Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it)

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld gives a timeline of modern history for the “Holy Land” , putting present events in a larger context. While the struggle with jihadists has overshadowed that between Irsrael and Palestine, it remains a front line in the dispute between the West and East. We ignore it at our peril.

Protester with knife at Gaza

A masked Palestinian at a protest near the fence between Gaza & Israel (photo: REUTERS).

Turmoil in the Holy Land

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 22 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission

The Holy Land is in a turmoil. Certainly not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last. For those of you who have forgotten, here is a brief timetable of the Palestinian-Jewish/Israeli conflict over the last century or so.

1860 –              Palestine, divided into three separate districts that also include parts of what today are neighboring countries, is governed by “the Unspeakable Turk.” Perhaps 80 percent of the population is Arab, mainly Sunni. But there are also some Christians—around 15 percent—and Jews. Christians and Jews are treated as Dimnis, second-rate people with fewer rights than Muslims.

1860 –              Following the Crimean War the Porte comes under pressure by the Western Powers. The latter demand, and obtain, concessions for their own citizens who live in Palestine as well a native Christians and Jews. As a result of the “Capitulations,”, as they are known, these minorities start drawing ahead.

1881 –              Jewish immigrants, mainly from Russia, start arriving and establish some new settlements. Right from the beginning, these settlements come under attack by local Bedouin who have always lived by plundering the peasantry. Thus the immediate background to the clashes is not political but socio-economic.

1897                The First Zionist Congress is held in Basel.

1904-1914       The so-called “Second Wave” of Jewish immigrants starts arriving. Zionist activists buy land, often from absentee landowners who live as far away as Beirut. The local fellaheen, seeing the land on which they have lived for centuries sold from under their feet, try to resist.

1914                Turkey join World War I on the side of the Central Powers.

1917                The Balfour Declaration, in which His Britannic Majesty’s Government recognizes the Jews right to a “National Home” in Palestine, is issued. As a result, the conflict, while still mixed up with economic, social, and religious issues, becomes political par excellence. Two peoples—“Arabs” (not Palestinians, a name that only gained wide currency during the 1960s) and Jews claim ownership over the same land. As they still do.

1918                The end of World War I leaves Palestine, along with Jordan and Iraq, firmly in British hands.

1920-21           The first Palestinian Arab Uprising, directed against the Balfour Declaration as well as the Jewish settlement.

1922                Winston Churchill, in his capacity a Colonial Secretary, arrives. He and his staff draw the borders between Palestine and the neighboring countries.

1929                Another Palestinian Uprising, triggered by a conflict over the Wailing Wall, breaks out. It is directed against both the British and the Jews. It is suppressed, but not before two Jewish communities, the ancient one at Hebron and the new one at Motza, right across the road from where I live, are wiped out.

1936-39           “The Arab Revolt” (note that people still speak of Arabs, not Palestinians). It, too, is directed against both the British and the Hews. It, too, is suppressed. But not before London makes important concessions. Those include 1. An end to Jewish land-purchases. 2. Limits on Jewish immigration, which from this point on is to bring in no more than 15,000 people per year for five years. 3. A promise of “evolution towards independence” within ten years.

1947-48           On 1 December 1947, a day after the UN decides to partition the country, the Jews and Arabs of Palestine go to war. By the middle of June, by which time the remaining British have withdrawn and the State of Israel has been official proclaimed, the Arabs have been substantially defeated. Armed intervention by the neighboring Arab states, aimed at assisting their brothers, also fails to achieve its purpose. By the time the war ends in January 1949 some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs, about half of the Arab population west of the Jordan, have been turned into refugees. The State of Israel is an established fact. However, it does not include either the Gaza Strip, which comes under Egyptian military rule, or the West Bank, which is annexed by Jordan.

1967                The June 1967 Six Days War brings the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 500,000 people, and the West Bank, with an estimated 1,500,000, under Israeli rule. With the west Bank comes East Jerusalem which from this point on becomes the focus of the conflict. Since then the population of these two territories combined has grown to an estimated 4,000,000.

1977                The Right Wing Herut (later Likud) Party comes to power in Israel. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which until then was very small, starts skyrocketing.

1979                The Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt proposes a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict within five years. In practice, though, nothing happens.

1987                In December the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, breaks out. At first it takes the form of demonstrations and mass riots. Later there are stabbings, shootings, and some bombs.

