Does the below diagram of the Middle East confuse you? If not, then you have been following the region’s news very closely – or are still clueless and concerned about where the Arab Spring revolutions and the region are headed.

The modern Middle East is a product of the short and long term influences of:

  • Colonialism, imperialism, westernization,
  • Nationalism, Pan-Arabism, Islamic fundamentalism
  • Zionism, collective security – League of Nations and United Nations.

The following maps vividly describe how those influences shaped the region in just the twenty years between the world wars.

The Middle East today:

The Arab World is comprised of 22 nations and peoples related by ethnicity / religion (see below list).

  • 22 Arab world countries are mapped in green
  • See above map for names, population size

Israel’s Arab population is 21%, but as a Jewish State (75%), Israel is perceived more as part of the Mediterranean world and less so the Arab world that surrounds it.

Key concepts / terms for understanding the region and peoples:

Abraham of Chaldea (Iraq), Hebrews, Judaism, Jews, exodus, Philistines, Canaanites, Sinai, prophets claims, Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Jerusalem,Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Jesus Christ,Christians, Diaspora / dispersion, Palestine, Byzantines, Mohammed, Islam, Moslems, Sunni, Shiite, Alawites, Druze, Crusaders, Holy Land, Ottoman Empire,Maronites, Lebanon, Chazars,Theodore Herzl,Zionism,migration – immigration, Balfour Declaration, partitioning, Transjordan / Jordan,Arab nationalism, Holocaust, Israel – Israelis, Ashkenazim – Sephardic, Fatah / Palestinian Authority – West Bank, Hamas – Gaza, Camp David,secure physical borders, Intifadas – uprisings, Hezbollah / Shiites,Phalange – Amal / Christians, Baath Socialism – Saddam Hussein – Iraq Hafez al Assad, Bashar al Assad / Syrian Civil War / Alawites – Sunni rebels, Shah,Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini / Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Operation Desert Storm, emirates / sheikdoms,Persian Gulf,Kurds,Soviet Jews, Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda, Afghanistan War, Iraq War,Sunni – Shiite conflict, Arab Spring, Egyptian revolution / Moslem Brotherhood, Iran nuclear program, economic sanctions, U.S. regional military engagement,collective security

Middle East Glossary: Provides a foundation for regional understanding that includes:

  • Key concepts and importance of item
  • Short explanation that provides a definition or short description.

Abraham of Chaldea: Founder of new monotheistic (one God) religion who led followers from Chaldea (Western Iraq today) to Beersheba in southeastern Israel.

  • The Hebrew tribe spent 75 years there before they were driven off by drought
  • With the land ravaged and unfit, Abraham’s brother Joseph accepted an offer from Pharaoh to come to Egypt where a grain surplus existed
  • The Jews, unfortunately, became enslaved for 400 years until Moses, the second prophet, led them out of bondage
  • The 75 year long settlement was basis for Moses’ later claim that God willed the land of Canaan / Zion to the Hebrews.

In below picture, Abraham is following God’s test as to whether he will sacrifice his son Isaac to show his devotion. Abraham’s other son was Ishmael so he is also a father of Islam (Ibrahim). Moses (right) holds the Ten Commandments that God instructed the Hebrew people to live accordingly.

Judaism: Religion developed among the ancient Hebrews.

  • Characterized by belief in one transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses – the Hebrew prophets
  • By a religious life in accordance with Scriptures and rabbinic traditions.

High Holiday worship – Rosh Hoshana, Yom Kippur

Torah reading and study

Synagogue life / community


Hebrews: Descendents from one of a group of northern Semitic peoples including the Israelites – people who practice Judaism.

Jew: Member of the tribe of Judah

  • Member of a nation existing from the sixth century B.C. until the first century A.D.
  • Person belonging to a faith descending from the ancient Jewish people
  • One whose religion is Judaism.

Exodus: Mass departure of the ancient Jewish people from Pharaonic Egypt – mass escape from slavery engineered by Moses who led followers to safety in the Sinai Desert.

Philistines: Descendents of Palestinians that emigrated from Turkey to Palestine around 3,000 B.C.

  • May have been the Sea People that invaded Egypt before settling in Canaan
  • Early inhabitants of land though not native as often claimed.

Canaanites: Semitic tribe that migrated from Turkey to Palestine and Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon) around 2000 B.C.

  • Ancient ancestors of modern day Palestinians.

Sinai: Peninsula extension of Asia and NE Egypt between Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

  • Jews, for 40 years, survived Sinai’s desert-like terrain.

Sinai is currently a stronghold of militant Islamic groups opposed to the Egyptian military government that removed the Moslem Brotherhood from power and banned it. Militants frequently clash with the Army.

Prophets claims: Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed were founders of three of the world’s great religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam.

  • All three faiths are mono-theistic
  • Their Gods are Yahweh, Jehovah, and Allah
  • All three faiths claim Jerusalem as a Holy Place
  • Moslems treasure Mecca and Medina as the birthplaces of Islam, also Jerusalem where it is claimed that Mohammed ascended to heaven on a winged horse from the Dome of the Rock.

The Prophets uttered divinely inspired revelations that formed the basis for faiths and scriptures:

  • Jews – Old Testament
  • Christians – New Testament
  • Moslems – Koran.

Kingdoms of Israel and Judah: Kingdom of David was formed in 1000 B.C.

  • Canaanites were merged into Hebrew population
  • Death of Solomon in 922 B.C. splits Hebrews into northern Kingdom of Israel and southern Kingdom of Judah
  • Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 B.C.
  • Kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.
  • Israel was primarily located in the Samarian Mountains, Judah in the Judean Mountains.

Jerusalem: Capitol of ancient kingdom of Judah and modern nation of Israel.

  • Jewish State’s largest city and administrative and religious center.

Assyrians: Ancient Semitic group that formed the Assyrian nation.

  • Descendents are probably the people of modern Syria and northwestern Lebanon.

Babylonians: Natives / inhabitants of ancient Babylonia spoke Akkadian language.

  • Were descendents of modern day Iraqis who speak Arabic.

Persians: People of ancient Persia, a great empire about 2,500 years ago.

  • Persians are ancestors of present day Iranians
  • Persians conquered Babylonia in 520 B.C. and permitted Jews to return to Israel and Jerusalem.

Romans: People of ancient city and empire of Rome that ruled the Holy Land from 70 A.D. to 395 A.D.

  • Romans obliterated remaining Jewish identity of former kingdom of Israel
  • Romans crucified Jesus Christ and renamed the land Palestinia.

Jesus Christ: Jesus of Nazareth, born 4 – 8 B.C., died A.D. 29, was son of Mary and Joseph.

  • Jesus is the source of the Christian religion and Savior in the Christian faith.

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Christians: People who practice the religion derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

  • Christians believe that someday Jesus will reappear as the Messiah
  • In contrast, the Jews are still awaiting the appearance of their Messiah.

Diaspora / dispersion: Settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside Israel / Palestine after the Babylonian and Roman exiles.

  • Jews wandered the earth for 2,000 years awaiting their return to Zion, the inspiration of Zionism
  • More than 6 million Jews live in Israel, 5.5 million in the U.S.
  • About a half million each live in Russia, England, France, Argentina – 12 to 15 million worldwide
  • Some claim that with the establishment of the State of Israel, the Diaspora no longer exists
  • Jews therefore choose to live outside of Israel; example, U.S. Jews are Americans first
  • Short of a cataclysm and appearance of a Messiah, mass return seems unlikely.

Palestine: Former region bordering on east coast of Mediterranean and extending east of the Jordan River

  • Area has been governed by numerous groups, empires, religions
  • Area is now divided by Israel (controls western third and West Bank) – Jordan controls the eastern two-thirds
  • Gaza is technically autonomous and more a part of Sinai
  • Palestinian Arabs, displaced since 1947, have made their case for a homeland located in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
  • Divisions between the West Bank’s Fatah (Palestinian Authority – PA) government and Hamas-controlled Gaza further challenge any solution.

Limited occupation: Gaza Strip was administered by Egypt, and the West Bank controlled by Jordan from 1947 (Israel’s inception) until the 1967 Six Day War

  • Israel won control but withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and ceded control of the strip to Fatah in West Bank
  • Hamas has blocked Fatah’s power in Gaza since 2007 takeover.
  • Israel has made incursions in Gaza to quell missile and terrorists attacks against it
  • Palestinian Arabs view occupation as a form of Israeli irredentism
  • Israel worries that any new state of Palestine will seek to include it next and takes steps to preclude that outcome.

Byzantines: People of ancient city of Byzantium.

  • later became Constantinople, then Istanbul for past 500 years
  • Constantinople was the center of the Christian Orthodox Church, the eastern branch of the Catholic Church / Holy Roman Empire
  • Byzantines split off from Rome’s control and ruled the Holy Land from 395 – 636 A.D.

Byzantine Empire 555 AD.

Mohammed: Islam’s prophet was born 570 and died 632 A.D.

  • Mohammed was instructed by Allah, the God of Islam, to found and spread the religion, and write the Koran
  • Mohammed established Mecca as the Holy City of Islam.

Moslem – Muslim: An adherent of Islam who obeys the laws of Allah as stated in the Koran according to the prophet Mohammed.

Sunni: Moslems of the branch of Islam that adheres to the orthodox tradition

  • Acknowledges the first four caliphs as rightful successors of Mohammed.

Shia / Shiite: Moslems of the branch of Islam comprising sects believing in Ali Shia and the Imans as the only rightful successor to Mohammed

  • As in the concealment and messianic return of the last recognized Imam.

Alawite: Shia religious sect / offshoot of Islam which comprises about 15% of Syrian population

  • Once rural, poor and isolated, Alawites have dominated political life of the country for over 50 years
  • Baath Socialist Party founder Hafez al Assad seized control and ruled until his death
  • Hafez was succeeded a decade ago by son Bashar who has survived a civil war for past 3 years

Druze: Religious sect / offshoot of Sunni Islam originated in, and centered across the Shouf Mountains of Lebanon.

  • Druze also inhabit the mountains of southwestern Syria and hilly, north-central Israel.

Christian Crusades / Crusaders: Military expeditions undertaken by Christian European powers in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries to win control of the Holy Land from the Moslems.

  • Crusaders gained control over parts of Lebanon and Palestine over a 200 year period.

First Christian Crusade

Crusader states

Holy Land: Divinely granted to religious groups according to claims of prophets. Sacred ground where prophets lived, walked, and uttered revelations.

Maronites: Christianity spread to Lebanon during Roman and Byzantine rule.

  • Maronites trace their ancestry back to the fifth century
  • Maron, a one-eyed Syrian monk and hermit, fought persecution of Christians by other Christians and later Moslems
  • Maronites established strong holds in mountainous areas
  • View selves as besieged islands of Christian civilization in a Moslem sea.

Lebanon: Sliver of mountainous land running parallel to coast west of Bekka Valley bordering Syria.

  • In ancient times, was home of the seafaring Phoenicians
  • Later waves of Greek and Roman Christians arrived, then Moslem Arabs and Turks, also carved out pockets
  • Lebanon became a French mandate in 1920, then a republic in 1944
  • In 1977, a 15 year long civil war laid siege to daily life and ended in 1992
  • A delicate balance exists between the majority Shiites (Hezbollah), Sunnis and Christians
  • Shiites control Parliament, Christians occupy the weak Presidency, a Sunni serves as Speaker of the House
  • Syria has influenced events in Lebanon through proxy Hezbollah.

Falange: Largest and most influential of Lebanon’s Christian political parties that have become militarized.

  • The Phalange’s philosophical origins are drawn from the fascist European political parties of the 1930’s
  • Gemayel family can field thousands of fighters if necessary
  • Haddad clan dominates the southern rim.

Hezbollah: Shiite political group that dominates Lebanese politics and life

  • Essentially a state within a state that is pro-Iranian
  • Currently fighting alongside Bashar al Assad’s Alawite government against the majority Sunni opposition
  • Hezbollah possesses 20,000 – 50,000 missiles and shells to rain down on Israel
  • Took westerners hostage during the civil war
  • Employs a shadowy Islamic Jihad / Moslem Holy War terrorist cell to commit acts of violence against Zionist / western enemies
  • In 1983, a Hezbolla suicide bomber drove a truck full of dynamite into a U.S. marine base and killed 241 American soldiers.

Turks – Seljuk, Mamluks, Chazars: Turks are members of numerous Asian peoples speaking Turkic languages and ranging from the Adriatic to Okhotsk (East Russia)

  • Sultanates of the Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine and Lebanon for 400 years
  • Seljuks were several Turkish dynasties that ruled great parts of western Asia in the 11th, 12th, 13th centuries
  • Mamluks were a politically powerful Egyptian military class that occupied the Turkish Sultanates from 1250 – 1517
  • Chazars are rumored to have been a Turkic tribe that converted to Judaism to avoid offending threatening Christian and Moslem armies, then melted into Central Europe’s Jewish ghettoes
  • Palestinian Arabs have claimed that many of the Zionists who returned to Palestine to establish Israel were descendents of Chazars – the belief is without any basis in fact.


Ottoman Empire: Source is Othman, founder of the empire that once stretched from southeastern Europe to Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), and across northern Africa from Morocco to Arabia.

  • Ottomans governed Palestine as the Safad District and Lebanon as Syria.

Theodore Herzl: Austrian journalist who attended the 1895 World Zionist Congress

  • Herzl declared that Diasporic Jews should return to Zion – illegal at time – and build a Jewish homeland
  • Not first, only most successful in rallying world Jewry to move to Palestine
  • By 1919, thousands of Jews had defied the Arab ban against their immigrating to Palestine.

Zionism: Idea of building a Jewish state and homeland in Palestine.

  • Zion built on remnant who never left the land and those Zionists who’d heeded Herzl’s call
  • Together created the modern state of Israel in 1947
  • Zionist ideology blends Jewish, capitalist, socialist, and democratic ideals to hopefully produce a fair and equitable society.

Migration / immigration: World events have generated several mass movements of Jews to Palestine

  • Herzl’s call, Balfour Declaration, Nazi Germany
  • Many waves of refugees were absorbed by Israel
  • Four Arab – Israeli wars resulted in 550,000 Arabic Jews migrating to Israel
  • Exodus of 1,000,000+ Soviet / Russian Jewry 1980 – 2010
  • Operation Rescue of Ethiopia’s Falasha Jews (50,000).
  • Under Law of Return, all Jews may make aliyah or immigration to Israel.

Balfour Declaration: British statesman and philosopher who, under a 1919 League of Nations mandate, opened Palestine to Jewish immigration

  • Grand Mufti, Moslem leader of Palestine, forbade Jewish immigration and purchasing of land
  • Balfour overruled the Mufti with his declaration
  • Tensions rose and conflict paralleled the ten-fold increase in immigration and land sales.

Partitioning: In 1922, the British divided Palestine:

  • All land west of the Jordan River was considered the State of Palestine and open to Arab and Jewish immigration and buying of land
  • All land east of the river was called Transjordan
  • In 1947, the UN partitioned Palestine into the new State of Israel, essentially the coastal plain
  • Jordan, formerly Transjordan, annexed the rest of Palestine.

Transjordan / Jordan: In 1922, the British imported a Saudi Arabian Bedouin sheik named Abdullah and installed him as king of the new State of Transjordan, later Jordan.

  • Abdullah’s son Hussein ruled as king for a half a century
  • Upon his death, his son Abdullah succeeded him
  • Abdullah continues as king of a people that are 30% descendents of Arabian Bedouins and 70% Palestinian Arabs.

Arab nationalism: Reaction to 19th Century European colonization of the Middle East

  • Inspired too by wish to resurrect former glorious Arab past
  • Nationalist movements happened in the years between the world wars and the 1950’s
  • Some Arab groups desire to merge all nation-states into one great pan-Arabic empire.

Holocaust: Means burnt wholesacrifice by firein this case, the systematic slaughter of nearly 6,000,000 European Jews by Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

  • Genocide / extermination of 72% of Europe’s 8.3 million Jews
  • Was a factor in influencing the U.N. and world opinion to accept the 1947 partitioning of Palestine
  • Was also factor in recognition of the new State of Israel.


