Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Conflict between the Arabs and Israel is nothing new and was not even in the 1960s and 1970s. After the establishment of the state of Israel, the tension became explosive. The entanglement was not relegated only in the Middle East. The Soviet Union and the United States were involved chest high. When Egypt wanted land returned to them that Israel had taken several years before, they did not talk to Israel. They went to the United States threatening war “unless the United States forced Israel to accept…total Israel withdrawal from territories taken in 1967.” (1) In Sadat’s eyes, the United States was the power behind Israel and could direct the outcome he desired. With the Soviet’s backing Egypt through most conflicts, Sadat tried to force the hand of the ‘opponent’ to get the territories back. As Sadat was threatening the United States, he was also looking to the Soviet Union “to bring pressure on the United States” and to provide “more offensive weapons” that would be able to easily cross the Suez Canal and attack Israel. (2) Egypt could not do it completely on their own. They needed the support the Soviets could give them. What Egypt did not understand was the entire political play within the Cold War and the actions the participants played on the world stage. The Soviet Union refused as they wanted to “the appearance of détente with the United States.” (3) If the Soviets had jumped on board, their act would be exposed. Their involvement could not be that direct. It had to be behind the scenes to avoid open conflict between the two biggest powers. Once the war was in progress, the Soviet Union supplied the Arab states and refused to seek peace as long as the Arabs appeared to be winning. (4) The need for appearance was gone though complete involvement could not be or the Cold War would be a world war. As the Soviet Union provided supplies to the Arabs, the United States “provided the Israeli military with weaponry” and intelligence. (5) The Cold War participants were active on each side and had quite a bit of influence. The entire conflict “had a fundamental impact … by testing the durability of U.S.-Soviet détente… (and) by compelling the United States to put the Arab-Israeli conflict on the top of its foreign policy agenda.” (6)
(1) Mitchell Bard, “The Yom Kippur War,” Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/73_War.html.
(5) “The Yom Kippur War of 1973,” History Learning Site, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/yom_kippur_war_of_1973.htm.
(6) William Burr, editor, “The October War and U.S. Policy,” The National Security Archive, October 7, 2003, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB98/index.htm.