Black September of Israel

Black September

After the Six-Day War, the PLO had established its major base of operations for attacks against Israel in Jordan. PLO attacks into and against Israel were followed by Israeli retaliatory attacks in Jordan, some of which caused extensive damage.In September 1970, factions of the PLO hijacked aircraft of several international airlines and landed them in Jordan.

The Jordanian military and King Hussein chose to act and began to use military force against the PLO to force its removal from Jordan. The civil war in Jordan, in turn, led to an escalation of Jordanian-Syrian tensions as the latter moved to support the PLO and its fighters.

At U.S. president Richard Nixon’s request, Israeli prime minister Golda Meir mobilized a small number of Israeli forces along the Jordan River. This appeared to convince Syria that an invasion of Jordan was not a viable strategy. Nixon saw this as a positive sign, and Israel’s position in Nixon’s perspective grew. PLO forces moved northward from Jordan to Syria and, later, to Lebanon.

The Search for an Interim Agreement

On June 25, 1970, U.S. secretary of state William Rogers announced a new political initiative in the Middle East, “the objective of which is to encourage the parties to stop shooting and start talking under the auspices of [UN special envoy] Ambassador Jarring . . .” The June 1970 effort was primarily a result of the increased Soviet military presence in Egypt. Egypt had acquired a new Soviet air defense missile system to deal with Israeli aircraft, and Soviet pilots were flying planes in Egypt.

There was growing concern about the deteriorating situation along the Suez Canal. It provided the first serious challenge to the political cohesiveness and relative domestic tranquility that seemed to have developed in Israel in the wake of the Six-Day War. But the debate and discussion that accompanied it, as well as the resumed mediation effort of Jarring and the search for an interim settlement, also reaffirmed the centrality of national security in the Israeli system.

Israel’s initial reaction was to reject a temporary cease-fire because it would facilitate Arab preparations for resuming hostilities against Israel. While the government was discussing the proposal, Egyptian president Nasser announced his conditional acceptance of the cease-fire on July 23, 1970. On August 4, 1970, Meir announced Israel’s affirmative decision in the Knesset, and the reply was transmitted to the United States. Israel’s response emphasized the importance of the U.S. assurances that had facilitated the initiative.

The decision to accept the proposal led to the breakup of the government of national unity when Gahal voted to withdraw from the coalition. Gahal had agreed to the concept of a limited cease-fire but objected to the idea of withdrawal from occupied Arab territory implicit in the U.S. proposal. Begin, Gahal’s leader, described the coalition as “a government of national surrender to a Middle East Munich.”

The cease-fire formally went into effect along the Suez Canal on August 7, 1970, but was immediately followed by reports of Egyptian military deployments, especially SAMs along the Suez Canal, in violation of the agreements. Indirect talks between Israel, Jordan, and the UAR, held under the auspices of UN ambassador Jarring, began on August 25, but after the initial round, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations was called home.

The Egyptian violations had caused consternation in Israel, and the initial United States reaction, which minimized the problem, did not allay Israel’s fears. By early September, the Israeli cabinet had decided that it would not participate in the talks so long as the agreement was not respected in its entirety and if the original situation was not restored.

After a lengthy process of discussion and clarification between the United States and Israel during which Israel received political, economic, and military support to “rectify” the imbalance resulting from the Egyptian missile movements and to allow Israel to reenter the talks in a position of confidence, Israel’s cabinet on December 28, 1970, unanimously decided to resume peace talks with the UAR and Jordan, under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring.

On the central question of withdrawal, Israel said it would undertake “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from the Israel-UAR cease-fire line to the secure, recognized and agreed boundaries to be established in the peace agreement.

Israel will not withdraw to the pre–June 5, 1967 lines.” On numerous occasions, Israeli spokesmen had noted the strategic benefits to Israel of the 1967 cease-fire lines compared to the ones that existed from 1949. After the Six-Day War, Israel gained natural defense positions, advance warning time in the event of enemy attacks, and strategic depth that did not characterize the armistice lines established in 1949.

Israel’s chief of staff, General Haim Bar-Lev, stated that the security position resulting from the Six-Day War provided Israel with greater flexibility and a greater number of alternative strategic military options.

Furthermore, the new lines removed the Arab threat from Israel’s centers of population, industry, and government. The threat to Israel’s survival was significantly reduced even though the conflict remained unresolved.