Country Jews Killed % Death Jewish pop
Totals: 5,978,000 72%

The complete list of massacres, expulsions, pogroms, etc. against Jews cannot be given here, but most of the major events are:

115 BC – Expulsion of Jews from Cyprus

640, 721, 873 – Jews in the Byzantine Empire forcibly converted to Christianity

1096 – German crusade massacres 100,000 Jews in European cities

1099 – Thousands of Jerusalem’s Jews massacred by Christian Crusaders

1290 – Expulsion of Jews from England

1306 – Expulsion of Jews from France

1355 – 12,000 Jews massacred by mob in Toledo, Spain

1349, 1360 – Jews expelled from Hungary

1420 – Annihilation of Jewish community in Toulouse, France

1146, 1391 – Jews of Spain forcibly converted to Christianity

1492 – Expulsion of 180,000 Jews from Spain, 50,000 converted to Christianity remain in Spain

1495 – Jews expelled from Lithuania

1497 – Expulsion of Jews from Portugal, Sicily, and Sardinia

1502 – All Jews from Rhodes forcibly converted, expelled or taken into slavery

1541 – Jews expelled from Kingdom of Naples

1648 to 1656 – 100,000 Jews murdered in Chmielnicki massacres in Poland

1838 – Entire Jewish community in Meshed, Persia forcibly converted to Islam

1882 to 1890 – 750,000 Jews living in Russia forced to resettle in the Pale

1891 – Jews expelled from Moscow and St. Petersburg

1871 to 1921 – Anti-Jewish pogroms in town of Russia and Ukraine

1939 to 1945 – The Holocaust: murder of six million European Jews by German Nazis and collaborators

1941 – Mobs in Baghdad, Iraq attack Jewish community and kill 180 Jews

1948 to present – 550,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands after defeats by Israel

1985, 1991 – 50,000 Ethiopian Falasha (black African) Jews rescued by Israel and immigrate

1980 to present – Hundreds of thousands of Soviet / Russian Jews emigrate to Israel after 70 years of repression under communist rule

Israelis: Citizens of modern State of Israel.

  • Israel established as a Jewish homeland
  • 25% of Israelis are Christian, Moslem, Druze, etc.

Ashkenazim: Members of one of the two great divisions of Judaism.

  • Comprised of Eastern Yiddish-speaking Jews of Central Europe and more secular Jews of Western Europe
  • Israelis of Ashkenazim background founded the state and built it along humanistic, socialistic, and democratic principles
  • Once the majority, Ashkenazim are now a shrinking minority
  • Ashkenazim are generally more affluent and better educated
  • Ashkenazim may be more inclined to negotiate a state for the Palestinians.

Sephardic: Descendents of Jews that settled in Spain and Portugal during 800 year long Moslem domination.

  • Spanish re-conquest led to the Inquisition and expulsion of over 500,000 Hispanic Jews
  • Sephardic Jews moved to many Mediterranean, Northern African, and Arabic lands
  • Israel absorbed 550,000 Sephardic refugees after four victories over Arab enemies
  • Sephardic, also called Orientals in Arab lands, are sometimes referred to as a little more conservative, and capitalistic
  • Orientals, having lived among the Arabs, may be less inclined to trade land for peace with the Arabs.

Soviet / Russian Jewish immigration: Started with Anatoly / Natan Sharansky’s 1977 appeal to emigrate to Israel, and his hard-labor imprisonment until 1986.

  • Over 1 million Russian / Soviet Jews emigrated to the Jewish homeland and transformed the nation
  • Israel has become more entrepreneurial and less socialistic which appealed to new Russian-Israeli’s desire to start their own business
  • Israel’s fast growing, hi-tech economy was fueled by Russian engineering and scientific knowledge / skills
  • Russians strengthened militarily with infusion of men and women possessing high level army skills / knowledge
  • Infusion helped end Israel’s fear of being outnumbered by more populous Arab states with high birth rates
  • Wary of entering in to peace deals with the Arabs – reasons: political instability, weak democratic institutions, religious fanaticism, terrorism image

Palestine Liberation Organization – PLO: Umbrella term comprising seven political groups that represented the aspirations of the Palestinian peoples

  • Al Fatah is the best known and most influential of seven splinter parties ranging greatly in degrees of radicalism and use of violence / terrorism
  • Roots of the revolution lay in 1947 War of Independence and creation of Israel
  • 250,000 Palestinian left the new state of Israel at the request of Arab leaders who swore to destroy Israel and failed
  • Hating their occupied and diaspora status, Palestinian Arabs in 1964 stated their desire to have their own nation
  • Their outspoken goal was to liberate Palestine which implied the dismantling of the Zionist State of Israel
  • They were led by Yasser Arafat in a 50 year long mission to win their own homeland
  • Arafat turned down President Clinton’s 2000 homeland offer and unleashed a three year long wave of terror and violence
  • Intafada II caused 3,000 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli deaths and hardened attitudes towards peace
  • Arafat died a year later still stateless – he worried at Wye River Conference that his enemies would kill him if he accepted only the West Bank and Gaza
  • A decade later, Al Fatah controls the West Bank territory and is led by Mahmud Abbas, Hamas controls Gaza.

West Bank: In ancient times was Judea and Samaria, part of Eretz Israel

  • 2,500 years ago, the Jews mostly lived in the Judean Hills making up Judea and Samaria
  • Arabs / Philistines lived mainly in the coastal plain
  • After the Roman destruction of Israel, Arabs moved into the hills
  • Zionists returning in the early 20th Century settled mainly in the coastal plain
  • Upon 1947 partitioning, land on west bank of Jordan River was governed by Jordan
  • After the 1967 Six Day War, Israel gained control over this territory
  • Many Israelis believe that the land, Judea and Samaria, is holy and liberated and have re-colonized
  • Israelis living West Bank settlements number 524,000.

Gaza: Strip of land along coast between southwestern Israel and northeastern Egypt

  • 1947: 250,000 Palestinian refugees formed poor dense district which holds more than 1,400,000
  • Gaza was governed by Egypt 1947 – 1967 who did very little to aid the refugees
  • Gaza was next governed by Israel 1967 – 2005 who actually did a lot for the district despite intense Hamas resistance
  • Hamas has governed Gaza since 2007, one of two strongholds / pockets forming nucleus of any future Palestinian state
  • Hamas is an authoritarian Moslem Brotherhood model and aggressive in its resistance to Israel
  • Hamas is alienated from Fatah in the West Bank which works against nationhood
  • Hamas, worried about its own Arab Spring possibilities, is currently being contained by the Egyptian Army
  • Egyptians suspect Hamas of aiding Sinai militants in attacks against troop patrols.

Map describes sites and nature of Hamas – Israeli military engagements / incursions.

Camp David: U.S. presidential retreat in Maryland where President Jimmy Carter convinced Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty.

  • Israel returned the Sinai as a precondition to any peace treaty
  • Strategy was that without Egypt, the largest and most powerful Arab nation, the Arabs could not realistically or effectively make war against Israel.
  • Peace treaty was honored by former President Mubarak for 30 years but practiced a cold peace.

Physical borders / security: Israel is the same physical and population size as New Jersey.

  • At some points of the 1967 borders, it is only nine miles across the width (neck)
  • Tank column could dissect the country in a half hour
  • Today’s hi-tech weaponry worsens the threat that distance presents to a small nation
  • For any peace treaty to work, it must recognize Israel’s security needs that start with relatively safe physical borders.

Intifadah: Yasser Arafat and the PLO directed two uprisings – 1992 to 1996, 2000 to 2005

  • Intifadas were relentless waves of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians
  • Started by children throwing rocks at soldiers
  • Young martyrs strapped on their suicide bomb packs to detonate in public spaces – cafes, plazas, buses, holiday celebrations and so on
  • Exhaustion and on and off again peace negotiations diminished terrorism waves
  • More than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis died during Intifada II.

Syrians: Hafez al Assad and fellow Alawites – 15% of population – seized power over fifty years ago and dominated the nation since.

  • 3 years ago, the Sunni majority started an Arab Spring type uprising that became a bloody civil war
  • Struggle for nation has left over 100,000 dead and 2 million refugees scattered in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq.

Baath Socialism: Syrian / Iraqi political parties led by Hafez al Assad and Saddam Hussein led nationalist revolutions that:

  • Limited Moslem control of political institutions
  • Government owned / directed key industries to build up military power
  • Promised to more widely and equitably distribute national income

The result was dictatorships of repressive strong man rule in both countries that produced:

  • Serious economic mismanagement and corruption
  • Involvement in costly, disastrous wars wastes national and human resources.


Shah Reza Pahlavi / Ayatollah Khomeini: Former Iranian monarch succeeded his army officer father to throne.

  • U.S. military equipment purchases made the Shah the policeman of the southwest Asia region.
  • In 1953, the young Shah was removed from power by a nationalist revolution and election won handily by Mohammed Mosaddeq
  • CIA led by Kermit Roosevelt organized street demonstrations that resulted in replacing the democratically elected Mosaddeq and restoring the Shah to power
  • Shah used the nation’s oil wealth with the aim of transforming a backward country into a modern industrial and military power in one generation.
  • The Shah’s material self-indulgence, repression, and introduction of modernism / permissive Western culture offended traditional Shiite religious leaders
  • The mullahs, partially in a revolt against westernization, led a people’s revolution against the Shah and overthrew him
  • Ayatollah Khomeini, the Shah’s enemy, returned home from France to establish the first Islamic republic in 1979 and serve as Supreme Leader
  • Iran expanded its influence through exporting its Shiite revolutionary model to overthrow unfriendly Sunni regimes: Kuwait, U.A. E., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt.
  • Iraq’s attack and subsequent ten year long war helped institutionalize Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution – war ended in 1989
  • Iran and the U.S. have not had relations since they seized American Embassy personnel in Teheran and held them hostage for 444 days – see current movie Argo for illumination
  • Iran views America as an interfering superpower and regularly calls the U.S. a world devouring Satan
  • A struggle for dominance persists between Iran’s hard line Republican Guard seeking to protect their economic interests and fundamentalist values, and moderate westernizing forces seeking accommodation with the west and a more liberal democratic society.
  • New President Rouhani has softened the country’s positions in a hope to end economic sanctions imposed due to atomic bomb development program and Israel-baiting of previous President Ahmadinejad
  • President Obama has been encouraged enough to talk to Rouhani on phone.

Kuwait: Small, oil rich Persian Gulf kingdom / emirate has been ruled by the Sabah family since the 1760’s.

  • Saddam Hussein and Iraq invaded and annexed the kingdom in 1991
  • Iraqi occupation caused many Kuwaitis to suffer or flee
  • Iraqi aggression was ended by Operation Desert Storm / Gulf War

Two problems are the:

  • Kuwaitis dislike of manual work which necessitates the importation of foreign workers, a potentially destabilizing element
  • Sabah’s stalling of democracy movement which creates a tension.

Liberation Tower was built to honor the end of the Iraq occupation.

Gulf Emirates / Sheikdoms: Tiny, oil rich Persian Gulf states, including Kuwait, that are headed by monarchs called emir or sheik.

  • Group of nations includes Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ras al Kamiah, Umm al-Qaiwain
  • Emirates a confederation of seven states also known as the Trucial States
  • Aftermath of Gulf War led to formation of a military alliance with Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
  • Arab Spring revolutions have unnerved the emirates that democracy movements need to be contained
  • Emirates ironically funnel money and arms to insurgent groups fighting hard line dictators – the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, Al Qaeda elements, and Shiite terrorist groups sponsored by Iran.

Kurds: About 15 million non-Arab Moslem peoples spread across mountainous regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and southern Russia.

  • Kurds were promised their own state of Kurdistan after World War I
  • Have long claimed that they were a people without friends
  • British and French created modern Turkey, Syria, and Iraq instead
  • Kurds suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein’s rule who used chemical weapons and poison gas against them
  • Kurds pitifully retreated into the mountains causing the U.S. to protect them
  • Saddam was driven from power in 2003 – allowed Kurds to finally won their long desired autonomy
  • Now prospering, Kurds are part of the Iraq three state confederation.

The yellow outline that sprawls across four countries illustrates an envisioned Kurdistan.

Persian Gulf / Gulf of Arabia: Body of water separating Iran and Arabian subcontinent that:

  • contains perhaps half of the world’s known oil reserves that are vital to Western industrial society
  • also called Arabian Gulf because Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. border on it.

The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan influenced:

  • President Carter to issue the Carter Doctrine that pledged the U.S. and the Sixth Fleet to defend vital interests in the gulf region
  • President Reagan to protect Kuwait tankers during the Iraq – Iran tanker war
  • President Bush to defend Saudi Arabia from an Iraqi invasion (Operation Desert Shield) and liberate Kuwait (Operation Desert Storm).

The recent natural gas and shale oil discoveries in the U.S. and Canada have somewhat lessened the gulf’s importance to global energy supplies for the time being.

September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks: The twin suicide attacks against the World Trade Center changed American involvement in the Middle East

  • A month later, the CIA organized the month long Afghan war
  • Northern Alliance defeated and overthrew the Taliban, Hamid Karzai became President and still leads.
  • In 2003, President Bush 43 invaded Iraq, overthrew Saddam Hussein, and got bogged down for nearly a decade
  • Homeland Security was formed, a huge National Security Council spying network was developed
  • C.I.A. has been containing and fighting Al Qaeda in up to 80 countries.

Afghanistan War: After the lightning quick victory, the U.S. turned attention to invading Iraq.

  • distraction permitted the Taliban to revive their insurgency
  • Taliban bogged American down into a 12 year long struggle that will end in withdrawal in 2014
  • President Obama engineered a surge that has rolled back some Taliban gains but not defeated them.

Iraq War: President George W. Bush 43 wanted to jump-start democracy in the region.

  • Bush used Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenals as a threat to western security that the president thought he needed to overthrow the dictator
  • Afterwards, Arab peoples would hopefully rise up everywhere and overthrow their strong men
  • Two problems occurred – first, there were no WMD arsenals and second, readiness for the Arab Spring uprisings envisioned were still 5 – 7 years away
  • The U.S. invaded Iraq with only 100,000 soldiers and was unable to control events on the ground
  • An insurgency began that grew and pinned the U.S. down for nearly a decade
  • 4,409 troops were killed, over 32,000 were injured and / or maimed, veterans problems mushroomed
  • Bush finally committed a surge of 35,000 men that brought the country under relative control and then left office
  • President Obama pulled us out last year to relief of nation
  • Maliki Shiite government refuses to share power with the Sunni minority and a renewed civil war is igniting with innocent people being killed daily.

Sunni – Shiite conflict: The division began with the successor to Mohammed and has been a thorn in Islamic society for nearly 1,400 years.

  • Many dominant Sunni societies were discriminatory towards Shiites who were often locked out of the corridors of political and economic power
  • Shiite dominated societies were not conversely generous to Sunni minorities either
  • Arab Spring revolutions have unloosed aggravations between the two blocs across the region
  • • Most extreme case is Syria with over 100,000 dead and more than 2 million refugees.

Green – Sunni, Blue – Shiite, Lighter greens – blends

Iran nuclear program: Iran, a predominate Shiite nation that sees itself at risk from Sunni countries, has resorted to exporting terror through support of local opposition groups.

  • Iran has also been enriching uranium while taunting Israel with a possible strike
  • This threat was at its peak during the presidency of Ahmadinejad who even denied that the Holocaust happened
  • U.S. and the U.N. imposed serious economic sanctions on Iran to force it to cease and desist from making a bomb
  • Iran claims they are only producing nuclear fuel for domestic and peaceful endeavors and will not produce a bomb
  • A red line has been established by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and backed by President Obama
  • The U.S. – UN pressure may have influenced Iran to start signaling that maybe peaceful change is at hand
  • U.S. has pursued a collective security involvement and outcome, but has been blocked by Russia in the Security Council.
  • U.S. and Israel have pledged to attack Iran to take out the nuclear weapons facilities – an existential threat to Israel – if Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons development.

