From Israel’s founding to last month’s attack on Gaza, it has constantly portrayed itself as a victim defending its right to exist from aggressive Arab enemies intent on its destruction. This includes the War of Independence, the 1967 War, the 1982 Lebanon invasion, and multiple invasions of Lebanon and Gaza in the early 2000s. I’ve deliberately omitted the 1956 Suez War because Israel never claimed it was defensive. But it was surely an alliance of colonial powers (Britain and France) together with Israel to overthrow Nasser and take back control of the Suez Canal. As such it is part and parcel of Israel’s wars of aggression and conquest.
In 1948, or so the story goes, the brave Jews of Palestine declared independence in the face of insurmountable odds in the form of Arab armies from Jordan, Egypt and even as far away as Iraq, who poured into Israel in a massive invasion. They somehow managed to pluck victory from the jaws of defeat and the Jewish state was born.
In 1967, Egypt’s fiery dictator Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran and threatened to “throw the Jews” into the sea.” By a miracle of almost divine providence, Israel turned the tables and won a miraculous victory. In 1982, Lebanon had become a nest of Fatah terrorists hijacking planes and engaging in similar acts of terror. Palestinian assassins even murdered an Israeli diplomat in London, which was the precipitating act for Ariel Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon.
Throughout the 2000s, Israel invaded Lebanon and Gaza multiple times either to retaliate against the killing of Israeli troops (Lebanon, 2006) or the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. These Israeli assaults were always acts of self-defense to root out terrorists who refused to permit Israeli civilians to live in peace.
But a new report in Haaretz based on research in Israeli government archives shows that almost none of this is true. Israel was never the underdog (except perhaps for the first few days of the 1973 War) in its military battles. The notion of a beleaguered country facing enemies many times its own military strength is a myth long-cultivated by the Zionist movement and pro-Israel apologists.
In 1948, Ben Gurion knew that declaring a state would bring an Arab invasion. But he believed he had the upper hand and that his own forces were more than capable of turning back the threat of the combined Arab armies. He was right.
In 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike which decapitated the Egyptian air force, thus ensuring an Israeli victory. In 1982, Sharon exploited the attack in Shmuel Argov by the renegade Abu Nidal faction to remake Lebanon to Israel’s liking. He sought, once and for all, to eliminate the PLO from the country and to proceed to bring the Phalangist Christian fascists to power. By installing what would in effect be a pro-Israeli puppet regime, the Israeli defense minister sought to remake the geo-politics of the region to Israel’s liking. Due to the Sabra and Shatilla massacre and assassination of Israel’s designated presidential candidate, Bashir Gemayel, things did not turn out as Sharon had anticipated.
The narrative of self-defense and a Jewish state beset by enemies is belied by a far more realistic counter-narrative. In fact, Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben Gurion had, since the 1920s, planned the expulsion of indigenous Palestinians. One of the pillars of Zionist ideology was the necessity of a Jewish majority to ensure that the new state would be by, of, and for its Jewish citizens. As such, Palestinians were a threat; and eliminating them, as he did during the Nakba, fulfilled a long-standing Zionist vision.
But that was not all. Once Israel assured its internal demographic Jewish supremacy, it turned its attention to the frontline Arab states. It sought to ensure that none of them could threaten Israel’s interests. And it planned to do so by aggressive conquest, occupation and absorption of the territory of its rivals. It would fight wars of conquest, not wars of self-defense.
Adam Raz begins his Haaretz report:
For years, most Israeli historiography maintained that the country’s decision makers were taken by surprise by the fruits of the victory that were harvested with lightning speed in June 1967. “The war,” Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said, three days after its conclusion, “developed and rolled into fronts that were not intended and were not preplanned by anyone, including by me.” On the basis of these and other statements, the view took root that the conquest of the territories in the war was the result of a rapid slide down a slippery slope, a new reality that no one wanted.
However, historical documentation stored in the Israel State Archives and the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Establishment Archives in recent years demands that we cast doubt on the credence of that view.
In fact, the very lands Israel has occupied and annexed, and other swaths of territory it invaded but did not retain, were long coveted by Israel’s military planners going back well before 1967 (in some cases as far back as the early 1950s):
The documents describe detailed preparations that were made in the military in the years before 1967, with the intention of organizing…the control of territories that the defense establishment assessed – with high certainty – would be conquered in the next war. A perusal of the information indicates that the takeover and retention of these areas – the West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria – were not a by-product of the fighting, but the manifestation of a strategic approach and prior preparations.
In 1961, an IDF military strategist prepared a report outlining the anticipated conquest of the West Bank in a future war, a vision realized six years later in the 1967 War. Two years later (1963), the army’s operations branch, then headed by future chief of staff and prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, drew up a detailed plan that envisioned not only the conquest of the occupied territories, but set its sights on far bolder objectives:
…[The] directive [detailed the] the organization of the [Israeli] military government in the territories. This order sheds light, in its words, on Israel’s “expected directions of expansion,” which in the assessment of the security personnel would be the focus of the next war. These territories included the West Bank, Sinai, the Syrian heights and Damascus, and southern Lebanon up to the Litani River.
Called the “Organization Order – Military Government in State of Emergency,” it stated that, “The IDF’s thrust to transfer the war to the enemy’s territories will necessarily bring about expansion [into] and conquest of areas beyond the state’s borders.”
In other words, four years before the 1967 War Israel was already planning to take by military conquest almost all the territory it eventually did occupy. The only objective it did not realize then was the occupation of southern Lebanon. That would have to wait another fifteen years till Sharon’s invasion.
The report envisions two possible scenarios after such military conquest:
…[It] stated that it would be necessary to install a military government quickly, because “these conquests might last for a short time only and we will have to evacuate the territories following international pressure or an arrangement.” The part that followed, however, was meant for those who would be tasked with administering the military government in the future occupied area, and it hints at the intention of the order’s authors: “However, a convenient political situation might develop which will make it possible to retain occupied territory indefinitely.”
It is no accident that Israel’s Occupation of Palestine has lasted for well over 50 years. Indeed, this was the intention of those who conquered it from the beginning. So the next time you read claims by Israel’s defenders that it never wanted to become an occupier; or that it never wanted war with its neighbors, remember this important piece of Zionist historical research.
Another little known fact is that the projected occupation of these Arab lands was to be modeled on the Israel’s Emergency Regulations which governed the lives of Israel’s Palestinian citizens until 1966. Those Palestinians not driven out of their homes in 1948 and who remained behind were subjected to martial law which severely restricted their everyday lives and set the stage for the apartheid, racist treatment they suffer up to this day:
Involving officers of the military government that had been imposed on Israel’s Palestinian citizens since 1948 in the planning was logical, because the organizational and military framework that operated vis a vis that community constituted the basis for rule in the territories that would be conquered in a war. In 1963, the units of the military government already had 15 years of experience in imposing “order” and supervision over those Palestinian citizens, by means of a strict regime of permits. From a military perspective, it made sense for this body to serve as the model for the structure of rule in the territories that would be conquered in the next war.