From Balfour Declaration to Occupation

June 28, 2018 by  

Reza Vaghefi, Ph.D

I enjoyed reading the article written by Mr. Hooshang Guilak in Persian Heritage Issue 88. There is a lot of truth in that well written piece. Here I would like to provide a historical perspective and some data that may complement Mr. Guilak’s remarkable work.

During 18th and 19th centuries there were two empires dominated a good part of the world. One was the British Empire on which “The Sun never sets”, and the other was Ottoman empire which stretched from North Africa to Southern Europe including part of Spain, namely Barcelona and southern part of Austria. In the latter empire, there was constant moving of ethnic communities as the Ottoman Turks believed that by mixing Turks with European people will allow them to control the empire more effectively. But their scheme was under fire in the late 19th century by the rulers of the other empire namely British who constantly referred to them as “Sick Man of Europe”. The advent of First World War was going to change this relationship as the major participants of WW1, namely France and Britain decided to divide the spoils. Britain took control of Egypt, Sudan and Palestine with semi control of Arabian desert now name called Saudi Arabia. 


Balfour Declaration

During the War apparently some British scientists of Jewish faith had made scientific contributions to the success of British army facing Germany and Ottoman Turks in Europe. As the War was ending these scientists asked the British Government, in view their contributions to successes of the British Army, if there could be a home for the Jews in Palestine. So in 1917 the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs Mr. Balfour, announced a British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine. This announcement was supported by President Wilson of United States. And that was the beginning of what is now called Israel.

There always been Jews, Christians and Moslems living in Palestine but the majority had been Arab Moslem. Once the Declaration was made the minority of Jews began to prepare the ground for dominating the land. The preparation for what was ultimately to be achieved included terrorist acts against then British soldiers included attacks on King David Hotel where many British citizens lived. It should be of interest to note that some of Jewish people who took up arms later became leaders of the right-wing party Likud. The ones that come to mind are late Menachim Begin and late Shamir both becoming Prime Ministers of the state of Israel at certain time.

So, when in l948 United Nations voted to create the State of Israel in Palestine, the necessary, but limited fighting men were ready to fight any resistance and the Palestinian who resisted the new state of Israel, although it was voted by the United Nations, either died in fighting the rag tag army of Jewish people or left. About 100,000 went into Lebanon which had no one to prevent the incoming Palestinian. General Rabbin who was the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army who defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies admitted to the Economist, that in order to keep a corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv had to remain open and in the process many people lost life and property. Most of them the thousands that had to leave settled in two camps: Sabra and Shatila in the outskirt of Beirut the capital city of Lebanon. 


Events in the 1950’s with world-wide


In the 1950’s, the United States, fresh from victories in the WW 11, in Europe and the Far East, entered the world of Middle East unwittingly. Years of colonialism and planting of surrogates Anglophiles and Francophiles had allowed countries like England and France to know the systems and the level of corruptions and how to utilize them. America had to depend on those channels, which benefited their masters, to accomplish political and economic objectives. The Iran case was one of these schemes in early 1950s an Iranian patriot took the nationalization of Iranian main mineral assets to the Iranian Parliament (the only country with Parliamentarian democracy at the time) which nationalized it and handed over the implementation of the law to the real Patriot, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, who as perfect Parliamentarian had managed to establish the rule of Law, very rare in that part of the world. He was voted to become the Prime Minister by the Parliaments. Approval and appointment by the Shah was a format in the Parliamentary rule of Iran.

From the outset, the British who had exploited the oil sector did not like it and did everything in their mower to scuttle it but soon realized that they have to have the support of the new player in the international area, that if the United States, to achieve their objectives. To make the story really short, the created a picture purely based on lies and deceits to convince the Americans that without their help Iran may all into communist hands. They used the old tools and American cash at the disposal to organize prostitute and thugs to launch street demonstrations to which treacherous units of the army joined and brought down the legitimate regime of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, in august of 1953, a dark page in the short history of American intelligence agency. The US government admitted the mistake but damage to a young democracy had been done. The same events had bloody consequences 25 years later and the results of which are not foreseeable. 

Going back to Israel soon after creation of this country by the United Nations, skirmishes with Palestinians who had lost their property or members of family began. In early 1950’s there was a major upheaval in Egypt, the most populated country among Arabs. A firebrand military officer by the name of Col. Jamal Abdul Nasser, under the Patronage of General Najib, rose to power. The first thing he did was to send of King Farough to exile. He had rule the country corruptively and the people seemed prepared to let him go.

In Egypt, the most important phenomenon was the Suez Canal that had been owned and managed by French and the British since the colonial days. Probably having been inspired by Dr. Mossadegh Abdul Nasser nationalized the Canal to astonishment of the British and French authorities.