Benjamin Netanyahu Arak heavy water facility Blue – nuclear free zone, Red – nuclear weapons state, Gold – neither but not NPT

Mohammed as a man of his time:

As an avowed mortal, Mohammed was naturally influenced by his time and place. At the time, the religion of the Arabs was to worship many gods and natural spirits along with their holy of holies, the Black Stone of Mecca.

Mohammed was not a man of the desert – he was a man of Mecca, a busy, prosperous city on a caravan route like Petra and Palmyra before it. Mecca’s control of the profitable overland trade between the Indian and the Mediterranean oceans confronted the Prophet with the familiar problem of the rich and the poor.

Mohammed shared both the Arabs love of poetry and prodigious capacity for memorization that enabled them to preserve the Prophet’s sacred Koran. He was also a worldly man who had probably been exposed to more than Arab traditions. It is known that there were large numbers of Jews and Christians in and about Medina, a trading city. This may be seen in his identifying Allah with the God of Judaism and Christianity.

Mohammed lived a respectable but obscure existence for his first forty years. His abilities in business won him a comfortable life until he suddenly began to sense a calling as a prophet. In his belief, the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and revealed this. Supposedly, he was worried that there would be no more sleep or rest for him. He foresaw parallels to Jesus – opposition from the conservative elite – the masses would question him; “Shall we forsake our gods for a mad poet?”

But Mohammed preached anyway and, sure enough, met instant mockery and even violent hostility. The elite claimed Mohammed threatened the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and persecuted him. Mohammed might have failed if several men from Medina had not heard his message and returned home as missionaries for the new faith. After 13 years of dangerous obedience to his calling, he fled to Medina. This refuge is called the hegira that marks the beginning of the Mohammedan era.

At Medina, the Prophet succeeded as a spiritual and political leader. He waged war against the Meccans by raiding caravans during the holy month of pilgrimage. Mohammed preached jihad or holy war against idolaters as a sacred duty. With a force of only 300, Mohammed’s forces routed a thousand Meccans in the momentous battle of Badr, and later held off much greater armies.

Eight years after the hegira, the Meccans gave in. Mohammed returned to his native city in triumph. The Meccans accepted him as the apostle of Allah and joined his army. In the short time left to him, he sent a force to attack a Byzantine outpost in Syria. In the year 632, Mohammed shocked his followers by dying. Most had refused to take his own word that he was a mortal.

Map of modern day Saudi Arabia

Mohammed had had eleven wives and was deeply loved by all around him. Despite the years of war-making, he was often kind, gentle, generous, and magnanimous. It is believed that he was also somewhat shy and fond of jokes.

In the Koran, Mohammed claims to be the last prophet, the final complete perfect revelation of beliefs beyond Judaism and Christianity. He reputes Allah having parents, or being part of a trinity, and rejected priests as intermediaries to God. Listed are the major ceremonial duties: the daily prayers, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan (in which the Koran had been revealed), and retention of the haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) to pray before the sacred Black Stone, the Kaaba.

Mohammed tied his ethical system to the customs and ideals of his age. The Prophet’s merging religion and politics – no separation of church and state – shaped Islam’s history of being in conflict with secular law. Perhaps this tradition is rooted in Mohammed’s calling to unify the scattered tribes of Arabia – which he did.

Upon his death, Abu Bakr became the successor instead of his cousin Ali Shia. Followers of the former became Sunnis – followers of the latter Shiites, a division that continues to this day and has recently worsened.

Source: The Loom of History, Herbert J. Muller, c. 1958, Harper. Edited version.


Brief survey of Arab history and presentation of claims to Palestine from perspective of Arab and / or Palestinian people:

Historical background:

The Arabs are the most numerous of the Semitic peoples and inhabit a region stretching from northwestern Africa to across the Arabian subcontinent. The Arab world also stretches north Turkey (Turks) and west to Iran (Persians) on the edge of southwest Asia.

The Arabs are a very ancient people with origins dating back almost 7,000 years. Jerusalem, in Israel, was established 4,000 years ago and is the world’s oldest capitol. The Egyptians, 6,000 years old, were the first great empire, and had a dynamic culture for their age. They conceived geometry, built the pyramids, designed the compass, and invented mummification, a human preservation process that modern scientists have not completely figured out to this day.

The Arab peoples lose faith in their old gods:

The Arab people once believed in many different types of gods and forms of worship. The Egyptian pyramids, perhaps the world’s first public works projects, are actually burial tombs. The people believed their pharaohs (kings) to be gods and were commanded to erect huge monuments to their reigns and eventual deaths. Other groups believed in the usual deities of primitive peoples such as gods of nature – sun, moon, rain, animals, agriculture – pagan beliefs, myths, or graven images. Many tribes also warred among others as survival in the harsh desert environment was difficult and common cultural links were few.

Islam unifies the Arab peoples:

The idea of one god (monotheism) was born with another Semitic people, the early Hebrews. Judaism, the faith of the Jewish people (Jews), spawned Christianity too, and both would declare Jerusalem as their holy city. These two religions would greatly influence the development of Islam, a faith that would finally unite the Arab peoples as never before.

During the decline of the old gods and the rise of the news faiths, many great empires would come and go. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines would all leave their mark on the Middle East and Arab peoples. It was Mohammed in 620 A.D., however, who would unite Arab tribes, organize them into armies, and set out to convert the Bedouins.

Between 622 and 632 A.D., Islam took hold of in Arabia, and also enjoyed great acceptance among the nomadic Bedouin tribes of northern Africa. In adopting Islam, Moslems, followers of the God Allah and his prophet Mohammed, also adopt a basic teaching; that Moslem must never fight Moslem. In 633, they invaded and defeated Byzantine-controlled Syria, a region including the present day nations of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. Jerusalem, a holy city, managed to hold out until 638 when it, too, fell to the Moslem sweep of the Middle East.

Moslems claim Jerusalem as their holy city:

The holy cities of Islam include:

  • Mecca, where Mohammed was born and lived
  • Medina, where the prophet went to think out and establish his new belief
  • Jerusalem where Mohammed was supposed to have ascended to heaven on a winged horse that used the Dome of the Rock as a steppingstone.

To gain control of that rock, also known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount, was the reason Omar, the Caliph (successor to Mohammed), conquered Jerusalem.

Caliphate expansion: I – Mohammed, II – Abu Bakr, III – Omar, IV – Othman

Some Moslems believed Ali Shia, Mohammed’s cousin, should have succeeded the Prophet. These followers of Shia are called Shiites while the followers of Omar formed the Sunni branch. The Sunnis have historically dominated the Shiites, a practice that has produced a great division in the faith.

To hold Jerusalem became an important part of Islam, though Palestine never became a kingdom. The Philistines had come from Turkey around 2,000 B.C. and settled the land now called Israel. They dwelled there until the Hebrew exodus from Egyptian slavery. After forty years of nation-building in the Sinai Desert, the descendents of Abraham of Chaldea began a 200 year long war of attrition against the Philistines. In 1003 B.C., the followers of Moses would form the Kingdom of David and absorb the Philistines into their population.

A division of the Kingdom of David into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah would leave both vulnerable. By 522 B.C., they had been conquered and dispersed. A march of empires – Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines – won and lost the prize called Jerusalem. Upon the Moslem’s defeat of the Byzantines, the Philistines, renamed Palestinians by the Romans, got their land back and shared it with a small remnant of Jews.

European Christian Crusaders attempt to regain the Holy Land:

Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, alliances of European Christian kingdoms tried to regain their holy land from the Moslems. These Crusades to wrest control of Jerusalem from the Arabs, reached their heights in battles against Saladin, a Kurdish general who defended Islam was well as the rock. From 1099 to 1187 A.D., the Christians managed to regain control of Jerusalem from the Moslems. However, their hold on it eventually collapsed though many of the earlier Greek and Roman invaders who had settled in the Lebanon joined with the European Crusaders to bolster the Maronite Christians living there since 400 A.D. This pocket of Christians would survive and thrive during the next four centuries despite being part of the Ottoman Empire.

Rise of Arab nationalism:

Arab nationalism began with a shame caused by European domination. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century, European powers seized large chunks of Middle Eastern territory. France, in the 1840’s, took over much of North Africa. This race for empire also saw Britain occupy Egypt, and Italy take over Libya. After World War I, Britain and France used the League of Nations as a mandate for the English to control Palestine and Jordan, and the French to take over Lebanon and Syria. Amazingly, they left oil rich Saudi Arabia alone, believing it to be too backward and empty to bother with.

The Europeans modernization programs did help develop the Middle East. Never-the-less, the Arab people felt degraded by colonialism and pressured the British and French to grant them self-government. Arab nationalism was also fueled by a wish to resurrect the once glorious days under Mohammed when the Arabs reached their heights of power and prestige. Many of the Arab nation-states would be born in the years before and after World War II.

United Nations partitions Palestine:

In 1947, the United Nations voted for the partition of Palestine into the tiny Jewish State of Israel and the remaining Arab sliver to be governed by Jordan. Upon recognition of Israel by America, Russia, and other major powers, the Arab countries declared war on the new Zionist state. The Arab political leaders believed that creation of Israel amounted to a Jewish Crusade and the Western nations were again practicing a form a colonialism.

The Arab nations of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia swore to destroy the Zionist entity and drive the Jews into the sea. The Palestinian Arabs living in Israel were told to get out of the way – leave the land – or risk being wiped out with the Jews. The bulk of the Arabs living in Israel listened, left, and took up supposedly temporary residence in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

Unfortunately for the refugees, when the shooting stopped and dust cleared, the Israelis had won. Those temporary camps have become permanent homes for over a million people who understandably resent their fate. Arab leaders deflected criticism that they should have absorbed the refugees into their own populations by claiming that the camps are a visible example of immoral Israeli aggression and western imperialism. They further urged that Israel be secularized so that Jew and Arab might peacefully coexist in a greater democratic Palestine. The Arab leaders stated that the Palestinians returning to their homes in Haifa and Jaffa was the only fair and just solution to the problem and that’s why they left the camps intact. An alternative plan was to recognize Israel’s existence if it agreed to return the Golan Heights to Syria and permit the creation of a Palestinian homeland in the West Bank and Gaza, probably in confederation with Jordan who did support that idea.

Roots of Palestinian rage and nationalism:

Palestinians hated life in the refugee camps and felt that the world did not care about their plight. A common goal to liberate Palestine led to their politicization and by 1964, seven different groups had formed under the umbrella label, the Palestine Liberation Organization – P.L.O. The largest group, Al Fatah, led by the late Yasser Arafat, employed violence and terror yet was considered less extreme than the Black September group who committed many savage terrorist acts.

The Palestinian people though, mostly sought moderate means of solving their problem. The Israeli government, which suffered from acts of violence against its existence, refused to negotiate with the PLO claiming they were terrorists and would have renounce their use of it. The Israelis further claimed that these groups did not really represent the Palestinian people who lived better in Israel than most Arab nations. The PLO sometimes hurt itself by fighting each other and displaying a lack of unity.

The first Intifada (uprising):

In 1988, Palestinian youth, tired of living under Israeli rule, began an uprising called The Intifada that took even the PLO by surprise. The vaunted Israeli army failed to stop a continuing riot until it lost steam. The large number of deaths and injuries suffered by the fearless stone-throwing youth achieved what the PLO never could – sympathy from the Western nations. Unfortunately, the Palestinian political leadership would quickly squander the sympathy by supporting Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait.

Regardless, the PLO whose frequent barbarous acts of terrorism against civilians horrified the West, were recognized by the Intifada youths as their leaders. An Israeli Labor Government led by Yitzhak Rabin, however, preferred to talk with more moderate West Bank leaders such as Mrs. Hanan Ashrawi and Mr. Faisal Husseini to constructively discuss the granting of autonomy for a five to ten year period. After that, statehood and independence might be considered.

The situation was complicated by the Arab countries steadfastness in their aim of a just resolution of the Palestinian problem – and their refusal to absorb any refugees. When former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a separate peace with Israel in 1979, he was assassinated two years later by his own army officers and his country ostracized by Arab states for years. The late King Hussein of Jordan was also pressured to resist Israeli peace overtures unless they were part of a comprehensive regional plan, or international conference likely to include both the U.S. and Russia.

Any peace plan had to:

  • Establish a Palestinian homeland in the West Bank and Gaza
  • Return the Golan Heights to Syria
  • Divide Jerusalem into Israeli and Arab sectors
  • Provide access to visit and pray at the rock where a domed mosque was later built to commemorate it.

The Arab leaders accused Israel of being intransigent because of economic and military aid it received from the U.S. Supposedly, if only the U.S. would turn the aid spigot off, Israel would negotiate in good faith and the region’s problems would end. Regardless, the Palestinian cause was hurt when they cheered the falling of Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles on Israeli cities. The sight on TV of tiny Israeli children having to wear gas masks, hundreds of Jews losing their homes, and Israel’s not retaliating preserved a shaky U.N. alliance that defeated the Iraqi dictator. The world again tuned out the Palestinian plight for many more years.

The Palestinians also hurt themselves financially. The oil rich countries of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had been generous in their support for the PLO’s welfare programs in the refugee camps. The Kuwaitis had also provided hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with high paying jobs. This support evaporated due the PLO siding with Saddam against their rich Arab benefactors – 20,000 workers were fired and sent home.

The 1993 Oslo I / 1995 Oslo II Accords:

The 1993 accord was the first face to face agreement between the PLO and the government of Israel. The negotiations were hosted by the Fafo Institute in Oslo, Norway and conducted in secrecy. The declaration of principles on self-government were officially signed at a public ceremony in Washington, D.C. on September 13, 1993 in the presence of PLO Chairman Arafat, Israeli President Rabin, and American President Bill Clinton.

The accord provided for the creation of a Palestinian interim self-government, the Palestinian National Authority – PNA – that would administer the territory under its control. The accords also called for the withdrawal of Israeli Defense Forces from parts of Gaza and West Bank. Issues such as Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, security and borders were left to future negotiations. In 1995, the Oslo II Accord was signed though this did not promise Palestinian statehood either.

1997 Hebron Protocol:

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Chairman Arafat at the Eretz Crossing Checkpoint between Gaza and Israel in the presence of U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross. The agreement called for:

  • An IDF withdrawal from 80% of Hebron within 10 days
  • By March 7, Israel would begin the first phase of withdrawal from rural areas in the West Bank
  • Eight months after the first stage, Israel would carry out the second phase of the withdrawal
  • The third phase was to have been completed before mid-1998: Israel would withdraw from the remaining parts of the West Bank apart from settlement / military outposts.

Within two months of the accord, Israel and the P.A. were to begin negotiations on the permanent status agreement to be completed by May 4, 1999.

1998 Wye River Memorandum:

The memorandum was an agreement between Israel and the PA to implement the earlier Oslo II accord – it was brokered by the U.S. at the Aspen Institute Wye River Conference Center in Maryland. Clinton pressed Arafat and Netanyahu to finalize the deal and brought in King Hussein of Jordan to overcome remaining obstacles. The agreement was finally signed by Netanyahu and Arafat at the White House.

Both sides only implemented the first phase of the Memorandum. Israel withdrew from all territory it was required to transfer to the Palestinian Authority within the timetable. Israel did not see reciprocal steps being taken by the PA and believed Arafat’s promises were not being seriously taken. The agreements understandings and goals were un-implemented.

L – R: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat

2000 Camp David Meeting:

The 2000 Camp David Summit was between US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The summit took place between July 11 – 25, 2000, and was an effort to end the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. It would end without an agreement.

The talks, based on an all or nothing approach, tried to reach agreement on final status issues: territory, Jerusalem and Temple Mount, refugees and right of return to Israel, security arrangements, and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Clinton and Barak offered Arafat about 95% of what he wanted for his state that he had fought for over 50 years to obtain – he turned it down because it wasn’t enough. President Clinton was very disappointed by Arafat’s decision and told him the PA leader that he had turned the best deal he was likely to achieve in his lifetime.

Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat at Wye River Conference

The second Intifada:

Arafat returned home determined to obtain 100% of what he and his people believed to be a just peace. He used a visit by Israeli politician (and later Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount to unleash a powerful wave of terror that would last almost three years. By the time it subsided, over 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israeli civilians would be dead. Young Palestinians blew themselves up in Israeli cafes, buses, weddings, and other public spaces to force Israel to capitulate which it did not. Pitched battles between Israeli Defense Forces and PA fighters took place in the Jenin refugee camps and other places. This wave of terror would harden Israeli attitudes towards making peace with the PA and Arafat who died in 2001 without realizing his homeland.

2003 Road Map / 2007 Annapolis Conference:

U. S President George W. Bush along with the European Union, Russia and the U.N. – the Quartet – attempted to stop the violence and get the peace talks back on track again. The plan did not attempt to resolve the major thorny issues and never made it beyond its first phase. In 2007, President Bush, before leaving office, tried again to get the peace talks moving forward by hosting a conference at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert restarted negotiations on a final status format. Abbas and Olmert would meet six times but the core issues proved too difficult to resolve. President Obama has recently prodded both sides to start peace talks again. The below map illustrates the different countries that participated in the talks.

Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are vying for Palestinian leadership; Fatah has for the most part forsaken violence and patiently pursues what the party views as a just peace with Israel. Hamas refuses to foreswear armed struggle against Israel believing that the pressure will produce a more favorable outcome in any peace treaty. The nation of Palestine will come into being when the two parties unify, an economy is developed, and a substantial middle class forms.

Brief survey of Israeli history and presentation of claim to Israel from viewpoint of Israeli perspective:

Historical background:

The history of Israel is very long and complex. It begins with the establishment of the Jewish religion by the patriarch Abraham nearly 4,000 years ago, and the creation of ancient Israel 700 years later. It entails a 2,000 year long global diaspora (dispersion) that produced a world Jewish experience which ultimately spawned a Zionist movement that led to the return to Zion. The dream of Eretz Israel (ancient Israel) was made real through the ashes of the Holocaust and miraculously realized in 1948 with the birth of the modern State of Israel.

Abraham was a shepherd who lived in Chaldea, the western part of what 4,000 years later would be called Iraq. He established a new religion that worshipped but one God (monotheism) called Yahweh, and converted the members of his tribe to the Hebrew faith. His people began practicing Judaism and called themselves Jews. They would also follow Abraham in a search to find greener pastures in a land called Canaan.

Abraham and the Hebrews settled on the southeastern edge of Canaan in a place called Beersheba. Seventy-five years later, a terrible drought caused a famine that forced Joseph and the Jews to accept an offer to move temporarily to Egypt. Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, quickly enslaved them, and they spent the next four centuries in bondage.

The Exodus from Egypt:

Moses, the other prophet, helped the Hebrews escape from slavery by unleashing God’s power against the Egyptians. Pharaoh and his people suffered many plagues and disasters and finally let the Hebrews go. Many of the people who accompanied Moses in the Exodus had lost their faith during slavery; assorted others thrown in amongst the Jews, tagged along. Moses’ great challenge was to bond a people with a faith and he climbed Mount Sinai to consult with God.

Moses received the Ten Commandments and developed a religion and culture around them. A hardened young nation formed during the forty years of wandering in the desert, the taint of slavery perishing in the dust. Moses would never live to enter the land of Canaan, a Zion promised to the Hebrew people by God.

But Moses’ followers, the Children of Israel – the Chosen People – would, and began a two hundred year long war of attrition against the occupiers, the Canaanites and Philistines. The Israelite nation was born with the Kingdom of David (1,003 B.C.) and became rich, cultivated, and powerful under Solomon. That’s when the trouble started.

File source:
Map of all of the kingdoms of the Levant – Dark green is Israel, lighter green is Judah

The march of empires and the Diaspora:

After Solomon’s death, the kingdom split in two states – Israel in the north, Judah in the south. That made it easier for the Assyrians to enslave Israel in 721 B.C., and the Babylonians to carry off Judah in 587 B.C. The Persian king, Cyrus the Great, permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 522 B.C. and rebuild the Temple of Solomon.

For the next five hundred years, a series of invaders came and went, creating great suffering for the Jews who somehow managed to hold on to their way of life.
The Roman’s obliterated the Judaic presence in the land and exiled them. While a remnant of perhaps 60,000 stayed behind in renamed Palestina, the former Israelites set off on a two thousand year long journey wandering the globe.

For two millennia, insecurity, violence, poverty, and discrimination stalked the Jews in whichever host society that let them dwell. Countless massacres, expulsions, forced conversion, ghettoizations and so on marked their existence. Each year during the Passover Seder, the Jews remembered the exile by the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137) and their longing to return to Jerusalem. And read their prayers and kept Zion in the memories.

Scenes from the Spanish Inquisition

Of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jewish communities settled during the diasporic period, in only three did the Jews flourish. Unfortunately, the two most terrible calamities occurred in three of these golden ages – in Moslem-dominated Spain of the 12th through 15th centuries, and Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. Spain’s golden age ended in The Inquisition, the exiling of about 180,000 Jews and forced conversion of perhaps 50,000 more. The assimilation into German life was met with the Nazi era, the Final Solution for 8.5 million of Europe’s Jews, and the extermination of 6 million of them during the Holocaust.

Jews become a part of American life:

Only in America in the 19th through the early 21st Centuries have the Jewish people made a comfortable and secure life. They have experienced only limited incidents of violence against their person and endured nominal prejudice. Still, the continuing phenomena of religious intolerance, discrimination, pogroms, and massacres convinced many Jews of the late 19th Century that without their own homeland, they would be forever at the mercy of whichever host population they interacted with, even in America.

Zionists heed Herzl’s call:

Increasingly, the Jews expressed the notion of returning to Zion to recreate ancient Israel, a land in which everyone would be Jewish. The people who articulated this idea of developing a healthier and more fulfilling nationalist identity were called Zionists, and their call to return to the Holy Land spread to Jewish communities across the globe. In 1895, hundreds of proponents would meet in Vienna, Austria at a World Zionist Congress to promote the concept. They were addressed by an Austrian journalist whose articulation of the concept of Zionism would forever identify him as the father of the movement.

That reporter, Theodore Herzl, was not the first to express Zionist beliefs, just the most prominent. Over the next twenty years, tens of thousands of people, mostly Europeans, would heed Herzl’s call and immigrate to Zion.

Zionist immigration swells:

Zion, of course, was Palestine, an Arab dominated land that was part of the Ottoman Empire. The local Moslem religious leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, observed that the Jewish immigrants brought with them western values, the most disturbing of which was the purchasing of land from Arab owners. The Grand Mufti feared that the pattern of land sales reflected the construction of a permanent civilization and creeping Judaification of Palestine. With each new boat load of Zionists, ensuing land sales, and building of new settlements, the Arabs concerns mounted. By 1917, the number of Palestinian Jews had increased from 60,000 and 10% of the population to more than 100,000 and nearly 25%. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1919, the Grand Mufti began demanding a ban on further Jewish emigration.

Amin al-Hussein, 1929, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem The Mufti opposed partition

But the English had different ideas for Palestine, particularly Lord Balfour, a high British official who was chiefly responsible for governing it. Arthur Balfour was a friend of the Rothschild’s, one of Europe’s richest and most influential Jewish families. The Rothchilds, bankers to the monarchies of Europe, were also the principal fundraisers for the Jewish National Fund in Palestine. Lord Balfour found himself pressed between the competing demands of the Grand Mufti to ban further immigration to Palestine, and European Jewry’s pleas to expand it.

First partition of Palestine:

In 1919, Lord Balfour ruled in favor of the Jews and immigration surged ten-fold. In 1922, England divided Palestine into two states using the Jordan River as the boundary line. All of the land west of the river would be called Palestine, the sparsely populated area east of the river was named Transjordan. In the case of Palestine, the British expected both Arab and Jew to peacefully coexist. The plan for Transjordan was to import a Bedouin chieftain and his tribe from Saudi Arabia as the foundation on which the new state would be constructed.

Unfortunately, the British hopes for Palestine proved too much to expect. Some Arabs viewed the growing Jewish population and spate of land sales as an obvious encroachment and began attacking settlers that dared to penetrate deeper into Palestine. The Jews, determined to build their own Zion, saw the attacks as acts of terrorism that threatened their dream and security. When the Jews of Hebron were massacred by Arabs in 1927, the Zionists reacted by combating Arab terrorism with underground groups of their own.

The fight for control of the land begins:

David Ben Gurion, 1st Prime Minister, Chaim Weitzman, 1st President

Ashkenazim Jews who brought with them socialist ideals tended to follow Haganah’s David ben Gurion and Chaim Weitzman who used terror very sparingly. These liberal leaders would later become the heads of the Labor Party and architects of the infant State of Israel in 1948. More traditional Jews of European ancestry who envisioned Israel being a more religious and capitalistic society, tended to follow Vladimir Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin, and Yitzhak Shamir of the more violent Irgun Zvi Leumi, later the Likud Party, that currently governs Israel. Jabotinsky theorized that fighting Jew ideal, Begin became Likud’s first prime minister, and Shamir, who held the office after Begin, its second.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky – Irgun Zvi Leumi leader
Menachem Begin, Prime Minister 1977 – 1983
Yitzhak Shamir, Prime Minister 1983 – 84 / 1986 – 1992

In the meantime, the British found themselves caught in the crossfire of Arab and Jewish terrorism. As the 1930’s progressed, they became the target of both, the aim being that if the British were driven out, the Arab and Jews could slug it out for control of Palestine. The stream of Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecution and concentration camps only served to aggravate the situation. When the British banned further immigration, the Jews stepped up their attacks against them. Menachem Begin, who later as Prime Minister signed the Camp David Peace Treaty with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, personally blew up British troop trains and the King David Hotel in which more than 250 British soldiers died.

Jewish zones 1947 File source:

The Holocaust highlights the need for a Jewish homeland: The second partition of Palestine.

The Nazis grisly and systematic mass murder of nearly six million European Jews influenced the world to support creation of a homeland for the Jewish people. In 1947, the United Nations acted on a resolution to further partition Palestine. The predominately Jewish coastal plan making up western Palestine became the new State of Israel. The hilly eastern part belonged to the Arabs and was governed by Jordan.

Jerusalem was divided into the western Jewish part and the eastern Arab sector. Ironically, Judaism’s ultra-Orthodox followers did not recognize Israel as did America, Russia, and other major countries. This was because Zion’s creation was not supposed to precede the coming of the Messiah.

The Arab nations react: Refugee camps become permanent homes.

The Arab nations, though, perceived the partition resolution as a form of western imperialism and rejected it. Israel to them was a Jewish Crusade that had to be stopped and destroyed. The Arab nations surrounding Israel – Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia – declared war and threatened to drive the 250,000 Jews into the sea. Given that there was a similar number of Arabs living in Israel, they were directed to leave the land or risk annihilation too.

The Israelis begged the Arabs not to leave and help them build a new state together, but to no avail. The majority of the Arabs left while the Irgun and infamous Stern Gang drove out many others. It should be noted though that thousands of Arabs did stay and soon enjoyed higher living standards than Arab countries.

It should also be noted that the Arabs who left were to be temporarily housed in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, then return to their homes upon a victorious Arab outcome. However, defeat came instead and those once temporary camps became permanent homes for Palestinians whose numbers increased five-fold in 50 years.

Israelis often ask why the Arab nations refused to absorb a quarter of a million refugees into their fairly large states when tiny Israel assimilated more than 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab oppression during the same time. The Israelis contend that the poor refugees were left to rot in the camps by cynical Arab leaders who used them as political propaganda weapons against Israel.

Nasser closes the Suez Canal:

In 1947, 250,000 Israelis defeated several millions of Arab soldiers, 250 beat 7,000 Jordanians in a battle for Jerusalem. Arab shame from losing hardened their antagonism at accepting Israel as a neighbor. In 1955, President Nasser of Egypt closed down the vital Suez Canal to destroy Israel’s economy and undermine European support for it. Instead, the British and French air forces bombed Cairo and the Israeli Army crossed the Sinai Desert to open up the canal. This joint action angered U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower who ordered England, France, and Israel to withdraw, and warned Nasser not to do it again.

File source: File source:
1947 War of Independence – 5 Arab nations invaded. 1955 Sinai Campaign to open up Suez Canal

Arab resistance to acceptance of Israel evolved into implacable hatred. In time they stopped calling Israel by name, referring to Israel only as the Zionist entity.

The 1967 Six Day War:

In 1967, the Arab nations, armored with Russian weapons, massed armies on Israel’s borders. Israel did not wait to be attacked and struck first. Israeli air force planes blasted the Arab’s jets before they could get airborne. Without air cover, Arab armies were easily routed by Israel’s much smaller forces in just six days. The victory expanded Israel’s borders dramatically – they now included from Egypt the Sinai Desert and Gaza Strip, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Israel’s victory changed the nation and the way the world perceived it. It tripled in size and the regional balance of power tilted in Israel’s favor, depriving it of the David versus Goliath image it had cultivated. Still:

  • No longer would Syrian gunners on the Golan use Israeli farmers for target practice
  • Or Egyptian leaders shut down the Suez Canal
  • Or the City of Jerusalem be divided again and shut off from the Wailing Wall
  • Wall is the remains of the first Temple of Solomon that house the Ark of the Covenant with God, and the second temple rebuilt upon returning from exile in Persia.

Jews in Israel and abroad vowed that the Wailing Wall would forever be in their possession. In the diaspora, Jewish boys were raised not to hit back. Suddenly, one-eyed General Moshe Dayan was recognized and honored as a military genius. Overnight, the Israeli army and air force set a new high standard by which quality military defenses everywhere were measured against.

This headiness quickly dissolved when clever Arab propaganda effectively crafted a new image of big bad Israel picking on the l’il ol’ Arabs. In Cairo, an Egyptian military officer named Anwar Sadat swore to some day avenge the Arabs disastrous defeat.

1973 Yom Kippur War:

Egypt’s having almost twice the population of any other Arab country makes it the most important Arab military force to be reckoned with. Russia, seeking to curry favor with the Arabs to tilt the balance of power in the region, financed an awesome Egyptian military buildup. Pan-Arabism was Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser’s dream of one great Arab nation with Egypt’s Cairo as its capitol. When Nasser suddenly died of a heart attack, Pan-Arabism for the most part died with him. Regardless, Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s replacement, swore to restore Arab pride.

On Yom Kippur in October of 1973, Judaism’s holiest day, Jews were in the synagogues praying to God. Egyptian soldiers surged across the Suez Canal and caught the Israelis off guard. Syrian soldiers overran the Golan Heights – Israel was by now reeling as it took a week to halt the advance. Meanwhile, the Israelis stores of arms and ammunition had dwindled to dangerous levels – the U.S. was implored to rush supplies to rescue Israel. Soon replenished Israeli forces were within miles of Cairo and Damascus when the Russians threatened to attack Israel. The U.S. stared the Russians down and the war ended without any dramatic changes in boundaries.

File source:
1973 Sinai front 1973 Golan Heights front

But the Arabs had fought well enough not to lose and now felt sufficiently proud. They also remembered who had helped Israel avoid possible defeat and withheld oil supplies from the U.S. for six months. After that, they punished America more by quadrupling the price of oil and hurting our economy. The world’s dependency on Middle East oil aided the Arab’s ability to enforce an economic boycott of Israel.

Evolution of Israeli society:

Israel evolved during the 1970’s – Ashkenazim influence declined, Sephardic / Oriental numbers increased dramatically. Ultra-Orthodox groups appeared and pushed Israel to be less a secular and more religious. The Gush Emmunim – Bloc of Faithful – aggressively settled the West Bank. What the world called the occupied West Bank, the Orthodox referred to as liberated territory believed to be ancient Judea and Samaria, part of Eretz Israel.

Beit El Jewish settlement near Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah

The more conservative Likud Party took power away from the Labor Party and angered 750,000 West Bank Arabs by building over a hundred settlements. Today there are 300 settlements with over a half million Israelis living in them.

