Thursday, February 23, 2012

40 years ago: Diplomacy and war in the Middle East

February 1972 was a busy month for both diplomacy and war in the Middle East. On the diplomatic front, Israel agreed on February 2 to a U.S. proposal for indirect talks with Egypt on reopening the Suez Canal, which had been closed since the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel in 1967. On February 5, sources inside the U.S. administration of President Richard Nixon said that the United States would sell Israel 42 Phantoms and 90 Skyhawk jets over the next two to three years, beginning in March.

On February 15, France agreed to reimburse Israel for the 50 Mirage jets it had purchased, but which had never been delivered to Israel because of the embargo imposed by French President Charles de Gaulle during the Six-Day War. The same day, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir disclosed that Egypt had rejected an Israeli offer for high-level talks.

On February 20, Israeli civil aviation authorities revealed that Israel and Jordan had made a treaty of cooperation calling for radio communication between the israeli airfield at Elath and a new Jordanian airfield near Aqaba to prevent air collisions.

On February 25, United Nations envoy Gunnar Jarring outlined his plans for a Middle East peace settlement during an eight-hour visit to Jerusalem, two days after he had visited Jordan to talk with King Hussein. The talks had been deadlocked since late February 1971, when Israel had turned down Mr. Jarring’s proposal that it withdraw from all occupied territory. On December 13, 1971, the United Nations General Assembly had voted 79-7, with 36 abstentions, in favour of a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from all occupied Arab territories, and instructing UN Secretary-General U Thant to reactivate Mr. Jarring’s mission. The talks had been resumed on December 15 and 16, when Mr. Jarring had held preliminary discussions with the foreign ministers of both Israel and Egypt.

However, February 25 wasn’t a peaceful day in the Middle East. Israeli air and ground forces attacked guerrilla bases up to 20 miles inside Lebanon; Israeli officials described the attack as “the largest against any Arab country since the 1967 Mideast war.” The attack was a retaliation for attacks by Lebanon-based terrorists that had killed two Israeli civilians and an officer in upper Galilee. On February 26, the Soviet Union demanded that the United Nations expel Israel. On February 29, the Israelis voluntarily pulled back their forces, about 12 hours after the UN Security Council had called for an immediate withdrawal, in a resolution that a Jerusalem official termed “cynical and one-sided.”

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