Many wars, rare peace accords: A look at Israeli-Arab ties over the years

A brief overview of key events in the Jewish state’s relations with its neighbors, after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agree to normalize relations

June 1967: Israeli Centurion tank corps prepare for battle during the Six-Day War.  (Three Lions/Getty Images via JTA)
June 1967: Israeli Centurion tank corps prepare for battle during the Six-Day War. (Three Lions/Getty Images via JTA)

Israel and its Arab neighbors have waged multiple wars and struck rare peace accords.

After Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed Thursday to normalize relations, here is a brief overview of milestone events.

Creation of Israel and wars

The State of Israel declares independence on May 14, 1948, formed out of part of British Mandatory Palestine three years after the end of World War II, when the Nazis killed more than six million Jews.

The revival of historic Jewish sovereignty in the region is rejected by the nascent state’s Arab neighbors. Israel immediately comes under attack by its Arab neighbors — Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria — but repulses them.

More than 760,000 Palestinians are driven out or flee, becoming refugees. Hundreds of thousands of Jews are subsequently forced out of Middle Eastern and north African countries.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Southern Front Commander Yigal Allon (to his right) and Yitzhak Rabin (to his left) pictured on the southern front during the 1948 War of Independence. (IDF / Wikipedia)

In 1956, Israel attacks Egypt alongside Britain and France, which are seeking to overturn the nationalization three months earlier of the strategic Suez Canal.

They eventually withdraw under pressure from both the United States and the Soviet Union.

In June 1967, preempting an imminent attack by its Arab neighbors, Israel wins a crushing victory in the Six-Day War. It captures the West Bank, including East Jerusalem from Jordan; the Golan Heights from Syria; and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria launch a surprise attack on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, but are repulsed.

First peace treaty

The year after the historic visit in 1977 by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, Israel and Egypt agree on peace terms after talks brokered by the United States.

The Camp David accords are the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state.

The peace treaty is signed in 1979 by Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Sadat. Israel relinquishes the entire Sinai area.

Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin (R) and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat share a laugh at the King David Hotel on November 19, 1977. (Ya’akov Sa’ar/GPO archive)

In 1978 and again in 1982, Israel invades civil war-wracked Lebanon in a bid to halt cross-border attacks by Palestinian terrorists.

Israeli-backed Lebanese militiamen kill hundreds of civilians in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut.

Israeli troops remain in southern Lebanon until 2000, when Israel dismantles its “security zone” and pulls back to the international border.

A deadly cross-border attack by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group on Israeli troops and the kidnapping of three soldiers — who later prove to have been killed — in the summer of 2006 leads to the Second Lebanon War.

During the 2010s and into 2020, Israel conducts numerous attacks on military targets in Lebanon and Syria, saying it seeks to curb Iran’s expansion into those nations and its efforts to entrench itself on Israel’s borders. Hezbollah, avowedly seeking Israel’s destruction, builds up a rocket arsenal said to number in excess of 100,000 rockets and some recision-guided missiles.

Peace treaty with Jordan

A second peace accord, with Jordan, comes in 1994, signed by prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Abdel Salam Majali.

The treaty formally ends 46 years of war between the two neighbors.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (L), US President Bill Clinton and King Hussein of Jordan at the White House, July 25, 1994 (Saar Yaacov/GPO)

Intifadas, Oslo accords

The first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, erupts in 1987.

It ends in 1993 when Israel agrees to limited Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza as an interim step towards a comprehensive peace agreement, which has yet to emerge.

The so-called Oslo accords are sealed with an historic handshake between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but are rocked by ongoing Palestinian terrorism against Israel and bitter internal Israeli divisions. Rabin is assassinated two years later by an Orthodox Jewish extremist.

An effort by president Bill Clinton to broker an accord between Arafat and prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000 fails to yield a deal, with the US president blaming Arafat’s intransigence.

Soon after that failed effort, the second intifada breaks out after right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon pays a visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound atop the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel is battered by a strategic onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombers, targeting soldiers and civilians in the West Bank and traveling the short distance into Israel to target buses, restaurants, markets and other crowded areas.

The Israeli army retakes control of much of the West Bank in a series of large-scale military operations and begins building a security barrier between the two communities to keep out the bombers, cutting into some 7% of West Bank territory. The intifada ends in 2005.

Israeli tanks in Jenin during the Second Intifada. (Courtesy Ian Black)

In 2005, Israel withdraws all troops and settlers from Gaza after 38 years.

Along with Egypt, it imposes a blockade after terror group Hamas seizes control in 2007, saying this is necessary to prevent the organization, committed to Israel’s destruction, from arming itself with deadly weapons.

Amid incessant rocket attacks from the territory, Israel and Hamas fight three major rounds of conflict, the latest in 2014.

Trump’s support

In December 2017, US President Donald Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a declaration welcomed by Israel and condemned by the Palestinians who regard East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. In May 2018, Washington transfers its embassy to Jerusalem.

In March 2019, Trump formally recognizes Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights.

On January 28, 2020, Trump unveils a controversial Middle East peace plan which provides for the annexation of some 30% of the West Bank by Israel, including all the settlements and the Jordan Valley, and sets conditions for a Palestinian state in the remaining territory with additional land swaps from inside Israel. The Palestinians preemptively reject the plan, having cut all ties with the Trump administration.

US President Donald Trump (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an announcement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan at the White House, January 28, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images via JTA)

On August 13, Trump, in a surprise announcement, says that Israel and the United Arab Emirates have reached a “historic” peace agreement. In the deal, Israel pledges to “suspend” a planned move to unilaterally the West Bank lands allocated to it under the US peace plan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the agreement means “a new era has begun in the relations between Israel and the Arab world.”

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