Camp David Peace: Carter, Sadat, and Begin:

In 1974, Sadat, tired of the Russians fighting Israelis until the last Egyptian soldier, threw out the USSR and turned to the U.S.A. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter brought together the Egyptian and Israeli leaders at the Camp David retreat to talk peace. Nine tension-filled days later, they signed a historic peace agreement that changed the region’s direction with the stroke of a pen. The issue of a Palestinian homeland was deferred for future talks.

The other Arab nations rejected the treaty, condemned Sadat, and ostracized Egypt. Two years later, fundamentalist Moslem Egyptian army officers assassinated Sadat, partially because they felt he had sold out the PLO.

PLO terror campaign intensifies, becomes global, ebbs and flows:

A low grade war of terror was carried out between the PLO and Israeli forces on a global scale for four decades. Embassies and Jewish community centers were blown up in Kenya and Buenos Aires, cafes in Jerusalem, buses in Tel Aviv. The conflict will probably not entirely cease until the Palestinians finally have their viable state, and the Israelis have the safe and secure borders they so desire.

Israel studied the possibility of annexing the West Bank and asked hard questions.

  • How would incorporating nearly 2 million Arabs into the Jewish state threaten national identity?
  • Could Israel be considered a democratic society if a future 50% Arab population was denied the vote?
  • How repressive might Israel have to become if its Arab population started an internal intifada?

Fortunes swing back and forth quickly in the Middle East.

  • The Intifada(s) hurt in the short term but always ran out of gas
  • The PLO became discredited and reinvented itself as the Palestinian Authority
  • A million Russian Jews poured into Israel over a decade and ended the fear of being outnumbered
  • Israel’s cooperation in Western coalitions organized against Saddam Hussein and other trouble-makers won it support from U.S. allies, Europe in particular.

A changing Middle East:

Jordan made peace with Israel in 1996. Since then, tens of thousands of visitors a year travel from Israel into Jordan to visit Petra the Red City and other attractions helping the economy of both countries. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ended the Arab boycott of Israel. Arab nations increasingly accepted Israel’s existence if stopping short of full interaction. Trust between Israel and her neighbors has increased and is spreading into the Gulf region.

Petra, the Red City of Jordan – main temple facing.

The Arab Spring uprisings have convulsed the region – from Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Syria – life will never be the same. Arab societies are opening up – its youth want to be plugged into the global connections forming world wide. The revolutions will play out for many years before Arab societies discover the fine balances of freedom and reasonable order. Israel, in the meantime, may view these uncertainties with concern and a measure of opportunity but a freer Middle East is a vision Israel has hoped for since its inception.

Perceptions of Israel to the world:

Israel was conceived out of the ideals of morality, freedom, justice, and human dignity. Israel is a special state and the world has high expectations of it. The late author Saul Bellow once described Israel as a mental health resort for the world.

Fundamentalist Christian groups have developed powerful lobbying groups on behalf of Israel’s security. Holy Land tours of U.S. Christians in some years exceed American Jewish visitor totals.

Once again, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators are quietly discussing an agreement that will guarantee Israel’s physical security. Expectations for success are low so perhaps a surprise advance may happen.

Arab Perspectives / Claims to Palestine:

Popular misconceptions to be erased:

  • Palestinians, not Jews, are the earliest inhabitants of land
  • Palestinians did not arrive with 7th Century Moslem invaders
  • Palestinians are descendents of Canaanites and Philistines
  • Lived in area for 4,000 years – native in every sense of the world
  • Were never forcibly removed / dispersed from land until 1948


Counter-Zionist claims to Palestine:

  • The land is not the historic home of the Jews
  • Israelite occupation in biblical times was a transient occupation
  • Israel’s historic connection ceased more than 2,000 years ago
  • Jewish occupation, past and present, was a ruthless conquest by alien immigrants
  • Jews openly demand the whole of Palestine although they never completely occupied the entire area
  • 20th Century Jews were mostly converts – includes Chazars, Western / Central Europeans, Mediterranean’s /North Africans
  • UN partition resolution was invalid – had no legal /judicial ability to grant sovereignty over Palestine
  • Supervisory power of League of Nations was not transferred to United Nations – no mandate to administer Palestine
  • Zionist pressure groups and U.S. interests successfully coerced delegates to vote for partition
  • Legal sovereignty must lay with original inhabitants as existed upon detachment by Turkey at end of WW I
  • British occupying force 1917 – 1948 could not confer sovereignty on self or any other power, nor take it away from the original inhabitants

Arab arguments against Israeli claims to title (legitimacy) as allocated to Jewish State by partition resolution:

  • Balfour Declaration never possessed judicial value
  • Jews claim to land on basis of Balfour Declaration is groundless
  • High British official cannot determine Palestinian sovereignty
  • UN General Assembly lacked legal authority to change sovereignty
  • Future of Palestine, in accordance with UN resolution, is still subject to peaceful adjustment
  • No title was gained by Israel as a result of conquest or occupation – right by conquest does not exist anymore
  • War cannot give title as viewed by civilized world
  • Israel’s conquests, seized in 1948-49, 1967, 1973 are not legal title to disputed territories
  • Occupation / acquisition by alien settlers not legality for sovereignty

New formula for peace:

  • Continuous warfare does not determine right and justice, only illustrates that might makes right
  • Israel has not negotiated in good faith and gained by aggressive settling of disputed territories
  • Despite good intentions of late Egyptian President Sadat and other Arab leaders, Israel remained intransigent
  • Conditions for negotiation of East Jerusalem are irreversible
  • Emotional issue of Israeli capitol and location of Mohammed’s ascent
  • Palestinians in Israel must be restored full citizenship and rights
  • An autonomous West Bank / Gaza state is an acceptable start but an incomplete basis for settlement
  • U.S. military and economic aid must be eliminated – hardens Israeli intransigence, stimulates appetite for more territory
  • Final settlement cannot be imposed by superpowers, UN, or collective security arrangement
  • If Israeli legitimacy is to be recognized by Arabs, demands of Arabs must be respected
  • Palestinian refugees should be returned to their homes
  • One should keep in mind that the Crusades lasted 200 years and collapsed – parallel view of Israel as a six decade long colonial outpost of western democracy / imperialism
  • Over 65 years, several hundreds of billions of Israeli, world Jewry, and U.S. dollars have been spent for survival purposes

Israeli perspectives / claims to Palestine / Israel:

Popular misconceptions to be erased:

  • Both Jews and Philistines migrated from Iraq and Turkey
  • Jews really established the first permanent civilization
  • God promised Abraham that the Israelites were the true descendents of the land
  • Jews forcibly evicted relatively small amounts – Palestinians left the land for the most part
  • Palestinians decision to vacate land was tantamount to rejecting UN mandate and declaration of war against the Israelis

Zionist / Israeli claims to Palestine:

  • Land is historic home of Hebrews and beginning of Judeo-Christian civilization and culture
  • Biblical Israelite civilization was not transient – were driven from land by drought and / or superior military power
  • Sizable numbers of Jews (25,000 – 60,000) continued to live in the land for 2,000 years – physical presence continued the claims
  • Abraham, Moses, and Herzl prophesized that the Hebrews are the people chosen by God to live in Zion
  • Eretz (biblical) Israel included Judea and Samaria, basis for Israel’s policy of colonization / annexation of liberated territory of the West Bank, land of the followers of Moses
  • Modern Israelis are the remnant of ancient Israel – returned from 2,000 years in the diaspora
  • Partitioning was valid – League of Nations mandate was example of peaceful international development of the Holy Land
  • UN resolution was also valid. In light of Holocaust sentiment, this was an example of collective moral and judicial decision-making
  • World Zionist Jewry, Russia, the U.S., European allies, and many other nations concluded that the Jews needed their own land
  • Arabs living in Palestine need not be displaced – they mostly chose to leave the land
  • Legal, social justice plus God’s will realized return of Jews to Zion
  • Displacement of some Arabs was unfortunate but mostly voluntary

Israeli arguments against Arab claims to title (legitimacy) by partition resolution”

  • World powers followed Balfour Declaration as legal and moral answer to continuing conflict
  • UN General Assembly had managed many Trust Territories
  • British had transferred Palestine to UN administration as a Trust
  • Conflict would have occurred whether UN Trust continued or partition resolution was provided
  • Terroristic civil war before, and real war after Arab rejection of UN partition “let chips fall where they may”
  • Israeli victory (1948) and building of modern Jewish state are legitimate claims to land
  • Continued Israeli resistance of Arab aggression illustrated permanent Jewish insecurity in view of world anti-Semitism that necessitated military and moral support by world for Israel

New formula for peace:

  • Israel has complied with the 1979 Camp David treaty
  • All of West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights land cannot be returned for physical security reasons – Arab demands are unreasonable
  • Israel is not intransigent – only desires long term security
  • Jerusalem is the holy city for Jews and the capitol of Israel – return of east Jerusalem to Arabs is impractical, dangerous, and unacceptable
  • Israel cannot absorb all Palestinian refugees – willing to accept return of 50,000 tops to maintain Jewish character
  • Arabs of Israel have highest standard of living in Middle East
  • Economic and military aid received from America helps U.S. maintain balance of power in region
  • Some measure of U.S., Russian, European, UN (Quartet) involvement may be necessary for peaceful resolution of conflict and maintenance of agreement afterwards.

Summary / thought / discussion questions for both Arab and Israeli perspectives:

  1. Who are the original inhabitants of Palestine? Does it matter?
  2. How did the Israelites gain control of the land from the Philistines? Does it matter?
  3. How have the waves of invaders clouded clear title to the land?
  4. Does it matter that until about 50 years ago, the Philistines / Palestinians were never an organized kingdom, nation, or politico-religious group? Why?
  5. Did Lord Balfour have the right to permit world Jewry to immigrate to Palestine and buy land? Why?
  6. Was the League of Nations mandate legitimate, or another example of western colonialism and / or British imperialism in the Middle East? Why?
  7. Did the United Nations have the legal authority to partition Palestine and help create the modern State of Israel? Why?
  8. Is the creation of an autonomous Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza a fair settlement? How come?
  9. Should Jerusalem again be divided into Jewish and Moslem sectors? Why? If so, how?
  10. Is Fatah the legitimate representative of Palestinians living in the West Bank, and Hamas the same for Palestinians living in Gaza? How come?
  11. Are these two parties terrorist groups? A nationalistic political entity? A government yet to form?
  12. Is the UN the appropriate forum for any Middle East peace talks to take place? Why?


Lebanon – A microcosm of Middle Eastern influences, intrigues, and intractable problems:

Historical background:

Lebanon, in ancient times, was the home of the Phoenicians and the land of the biblical Cedar forests. Similar to the modern Lebanese, the Phoenicians were an enterprising people who were also pioneers in seafaring commerce. Phoenicia was later conquered by two great successive empires, each introducing a new religion that would forever shape the land.

Rome made Lebanon part of its empire around 70 A.D. Several centuries later, Rome embraced Christianity and spread the faith throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Roman rule collapsed about 395 A.D. and control of the The Lebanon was ceded to the remaining eastern branch of the empire centered in Byzantium who then held it until 630 A.D. During this time, waves of Christian immigrants from Greece, Armenia, and Rome settled into the pretty and hilly land. Many of the natives converted to the new faith also.

A new branch of Christianity, the Maronite sect, formed in Lebanon. In the fifth century, some Christians were persecuting others. Maron, a one-eyed Syrian monk, worked to stop this practice. Maron also urged Christians to display greater unity in protecting their culture and faith.

That was tested when the Moslem Arabs invaded in the seventh century. The Maronite Christians dug in against the arrival of Islam, the Arabs new faith, by establishing strongholds in isolated mountain areas. From then on, the Christian and Moslem civilizations maintained guarded relations.

In 1099, the Maronites were bolstered by the arrival of the Christian Crusaders who gained control over some parts of Lebanon for nearly a century. Although the Moslems regained control upon the collapse of the Crusades, many of the Christians stayed and fortified Maronite strength.

In 1517, the Ottoman Empire won control of the Moslem world and administered Lebanon from Turkey. During the next four centuries, the Maronites survived as a besieged pocket of Christianity surrounded by a sea of Moslems. At the same time, the Maronites thrived economically, many becoming merchant princes and influential bankers and dominated the economy.

The French remake the region:

The Ottoman Empire was allied with Germany during World War I and crumbled in 1917. Britain and France, under a League of Nations mandate, divided the Arab lands among themselves. The territory making up modern Syria and Lebanon was ceded to the French who in 1920 tried to create a new, economically viable entity under the leadership of the Maronites.

The French joined Mount Lebanon, the autonomous Maronite enclave under Ottoman rule, with the coastal cities of Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli, plus the Bekka Valley near the Syrian border. The French combined an incredible array of religious and cultural communities into a single political unit;

  1. Shiite Moslems in southern Lebanon
  2. Sunni Moslems in the coastal cities
  3. Druze in the Shouf (southern mountain range)
  4. Pockets of Greek and Armenian Orthodox and Catholics
  5. Pockets of Protestants and Jews

Each community kept the autonomy it had had under the Turks while receiving some proportional distribution of power. Naturally, balancing such a delicate system was always precarious at best.
In 1943, Lebanese nationalists agreed to the National Pact, an unwritten constitution that established the basis for sharing power. The historic compromise worked like this:

  1. Maronite Christians terminated their link with France
  2. Moslems renounced any intention of union with other Arab states
  3. President was always to be a Maronite Christian
  4. Prime Minister was always to be a Sunni Moslem
  5. Speaker of the House was always to be a Shiite Moslem
  6. Christians were to enjoy a 6 to 5 split in the seats allowed in the House.

This political calculus reflected the population totals of 1943 and worked as long as there was a good relationship between the three community’s power brokers. Ironically, despite the potential for strains in this compromise, the two civil wars in the next thirty years were mostly sparked by outside influences.

In 1958, the Pan-Arabic politics of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser fractured the compromise and caused a conflict that cost 2,000 lives. The U.S. landed 15,000 troops which helped restore the peace and force a stalemate. After that, things calmed down for the next fifteen years and Lebanon prospered greatly.

Beirut becomes the Paris of the Middle East:

Beirut became the Arab banking center, tourists thronged the Paris of the Middle East’s lovely beaches, or skied the snowcapped mountains a half hour away. Rapid urbanization took place as tens of thousands of people in the poorer rural areas abandoned their villages and poured into swelling, fractious Beirut neighborhoods. Trouble brewed as class differences heightened social tensions.

The growing Moslem population led the Sunni and Shiite leaders to contest Maronite power based on a 1932 census. The Maronites feared that a diminished political role might:

  1. Weaken their grip on the economy and refused to accept a new formula
  2. Encourage 50,000 Palestinian refugees suffering in camps for years and becoming ever more resentful to possibly form a mini-state within Lebanon
  3. Motivate thousands of PLO warriors that had been expelled from Jordan to Lebanon during Black September 1970 to continue carrying out terrorist strikes against Israel from Lebanese soil and invite Israeli retaliation
  4. Fatally weaken the Maronite dominated central government and army and lessen their place in society
  5. Embolden Syrian meddling into Lebanese political affairs with the aim of eventual domination.


Lebanon lapses into civil war:

An assassination attempt on President Gemayel resulted in his Phalange Party killing 29 Palestinians. Moslems and Palestinians efforts at political alliance were contested by Maronites. Either of two outcomes seemed imminent:

  1. Partitioning into religious mini-states
  2. Or a radical Arab dominated state.

Israel and Syria, thinking weak Maronite rule preferable to either, joined to strengthen the Maronites and force a status quo situation.

A sad, 15 year long series of events, shifting alliances, military interventions, massacres, terrorist attacks, meddling and so on ripped the fabric of Lebanese society. Centralized political authority, the economy, and the Lebanese Army disintegrated. Every political and religious faction formed a militia to protect their share of power. In 1978, Syria sent in a 22,000 man peacekeeping force which later grew to more than 40,000 in the 1980’s. In 1980, the Shiite Iranian revolution and subsequent terror was exported to Lebanon in the hope of making it an Islamic Republic. Israel then bogged down in a three year long occupation of the south until terrorist Shiite bombings forced their withdrawal.

