How did Israel beat an entire coalition of Arab countries three separate times?
Let’s discuss those 3 wars
First Arab Israeli war:
In the first war in 1948 the Arabs gravely underestimated the Israelis. Only Egypt and Jordan had sent noteworthy armed contingents while the rest of the coalition just sent symbolic units that didn’t do much. Arabs at the time were newly independent nations with little experience in modern warfare.
From left: Iraq’s regent Prince Abdul ilah, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Farouk of Egypt, and Saudi Arabia crown prince Saud during the first Arab summit in Cairo.
Furthermore, Egypt’s King Farouk had the ambition to revive the Caliphate and bring the Arab world under his sphere of influence as Egypt at the time was the richest Arab country. This was opposed by Jordan’s King Abdullah who resented Farouk for two reasons
- Farouk was originally an Albanian not Arab
- Abdullah was a descendant of the Prophet and viewed that the leadership of the Arab world was rightfully his
The Jordan army known as the Arab Legion was organized better than the Egyptian army and was led by experienced British officers. Jordan annexed the west bank but refrained from attacking Jewish held lands and later engaged in secret meetings with the Jews. Abdullah was an expansionist and cared little about a Palestinian state and almost immediately after annexing the west bank he erased any kind of a distinct Palestinian culture.
Fighting in Upper Galilee
Since he had already established secret relations with the Jews Jordan refrained from engaging them outside the west bank, which led to the Jewish militants concentrating their abilities against fighting Egypt. The structural hierarchy of the Egyptian command was corrupt and Egyptians themselves were not fully committed to the war thinking that the Jews were little more than a bunch of militias; however, they turned out to be a formidable opponent.
There were a lot of war crimes committed by all sides during this war.
Deir Yassin Massacre where 107 Palestinian villagers were killed by far-right Zionist militants. This event sent waves of fear across the Palestinians who fled their homes en masse fearing similar incidents.
After losing the war, king Farouk was later overthrown in a military coup headed by disgruntled war veterans lead by future president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
So we gather that:
- Poor coordination
- Lack of organization
- Underestimating the enemy
all of that were the main reasons why Arabs lost.
Nasser was a socialist Arab nationalist and naturally resented Israel for which it was occupying Arab land. He started helping other Arab countries to gain their independence like Algeria and Yemen, promoted unity between the Arabs, and nationalized the Suez canal. An act that would compel UK, France, and Israel combined to attack Egypt in 1956. Due to foreign pressure, the invasion had to be halted and all three countries retreated in shame.
Nasser waving to the crowds after nationalizing the Suez Canal
An IDF commander named Ariel Sharon reportedly said:
We will be back.
This war ended UK’s status as a great power and further solidified Nasser’s position as the bane of imperialists.
A caricature about Suez Crisis
This event coupled with the Lavon affair convinced Egyptians that Israel is their eternal enemy.
6 days war:
Around this time tensions were extremely high in the middle east. It was during the height of the Arab Cold War that Syria and Israel started amassing troops at their respective borders. There was a recent purge in Syria that followed a coup that brought radicals to power which weakened Syria considerably, Syria appealed to Egypt who was itself stuck in a long war in Yemen.
Realizing that Syria will be doomed if it fought Israel alone, Nasser started antagonizing Israel to make it clear that aggression against Syria is aggression against Egypt and that he won’t tolerate any attack that threatened the sovereignty of an Arab country. Both Egypt and Syria then bullied Jordan into a joint defense pact to face the war looming on the horizon.
Nasser was going to attack Israel but was told not to by the USA and was further promised Soviet support in case a war breaks out. This made Nasser slack a bit and chose to simply close the Tiran straights to Israeli ships. This turned out to be a fatal mistake as Nasser picked up a fight against Israel based on false hopes and the experienced soldiers and officers were still fighting in Yemen.