1993                Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo Agreements. Parts of the West Bank come under Palestinian rule; parts, under mixed rule; and parts remain strictly under Israeli control. The Agreements also provide for a five-year transitional period during which the parties will try to end the conflict.

2000                No progress has been made towards finding a solution. Triggered by a visit by former Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the second Intifada breaks out. Its hallmark is suicide bombings. By 2004 it is more or less suppressed with enormous damage to the West Bank City of Jenin in particular.

2005-6             The Israeli Government, under Ariel Sharon, withdraws its forces from the Gaza Strip. The latter comes under a Palestinian Faction known a Hamas. Hamas chases the PLO out of Gaza and vows to continue “resisting” Israel, which is “besieging” the Strip by exercising strict control over the movement of people and goods. In response, Hamas fires mortar rounds and rockets, later missiles, into Israeli territory.

2006-14           Repeatedly, Israel launches military operations in an attempt to put an end to Hamas’ attacks. Repeatedly, it fails. Still, Operation Protective Edge, which was launched in July 2014 and wrought vast destruction in Gaza, does seem to have taught Hamas a lesson of sorts. Since then the border, though not quite peaceful, has been relatively calm.

2015                The third Intifada, whose hallmark so far has been knifings carried out by individuals, breaks out.

The outlook

Eight times during the last century — 1920-21, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48,1987-93, 2000-2005, 2008-14 (Gaza), and 2016 — did the Palestinian Arabs try to match whatever armed forces they had against those the British Empire/the Jewish Community in/Palestine/Israel. To no avail, since Israel, its Jewish population having grown almost a hundredfold during the same period.

With one of the world’s more powerful armed forces, it still continues to “besiege” the Gaza Strip and occupy the West Bank. This is an Ur-clash between two peoples that claim the same land. Even should the present disturbances come an end, a political solution of any kind is not in sight.

What should be done

Speaking as an Israeli now, given that real peace is out of reach for a long, long time to come, there seem to be two courses. The first would be for my country to complete the wall it has built around the West Bank in such a way as to get rid as of many Palestinians, specifically including most of those who live in East Jerusalem, as possible. That done, it should tell the settlers it is withdrawing and take as many of them as possible along. If, after that, the Palestinians in the West Bank still cause trouble, then Israel should deal with them as it dealt with Gaza in 2014. This has long been my own position; however, unless pressure is applied form outside it is very unlikely to happen.

The second would be to hope for the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom and its occupation by Daesh or some similar organization. That would create an opportunity to repeat the events of 1948 and throw the Palestinians of the West Bank across the River Jordan. This is the “solution” a great many Israelis secretly favor. And the longer the present uprising lasts, the larger their number will grow.

What will it be?


About the Author

Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war: Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present.

Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He has written two books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace and The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?.

He’s written one of the most influential books of our generation about war, his magnum opus — the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century.

For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

For More Information

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Stratfor: A Weakening Islamic State Still Poses a Threat

Summary: Here is a typically skillful but narrow analysis by Stratfor about the uses of terrorism, and especially by ISIS. It ignore the many examples of successful use of terrorism by insurgents (e.g., Zionists), and the s the often-decisive moral dimension of conflict (skillful terrorism can destroy a movement), I agree that ISIS will flame out soon. It’s the second generation of modern jihadist terrorism. What form will the third generation take?


A Weakening Islamic State Still Poses a Threat

By Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 19 November 2015

Earlier this month I wrote an analysis asserting that time is working against the Islamic State. I argued that the factors responsible for the Islamic State’s stunning rise in popularity last year — the group’s territorial gains, its successes against authorities and its propaganda — are starting to wear out. Much of the group’s appeal lies in its portrayal of itself as an agent of apocalyptic Islamic prophecy, and as time passes without the prophecies coming true, people will become increasingly disillusioned.

Since that analysis was published, it has come to light that the Islamic State’s Wilayat Sinai was responsible for the Oct. 31 bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268. Meanwhile, the Islamic State also claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. In the wake of these incidents, many people are asking me, “How can the Islamic State be weakening when they are conducting spectacular terrorist attacks?” So I thought it would be a good time to discuss where terrorism fits within the spectrum of militancy and how a weakening militant organization can still effectively employ terrorism, even as its capabilities to wage conventional and guerrilla warfare diminish.