Beirut before the civil war – Paris of the Middle East

Beirut during the civil war

In 1982, Lebanon was little more than a camp of warring armies and militias.

  1. In the far north (Bekka Valley), 10,000 Palestinians, acting as a mini-state, used Lebanon to attack Israel
  2. Nearly 1,000 soldiers belonging to the Franjieh Christian clan stood their ground along with 15,000 Phalangist (Gemayel clan), against the Moslems
  3. In Beirut (center of nation along coast), 22,000 Lebanese Army troops controlled about four square miles around the capitol
  4. In the southern Beirut suburbs, Amal (10,000 moderate Shiites) led by former Brooklynite Nabi Berri, challenged Christian and Sunni Moslem dominance
  5. Several thousand radical Shiites called Hezbollah, in alliance with the shadowy Islamic Jihad cell, were planning their own revolution
  6. 30,000 to 40,000 Syrian troops were stationed further south but west of 70,000 Israeli troops
  7. Israeli troops were training the 2,000 man militia of the Hadaad clan that controlled southern Lebanon
  8. 7,000 man U.N. peacekeeping force sat near Tyre, a city close to the Israeli border
  9. 10,000 Druze soldiers held the Shouf Mountains, the chain running from Beirut to Israel.

The dynamics of the civil war were maddening. Syrian military power manipulated the scene for its own advantage. Alliances shifted almost daily, things supposedly changed, but the war continued because one group or another thought it in their interest to keep things stirred up.

Take the PLO for example. After Israel drove them out, Yasser Arafat and his legions returned to Beirut only to have Syria provoke a war for leadership of the PLO by arming more radical factions. The Syrian backed elements defeated Arafat’s force and they returned to Tunis in humiliation. The Syrians were the real winners though, because they had divided and discredited the PLO, the one group who might have been capable of challenging the Syrian’s power base in Lebanon at the time.

Iran’s revolutionary leaders boldly encouraged Hezbollah (Party of God) to make Lebanon into an Iranian-style Islamic Republic by taking dozens of Westerners hostage. All were held for years and were finally released during 1991 and 1992. Islamic Jihad, a related splinter group, is credited with the car bombing of 241 U.S. servicemen in 1983. Hezbollah’s martyrdom complex helped it challenge the much larger Shiite Amal group for Shiite leadership. Both Shiite forces countered the Sunnis, who themselves splintered into pro and anti-Syrian factions. The Christians also suffered similar divisions with certain families and clans competing for power too.

Hezbollah Shiite party

Flag of the Amal Shiite party

The 70,000 Israeli troops left in 1986 but not before arming and shaping the late Saad Haddad’s Christian militia into the Southern Lebanese Defense Force. The SLDF’s aims were to counter Shiite strength in the area, and prevent any PLO terrorist strikes into Israel. Yes, some PLO began filtering back into Beirut although Arafat’s legions remained centered in Tunis.

From 1989 – 1990, 20,000 Phalangist Christian soldiers led by Michael Aoun, attempted to drive the Syrians out. Thousands of innocent people were caught in the crossfire and killed by the shelling. At one point, the Druze led by Walid Jumblatt, fearing Christians gaining power at their expense, joined the Syrians in shelling Aoun’s forces. When Phalangists did not return fire, the Druze stopped.

Prime Minister Michael AounKateb Party logo

Lebanese quagmire drags on:

There were numerous cease fires, but sooner or later, someone feared losing ground and the shelling resumed. A macabre joke circulated around Beirut. One group in the city was firing away at another group though for no apparent reason. Someone asked; “Why is that guy shooting?” The other answered; “Because he has the ammunition.”

The Lebanese quagmire seemed intractable because possible outcomes were unacceptable to one group or another.

  1. One belief was that a continued stalemate would lead to eventual annexation by Syria
  2. That outcome was poison to anti-Syrian Christians and Moslems, and Israelis and Druze
  3. Another outcome was to partition Lebanon into Christian and Moslem mini-states
  4. That was likely to be blocked by Syria and ironically, most Lebanese.

Regardless, over 150,000 died, Beirut was almost destroyed, and hundreds of thousands immigrated. The economy was shattered and per capita income dropped from over $2,000 in the 1970’s to around $300 in 1989. The poverty and disruption of basic services created the world’s highest rate of children dying from common diarrhea.

Perhaps the saddest aspect was that the brutal war continued for so long that even concerned people grew bored with Lebanon’s plight. As people tuned out, Lebanon nearly died. Nearly because a miracle happened during the summer of 1991: Lebanese once again began caring about their country more than they hated each other.

Elias Hrawi Lebanese coat of arms

The government of President Elias Hrawi convinced the power brokers to respect a cease-fire, begin turning in their armaments, and allow the Lebanese Army to take control of the country. The army, with support from Syrian soldiers, disarmed the PLO, a major obstacle to peace. There remained but one loose cannon – the hostage taking Hezbollah which hurt efforts to attract Western business to invest in the moribund economy. A positive note was the Iranians helping to gain the hostages release – some say let go. With that last hurdle cleared, the Lebanese began to pick up the pieces.

Civil war finally ends:

Amazingly, Humpty Dumpty was put back together again. Many Lebanese who had fled began returning home. Businesses re-opened, banks began making loans to repair housing, construction cranes dotted the city, and airlines once again flew in and out of the country. For the first time in 16 years, the Lebanese experienced something close to real peace. Of course, it was a very fragile peace – an occasional bomb went off – but the parties involved finally gave peace a chance to break out and sustain itself.

But the Syrian occupation starts:

In 1990, the Syrian occupation began when its air force attacked the Presidential Palace and forced Prime Minister Michael Aoun to flee. The occupation would last 15 years and end with the peaceful revolution of 2006. Over one million protestors congregated in the central square following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanese Prime Minister since 1992. The construction magnate had rebuilt much of war-shattered Beirut and become a national hero. The Syrians continued to meddle in Lebanese political affairs after the withdrawal, mainly through Hezbollah, their Shiite proxy.

Rafik Hariri martyrdom photo

Hariri meeting with President George W. Bush

In 1996, Israel’s Operation Grapes of Wrath military began with the bombing of Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon, southern Beirut, and the Bekka Valley. Israel would experience only frustration in Lebanon and withdraw in 2000. Hezbollah’s terrorist attacks and worsening missile threat forced Israel to bomb the same locations again in 2006. This set off a 34 day war in which Israel would fail to crush Hezbollah who rained a shocking amount of missile damage down on Israel’s northern urban and rural areas.

Lebanon experiences a relatively stable period until the Syrian civil war spills over:

Parliament, in 2008, elected army chief Michel Suleiman as president, ending a six-month long political deadlock engineered by Hezbollah. A year later, the pro-Western March 14 Alliance won the election and Saad Hariri formed a unity government. Daily life was fairly calm until 2011 when the Syrian civil war between Alawites and Sunni’s spilled over in to Lebanon. Clashes between Shiites and Sunnis took place in Tripoli and Beirut, Syrian refugees crowded Lebanese cities, security chiefs were blown up, election outcomes manipulated. The next round of national elections were put off until 2014.

File source:
Syrian refugee spillover – locations of refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq. Mother with two sons in Lebanese camp.

The Lebanese are worried that the darkness of war may engulf them yet again. If that happens, the great Lebanese diaspora prominently represented in West and South Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, North America and Australia, will surely expand. Hopefully, civil war in Syria will cease allowing life in Lebanon to settle down and a measure of peace to begin healing the deeply scarred land.

Summary / thought / discussion questions:

  1. Briefly survey Lebanese history and describe how Lebanon became a nation.
  2. Describe the political formula the French used to construct modern Lebanon?
  3. What is the inherent weakness in a political formula for a national arrangement?
  4. How well did the 1943 National Pact work?
  5. Why did the U.S. land 15,000 troops in Beirut in 1958, and what did it accomplish?
  6. While Lebanon prospered the next 17 years, what forces were building up that led to the outbreak of civil war in 1975?
  7. Who were the groups in conflict with each other, and why were they unable to stop fighting? Examine a map of Lebanon and identify the various group’s locations. Discuss how geography has been a factor.
  8. What outside forces have meddled in Lebanese affairs and why? How did their involvement cause the conflict to rage on?
  9. What political formula might produce a lasting peaceful settlement and working government arrangement?
  10. How has the Syrian civil war spilled over in to Lebanon and Beirut and affecting daily life?


Roots of the U.S. “Cold War” with Iran and the Shiite Revolt:

Historical background:

Iran is a strategic and oil rich nation. Formerly Persia, in 1930 it changed its name to Iran which means Aryan. Since Iran rests in the middle of the heartland of Eurasia, it was coveted by Hitler and the Nazis during World War II.

The allies, America, England, and Russia, were Iran’s protectors and believed that this nation of tribes – Persians, Baluchis, Kurds, Arabs – needed a strong leader and tapped an army officer named Reza Pahlavi to become Shah or King. Ironically, when the allies learned that this new Shah admired Hitler, they replaced him and instead groomed his teenaged son to become the next Shah.

Reza Pahlavi – Shah I

Reza Pahlavi – Shah II – the last Shah

WW II ended and the Russians tried to take over Iran. The U.S. and Britain countered the Soviet’s moves by pulling Iran into the West’s sphere of influence. In 1953, the Iranian people overthrew the young Shah whom they saw as a weak and illegitimate ruler dominated by America. This nationalistic revolution was led by a Muslim cleric named Mohammed Mosaddeq who felt that the Shah was corrupting traditional Iranian society. A week later, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Chief Kermit Roosevelt organized street demonstrations that would topple Mosaddeq and reinstate the Shah.

As the years passed, the Shah became a confident head of state who wanted to advance his mostly poor, rural, and illiterate nation. The Shah spent much of his country’s oil wealth on industrializing the economy and modernizing the military. His internal reforms were designed to weaken Islam’s grip on the culture and state, a policy that antagonized the powerful Muslim clergy.

The Shah viewed himself as the modern day equivalent of the powerful Persian emperor Cyrus the Great and lived very lavishly. This further angered the already resentful Shiite religious leaders who perceived the Shah as fostering permissive western values and lifestyles. Furthermore, little of the conspicuous wealth enjoyed by the Shah and his urban supporters seemed to be trickling down to the poor masses. The U.S. policy of making the Shah the “cop of the Persian Gulf” produced a growing military establishment that was increasingly seen as a tool of political oppression.

Shiite religious leaders in Iran are called mullahs. As they become holier and more respected, they graduate to the title ayatollah. An important part of their faith is the return of the Imam divinely appointed, sinless, infallible successor to Mohammed who reportedly last appeared in the eighth century.

Ayatollah Khomeini

In 1962, then Ayatollah Khomeini, a particularly vocal critic of the Shah, was exiled and took up residence in Iraq. Although Iraq’s government is Sunni and practiced Syrian style Baath socialism, its population was 60% Shiite. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein endured criticism from Khomeini for 15 years and tired of the cleric calling him an infidel. Saddam finally deported Khomeini in 1977 and the cleric took up residence in France where he settled into a Paris suburb and began directing a revolution against the Shah.

In the meantime, the Shah sent many young Iranians to be educated in America, especially Williams College in Massachusetts. Many of these college students felt that the Savak, the Shah’s secret police, was oppressive and tortured critics of the government. During a visit by the Shah to Washington to meet with President Jimmy Carter, a number of students put on ski masks and demonstrated against their embarrassed monarch.

Khomeini, meanwhile, denounced the Shah’s rule and reforms through taped sermons that were smuggled into Iran and distributed in the bazaars. An unlikely combination of Orthodox Shiites, leftists, westernized anti-Shah students educated in the U.S. and French colleges, and disaffected minorities listened and concluded that Khomeini should replace the Shah. Ultimately, hundreds of thousands would vote with their feet by marching with love and flowers causing the army to melt away. The Shah, dying of cancer, yielded his throne to compromise successors and fled. Over in Iraq, Saddam Hussein watched two governments quickly crumble under pro-Khomeini pressure and shuddered.

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Khomeini, acting like an Imam, had returned to Iran in triumph. He and his supporters established an Islamic Republic that was guided by Shiite Koranic law and dominated by the mullahs. Leftist, secular, or westernized Iranians, symbols of what was supposedly wrong with Iran, became targets of this extremist religious faction. The Shah, who Khomeini wanted to try as a war criminal, moved to any country – Egypt, Mexico, Panama – that would not allow Iran to extradite him. Finally, powerful friends like Henry Kissinger and Nelson Rockefeller persuaded President Carter to permit the Shah to enter the U.S. for cancer care.

Pro-Khomeini students demanded that the U.S. return the Shah for judgment. When the U.S. refused, the radicals invaded the U.S. Embassy with the intention of forcing the Shah’s return by taking the Americans hostage. U.S. staff personnel frantically shredded documents – that proved U.S. complicity – before being seized, a roguish violation of international law. The Iranians methodically pieced the papers back together again, then punished the 52 Americans for the last 444 days of Carter’s presidency.

America’s inability to free its citizens made the country appear militarily weak. In October 1980, the Blue Light rescue mission had to be terminated due to an Iranian desert sandstorm that caused a tragic plane crash and helicopter engine failures. The aborted raid in which eight brave soldiers died probably sealed Carter’s fate as a one term president.

Saddam Hussein badly miscalculates:

Over in Iraq, Saddam Hussein dreamed of becoming the greatest Arab leader. Over the next two decades, he would be really become the Middle East’s worst monster. Iraq, then 13 million, now 33 million people, had almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia as well as the fertile agriculture of the Tigris and Euphrates river valley. The economy was booming and the cash flushed country had tens of billions of dollars in the bank. Iraq’s Soviet trained army was well equipped and may have been the strongest in the region. That was the opinion of the Israelis – they considered Saddam their deadliest enemy – and in 1978 destroyed the French built Osiris nuclear plant capable of making atomic bombs.

Saddam ruled as a cult of personality

Saddam defends himself at his trial before execution.

Saddam Hussein worried that the Iranians might actually carry out their threats to export their revolution to Iraq. Hussein also speculated how powerful he might become if he could gain control of Iran’s oil wells located just across his border. At that moment, Iran was suffering great confusion from the new regime’s inexperience and a bloody rebellion from the squeezed out leftists and westernized classes. When the conflict reached civil war proportions, Hussein, expecting an easy victory, invaded his much larger and populous neighbor, the equivalent of picking on a much bigger man when he is down and beset with problems.

The lightning quick raid to seize and annex the oil fields and disputed Shatt al Arab waterway turned out to be one of the great miscalculations of the century. Hussein apparently overlooked three facts:

  • Iran had three times the population of Iraq
  • Iran’s traditional martyrdom complex imbued the nation’s military with a blood curdling fanaticism
  • The invasion would likely institutionalize Khomeini’s revolution through a patriotic call to defend the country – which it did with a vengeance.

Iran, after reeling from the Iraqi blitzkrieg style attack, put aside its political differences and regrouped. The nation had to be defended so the masses conformed to Khomeini’s Shiite ideals of obedience, chastity, and sacrifice. The Revolutionary Guards, young disciples of Khomeini, liberally executed dissenters. Koranic law was strictly enforced despite its greatly oppressing religious minorities such as Bahia’s and Jews. Terror mounted and exceeded by far the levels employed by the Savak under the Shah.

But it worked and the Iranian Revolution survived the war with Iraq and succeeded overall. Some say it may be the second most important revolution of the 20th Century. Khomeini called for a Holy War against the Iraqi infidels and, after replacing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad with one of his own, would next export his politico-religious model to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. When the Iranians counter-attacked in human waves and quickly forced the Iraqis to retreat, the moderate Sunni regimes in Jordan and Egypt also grew nervous that they had a stake in Saddam’s survival too.

