Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

By Asher A. Fredman

Asher A. Fredman ’08, a Government concentrator from Leverett House, graduates from Harvard College this year. This essay is based on his senior thesis.

As it enters its sixtieth year, the modern State of Israel continues to be one of the few democracies in the world without a written, formal constitution. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (Declaration of Independence) explicitly stipulates that the Elected Constituent Assembly should adopt a constitution “not later than the October 1st, 1948.” Yet continued debates and disagreements over core issues relating to the identity and structure of the state have stalled the process. Since the controversial and contested 1992 ‘Constitutional Revolution’—which allowed the Supreme Court of Israel to review and strike down laws made in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament)—various political and civil society actors have come to see the development of a constitution as an attractive way to enshrine—or reverse—the results of the ‘revolution’. Amid fears of demographic changes—such as the growth of Arab and ultra-Orthodox Haredi populations—and over the spread of post-Zionist worldviews, many now believe that the adoption of a constitution has become particularly urgent.

In this essay I will outline some of the main issues in the debate and provide an overview of legislative activity in Israel. My observations are based on experience gained during two summers of working in the Israeli parliament, and on research conducted for my senior thesis, for which I interviewed many of the major players in the constitutional discussions. The core issues regarding the character and structure of the State of Israel which may be affected by a future constitution can be divided broadly into three categories (though the lines between them are often blurry.) They are the self-definition and character of the State, religion-state relations, and the structure of the government and political system. [1]

I argue that as long as the Supreme Court continues to play an aggressively activist role in all aspects of public and political life in Israel, it is unlikely that the members of the Knesset will have the motivation or willingness to make the compromises needed to resolve these debates and produce a constitution. The relationship and balance of power between the judiciary and the legislature has become a central point of contention, even eclipsing, perhaps, the ‘traditional’ core issues. It will therefore be necessary to structure the relationship in such a way as to ensure that complex and sensitive compromises reached by the various parties will not be overruled for conflicting with the ideological orientations of members of the court.

Definition and Character of the State

The vast majority of Israel’s Jewish population supports the idea that Israel should be both a Jewish and a democratic State. But Israelis have many different opinions about what the State’s Jewish character should entail. Should the State simply be a safe-haven for Jews persecuted or discriminated against in other lands? Should it be the nation-state of the Jewish people, as expressed in its primary language, Hebrew, and in its symbols such as flag and national anthem? Should the State actively promote the preservation, expression and advancement of Jewish culture? Or encourage Jewish settlement of the land. The position of the Arab minority is also the subject of debate. [2]

Similarly, there are questions about how the State should fulfill the practice and principles of democracy. Does democracy require simply that every citizen be given the right to vote, to hold office, and that public officials be held accountable through regularly scheduled elections? Or does it require the state to guarantee a broader spectrum of rights, and take positive action to ensure the economic and social equality of its citizens? Does it require that the State grant political or cultural autonomy to some or all minority groups?

There are many ways in which these questions may find expression in the constitution. The first is in the official definition of the state. One approach is to employ the formulation which defines the State as ‘”Jewish and democratic.” [3] Another is to divide the two elements, so that the first clause states that “Israel is the State of the Jewish People'” (or “The State in which the Jewish nation realizes its right to self definition'” or “A Jewish State and the National Home of the Jewish People”), while the next clause states that Israel is a democratic state which respects the human rights of all its residents. [4] The constitution proposed by Adalah, the ‘Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel’, defines Israel as “a democratic state, based on the values of human dignity, liberty and equality”, and elsewhere describes Israel as a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural State.” Other groups have proposed the using the phrase, “a state of all its citizens”. [5]

Some of the other provisions whose inclusion or non-inclusion would affect the definition and character of the state include [6]:

•    A special connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry; an imperative on the State to act for the safety and well being of Jews around the world; an imperative on the State to encourage Jewish immigration to Israel.

•    The constitutional recognition of Israel’s Arab population as a ‘national minority’ or an ‘indigenous people’; the granting of collective rights and/or limited autonomy to the Arab or other minorities; the official status of Arabic.

•    Neutral state symbols (such as flag, anthem and emblem) in addition to or in place of the current Jewish ones.

•    An imperative on the State to inculcate knowledge of the Jewish heritage in the Jewish educational system.

•    The right of the State to set aside certain pieces of land for exclusive purchase or settlement by members of a specific ethnic or religious group.

