise power. This means that the logic of the fearful confrontation now taking place between Egypt, fortified by the might of the masses of the Arab nation, and Israel, bolstered by the illusion of American might, dictates that Egypt, after all it has now succeeded in achieving, must wait, even though it has to wait for a blow. This is necessitated also by the sound conduct of the battle, particularly from an international point of view. Let Israel begin. Let our second blow then be ready. Let it be a knockout.

As it were, the war that broke out on June 5 was not quite the knockout that Heikal had in mind. Instead of dealing Israel a mortal blow, the Egyptians saw their air force destroyed on the ground within three hours of the outbreak of hostilities and their army crushed and expelled from Sinai over the next three days. As Syria, Jordan, and Iraq attacked Israel, their armies were similarly routed. By the time the war was over, after merely six days of fighting, Israel had extended its control over vast Arab territories about five times its own size, from the Suez Canal, to the Jordan River, to the Golan Heights.

Small wonder that Nasser would doggedly shrug off responsibility for the defeat by feigning victimhood and emphatically denying any intention to attack Israel. This claim was quickly endorsed by numerous Western apologists eager to absolve him of any culpability for the war, in what was to become the standard Arab and Western historiography of the conflict. Some went so far in the attempt to exculpate Nasser as to portray him as a mindless creature thriving on hollow rhetoric and malleable in the extreme:

… retired members of the old Revolutionary Command Council wander in and out of meetings and give their opinions; Nasser butts in and nobody pays much attention to him; he takes journalists seriously and revises his intelligence estimate on the basis of their remarks; he is influenced by the casual conversation of diplomats.

Aside from doing a great injustice to Nasser—the charismatic dictator who had heavy-handedly ruled Egypt for over a decade and mesmerized tens of millions throughout the Arabic-speaking world—this description has little basis in reality. As evidenced both by Nasser’s escalatory behavior during the crisis and by captured military documents revealing elaborate plans for an invasion of Israel, the Egyptian president did not stumble into war but orchestrated it with open eyes. He steadily raised his sights in accordance with the vicissitudes in the crisis until he set them on the ultimate pan-Arab objective: the decisive defeat of Israel and, if possible, its destruction.

Conclusion

The June 1967 war was a direct corollary of pan-Arabism’s delusions of grandeur, triggered by the foremost champion of this ideology and directed against its foremost nemesis. It was the second all-out attempt in a generation to abort the Jewish national revival, and it ended in an even greater ignominy than its 1948 precursor. Then, only half of Palestine had been lost. Now the land was lost in its entirety, together with Egyptian and Syrian territories. In 1948, the dividing line between victor and vanquished was often blurred as the war dragged on intermittently for over a year. In

1967, owing to the war’s swift and decisive nature, there was no doubt as to which side was the victor.

The magnitude of the defeat thus punctured the pan-Arab bubble of denial and suggested to the Arabs that military force had its limits. If the 1967 war was fought with a view to destroying Israel, the next war, in October 1973, launched by Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat, had the far narrower objective of triggering a political process that would allow Egypt to regain the territories lost in 1967. Israel’s remarkable military recovery in October

1973 after having been caught off-guard further reinforced Sadat’s determination to abandon pan-Arabism’s most celebrated cause and culminated in the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of March 1979.

While one can only speculate about Sadat’s ultimate intentions (he was assassinated in October 1981 by an Islamist zealot), there is little doubt that his successor, Hosni Mubarak, viewed peace not as a value in and of itself but as the price Egypt had to pay for such substantial benefits as increased U.S. economic and military aid. So did the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which perceived its 1990s peace agreements with Israel as a pathway not to a two-state solution—Israel alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza living side-by-side in peace—but to the subversion of the state of Israel.

In Arab eyes, then, with the partial exception perhaps of Jordan’s King Hussein, contractual peace with Israel has represented not a recognition of legitimacy but a tacit admission that, at least for the time being, the Jewish state cannot be defeated by force of arms. And while militant pan-Arabism is unlikely to regain its pre-1967 dominance in the foreseeable future due to the ravages of the recent Arab upheavals, the advent of a new generation of Palestinians and Arabs for whom the 1967 defeat is but a dim memory, one more historical injustice that has to be redressed by any means necessary, makes the prospects of Arab-Israeli reconciliation as remote as ever.

Prof. Efraim Karsh is Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.