The Begin Earthquake and Peace with Egypt (1975–1979)

the Begin Earthquake and Peace with Egypt (1975–1979)

The Yom Kippur War did not end the Arab-Israeli conflict although it created the conditions to achieve a settlement, including new efforts by the United States, led by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Developments within Israel were not as tranquil as after the Six-Day War; economic problems and political uncertainties characterized the immediate postwar period.

Sinai II and After (1975–1977)

After achieving disengagement agreements between Israel and Egypt in January 1974 and between Israel and Syria in May 1974, Kissinger secured the Sinai II Accords between Israel and Egypt in September 1975. These accords were not a simple disengagement of military forces.

The parties agreed that “the conflict between them and in the Middle East shall not be resolved by military force but by peaceful means.” It therefore moved the parties closer to a peace agreement.

The Sinai II agreements of September 1975 marked the beginning of a period of relative tranquility for Israel, providing a respite from the pressures of the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath.

Tensions between Israel and Egypt were reduced, and Israel believed, and many Arabs agreed, that Egypt had been effectively neutralized in the military conflict. Underlying this view was the feeling that Arab military prospects vis-à-vis Israel were significantly reduced without Egyptian participation.

In the north, Israel’s relations with its neighbors also improved. The civil war in Lebanon, which broke out in 1975 between the country’s Islamic and Christian factions and would last 15 years, brought a reduction in terrorist actions against Israel and a general calm along the frontier. Later, tacit links developed between Israel and Lebanon, when Lebanese civilians in need of medical attention came to the border for Israeli medical care.

Israel also purchased Lebanese commodities (for example, tobacco), gave permission to some Lebanese to work in Israel, and permitted some family reunions across the frontier. Israelis hoped that this “open fence” policy would have a positive influence.

Furthermore, there were reports that Israel was providing military equipment to Lebanese Christian forces, especially in the southern Lebanon sector known as “Fatahland” owing to its control by Arafat’s Fatah organization. Meanwhile, peace was maintained along the Israeli-Jordanian border, and civilian crossings of the Jordan River continued.

Some openings along Israel’s border with Syria were also reported, as Druze families (members of a religious sect of Muslim origins) separated by the frontier, line were permitted limited and controlled meetings under an arrangement involving Israel, Syria, and the United Nations. Military clashes were replaced by limited peaceful encounters along Israel’s borders with each neighboring Arab state.

Domestic Factors

The calm regional and international environment was not reflected inside Israel. Despite some respite from the intense anti-government protests on the Arab-Israeli situation that had become a hallmark of negotiations leading to the Sinai II Accords, tranquility did not prevail in the domestic political, economic, and social sectors.Israel continued to face severe economic pressures. Defense expenditures remained at a high level after the Yom Kippur War. Austerity budgets were adopted.

A program of continuous small devaluations (“mini devaluations”) of the Israeli currency was established to make imports more expensive and hopefully less attractive in an effort to reduce foreign currency drains and imbalances in the balance of payments. Taxes were raised and restructured to increase government revenues and to maintain individual incentives.

At the same time, the government reduced subsidies on basic foodstuffs, such as bread, milk, and eggs, which led to increased costs of goods and services for most consumers and an increased cost of living. Inflation continued at a high rate, estimated to be as much as 30 percent in 1976, although unemployment remained low, about 3 percent.

Israel also faced a reduction in the population growth rate and diminished immigration. It was reported that in 1975 emigration nearly matched immigration; government figures indicated that 18,500 Israelis had left the country and 20,000 newcomers had arrived, of whom about 8,500 were from the Soviet Union (compared to 58,886 in 1973 and 31,970 immigrants in 1974).

Israelis became worried about the country’s increasingly politicized Arab minority. Israel’s Arab population of 450,000 had long enjoyed legal equality, participated in parliamentary elections and in local government, and had its own state-supported educational and religious institutions. But below the surface equanimity, Israeli Arabs felt discontent with a perceived second-class status resulting from various forms of subtle discrimination.

In spring 1976, Israeli Arabs participated in their first general protest and staged the most violent demonstrations in Israel’s history. The riots, whose extent and ferocity was surprising to Israel’s Arab and Jewish communities alike, grew out of a general strike, centered in Nazareth, that was called to protest land expropriations in Israel’s northern section.

