The State of Israel celebrates its 75th birthday in 2023, a year that will also mark a major but generally unnoticed milestone in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
During Israel’s first 25 years, from 1948 to 1973, Arab states – with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the lead, followed by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon – fought it five times with conventional armed forces. They built up huge armies, allied with the Soviet bloc, and fought Israel on the literal battlefield. After 1973, the states quietly bowed out and remained out over the next 50 years – which is to say, for twice as long as the era during which they actively fought Israel.
The few exceptions to this cold peace – notably, a Syrian aerial confrontation in 1982 and an Iraqi missile attack in 1991 – help make the point. Their brevity, limitations, and failure enforced the wisdom of not confronting Israel. The Syrian air force lost 82 planes, while the Israeli air force lost none. And 18 separate Iraqi missile attacks directly killed one Israeli. The Iraqi and Syrian regimes both started nuclear programs but gave them up after coming under Israeli attacks in 1981 and 2007, respectively.
Although most Arab states continued to assault Israel verbally and economically after 1973, they carefully withdrew from military confrontation. Focused on other issues – the Iranian threat, the Islamist surge, civil wars in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, Turkey going rogue, and a water drought – hoary anti-Zionist taboos lost much of their hold in Arabic-speaking countries.