To understand the context of the recent Israel-Hamas war requires some knowledge of the history that led to it – a history of never-ending conflict between Israel and its internal and external enemies.
On May 15, 1948, the day after Israel became an independent state, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan (now Jordan), and two Palestinian irregular forces launched their first attempt to “drive the Jews into the sea “.
This was the origin of today’s anti-Semitic chant: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” because both demand the same thing – the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world.
Israel once again came into conflict with its Arab enemies in the Sinai War of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War posed an existential threat to Israel – had it lost either war, there would no longer be an Israel today.
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While Israel triumphed in the Six-Day War, it almost lost the Yom Kippur War by underestimating the combined forces of an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria.
It was Israel’s worst intelligence failure before the surprise attack by Hamas terrorists on October 7 that killed more than 1,000 Israeli civilians and trapped more than 200 during another Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah, on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War were taken.
In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan.
This laid the roots of the modern Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with repeated international attempts to create an independent Palestinian state from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – the so-called “two-state” solution – failing over the years.
The signing of a peace treaty between the two countries in 1979 ended Israel’s numerous wars with Egypt – its main enemy in the Arab world at the time.
This was the result of a peace process known as the Camp David Accords, agreed in 1978 by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, chaired by then US President Jimmy Carter.
In return for Egypt recognizing Israel’s right to exist, Israel returned control of the Sinai Peninsula, which Egypt had captured in the Six-Day War, to its former enemy in 1982.
Sadat would not live to see this, however, as establishing peace in the Middle East is a dangerous pursuit.
In October 1981, he was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group angry over his peace treaty with Israel.
Fourteen years later, in 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish terrorist – Yigal Amir – because he had signed a peace treaty with Jordan’s King Hussein the previous year, in which US President Bill Clinton acted as a mediator which ended the state of war that had existed between the two countries since 1948.
However, treaties with Egypt and Jordan did not mean the end of the conflict between Israel and its enemies.
There were also the first and second intifadas, popular uprisings by Palestinians against Israel starting in 1987 and 2000, two wars with Lebanon (1982 and 2006), and decades of terrorist attacks, first by the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat and later by Hamas, which, together with other terrorist groups, has fought five wars with Israel since 2008.
Today, the greatest threat to Israel is Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism that provides funding, weapons and training not only to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but also to the far more powerful Hezbollah, which fought a draw against Israel in Lebanon’s second war in 2006.
Hostilities between Israel and Iran began in earnest with the start of the Islamist-led Iranian revolution in 1979, which overthrew the US-backed Shah of Iran.
While Iran denies any involvement in Hamas’ surprise terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, it also supports it. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said: “We kiss the foreheads and arms of the imaginative and intelligent designers” who planned the attack.
If the current war between Hamas and Israel expands beyond Gaza and Israel – for example, with Iran-backed Hezbollah forces entering Israel and the confrontation becoming a regional war – anything could happen.
That’s why US President Joe Biden has sent two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region, an explicit warning to Iran and Hezbollah to stay out of the current conflict.