The government had recently adopted a five-year plan to increase the number of Jewish settlers in the Galilee and had expropriated lands for that purpose, some of which were Arab owned. The Arabs protested that although they were compensated, their land should not be expropriated to provide land for Jewish settlers.

The expropriation served as a catalyst; the initial demonstrations escalated and eventually became broader and more general in their focus, incorporating complaints about Arab second-class status. In the ensuing violent clashes with Israeli security forces, some demonstrators were killed.

Meanwhile, the coalition under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin continued to control the government by a narrow margin. The weakness of the Rabin government encouraged rivalry and bickering on a host of matters among Rabin, Defense Minister Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, although the three constituted the government’s negotiating team in foreign affairs.

In time, Rabin’s hand and the position of his government grew stronger. The accession of the National Religious Party (NRP) to the government in the fall of 1974 was an important factor in solidifying it, despite the withdrawal of the Citizens’ Rights Movement. Rabin also gained public support when he responded positively to Kissinger’s Sinai II initiative and secured important political and diplomatic support, economic aid, and arms for Israel from the United States.

In addition, Peres and Allon tended to check each other; the opposition Likud was stalemated, and no alternative candidates seemed to emerge.The debates on Israel’s political future between the parties and within the Labor Party became more intense as external issues became less pressing. Among the more significant issues was the debate over the future of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, especially in the West Bank.

This became a political-religious question, and the settlers were backed by the religious parties, the Gush Emunim militants, and others with a strong nationalistic bent. Cabinet and popular debates on the future of the settlements tended to split political parties and the governing coalition and further exacerbated the so-called hawk-dove split within the Israeli system.

Despite the importance of political, economic, and social issues, a new feeling of optimism and security was generated in Israel by the relative tranquility on Israel’s borders. Contributing to this was the improved position of the IDF and its restored status. After the war, the IDF began to reinvigorate its forces and to modify its organization and tactics to reflect Israel’s new situation.

Within a short time after the conflict, the IDF and its senior officers learned the lessons of 1973 and incorporated the appropriate responses into the training, equipment, and doctrine of the Israeli armed forces. Israel’s general officers believed that the army was stronger than ever.

A galvanizing event was inadvertently provided by Palestinian and other terrorists who hijacked a plane to Uganda in late June 1976. IDF troops raided the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, on July 4 and freed the hostages with little loss of life. The raid served an important morale-building purpose for Israel and tended to restructure the Israel-Arab psychological balance, which had been upset by the Yom Kippur War.

Israel was once again proud and confident, some suggested even euphoric, and others asserted that the Yom Kippur War ended in Entebbe. The raid provided a political boost for Rabin and redefined his image into a forceful decision maker willing to take risks and make hard decisions.

Some areas of contention between Israel and the United States began to emerge during this time. Shortly after Sinai II was signed, the Arab states sought PLO participation in the United Nations Security Council debate on the Middle East, while Israel urged a U.S. veto to bar a Palestinian role. The United States refused to bar the PLO and voiced criticism of some Israeli policies and actions during the UN debate.

The United States and Israel also disagreed about Israel’s policy in the occupied territories and particularly the establishment of settlements in those areas and maintained opposing positions on the status of Jerusalem. While Israel reunited the city in 1967 and considers the united city to be the capital of the Jewish state, the Palestinians claim a portion as theirs and seek it as a capital.

In general, much of the world does not support the Israeli position and periodically the future of the eastern portion of the city has become a matter of major controversy. Conflict also existed over U.S. military aid to Israel and the supply of military equipment to the several Arab States. In early 1976, the issue revolved around military aid to Saudi Arabia, the proposed sale of C130 transport aircraft to Egypt, and the training of Egyptian airmen in U.S. military schools.

The divergence of U.S. and Israeli positions, despite the reiteration of American support during the presidential election campaigns and the continued flow of economic and military assistance, seemed to foreshadow a period of crucial decision. In the last analysis, the time of tranquility Israel enjoyed after Sinai II became only a brief respite from the forces and pressures unleashed by the Yom Kippur War.