The strategical importance of the canal to international trade had, been a great in addition to being a source of money for the owners. There were some problems managing it since the Greek pilots refused to navigate it under the Egyptians but this was resolved, however the Britain and France were not satisfied and soon they launched a joint military operation against Egypt. They also encouraged the new state of Israel to launch a military operation and occupy the Sinai Peninsula which was right at its Southern border.

Soon the Soviet Union (at the time) announced that they should stop their military adventure and President Eisenhower informed the French and the British to stop and evacuate the area, and the parties had to obey the two reining Super Powers. But this episode forced the British (under Antony Eden) to reevaluate their military presence in the area as well as Southern shores of the Persian Gulf the security of which British had maintained and later, when the British left, Iran assumed securing the entire area.

The Israelis that had been encouraged by British and French to participate in the Suez Canal operation had to evacuate Sinai as demand by the American administration. This was the first venture outside the boundaries determined by the United Nations. But the skirmishes between Palestinian and Israelis continued. 

Egypt under Nasser became the source of agitations for Israel. During the 50’s, 60’s, and even 70’s. Palestine had become a pawn among some Arab governments to mobilize their respective people the ultimate goals of whom was destruction of Israel and throwing of the Jews into Mediterranean see. Not a workable strategy but good enough to arouse the ill-informed and highly emotional Arabs in their respective environment.


Events in 1960’s

As Egyptians became more and more involved with using the Palestinian in their propaganda to arouse the Arabs by using everything at their disposal such as changing the name of their national radio to Voice of Arab (Sowt al Arab), they also flirted with Russia and received a lot of ammunitions and Russian advisors to train the Egyptian army for a perceived battle with Israel although they never mentioned their ulterior motive. Finally, they demanded that United Nations remove its peace keeping forces from Sinai which was legitimate but it also paved the way for Egypt to attack Israel. Then Egyptian Army crossed Suez Canal in early June 1967 heading North to attack Israel. Meanwhile Israelis were not unaware of the real intentions of the Egyptian army moving into Sinai. The Israelis sent their air Force, undetected by Egyptian radar, and damaged the Egyptian airfield from which Egyptian air force could fly. This act left the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula unprotected, and ipso facto destroyed. Same happened to Syrian and Jordanian forces that had attacked Israel from North and East. So the 6 day war became part of the history in the Middle East. 

Another event that angered mostly the Arabs during the 60s was a de jour recognition of Israel by Iran. Iran was home of thousands of Jews who historically been invited to travel to Iran, and reside there, by Cyrus the Great after he entered Jerusalem and freed the them from Roman captivity centuries ago There were thousands of Jews in Iran in productive occupations at all level of society especially in 1960s. and 70s. So, when Shah gave de jour recognition to Israel, it came as surprise to Arabs who did not appreciate Shah’s leadership in the Middle East. 


Events in 1970’s

In 1970, the firebrand Egyptian leader had a heart attack and died. Anwar Sadat as Vice President, swiftly took charge and assumed the presidency. Nothing remained from the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria, which soon Syrian opted out, and Part of Jerusalem and Golan Heights were occupied by Israel. But the damage to Arab reputation could not be easily overcome. So, this time Sadat thought of regaining the Egyptian reputation and in October of 1973, during the Jewish religious holiday, launched a surprise attack on Bar Lev line of defenses by crossing the Suez Canal and moving toward Israel. Gold Meier was the primer and she was devastated. At the same time Saudi Arabia, the main supplier of oil to the United States cut off oil to US and other countries that had been supporting Israel. Iran under the Shah, was the only country that saved Israel from serious fuel shortage by supplying them oil at 10% discount. With supply limited and chaos prevailing in international oil market, the price of a gallon of oil jumped from $3 to $12 and more. With the help from United States and United Nations, the war was stopped but Israel continued the occupation of areas that it had captured as a prize of 6 Day War. 

In 1976 Democrats won the general election in the United States and Jimmy Carter became president. During his Presidency, three major events took place. He was instrumental in undermining the Shah by encouraging imposition of Human Rights in Iran which ultimately led to downfall of Shah’s regime and led to Islamic Revolution of February 1979. He brought Egypt and Israel together at Camp David where they signed a peace treaty and recognition of Israel by Egypt which led to other Arab nations’ distancing themselves from Egypt isolating it for a number of years.

And lastly, he handed over the operation and ownership of Panama Canal to Panamanians. Also by encouraging Human Rights and condemnations of authoritarian rule President Carter made it possible for Sandinistas to overthrow the regime of Somoza and establish a socialist one in its government which kept US preoccupied for years.


