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

Israel in War and Peace

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

After Israel's conquests of 1967 there was a short period of triumphalism.

The Israelis annexed East Jerusalem, announcing it as their unified and eternal capital, and imposed military rule on Syria's Golan Heights, the formerly Jordanian West Bank and Egyptian-administered Gaza.

[ image: Golda Meir]
Golda Meir
Israel, under its new Prime Minister, the intrepid Mrs. Golda Meir, also began to build Jewish settlements on those territories, a policy that remains at the heart of the Middle East problem.

Israel, in confident mood, considered American and other peace moves in the region. But, such land as the Israelis considered minimally vital to their security was the same land the Arabs reckoned minimally to be rightfully theirs. The Arab-Israeli stand-off persisted.

But out of their second humiliating defeat in less than 20 years, the Arabs - including the emergent Palestinian national movement - were beginning to rebuild their self-esteem and increase and enhance their armaments.

No Arab state recognised Israel. Israel felt free to act accordingly and ignore United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, urging the return of occupied Arab territories, which had been passed in November 1967, after the Six-Day War.

The settlement programme was a key part of Israel's strategy: by 1973 there were 42 settlements built in the occupied territories in and around Arab East Jerusalem, and 35 more set for the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel's relationship with the United States was now an unbreakably deep alliance sealed in arms and money. Since 1949, Israel has received more than $62,000m in aid from the United States government alone - the equivalent at present rates of nearly $11,000 a year for each Israeli.

Yom Kippur: the first military set-back

[ image: Yom Kippur war: Israeli troops on the counter offensive<BR> Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs]
Yom Kippur war: Israeli troops on the counter offensive
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The arms procurement and co-operation programme with the United States guaranteed and still guarantees Israeli military superiority in the region.

But the Soviet bloc was also arming Israel's main Arab neighbours, Egypt and Syria.

President Nasser of Egypt had died in September 1970, broken by the defeat of 1967. His successor, President Anwar Sadat, was determined to win back Egyptian territory.

Against all expectations and taking advantage of Israeli overconfidence and the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Egyptian forces managed to cross the Suez Canal on October 6, 1973, while the Syrian army burst through on the Golan Heights.

[ image: The superiority of Israel's military technology was decisive<BR> Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs]
The superiority of Israel's military technology was decisive
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Israeli Defence Forces eventually recovered, encircling parts of the Egyptian army near the Suez Canal and forcing back the Syrian thrust. After about seven miles, Egypt halted its initial advance, which left Syria in the lurch.

But Israeli morale was badly damaged. Nearly 3,000 Israelis were dead or missing, a horrific figure for such a small nation. The eventual disengagement agreements brokered by the United States reduced Israel's positions in both the Sinai and the Golan Heights.

Land for peace

[ image: Anwar Sadat]
Anwar Sadat
In the late 70s came a breakthrough. Egypt's President Sadat took the initiative and in November 1977 made a ground-breaking visit to Israel. After long negotiations under the watchful and persuasive aegis of the United States, Israel and Egypt signed a peaceagreement, the culmination of face-to-face talks in 1979 in the American presidential retreat of Camp David.

The deal was land for peace. Egypt gradually received back the Sinai, taking full control in 1982. In return, Israel had a lasting peace with what until then had been its most significant Arab enemy. Without Egypt's forces, a successful Arab military offensive against Israel was, and remains, unthinkable.

[ image: Anwar al-Sadat, Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin seal the Camp David Accord]
Anwar al-Sadat, Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin seal the Camp David Accord
Oddly, it was the right-wing Likud government which entertained President Sadat on his surprise visit in 1977 and negotiated and signed the Camp David peace agreement. It's prime minister, Menachem Begin, had been a leader of the extremist underground group Irgun Zwei Leumi during the 1940s.

The Labour party, which had ruled Israel since the state was formed, had fallen from office under pressure of economic troubles, the fallout from the 1973 War, and internal divisions over policies towards the Arabs.

Labour was out of government for nearly 10 years. During that time, the Likud Coalition led Israel into dangerous military escapades.

It also shaped a new, more conservative Israel, in which, to survive in office, Likud gave hardline religious minority parties a disproportionate amount of power in return for their votes.

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