Tool of the Weak

For the most part, terrorism historically has been employed by weak militant organizations against militarily stronger opponents. (There are, of course, exceptions to this.) Many revolutionary theories hold that terrorism is the first step toward launching a wider insurgency and eventually toppling a government. Marxist, Maoist and focoist militant groups have often sought to use terrorism as the beginning phase of an armed struggle. In some ways, al Qaeda and its spinoff, the Islamic State, have also followed a type of focoist vanguard strategy. They attempt to use terrorism to shape public opinion and raise popular support for their cause, expecting to enhance their strength enough to wage an insurgency and later, conventional warfare, to establish an emirate and eventually a global caliphate.

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Ahmed Rashid explains why ISIS attacked Paris & where they learned to do so

Summary: Amidst the mad cries for reprisals to the Paris attacks, cries for a wider war and more bloodshed, a few voices speak rationally about the causes of the attacks, our foe’s reasoning, and likely ways to end (rather than expand) the war. This essay by Ahmed Rashid is one of the best I’ve seen. Unfortunately I suspect these voices will be shouted down by louder voices using the attacks for their personal political and economic gains, as they were after 9/11.

“In fact none of these targets is random. What they show is that ISIS is now determined to launch attacks against those states that are waging war against it. … Nothing would be more effective in combating ISIS than the successful conclusion of the joint peace plan that is now being negotiated between the big powers and Syrian groups,…”

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, from the Feb 2015 issue of Dabiq

Undated photo of Abdelhamid Abaaoud from the Feb 2015 issue of Dabiq, ISIS’ English-language magazine.

From Mumbai to Paris

By Ahmed Rashid
Blog of the New York Review of Books
16 November 2015
Posted with their generous permission

The massacre of innocents in Paris has brought to the forefront a dramatic shift in ISIS’s tactics and strategy. For some time it has been widely believed that ISIS’s overriding aim is to capture and hold territory and create a single caliphate out of the present borders of the Middle East, rather than trying to bomb the West or pull off spectacular attacks like the toppling of the Twin Towers in New York. Such raids on the so-called “far enemy,” aimed at bringing down the capitalist order, have long been the mission of al-Qaeda; whereas the much newer ISIS, in seeking to conquer the “near enemy” in the Levant, has given priority to establishing its caliphate now.

Yet the recent string of ISIS attacks across the Middle East and now in Europe suggests that its aims, and methods, are more complicated. In October a bombing in Ankara that killed 102 people was blamed on ISIS by the Turkish government. A few weeks later, ISIS’s Sinai affiliate claimed to have brought down a Russian airliner, killing 224 people. On November 12, ISIS claimed responsibility for a double-suicide bombing of a busy shopping street in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut that left forty-four people dead. There were bombings in Baghdad. And then there was Paris.

In fact none of these targets is random. What they show is that ISIS is now determined to launch attacks against those states that are waging war against it. Turkey has just given the US government permission to use some of its airbases for strikes against ISIS; Hezbollah is helping Bashar al-Assad fight ISIS. The Russians are now bombing ISIS and other groups, while the French are crucial partners in the anti-ISIS coalition. French warplanes bombing ISIS from runways in the Gulf states are about to get a fresh boost as the French government sends its only aircraft carrier to the Gulf.

ISIS’s message is thus clear — the group is waging an all-out deliberate war against all those countries that are lining up to fight it.

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Update on El Niño: will Gaia disappoint the climate activists?

Summary: Climate alarmists have run wild with predictions about the “monster” “Godzilla” El Niño, their last throw of the dice before the COP-21 climate conference in Paris. Here is an example by Brad Plummer, with some debunking. The latest forecasts of the major climate models suggest that it will disappoint activists (but match NOAA’s more cautious predictions).

El Nino in action, from NOAA

When did we “pathologize” weather? When did commonplace weather become abnormal? The debates over the past and future of anthropogenic climate change are of great importance (climate change is ubiquitous in history). But the news increasingly describes normal weather as a kind of plague, something to fear.

For example see “El Niño, explained: A guide to the biggest weather story of 2015” by Brad Plummer at Vox. Plummer’s perspective is clearly stated by his tagline: “On the apocalypse beat, more or less.” His article is a masterpiece of propaganda, creating fear to advance his public policy agenda. A few excerpts, matched with reality, tell the tale.