Events of 1980’s and 90’s

In the 80s. All the actors, America, Iran and Israel became much more involved in global affairs probably more than they wanted. At the end of 1970s the Soviet Union of the time invaded Afghanistan to ensure the survival of a communist regime there and to maintain their policy of NO EXIT once you are in the Soviet camp. The occupation took about 9 years and finally the United States and Pakistan with millions of Dollars from Saudi Arabia created a secret army and called it Taliban. These were young mostly Pakistani students, who with training of most dogmatic features of Islamic religion, received intensive military training provided by CIA and sent to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The strategy provided a very successful proxy war that with help from Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, most of them Hazzaris, managed to force the Soviet departure from that land. This adventure contributed immensely to the downfall of Communist regime in Russia.

In Iran a new front opened courtesy of the United States where the late National Security Advisor to President Carter, announced officially that the United States and Iraq have mutual interest in the Persian Gulf. This was a timely signal to a blood thirsty Saddam Hossein in Iraq to invade the Islamic regime in Iran. The Iranian regime had just succeeded to overthrow the Shah and purge many top officers from the Iranian arm forces specially Army and the Air Force and ill prepared to defend the country in the face of massive Iraqi forces. It is noteworthy to mention here that Saddam had just signed a border agreement with Shah of Iran (1974) but he was not bound by it and given the opportunity and the chaos in Iran he thought it opportune to invade the country. It took both sides to cease fire after 8 devastating war and more than two million people, billions of dollars and vast devastation of assets on both sides.

End of the conflict brought some level of confidence for Saddam. In meeting with some US officials in Baghdad Saddam heard that United States would not interfere in inter-Arab affairs. He took this a message as a signal that he could occupy Kuwait and he did. During the G.H.W. Bush United States organized an international force, even including the Syrian Army, to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. And they did. This was called Persian Gulf war with a nickname of Desert Storm. Fearing the worst Saddam sent his emissaries everywhere that he could. His Foreign Minister Mr. Taregh had a conference in Geneva probably to thwart the coming attack. In that conference, he was asked in the event of American forces attack, would he send missile to destroy Israel His answer was positive hoping to give the American a pose in their plan. It did not work and as the plan for invasion went forward, Saddam launched a couple of Scud missiles toward Israel with some limited success. Israelis demanded to respond in-kind but they were warned that United States did not want this to be another Arab-Israelis war and they managed to prevent Israel to stay calm. In a few days, this multi-national force routed the Iraqis from Kuwait and demanded Iraqis to surrender which did in the middle of desert. But the memory of those missiles attacking Israel remained active in the mind of quiet a few which surfaced after eight years of Clinton administration at which time his successor George W. Bush revived the question of Saddam Hossein’s arsenal including weapons of mass destruction which was used to organize a massive attack on Iraq. The issue of Saddam’s threat goes back toward the end of Clinton’s administration at which time a letter signed by people like Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and 5 more suggesting that the United States should attack Iraq and remove Saddam. Clinton did not buy into it but the issue never died. Then came George W. Bush who became president by order of the Supreme Court which stopped recounting the vote in Florida whereas Al Gore had the majority of the votes.

Soon after inauguration of George W. Bush, Ben Laden, the leader of Al Qaede group sent its terrorist to destroy the twin towers of business on 9/11 in New York city to which Bush promised to respond furiously as he did. Soon the US armed forces attacked Afghanistan to uproot and destroy Ben Laden’s forces and meanwhile dealt heavy blows to that land which seems to have no end in sight. 

President Bush cabinet was loaded by pro-war people who mostly occupied the Defense Department and began to implement what they had recommended to Clinton. Even the United Nation Security Council, with a French veto, could not prevent Bush from attacking Iraq. In a few days beginning with “Shock and Awe” massive bombardment of Baghdad began , and Saddam regime collapsed. He was found hidden in a foxhole and brought to justice. 

Just before this US had managed to install Hamid Karzai in Kabul, capital city of Afghanistan, but he was opposed by many Afghanis who thought Zaher Shah could help stabilize the country. During the process of installing Hamid Karzai the United State received precious negotiating skills from Iran through her able emissary, who at present is foreign minister of Iran Dr. Mohammad Javad Zeriff. However, in his State of Union, President Bush mentioned Iran as an Axis of Evil together with Iraq and North Korea, a strange reward for materializing what the United States wanted in Afghanistan. With Karzai in office the United States began pouring billions of dollars which after so many years have failed to yield any tangible results but have made many war lords rich. President George W. Bush had declared it “America’s purpose to life up the people of Afghanistan” (N.Y.T.’s Book Review 2-18-2018, p.9. Instead the people of Afghanistan have seen nothing but bloodshed and destruction what used to be there. But the United States seems to have learned very little when Vice President Mie Pence announces to the troops that “we are here to stay until freedom wins”. A solid statement but unachievable Just look at the history of Afghanistan and not too distant in the past. Jahanshah who was installed by the British was killed by people 15 days later. This of course happened in early 19 century. 