Giant World War I land type land battles took place for years. The Iranians drove the Iraqis back across their borders and threatened to overrun all positions. The Iraqis realized that they were now in a war for their own survival and fought tough and hard to maintain their sovereignty. Their superior airpower allowed them to neutralize Iran’s ground troop advantage and defensively hold on. An estimated million men died during the next seven bloody years of relentless Iranian pressure on Iraq. The Iranians shelled and stormed Iraq’s port city of Basra in order to access the road to Baghdad to conquer the capitol. Basra teetered on the edge for a year and it looked to the world that Iran just might win.

The western nations begin managing the war’s outcome – neither side will win – exhaustion to come first:

In 1979, Iraq had $75 billion in the bank; by 1987, it owed $65 billion to foreign countries, particularly France. If Saddam had once been viewed as a monster by moderate Sunni Arab regimes – Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia – more and more he was becoming “their monster” for they could not let him lose the war that he started.

  • The French surely did not want him to fall because he owed them so much money
  • The U.S. also feared the outcome of an Iranian victory on its Arab allies
  • The Soviet’s had nightmares over how Iran might inflame its own growing Muslim population
  • All involved powers balanced the flow of money and arms to produce exhaustion before victory.

The Iranian onslaught continued into early 1988. Then, in a brilliantly executed surprise offensive, Iraq attacked and drove Iran back into its own territory. Iran took stock of its situation. Years of Iraqi bombing raids against Iranian oil producing facilities had taken its toll on Iran’s ability to finance the war. Its economy was prostrate, equipment demolished, and the ranks of available fighting men depleted. All that remained were adolescents who were no match for Iraqi armor. Ayatollah Khomeini finally listened to arguments to cease fighting or risk destruction of his revolution and country.

The war ended with Iran’s economy in ruins and Iraq supposedly more selective about who it picked fights with in the future. Iran faced two choices:

  • Moderate its revolution to obtain billions in western aid needed to rebuild its infrastructure and economy
  • Rededicate the 1979 revolution with a new zeal to preserve its independence.

The Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1990 set off a power struggle. The supposedly moderate Ayatollah Rafsanjani prevailed and maintained a delicate balance – establish friendlier relations with western nations while domestically enforcing strict Koranic practices. Signs of this were Iran’s helping to free the hostages in Lebanon, and the execution of thousands of “counter-revolutionaries” and “spies”.

Iran after Khomeini – 1990 to 2013:

The continuing political limbo hampered economic development and still does. The country occasionally presents a more moderate face to the world while continuing to protect its revolution at home – it is playing that game again right now. The Revolutionary Guards, over the past 30 years, have taken control of the economy. They protect their interests by acting as a brake on accommodations with the west that has imposed economic sanctions on them.

The U.S., Israel, and the European countries levied the sanctions on Iran to force the country to stop enriching uranium needed to build atomic bombs. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier, repeatedly threatened Israel’s existence with use of nuclear weapons. The sanctions were also imposed to force Iran to stop trying to export revolution against the Sunni regimes
The Iranian hard line elements pressure the government not to open up to the west nor end its anti-Israel campaign.

Ironically, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq would remove Saddam from power, and free the majority (60%) Shiites that formed the new government. The Sunni minority (20%) that had oppressed the Shiite majority were not brought in to the new government and have resorted to terrorism to force their inclusion. The Shiite Prime Minister is Nouri al-Maliki who some have accused of being slightly authoritarian.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is Shiite Iraq coat of arms

One might think that Saddam Hussein would have learned harsh lessons about Iraq’s limits and emerged from the exhausting war chastened and ready to behave more responsibly. Unfortunately, that was not the case and we will next examine:

  • Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait
  • The ally’s ejection of Iraqi forces from the oil-rich emirate
  • American efforts to befriend Saddam in a hope that he would instead become a force for good in the region.
  • Saddam preferably used his billions of dollars in loans to build nuclear and chemical weapons and invade neighboring states.

Summary / thought / discussion questions”

  1. Why did the Iranian masses over throw the Shah’s regime?
  2. How did the Ayatollah Khomeini transform Iran into an Islamic Republic?
  3. What were Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s reasons for invading Iran and how did he miscalculate?
  4. Describe the war’s outcome and how the great powers managed it?
  5. Why was the Iranian government so hostile to the U.S. and the West in general?
  6. Research the Persian Gulf tanker war, President Reagan’s stationing a flotilla to protect Kuwaiti and Saudi oil tankers, and the Iraqi attack on the destroyer U.S. Stark that killed 37 American sailors?
  7. Research how and to what degree Kuwait supported Iraq during the war with Iran. Why would Saddam invade a country that had helped him so much?
  8. How can Iran and the U.S. resolve their differences and resume normal relations?


Saddam miscalculates again – Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait, and subsequent allied liberation:

Iraq was lucky to emerge from the war with Iran without losing and survive intact. Sadly, Saddam did not change and made war against his own people as well as his neighbors.

Frankly, the western nations deserve some of the blame for Saddam’s aggressions.

  • Germany, France, Britain and the U.S. sold Iraq equipment to manufacture tons of poison gas, chemical and biological weapons, and even atomic bombs
  • International banking scandals emerged that told of how Hussein financed his systems of mass murder and destruction
  • The BCCI – Bank of Credit and Commerce, Lavorno Bank of Atlanta (Italian) – was set up to secretly funnel money to Saddam to finance his deadly purchases
  • Loans were approved after knowledge of use against the Iranians and autonomy seeking Kurds of northern Iraq and Shiites who lived in the southern marshes.

Why did democratic nations sell a brutal and aggressive dictator, weapons of mass destruction? Was this simply greed – “If we don’t sell him the weapons, some one else will and they’ll make the money”? Or cynicism – “Only a tyrant can rule a fractious country like Iraq”?

If Iraq had not invaded Iran, it might have been one of the richest countries in the world today. But the expense of the Iran War, weapons development systems, and political need to provide the Iraqi people with consumer goods – and Saddam’s stealing 5% of all oil profits – emptied the treasury. In 1990, Hussein owed about $80 billion to western and Arab bankers, and unable to meet his loan payments, convinced him self that he had saved the Sunni Arab nations from the Iranian Shiite threat. Of course, that meant overlooking the fact that he had started the war with Iran.

Saddam’s Baath Party Flag

Saddam’s life goal was to become master of the Middle East. That aim required Iraq to develop a military strong enough to defeat Israel and hand the Holy Land to the Palestinians. After intimidating his Arab neighbors to gain regional dominance, he would next obtain long range missiles to become a world power. Where would he obtain enough money to finance his dreams?

There is an old Arab proverb that says; “Blows that do not break my back, strengthen it.” Amazingly, Iraq emerged from the war with Iran militarily stronger than when it began. His army was battle hardened and the Soviets and French had sold him a vast arsenal of advanced weapons systems. It mattered little to him that his war weary people desperately craved peace.

Saddam demanded that his Kuwait neighbors forgive their $20 billion loan to him, plus give him another $50 billion, and lease Bubiyan Island for greater access to the Persian Gulf. When the Kuwaitis refused his extortion-like demands, Saddam got angry and moved 100,000 soldiers to the border. Saddam then made the following claims against Kuwait:

  • Kuwait was really a part of Iraq – Britain had established a colony there in 1922 and put the Sabah family in charge
  • This negated historical fact that the Sabah family had headed this city-state since 1762, and had been an independent country and member of the United Nations since 1962
  • Saddam accused the Kuwaitis of stealing his oil by drilling sideways into Iraq and siphoning off his oil
  • Saddam demanded a ransom or risk a takeover.

The Kuwaitis denied these charges but to no avail. Saddam called in an American official and asked if the U.S. would stop an invasion of Kuwait. When the official did not answer directly, Saddam took that response to mean that the U.S. would do nothing.

Operation Desert Shield:

Before the invasion, Kuwait controlled 10% of the world’s oil supply making it so wealthy that few of its 600,000 citizens worked. Twice as many foreign workers – Palestinians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis – did just about everything including run the government bureaucracies. The Emir of Kuwait, an absolute monarch, was so generous that his people were perceived as arrogant and spoiled by the guest workers, especially the Palestinians.

The much more powerful Iraqi forces brushed aside the Kuwaiti Defense Force. Hundreds of thousands of Kuwaitis fled and took refuge in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Most of the guest workers trudged across the desert into Jordan and within days, giant refugee camps formed. The tiny kingdom was overwhelmed and it took nearly a month and much aid to provide them transport home. King Hussein of Jordan, no relation, felt he had no choice but to support Saddam too, a stance that angered western nations.

Iraq quickly annexed Kuwait as its nineteenth province. The soldiers ransacked the state and looted anything of value. Many atrocities and rapes were committed. The small, brave, Kuwaiti resistance hurt their occupiers with many hit and run missions, but were no match. They noticed many Palestinians collaborating with the Iraqi soldiers and kicked nearly all 900,000 out after the country was later freed.

Saddam’s forces approach the Saudi border:

The mobile Iraqi military swept past Kuwait City and pushed on to the Saudi Arabian border. Saddam now controlled 20% of the world’s oil supplies. A short distance from the border lay the Saudi’s enormous oil fields containing another 25%. A bold incursion into the desert kingdom could yield him control over nearly half of all known reserves. Oil prices in the industrial nations began spiraling upward threatening the global economy with a deep recession or worse. The thought of Saddam having that much power and wealth made President Bush 41 and other world leaders very nervous.

Although the Soviets had sold Saddam most of his military equipment, the Russians now needed the U.S., Japan, and Europe to help turn around their own ailing economy. The industrial powers were willing but only if the Soviets behaved responsibly. Iraq’s invasion provided the first real test of the sincerity of Soviet intentions. President Bush introduced a resolution in the UN Security Council that called for:

    1. UN condemned the invasion
    2. Economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq
    3. Iraqi forces were to be expelled from Kuwait by a UN Security Council coalition.

President George H.W. Bush – 41 President George W. Bush – 43

In the past, the Soviets probably would have championed Saddam’s actions and vetoed the resolution. But Presidents Bush and Gorbachev were partners in forging a new world order based on economic and political cooperation and demanded that Saddam withdraw.

      1. Saddam though was determined to stand up to the great powers and refused
      2. Iraqi forces dug into the desert and fortified positions
      3. Militarily weak Saudi Arabia remained in peril until the west acted
      4. President Bush, recalling the Munich Appeasement of Hitler, decided that Saddam had to be stopped or at least chopped down to size
      5. On August 9, he sent in the 82nd Airborne Division.

The U.S. moved 200,000 more soldiers to Saudi Arabia by the end of October.

        1. Britain and France also sent proportional forces
        2. Germany, preoccupied with reunification, contributed money
        3. Japan, constitutionally a pacifist nation, contributed billions of dollars too
        4. The Emir pledged $15 billion and Saudi Arabia funded all military costs on its soil, a tab the ultimately reached $90 billion
        5. The Soviets supported the policy but “stayed on the sidelines” as it was too soon to take action against a former client state.

Perhaps most important, even critical to the operation, was for the Arab nations to unite against Saddam Hussein. Egypt contributed a large contingent and even Syria sent a small number of troops. The buildup continued throughout the Fall and exceeded 300,000 soldiers by November.

Allied intelligence gauged Iraqi troop strength at 500,000, an overestimation of more than 100,000. The allies reached their goal of 600,000 soldiers by Jan. 1, 1991, along with the stationing of 2,800 aircraft and a mighty naval armada in the Persian Gulf.

Operation Desert Storm:

The allied forces were commanded by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Colin Powell, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. The massive buildup should have been proof to Saddam of allied resolve to liberate Kuwait. The Iraqi leader though seemed to bask in the global limelight – his belligerence fed the divisions in the Arab world. Saddam’s propaganda stoked the grievances of the poorer Arab peoples and states – Yemen, Jordan, Palestinians – and turned them against the richer Gulf states – Kuwait, Saudis, U.A.E.

The allies reached readiness level by late January 1991. They then began deploying their superior air power against the entrenched Iraqis “to soften them up”. By the end of the first day, the allies had knocked the Iraqi Air Force out of the war and cut most enemy supply lines.

Saddam either hid his remaining aircraft in bunkers or strangely parked two dozen in Iran for safety. Over the next thirty days, more than 80,000 air sorties were flown and the allies dropped a staggering number of explosives and “smart bombs” on Hussein’s army.

Saddam tried mightily to divide the multinational alliance of 34 countries congregated against him, especially the Arab forces. Hussein relentlessly sent Scud missiles crashing into Tel Aviv, eventually killing seventy Israelis. The Jewish State wanted desperately to retaliate but the U.S. begged them not to, for retaliation implied that the Israelis had entered the war and technically made them allies of the Saudis who also suffered Scud attacks.

The Israelis would also have had to fly over Jordan who swore to defend its territory. The Palestinians might have overthrown Jordan’s King Hussein if he had not. The Israelis displayed amazing restraint by placing their faith in the U.S. and its allies. Some of the most harrowing images of the war were the televised images of Israeli children wearing gas masks in sealed rooms to fend off poison gas attacks.

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The allies ground offensive commenced in late February 1991. The allies made an end run around the stationary Iraqis, a flanking procedure that split the enemy and made them easier to defeat. The bombing campaigns had taken their toll and the Iraqis surrendered by the tens of thousands. The allies, only three days from Baghdad, and with no resistance in their path, prepared to march on the Iraqi capitol.

However, President Bush called off the war claiming that Kuwait had been liberated and that fulfilled the UN resolution. The President further explained that the UN resolution and allies’ mission did not call for removal of Saddam, only to end his ability to commit aggression. The Iraqi people would have to rise up against Saddam and overthrow him. Bush worried that allied forces entering Baghdad might end up caught in a protracted guerilla struggle and Vietnam-style quagmire.

President George H. W. Bush – 41, meeting the troops

Almost immediately, Shiites in the southeastern marshes and Kurds in the north began rebelling. They had reacted to the President’s statement that led them to believe they could count on the ally’s support in ridding themselves of Saddam. But help was not forthcoming and those Iraqi forces that had been spared, or managed to escape, savagely crushed both uprisings.

The Kurds, fearing use of chemical weapons against them, headed for the mountains for safety. The haunting scenes of thousands dying from exposure and hunger forced President Bush to send in U.S. troops to protect the Kurds. The 36th parallel was established as a semi-border and ‘no-fly zone” that the Iraqis were forbidden to cross. If they did, they risked engaging U.S. forces stationed in western Turkey. This line, in effect, granted the Kurds the autonomy they had always wanted. A year later, a similar arrangement using the 32nd parallel was provided for the Shiites in the southeastern marshes to stop Saddam’s attacks against them.

Hewler / Erbil (capitol), the flag, and coat of arms of Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous province

Saddam remains in power for another decade until the U.S. invasion in 2003:

One might reasonably ask why President Bush left in power a man who had employed massive environmental terrorism as well as his many other terrible crimes?

          • During the war, Saddam ordered his soldiers to pump 20 million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf
          • This wanton act created one of the worst oil spills in history and fouled the Saudi coast for more than a year
          • Retreating Iraqi soldiers also set 600 Kuwaiti oil wells on fire that took a year to extinguish
          • These two insane acts were the worst environmental disaster of all time.

Allied bombing reportedly destroyed nearly 80% of all non-conventional weapons facilities. Saddam then played cat and mouse with UN investigators looking for weapons of mass destruction in order to eliminate them too. Saddam was placed on an allowance by the UN which was enough to buy food and medicine for his people but no weapons. The dictator was impervious to the pain and horror he caused his people. Economic sanctions remained intact for a decade and only hurt ordinary Iraqis far more than Saddam’s ruling regime or cronies.

Iraq was unable to settle down and pick up the pieces as long as Saddam clung to power. Saddam allegedly tried to assassinate President Bush when he visited Kuwait after leaving office to be honored by the country he liberated. That failed attempt would cost Saddam dearly when President George W. Bush 43 took office in 2001.

So why was Saddam still in power?

          • Sunni Arab nations feared Iraqi Shiites falling under control of Iran
          • Turkey worried about the effects of Kurdish autonomy on its eastern provinces which is almost entirely Kurdish too
          • Until recently, Middle Eastern leaders thought a strong hand was necessary to hold Iraq together.