On June 5th, 1967 Israel launched a series of preemptive airstrikes wiping out the entire Egyptian airforce giving them complete air supremacy. The Jordanians were told that Egypt fended off the aggression which in turn led to more confusion among its leadership.
After 6 days Israel had captured the Sinai peninsula, Gaza strip, Golan heights, and the west bank. With that in addition to the total defeat of Arab armies, Nasser resigned in shame but returned again after mass protests demanded him to be reinstated.
Destroyed Egyptian tank
Israeli paratroopers in the Temple Mount after its capture from Jordan
So we gather that:
- Overconfidence screwed the Arabs
- Poor coordination
- lack of organization and preparation
- Underestimating the enemy
You would notice that the reasons for the Arab loss are very similar to the first Arab-Israeli war. This war also effectively ended secularism in the Arab world.
Yom Kippur War
Egyptian artillery bombarding Israeli positions
Syria’s President Hafez Al-Assad and Egypt’s president Anwar Al-Sadat
The Arab society is a tribal one and believes that what is lost by war shall be regained by war. Feeling the urge to restore the Arab’s honour back Egypt and Syria agreed to simultaneously launch a coordinated attack against Israel to regain lost territories.
Before the war in 1971 Sadat told his Minister of War Ahmed Ismail Ali the following:
I want us to plan the offensive within our capabilities, nothing more. Cross the canal and hold even 10 cm of the Sinai. I am exaggerating, ofcourse, but that will help me greatly and alter completely the political situation internationally and within Arabic ranks.
Contrary to popular belief and common misconception spread here on Quora, Egypt had no intention whatsoever of destroying Israel. Assad didn’t know of Sadat’s plan and thought that they were waging a war to liberate Palestine, this would later cause severe problems in the course of the war.
On the 6th of October 1973, the Arabs launched their coordinated attack on Israel which took them with complete surprise. That day was the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and also coincided with the holy month of Ramadan where Muslims fast.
The operation, which was named Badr after the first battle in Muslim history that was also fought in Ramadan, proved successful, and both Egypt and Syria managed to cut through Israeli defense lines and penetrate deep into enemy held territory. With Egypt destroying several forts on the Bar-Lev line and Syria completely overcoming the Purple Line.
Egyptian soldiers crossing the Suez Canal
Captured Israelis in Egyptian captivity
President Assad visiting troops during the war
As planned Egypt didn’t advance further beyond its captured territories and dug in. Syria on the other hand did not know this and continued its push against Israel reaching the Israeli heartland itself alarming the command.
However, knowing that Egypt won’t advance any further the Israelis concentrated their might against Syria. After 3 days of the aggressive offensive, the Syrians were pushed back with heavy casualties and the Israelis were closing in on Damascus.
Pressured by the Soviets and the Arab world to continue the war, Sadat against the advice of his generals ordered the 3rd and 2nd armies to advance beyond the aerial coverage provided by the SAM batteries. This proved to be a fatal mistake as the offensive was countered with Israeli troops taking advantage of a gap between the advancing Egyptian armies and reached the Suez Canal. Ariel Sharon’s unit crossed into the African part of Egypt and rolled over to the highway leading to Cairo. Other Israeli units lost at the battles of Suez, Ismaila, and the air battle of Mansoura and failed to capture any city west of the Suez. A ceasefire has been imposed but later broken by the Israelis who proceeded to complete the encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd army, which was composed of 30 000 men.
Meanwhile in Syria after heavy fighting and immense casualties for both sides the Syrian front was stabilized, although Israeli artillery shelled the outskirts of Damascus. Egypt had organized 600 tanks for the defense of Cairo but was convinced by the Soviets to accept the UN-mandated ceasefire which Sadat did on October 22. This in turn placed pressure on Assad who was planning for a massive counterattack against Israel, ultimately he canceled the operation and accepted the ceasefire. The war ended on October 25.
Unlike the previous wars this time the Arabs were able to effectively fight Israel managing to win initially although poor coordination AGAIN results in the war taking a different turn.
Thanks for reading!