With occupation of Iraq and dismantling Iraqi army, the seeds of ISIS were laid down with consequences beyond any one’s imagination and no one can determine the end in a foreseeable future simply because the deadly movement seems to have metastasized.

In late 2000s people in the United States were tired of war and destruction and voted Barak Obama as president. Before leaving Office, president Bush had received dire warning from his Treasury Secretary about the potential collapse of the American economy if the federal government and Federal Reserve were not taking serious actions to preempt that collapse. So was the beginning of what Barak Obama had inherited from George W. Bush who launched a disastrous war on a flaw information that Saddam had amassed weapons of mass destruction which numerous inspectors, after his collapse, could find no trace of.

Obama received the 2009 Noble Peace Prize but was almost raise the level of US troops in Afghanistan by 30,000. But this was not the only issue that he had to deal with in that area. The question of Iran’s uranium enrichment was a recurrent topic. Previous administrations had participated in economic sanctions again Iran which hurt its economy but Iranian did not bulge and continued defying the pressures. One significant instigator was Israel which continued to inform the West the Iran would in short period of time be able to build an atomic bomb with the intention of destroying Israel. This line of argument was not supported by the United Nations agency in-charge of non-proliferations and the argument looked hollow in many quarters.

The president of the United States had access to many sources of intelligence and therefore was not phased by such aggressive propaganda as Israel had decided to pursue. However, Obama was aware of the campaign the Israel surrogate were building again Iran in media and had decided to resolve the issue diplomatically, as has been his nature that if such issues of international significance can be resolved through diplomatic negotiations, peaceful resolutions should be given a chance, very much unlike George W. Bush who discarded the appeal by the French foreign Minister at the U.N. Security Council in 2003 “to give peace a chance”. So, through intensive negotiations by highly competence diplomats Obama was able to sign the Nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland. Globally this agreement was one of Obama’s signature achievements while in Office. Comparative achievement by other US leaders are rare.

Different Map for the Middle East.

From a design to change the map of Middle East (in 1983) to annexation of what is left of Palestinian territory (in 2018), Israel has been acting as if nothing else should matter. And in doing this lots of atrocities have been committed. For instance, in June 1983, Israel, under the command of Ariel Sharon, mobilized 76000 soldiers and 800 tanks plus hundreds of armored personnel carriers and invaded Lebanon. A sovereign state without much defense in pursuit of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. But Sharon ulterior motive was to “conquer Lebanon and expel the Palestinian to Jordan where they would be majority able to establish a Palestinian State in place of Hashemite. This would …. would eliminate the Palestinian demand for a state the West Bank, which would thus become part of Israel”, NYT Magazine 1.28.2018 p.37.

In Fall of 1962, this author was a member of the American University of Beirut Alumni Association. The chairman of the Alumni Association, Emil Bustan, a very successful Lebanese and multi-millionaire mentioned that” A hungry person thinks that he can eat everything on the table>” If Israel could give some land to Palestinian and keep them busy most likely there could also be peace between them and deprive Arab leaders to use Palestine and attack Israel. But the Israelis were eager to eliminate Palestinian leaders and atrocities were committed under their watchful eyes and for which they were blamed by the world.

In the process of attacks and bombardment of west Beirut, Sharon also provided an opportunity for Phalangist militia to enter Sabra and Shatila refugees’ camps where they slaughtered hundreds of defenseless refugees which created an international outcry an ultimately ended Sharon’s position as Israel Defense Minister, but it left a dark page in the history a of a people who has suffered so much for centuries. They had lost empathy.

The question is for a nation that defines Judaism, with oldest history and people who have contributed so much to man’s civilization in arts, sciences and humanities. Is there a chance to live in peace with its neighbors? The truth is that there have been incompetent leaders on the part of Arabs who have stuck to wishful thinking dreams and ignoring the reality on the ground (Exchange of land for peace, i.e. Golan Heights for permanent peace comes to mind).

What did Hafez Assad achieve by ignoring the American administration at the time (Dennis Ross) which tried very hard to make such arrangement? Syria is shattered and Israel if more powerful than ever before. That reminds me of a statement by a Professor at the American University of Beirut in 1963. He said Arab leaders do not understand that Israel derives its strength from Washington. It was true then and it is even more so now. The institutional support comes in the form of non-profit organizations and under attractive names. The most visible and influential organization is the American Enterprise Institute.n



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