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Monday, April 20, 1998 Published at 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK

Israel builds a nation

The former BBC Middle East correspondent, Tim Llewellyn, looks back at the history of Israel.

Israel and its Arab neighbours signed armistice agreements in 1949 but the Arab aim remained the defeat and destruction of Israel.

[ image: As Palestinians left Israel, Jews from the Middle East were fleeing to the Jewish homeland]
As Palestinians left Israel, Jews from the Middle East were fleeing to the Jewish homeland
It was a forlorn hope. Jewish immigration increased yet again, both from Europe and from Arab countries like Iraq, whose Jewish populations suffered persecution on the grounds that they were seen as a potential fifth column for an enemy state.

Zionist agents encouraged this exodus to Israel by mounting sabotage operations in Arab countries which they knew would be blamed on the Jews.

Money poured into Israel: from the United States, from Jews overseas and from German war reparations. The Israelis built on and developed nearly a million acres of abandoned or seized Arab land.

Territorial ambitions

Withing a few years, the young country developed an efficient agrarian and more and more developed technological society with a rich mixture of peoples to drive it. By 1961, Israel's population was more than two and a quarter million, 10% of it Arab.

[ image: Israeli tanks advancing on the Sinai, 1956<BR> Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs]
Israeli tanks advancing on the Sinai, 1956
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Israelis retained their military superiority over the Arabs. In 1956 they joined the British-French Suez Campaign to topple President Nasser, Egypt's new and inspirational Arab Nationalist leader.

The Anglo-French conspiracy failed, but the Israelis achieved their objective and occupied the Sinai peninsula. Although American pressure forced their withdrawal in 1957, it was a telling indication of Israel's territorial ambitions.

Throughout the 1950s and until the mid-1960s, the Israeli forces and Arab-backed Palestinian guerrillas fought increasing skirmishes along the Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian borders. Both sides tried to make inroads into their neighbours' territory.

Six days of war

[ image: President Nasser, hero of the Arab masses]
President Nasser, hero of the Arab masses
Nasser's dramatic and belligerent gestures brought him great popularity with the Arabs but, ultimately, disaster on the ground.

The Egyptian leader had been increasingly well-armed and supported by the Soviet Union since the mid-1950s. But he calamitously overplayed his hand in May 1967, after a series of border incidents and false reports of Israeli troop movements.

He ordered the removal of United Nations forces from the Sinai, which had been stationed there after Suez. At the same time his forces blockaded the Gulf of Tiran, Israel's only outlet to the Red Sea and its Eastern markets - a casus belli, as he must have known and the Israelis had made clear.

On June 5, 1967, the Israelis made a pre-emptive strike, destroying Egypt's air force and reaching the Suez Canal within three days.

[ image: Israel's army crushed its enemies within six days]
Israel's army crushed its enemies within six days
Jordanian forces, who temporarily were under Nasser's over-all command, shelled Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem. The Israelis wasted no time in taking this long-awaited opportunity to seize Arab East Jerusalem. They were at the Jordan River by June 7. Syrian shelling was answered by a push into the Golan Heights, which fell to Israel on June 10.

[ image: The biggest price: Jews praying at the Western Wall]
The biggest price: Jews praying at the Western Wall
The tally was unimaginable ... to Israeli, Arab and stunned international observer alike. In six days of war, the Israelis had taken the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Desert, with the central Jewish religious shrine of the Western or Wailing Wall at the site of the Jews' ancient temple in East Jerusalem a magnificent and emotional bonus.

For the Arabs, it was their lowest ebb since 1948, a depth from which they have yet totally to emerge. For the Israelis, it was a triumph, a succes d'estime they were never to emulate.

But the conflict was set to continue.

The History of Israel
Part 1: The return of the Jews to the promised land
Part 2: The birth of Israel
Part 3: Israel builds a nation
Part 4: Israel in war and peace
Part 5: Israel and the PLO
Part 6: The Intifada
Part 7: The road to Oslo

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In this section

The return of the Jews to the promised land

The birth of Israel

Israel builds a nation

Israel in War and Peace

Israel and the PLO

Israel and the Intifada

The road to Oslo