“Now it looks like we’re in for a monster. The El Niño currently brewing in the Pacific is shaping up to be one of the strongest ever recorded.”

Plummer links to a page by the World Meteorological Organization, which gives different message. Their forecast is “placing this El Niño event among the three strongest previous events since 1950 (1972-73, 1982-83, 1997-98).” Plummer says “strongest ever recorded”, which suggests a long-term record. Unlike saying one of the four strongest since 1950, which is not alarming.

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Recession Watch: a turning Point in Unemployment Claims?

A new era has begun for the US and global economy, trashing the simple rules of the post-WWII era. Instead of the business cycle (the “clock” analogy found in textbooks), we have secular stagnation interrupted by frequent bubbles alternating with bouts of debt deflation that are fought by massive government stimulus programs.

Since we have no playbook for this new economic regime, investors must watch the data. Bulls look at signs of strength; bears focus on signs of weakness. Survivors look at broad indicators, showing the net effect of the many cross-currents affecting the economy. The number of new claims for unemployment is among the best: close to real-time (weekly), hard data, and a leading indicator.

New unemployment Claims: YoY in 2015

See the analysis at Wolf Street. Second of 2 posts today.

Will we repeat our mistakes in the Middle East & lose, or play defense & win?

Summary:  The West’s post-9/11 wars in the Middle East have run down, but our involvement in Syria’s civil war and the attacks by radical Islamists in American — and the far larger Paris attacks — have begun a new phase in this clash of civilizations. Before we attack, repeating the mistakes of the past 15 years, let’s consider an alternative strategy: play defense, and win.  {First of 2 posts today.}

Nike, goddess of victory

Goddess of Victory. Emanuel Lakozas at DeviantArt.



  1. A hegemon’s dilemma.
  2. How to eat soup with a knife?
  3. Who is attacking? Who is defending?
  4. Our response: attack!
  5. A better way: defend.
  6. Other posts in this series.
  7. For more information.

(1)  A hegemon’s dilemma

In chess, a zugzwang means that you believe that all moves weaken your position. It often results from a lack of imagination, an inability to break free from one’s patterns of perception and analysis.

Hegemons often see themselves as in a zugwang, where change itself threatens to their status as #1. For example, Britain responded poorly to Germany’s aggressive aspirations in the decades before WWI, rather than seeking to integrate them into a growing and prosperous multi-polar 20th century.

America’s major 21st century challenge might be cultural as well as geopolitical, as fundamentalist Islam challenges not just American dominance in the Middle East but the West’s cultural supremacy. We’ve reacted to the resulting insurgencies by waging war — treating fundamentalist Islam as an evil ideology, like the NAZI’s. With the usual perversity of events, we’ve succeeded only in toppling secular regimes (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and perhaps Syria), who are replaced by Islamic regimes) — and setting the region afire.

To find a better solution let’s look at T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922), a handbook for insurgents written during the Arab Revolt of WWI.

“The Turks were stupid; the Germans behind them dogmatical. They would believe that rebellion was absolute, like war, and deal with it on the analogy of war. Analogy in human things was fudge, anyhow; and war upon rebellion was messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.”

We have been “stupid and dogmatical” in our wars since 9/11, dealing with these insurgencies “on the analogy of war.” We are like the pitiful fool “eating soup with a knife”, spilling most of each attempt.

Does America have so few strategic options that we must, in effect, attempt to eat soup with a knife? Lawrence wrote about his experience fighting with locals waging a successful insurgency. American hawks see it as advice for doing the opposite — fighting insurgencies in foreign lands.

The hawks ignore the simple truth of Lawrence’s insight: you cannot eat soup with a knife unless you first change the situation.

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The Fed’s Vice Chairman warns about us about the strong dollar

Stanley Fischer (Vice Chairman of the Fed) gave us a warning in a speech on Nov 12. He’s someone we should list to.

Effect of rising US dollar on trade.

He reported that since July 2014 the US dollar has risen aprox 15% vs the currencies of our major trading partners, a “large, though not unprecedented” move. The Fed’s econometric model show that a 10% dollar rise reduces exports by 3% after one year and 7%+ after three years — and increases real imports by 4% after three years. The net effect on GDP: a decline of 0.7% after one year and 1.5% after three years (these numbers are roughly estimates). The bottom line…

Read my full report at Wolf Street.