Given Iraq’s continuing belligerence and unrepentant attitude, Arab and U.S. leaders changed their view and divided Iraq into three provinces to foster democracy.

The Middle East experienced change even before the war in the gulf. Russia’s economic decline forced the Arab’s to start dealing with Israel. U.S. prestige soared with the victory over Iraq along with Arab trust in America. These factors helped create new measures of cooperation and a chance for a regional peace settlement.

          • Syria engaged in peace negotiations with Israel and began measures of cooperation between Jerusalem and Damascus
          • Saudi Arabia ended a 40 year long economic boycott against the Jewish State
          • Jordan joined a regional peace conference and signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1996
          • Palestinians and Israelis after Oslo 1993 began discussing autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza.

Jordan’s King Hussein and Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shake hands on peace.

The Middle East had been caught up in an endless cycle of hate and violence that greatly stunted the region’s considerable potential. The cycle appeared to ease as former belligerents increasingly dealt with problems from across negotiating tables instead of from the barrels of guns. And they realized that they had to continue or forever remain a prisoner of their own bloody past.

September 11, 2001 attacks lead to the Iraq War, Saddam’s removal, and prospects for a civil peace in Iraq:

President George W. Bush 43 responded to the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks by directing the CIA to organize an assembly of Afghanis called the Northern Alliance to drive the Taliban extremists from power. The Taliban had welcomed Osama ben Laden and allowed Al Qaeda training bases to operate freely. The Taliban were complicit in the 9/11 attacks, and through the miracle of cash, laptops, drones, and smart bombs, they were gone in 30 days. That lightning quick victory set the stage for believing that any follow-up military actions would be just as successful.

President Bush 43 believed the Middle East to be stagnant and the region’s dictators were the primary cause.

          • Dictators kept old structures in place and blocked youth from moving up into jobs, leadership roles, elites
          • Dictators blocked their people from using the newest technology, making connections to the bigger fast-changing world they yearned to be part of
          • For real peace between Arabs and Jews, Shiite and Sunni, religious or secular / western, new institutions had to emerge
          • Obviously, the dictators had to go for democracy to take root, economies to take off, and regional interdependence to replace unyielding division.

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Front row L – R’s not smiling anymore – all Arab Spring casualties: Yemen’s Ali Saleh, Tunisia’s Zine ben Ali overthrown, Libya’s Khadafy was killed, Egypt’s Mubarak jailed and put on trial.

President Bush 41 had left Saddam in power and for a decade the dictator nastily defied the western restrictions on him while he slowly destroyed his nation in the meantime. Rumors connected Saddam with some Al Qaeda meeting in Prague but none was ever proven, or same with the yellowcake uranium report from Niger. Supposedly, Saddam still had nuclear, chemical, and biological WMD – weapons of mass destruction – but he forbade UN investigators to verify existence or lack of. This cat and mouse game he played with the U.N. and U.S. made it hard to believe that he had gotten rid of the WMD’s on his own – none were found.

Furthermore, there is the issue of Saddam allegedly ordering an assassination attempt on George Bush 41 in Kuwait. There was the fact that he was a horrible monster who invaded his neighbors and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Saddam had made his people ever poorer and more miserable for three decades and showed no signs of remorse.

Hussein was the perfect dictator to justifiably remove for the purpose of jumpstarting a democracy movement across the Arab world. Bush was doing the world a favor by taking Saddam out – hopefully the rest of the region’s dictators would fall like a row of dominoes. Democratic institutions would be built, free markets formed, military cooperation established, real peace enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the Arab Spring that President Bush 43 hoped for to arrive with the invasion of Baghdad, would not happen until a blind, hassled, shop merchant in Tunisia burned himself to death in December 2010 and ignited a regional revolution that will be played out for years to come.

Tribute to blind Tunisian merchant Mohammed Bouazizi who immolated himself as a cry for help protest against the dictatorship. The act captured the Arab world’s attention and spark the Arab Spring uprisings.

Tunisian Fists Facebook page.

The Iraq War – a quagmire:

Some questionable decisions about the invasion force size and troop configuration that was needed to take control of a country the size of Texas proved wrong – probably twice as many grunts as specialists or private contractors should have been included. We quickly lost control after “shock and awe” and allow the ousted Sunni forces time to regroup. The cost of this mistake at wars end was 4,400 dead, 32,000 injured, the sacrifice by our military families beyond extraordinary.

The Iraq War cost a treasure of money, blood, armor and micro-chips that led to minimal societal improvement and no oilfield payoff as promised. Today the Shiite dominated government, remembering that Saddam Hussein and his Sunni gang that terrorized them since the mid-20th Century, have denied Sunnis from participating in the government. As a result, they endure terror and death daily from car and suicide bombings. The Sunnis, with help from Al Qaeda, are determined to battle their way back into some measure of governing one way or another.

The reader is encouraged to navigate to the glossary and review the Iraq War text. Then focus on the chart that describes the month to month troop totals for insight into the war’s trouble. It was not until the 2005 surge of 30,000 more troops that we finally achieved a measure of control and security. Enough progress was made for President Obama to bring the troops home in 2011.

But we had not solved Iraq’s main problem – Shiites and Sunnis figuring out how to share governance. Iraq will churn with violence until the country is either sub-divided into three truly autonomous states, or a viable power sharing arrangement is struck, honored, and maintained.

Roots of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks:

Afghanistan is a Texas-sized country that lies between Iraq, Pakistan, China, and the former Soviet Union. It is an extremely mountainous land and its 32 million people are predominately Moslem, mostly poor, and live on the average to age 47.

The Afghans are a tribal people and fiercely independent too. In ancient times, they were known as both the Arians and Bactrians. Numerous invaders dating back to Alexander the Great experienced fanatical resistance to their rule. An exception was in the 7th Century when Moslem conquerors converted the Afghanis to Islam which the people embraced as their true faith and have devoutly followed ever since.

In the 13th and 14th Centuries, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane swept in from Mongolia. Genghis Khan is reported to have killed more than 10 million Central Asian Moslems who had declared a jihad (holy war) against him.

In the 19th Century, Imperial Britain and Czarist Russia battled for control of Afghanistan. While the Afghans lost and did not regain their autonomy until 1907, they made their enemies pay dearly. Supposedly, out of one particular British invasion force of 12,000 men, only a single surveyor made it back to India. In an 1897 skirmish, the Afghans would capture a British Enfield rifle and learn how to manufacture it. That flintlock model became the standard rifle that the Afghans would use well into the 1980’s.

1897 Enfield rifle first used in Boer War and became the Afghan freedom fighter’s main weapon against Soviets until Stinger missile system

The central government of Afghanistan has traditionally been a weak one. The ethnic groups – Pathans 40%, Tajiks 25%, Uzbeks 10%, Hazarans 10% – mainly govern themselves. This national trait persists whether the government is a monarchy or democracy. Outsiders sometimes mistake this perceived division as a sign of weakness. The Russians, the last invader, found out the hard way that the tribe’s autonomy can be a peculiar form of national strength.

The USSR and Afghanistan, during the 1950’s, drew closer – the Russians for strategic interests, the Afghans out of a desire for friendly relations with their powerful neighbor to the north. The Russians, presumably to increase trade, built the Moscow – Kabul Highway, the route they later used to invade the country 20 years later. Afghan army officers, supposedly to better protect the country, were sent to Moscow for military training – the officers were actually indoctrinated with Marxist – Leninist beliefs. In 1978, a group of communist army officers overthrew the Afghan republican government and seized power.

A Marxist people’s republic was declared by President Noor Taraki. Armed resistance to the communist rule was immediate and came from seven rebel groups ranging from conservative Moslem to secular, and they soon had the Taraki forces on the ropes. Taraki was succeeded by Hafizulla Amin who was quickly replaced by Babrak Karmal who called for Soviet troops to prop up his failing government.
In 1979, Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sent in 110,000 troops to destroy the surprisingly fierce Afghan resistance movement to the new Marxist government.

That goal proved harder for the Russians to achieve than they had figured. Despite exceeding in number the 90,000 or so rebels, the Russians, a modern superpower, found themselves fighting a formless guerilla movement. The rebels or Mujahedeen (holy warriors) were seven separate militias who never coordinated their movements. Indeed, they were so autonomous that some times they even fought among each other. The Afghan resistance also used the mountainous terrain to bog the Russians down in what the rebels hoped would lead to a Vietnam-style quagmire that would force an eventual withdrawal.
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Russian HIND helicopter that was winning the war until the rebels acquired the Stinger missile that blew copters out of sky and changed the course of the war.

At first, the Afghan resistance with their 1897 Enfield rifles bloodied the Russians with amazing ease. However, the Russians adjusted their strategy and their superior firepower soon began to take its toll. Huge helicopters, the equivalent of flying tanks with howitzers, missiles, and machine guns, attacked mountain strongholds and forced the rebels into a defensive posture.

The Soviets also committed many atrocities against the Afghan people. The Russians destroyed countless villages, scorched farms, and drove nearly a third of the population into Pakistan and Iran. Perhaps the worst crime was the sprinkling of millions of toy-shaped objects around the country that were actually napalm-filled bombs that ignited when touched by curious children – and immolated them.

By 1983, western intelligence experts were predicting a Russian victory. The help provided by neighboring Pakistan and friends such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. was not enough. The still uncoordinated seven rebel groups were being overwhelmed by superior firepower, and it was only a matter of time until they were beaten.

But two factors would quickly change the facts on the ground. The first was that the rebels finally united in their movements and strategies. The second was the U.S. government’s providing the rebels with the Stinger missile. This one weapon system so dramatically changed the face of the war that its hard to find a similar instance in history where a single strategic device ever altered the outcome of a conflict to such a degree.

Hand held Stinger missile used by Afghan rebel forces.

The Stinger is a light, mobile, hand-held missile that hones in on an object’s heat producing engine. The rebels suddenly had the means to blast helicopters, fighter jets, and heavy bombers out of the sky, and with deadly accuracy. Soon, the Russians were forced to bomb from no lower than 35,000 feet, an altitude so high that it makes it nearly impossible to hit a target. With the Russians no longer mopping them up from the skies, the rebels went on the offensive and began attacking convoys at will. Within a few years, they would regain control of the countryside and limit Russian influence to urban areas.

Michael Gorbachev came to power in 1985 with the idea of blasting the rebels – who were sworn to defeat the godless Russians – into agreeing to a coalition headed by a communist president. When Gorbachev’s bombing blitz failed, he readily took stock of the situation.

Parallels to America’s debacle in Vietnam were striking.

          • The vaunted Russian army was being defeated by a technologically inferior but determined foe
          • A Vietnam vet type syndrome was developing among the soldiers who had fought in Afghanistan too
          • The easy availability of drugs in Afghanistan had created a pipeline that was worsening an already spiraling domestic problem
          • The war was also financially draining a state facing third world status if it did not change its ways.

By 1989, the rebels were laying siege to Jalalabad, the second largest city. President Najibullah, the former K. G.B. chief, dependent on an Afghan army many observers believed would go over to the Mujahedeen when the crunch came, proposed that he and the rebels share power. The Mujahedeen, already torn by fundamentalist Moslem and secular democratic groups competing for shaping the “new Afghanistan” after the war ended, stated that they would have nothing to do with a man who had sold his country out, and to an infidel invader no less.

The Najibullah government finally collapsed in the Spring of 1992. The rebels triumphantly entered Kabul and declared a national unity government. The seven groups displayed an uncommon measure of cooperation – for a month. Then the Islamic Party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar pulled out of the coalition and began shelling Kabul. Hekmatyar, reportedly the best-armed and largest recipient of U.S. military and Arab aid during the 13 year long struggle, wanted to establish an Iranian-style Islamic Republic. While Hekmatyar pursued his goal, the people of Kabul were suffering worse conditions than during the Russian occupation.

Kabul, Afghanistan market place scene

The Afghan civil war was the last of the third world conflicts rooted in the Cold War struggle between the U.S. and former USSR. The struggle for dominance between the rebel groups added many more deaths to the more than one million already killed. Millions of refugees delayed returning home until the guerillas formed a lasting peace.

Why did the Russian invade Afghanistan?

          • The Brezhnev Doctrine that declared communism, once installed in a country, was irreversible
          • Past policy of relentless pushing deeper and deeper into the heartland of Europe and Asia
          • Belief that control of India led from Afghanistan through Pakistan and Iran
          • Centuries long quest for a warm water port
          • Belief that the U.S.’s post-Vietnam syndrome (paralysis) would prevent America from contesting Soviet expansionism
          • Evidence of U.S. paralysis from the fall of Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola, and Nicaragua to Marxist – Leninist insurgencies
          • Hotel burglar mentality – thief going down a hotel hallway checking each door to see if the occupant left it open, or if the goods can be easily stolen
          • Kremlin and Politburo hubris (exaggerated pride leading to retribution)
          • Failure to note and heed a long history of fierce Afghan resistance to outside domination
          • Failure to take seriously the Reagan Doctrine and its aim of rolling back communist gains by arming opposition groups.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalist terror was rooted in the Afghan civil war:

The Afghan militias vying for power that followed the Russian withdrawal tore civil society apart for a decade.

          • 1993 – The factions agree on the formation of a government with Burhanuddin Rabbani as president, but infighting continued and lawlessness was rampant
          • 1994 – Taliban were appointed by Pakistan to protect a trade convoy and quickly emerged as one of the strongest factions
          • 1996 – Taliban, under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar, seized control of Kabul and implemented a strict interpretation of Islamic law. They exiled President Rabbani and executed Najibullah. Taliban offered Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda forces refuge and freedom to operate
          • 1997 – Taliban fail to capture and hold the city of Mazar-i-Sharif held sacred by Shiites as the site of Ali’s grave. Pakistani religious schools called Madras’s sent reinforcements to the Taliban.
          • 1998 – The U.S. launched missiles at suspected bin Laden bases in retaliation for the bombing of embassies in Africa. Taliban took over city of Bamian.
          • 1999 – UN brokered a peace agreement between the Taliban and their main remaining foe, the Northern Alliance under Ahmed Shah Massoud. Fighting broke out again just five months later.
          • 2000 – Record cold, drought, and continuing civil war pushed another 200,000 Afghans into refugee camps
          • 2001 – After September 11 attacks, CIA led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, overthrew them, and installed Hamid Karsai as President who has governed ever since.
          • 2002 – Taliban regrouped and began a guerilla style war against Afghan Army and U.S. forces.

For Afghanistan to settle down and U.S. forces to leave in 2014 as proposed by President Obama, Taliban must be brought into governing arrangement but first must cease fighting and embrace democratic principles and practices.

The Arab nations provided many fighters to the Afghan cause against the Russians. One of those fighters was Osama bin Laden who believed that neither the U.S. nor USSR were suitable political models for Muslim peoples. The fundamentalists believed that both superpowers held the Arab and Islamic people from realizing their real greatness as a Pan-Arabic empire following the conservative Wahabi Islamic model. After the Russians were routed, the Islamic fundamentalists would join together to form Al Qaeda and pledged to drive the U.S. from the region.

Views of Kabul, Afghanistan

The U.S. pledged to destroy Al Qaeda and associated extremist fundamentalist groups and has fought them in up to 80 countries. A stream of new recruits inspired by jihad replenishes the groups fighting us and our allies. In the meantime, drone and military attacks have eliminated tiers of Al Qaeda leaders and operatives with the aim of snuffing out this strain of formless terrorism. A war of attrition continues until the scourge is eliminated.

July 4 – A new President steps in, Supreme Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour

July 8 – Morsi loyalists gunned down, 50 killed, hundreds injured

July 9 – Military rally vows to speed transition

July 26 – Egyptian rally for General al Sisi

August 14 – Military breaks up massive protests by Moslem Brotherhood, over 600 killed, thousands injured

August 22 – Former President Hosni Mubarak released from prison

September 1 – Morsi is charged with inciting killing, Moslem Brotherhood banned, leaders have gone underground

September 11 – Car bomb strikes Egyptian intelligence, six soldiers killed

September 12 – Egypt extends state of emergency, elections predicted for next spring