Why are Arabs afraid of Israel?


Interview with Benny Morris

Why didn't the UN partition plan work? How did Israel win the war against the Arab invasion? Benny Morris speaks in an interview about the role of the UN, about Israeli combat strategies and about the motives of the Arab armies to attack Israel.

Benny Morris. (& copy AP)
Benny Morris: The UN partition plan (UN General Assembly Resolution 181) did not work mainly because the Arab side - the Palestinian leadership, the Arab Higher Committee and the Arab states rejected it and provoked disputes to prevent its implementation. On the Jewish side there were minority parties - the national revisionist movement or the socialist Achdut HaAwoda party - which were against the idea of ​​partition and claimed all of Israel (Palestine) for the Jews, but the main Zionist movement, led by David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, accepted the resolution. The Jewish Agency Executive, the "government" of the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, said "yes" and, according to available sources, intended to implement the resolution establishing a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian Arab state . The Arabs, however, said "no" and started a war. That was the main reason the plan didn't work.

But the provisions of the resolution themselves were also fraught with major problems. They divided the country into seven parts, three Arab, three Jewish and one international (Jerusalem). But neither of the two (tripartite) national entities made any geopolitical sense, as they had no natural boundaries and were impossible to defend, which would have led to a number of different problems if the resolution had been adopted by both sides. In addition, according to the resolution, 500,000 Jews and over 400,000 Arabs lived in the Jewish state who did not want to be part of a Jewish state or to live under Jewish rule. The future catastrophe was already preprogrammed. In addition, 100,000 Jews were supposed to live in the Jerusalem international zone, outside of the Jewish state territory - here again an unnatural concept (they wanted to be part of the Jewish state, the Jews of Palestine in turn wanted to be a state that was their ancestral capital, Jerusalem , including). That, too, could have caused one problem at a time.

After Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the armies of the Arab countries (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq) attacked Israel. How did Israel win the war?

Benny Morris: Israel won the conventional war against the armies of the invading Arab states because the Jewish community, while small, was well organized (it had a democratic state-within-a-state structure that it had developed over the years under the British mandate, and state Bodies such as foreign ministers, finance ministers, etc. were already in place at the end of 1947), was highly motivated (she feared a repetition of the Holocaust, which had just ended) and could count on first-class members. For many years the yishuv had been preparing for a war that they knew the Arabs would one day unleash - and an efficient vigilante group, the Hagana. In 1946-48 they invested a lot of money raised by Jews around the world to provide weapons and provide military security for the three hundred scattered Jewish settlements. When the Palestinian Arab militias began their war against the yishuv on November 30, 1947, they were soon defeated, although they were 2: 1 superior in terms of population and probably had as many armed men as the Jews. But the Palestinians never established a national militia - every village and town had its own vigilante group (800 militias in total).

The Arab states had a population of 30-40 million - but they were unprepared for war, had undemocratic governments led by mostly corrupt and incompetent politicians, and poorly organized small armies (suitable for internal disputes or minority revolts suppress, but not for fighting outside the country). They had incompetent officers (with the exception of the British-commanded Arab Legion, the Jordanian Army) and fought far from home, in someone else's country. (The Jews fought for home and hearth, and for their survival.) The Arab armies all went to war with small arms stocks that were not increased due to the UN arms embargo that was imposed on all parties to the conflict on May 24, 1948. The Arabs' traditional arms suppliers, Great Britain and France, adhered to the embargo. But the yishuv received weapons from communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, which did not adhere to the embargo and was eager for dollars, as well as from black market sources.

Would it have been possible to prevent the outbreak of war? Why did the UN, the western allies, not take part in the war to support the newly proclaimed State of Israel?

Benny Morris: The war was probably inevitable in 1947, 1948, 1950 and 1955 because the Jews wanted to establish a state and eventually got international approval, and the Arab world, for political and religious reasons, was absolutely against a Jewish state (the Jews were seen as infidels and historical opponents of Islam). The Arabs, led by the Palestinian Arabs, who rejected any compromise or partition of Palestine, would definitely have gone to war against the Jewish state at some point. The UN and those of its member states that advocated a sovereign Jewish state - the US, the Soviets, France, etc. - should have implemented Resolution 181 and sent troops to defend the Jewish state as soon as it was invaded by the Arabs. But, so shortly after the Second World War, the world had had enough of war and dying, and in the end the founding of a Jewish state was probably not worth another bloodshed despite a general sense of guilt - that was the basis of the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947 lay - not having done anything to prevent or stop the Holocaust.

How would you describe the length of time between Resolution 181, when the UN Partition Plan was announced on November 27, 1947, and the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948? And what strategic importance did this period have for the State of Israel?

Benny Morris: The period between 29.-30. November 1947 and May 14, 1948 was marked by the civil war between the Jewish and Arab communities of Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs were supported by an Arab volunteer army of around 5,000 men, mainly Syrians and Iraqis, called the Arab Liberation Army, as the British mandate ended and the British gradually withdrew from the country. The war between these two communities was the first phase of the 1948 war (the second phase was the interstate or conventional war that began with the pan-Arab invasion (Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis and Jordanians) on May 15, 1948 and with a Series of armistice agreements between Israel and its respective neighbors between February and July 1949 ended.

During the civil war, which lasted until May 14, 1948, around 1,800 Jews were killed by the Arabs - several thousand Arabs died at Jewish hands. By the time it was over, the Hagana had developed into a fairly competent army; the Jewish Agency had become the government of the State of Israel; The mood within the yishuv was good (he had just won his war against the Palestinians) and the attacking Arab states had lost their confidence in the knowledge of their weakness and in the face of the self-confidence of the victorious enemy. All of this prepared the ground for the eventual victory over the Arab states.