For such a small country with a diminutive population and surrounded by people hostile to them, Israel has acquitted itself exceptionally well since its foundation, on the blood and bones of the Palestinians in 1948.
Five decades ago, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike that triggered what became known as the Six Day War, simply because that was how long it took for Israel to clobber three other Arab countries and expand their territory threefold.
The biggest tragedy of that war – known as the Naksah, or setback, in Arabic – was that its defeat did not end when the ceasefire was signed on 11 June 1967. Instead, the defeat has been drip fed to the Arabs on and on until the present day, leading to many parallels between the situation of the Arabs back then, and their situation now.
In fact, one could even quite convincingly argue that the Arabs have regressed to a situation that was even worse than the one they were in half a century ago. The Arabs are even farther away from liberating Palestine today than they were yesterday, and the main beneficiary of Arab disunity, weakness, and corrupt leadership is Israel.
Disunity in attack, unity in defeat
While Israel’s victories appear to be quite impressive – and militarily speaking, they really are – the Arabs have not exactly set the bar very high. Most Arab armies were busy overthrowing their rulers, as in Egypt and Syria, or they were constructs of British colonialism, as in Jordan. Arab generals were thus either busy trying to cement their own control over politics, or else they were little more than glorified constables, their primary function being to keep the population under the boot of tyranny.
It should therefore be of little surprise that when Egyptian nationalist dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser defied Israel by closing the Straits of Tiran, his military was not up to the task. Israel had already warned Nasser that closing the straits would be a casus belli, and that it would trigger a war.
Not seeming to care, Nasser did it anyway and was woefully unprepared when Israel launched a devastating pre-emptive aerial strike that knocked out Egypt’s air force and granted the Israeli military immediate air superiority. To paraphrase Jeremy Paxman, Israel showed that Nasser was nothing but a blowhard whose fictional military might collapsed almost as soon as hostilities began.
Knowing that his moment of glory had just turned into a moment of shame, Nasser then went on to lie to his Arab allies in Syria and Jordan, pretending that his forces had successfully fought off the Israeli attack that had just rendered Egypt defenceless.
Based on Nasser’s word, the Syrians and Jordanians launched half-hearted attacks, only to suffer the same fate, with the rest of the fighting resembling a mopping up operation for the Israelis as they invaded Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai desert.
The Arabs had no united plan, leadership, or strategy for dealing with Israel. They were, however, united by one thing – a humiliating defeat.
Abusing the Palestinian cause
Has anything changed in the ensuing half a century? Unfortunately, yes, but only for the worse.
Whereas Arab leaders before would make repeated allusions to the great Muslim leader Salahuddin al-Ayoubi who defeated the Crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, they never lived up to his legacy. In attempting to claim leadership of the Arab world, they would often use and abuse the Palestinian cause, while rarely taking their Palestinian brothers into account. In fact, Arab leaders had less in common with Salahuddin, and more in common with Abu Jahal – a man renowned for his staggering ignorance and boorishness who lived in Arabia at the birth of Islam.
Not only has that discrete aspect of failed and disunited Arab leadership remained a feature of the modern Middle East, and a defining feature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the abuse of the Palestinian cause continues unabated.
In Syria today, we see Lebanese Shia jihadists such as Hezbollah siding with Bashar al Assad’s Baathist dictatorship and its partner, Iran. They then slaughter Syrians calling for freedom en masse, claiming that everyone who is against them is in fact an agent of Zionism and that they are killing the “traitors” in order to one day liberate Palestine.
Someone ought to hand Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Assad a map, and show them where Israel and Palestine are, before asking them to explain how butchering Syrians contributes to the liberation of the Palestinians.
Egypt, on the other hand, has entirely abandoned the masquerade of liberating Palestine. Instead, the military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is busy repressing Egyptians while blocking the lifelines that normal people in Gaza rely on to survive – under the guise of crippling Hamas. In other words, Egypt is a critical Israeli ally in its repeated aggressions against the Palestinians, and an integral part of the siege on Gaza.
Is it any surprise, then, that the Arabs are still losing half a century after Israel inflicted such a catastrophic defeat on them? Hardly.