Role of oil acquisition in changing the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict

Arab Israeli Conflict: Middle East has always been an unstable and aggressive subsystem of international politics from end of Second World War.  Post the Second World War there has been many numbers of full blown and inter-state wars. The Arab – Israeli wars can be divided into seven major ones like the 1948  Palestine war, the 1956 Suez war, the June 1957 war which lasted for six days, the 1969-70 War of Attrition, the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon war and 1991 Gulf war.  Arab-Israeli war should be considered as the deepest and prolonged conflicts of the 20th century and the major cause of wars in the Middle East.  There are two major aspects to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the root cause of the conflict go back to the end of the 19th century when the Zionist movement came up with an idea of building a national home for Jews in Palestine.

The Incidents that Led to the Wars

Arab people in the country opposed bitterly against this and the result was a clash between the two major national   movements of Palestine. Each of the wars had its reasons and results and the 1991 Gulf war in which the Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait aggravated international crisis which concluded in war in 1991. The entire Arab states of the Middle East and the Gulf, Israel, Iran, Turkey and the great powers took part in the war in one way or another.   Gulf war had its reasons and in an Arab-Arab conflict in which Saddam Hussein, who was the then president of Iraq, had only a partial success in turning the conflict into an Arab-Israeli conflict and it ended up as conflict between the Western powers and Iraq and it also became the first major conflicts of the post-Cold war era. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was the last episode in the Iran-Iraq war and during this war the oil rich Gulf countries and the Western powers helped create a gigantic figure in the form of Saddam Hussein assuming that he will behave well after the war. But Saddam Hussein turned against them on August 2nd 1990 by gulping down Kuwait against the wishes of his makers. Saddam charged Kuwait of stealing oil which belonged to Iraq by extracting more than its share from the oil field of Rumaila.

The Oil Fields

  • Israel followed an ambitious oil policy. It sought to re-establish Haifa Oil Refinery which was maintained by the British. Along with it they wanted to start a petro-chemical industry.
  • For this there had to be a pipeline between Iraq and Haifa or Suez Canal had to be opened to ships serving Haifa.
  • The long term policy of Israel was to rid it dependence on Britain and America for its oil needs and look out for more suppliers.
  • All these policies affected the Arab- Israeli conflict in one way or the other.
  • Rumaila oil field bestrides the border between Iraq and Kuwait and Saddam claimed heavy losses in oil revenue.
  • Iraq increased its OPEC production quota and reduced the price but the plans of Saddam for annexing Kuwait went beyond the technical dispute over oil quotas and its prices.
  • Saddam was smart enough to annex Kuwait for both financial and political reasons.
  • Saddam being a gambler for bigger bets wanted to improve Iraq’s access to the Persian Gulf and wanted to be a dominant force in the region.
  • The Arabs were separated in their response to the invasion of Iraq of Kuwait could not sustain the unified Arab nation.
  • Sudan, South Yemen and the PLO supported Iraq and Egypt and Jordan wanted to mediate to work out an Arab solution to the dispute.
  • They did not want outside intervention to the problem and majority of the Arab states condemned the Iraqi invasion and some of them even thought that it is a danger to their own safety.
  • Saddam’s next target was the Saudi oil fields across the border from Kuwait and Syria was also considered as a probable target.
  • Syria and Iraq followed the Ba’th ideology but was divided due to various reasons and there was a risk of Iraq grabbing the chance to settle old scores.
  • Because of this threat, some of old conservative rulers in the Arab world got together as more fundamental regimes in opposing Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The position of Israel in the Gulf crisis and war was clearly uncharacteristic and this indifference clearly supported the Israeli claim that much violence and instability in the Middle East is not related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Saddam managed to marshal a great degree of support from the Arabs by posing as a champion of Palestinian national rights. Saddam proposed a possible withdrawal from Kuwait of the Israelis withdrew from Arab territory. The proposal was rejected outright by Israel and America but it created a kind of connection between the Gulf crisis and the Arab-Israeli crisis. Israel maintained a low profile for the remainder of the Gulf crisis and this back-fired the plans of Saddam in making an Arab-Arab conflict into an Arab –Israeli one.

Israel did not retaliate in spite of Iraqi missile attacks on Israeli populated areas.  Soviet Union was not active in this crisis because of their disintegration and America had to do the running around.  America had to face many challenges to its interest in oil, in Saudi Arabia and also to its prestige in the Gulf region.  America was not interested in negotiating and started sending troops to the Gulf by passing all the necessary resolutions in the UN and also by issuing an ultimatum to Iraq. Iraq did not act in accordance with America’s ultimatum and America launched the Operation Desert Storm aiming to throw away the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and to restore Kuwaiti government and both these aims were achieved by the American forces quickly and easily.

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