Religion and state

The debates on the relationship between religion and state revolve around whether aspects of traditional religious law (halacha in Judaism, sharia in Islam) should have a role in the legal system of the state. The debate affects issues as basic and personal as marriage, divorce, conversion, burial, and which activities are permitted on the national Day of Rest (the Sabbath.) The historical roots of the religion-state arrangements in Israel, which differ significantly from those in the United States, are in the Ottoman millet system, which was preserved by the British in the Mandatory era. This system designated people as belonging to one of a list of officially recognized religious communities, each governed by certain religious leaders.

In 1947, the Jewish Agency and David Ben-Gurion negotiated with representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel movement and arrived at an understanding which became known as the ‘status-quo agreement.’ The agreement gave the Chief Rabbinate control over issues of personal status, which include marriage, divorce, conversions, the Jewish status of immigrants to Israel, and kashrut (kosher) certification. It provided that the Sabbath would be observed in the public sphere by the closure of businesses, government offices, and public transportation.

Competition between the two large party blocs meant that support from religious parties was necessary for nearly every government coalition. The religious parties in turn insisted that the preservation of the religion-state status quo be included in coalitional agreements. At the same time, strong challenges to the status quo emerged and violations became ubiquitous. Secular Israelis objected to the enforcement of religious law in matters such as marriage and divorce, and to the closure of places of entertainment, restaurants and public transportation on the Sabbath, their day off. Issues surrounding marriage and conversion became especially urgent with the massive waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of these immigrants were eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return, but were not Jewish according to halacha, and therefore, lacked any official religion and could not legally marry within the State. [7] The Reform and Conservative movements within Judaism, despite still having relatively little presence or political influence in Israel, began to challenge the Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs. A number of their petitions to the Supreme Court on issues such as conversion were successful.

Several religious parties have opposed the creation of a constitution in the past, fearing that it would upset the religion-state status quo. Other prominent religious politicians have expressed staunch support for a constitution, because they believe the Supreme Court poses a greater threat to the place of religious life. Some of the proposals for a constitution explicitly single out the Jewish tradition as a source of inspiration for legal decisions and laws, while others discourage the incorporation of any aspects of religion into the legal system.

The constitutional issues related to the relationship between religion and state include:

•    The authority of the rabbinical courts, and the leeway, which the Supreme Court may exercise in interfering with their decisions.

•    The nature of Sabbath observance in the public sphere. Should restaurants, places of entertainment and retail shops be allowed to operate? Should businesses and factories? Should public transportation be allowed to operate in full or modified form in areas with significant secular populations?

•    Personal Status. Should there be a right to civil marriage and divorce, or should these issues continue to fall under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate? [8] One interesting compromise proposal would create an institution known as a ‘pact of couplehood’ (brit hazugiyut), which would have the same legal status as marriage. When entering into the pact, the couple would have to declare that they did not intend to enter into a halachically-valid marriage, thereby avoiding, according to a number of religious authorities, many of the halachic problems which the introduction of civil marriage and divorce might create.

•    The degree to which the Supreme Court may review arrangements and laws touching on religion and state. The constitutional proposal of the Israel Democracy Institute explicitly shields laws relating to four key areas—marriage and divorce, conversion, Sabbath, and religious dietary regulations (kashrut) in government buildings- from judicial review. It also states that when a judge comes to interpret a law relating to one of these areas, he or she is not required to do so in light of other principles found in the constitution. [9]

•    Who is a Jew? This question goes to the heart both of the character of the State and religion-state relations. Currently there are different criteria employed for eligibility to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, and to be recognized as a Jew by the Interior Ministry for purposes of personal status. Connected to this area are standards for and control over conversion. On this issue, as well as many of the other issues discussed above, the constitution’s drafters may decide that it is better to avoid any mention of it in the constitutional text, and leave its resolution to the realm of ordinary politics.

Structure of the Government

The rules and procedures governing the different branches of government and the system of checks and balances between them are a central part of any constitution. An issue of great importance throughout Israel’s history has been the electoral process and the types of political alliances it fosters. Article 4 of Basic Law states that elections to the Knesset shall be general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional. Israel currently has an electoral system which is proportional rather than majoritarian, and national rather than district-based. This means that people vote for a party rather than a particular representative of a district, and that each party receives a number of parliamentary seats (out of 120) in proportion to the percentage of votes they receive throughout the country. The result has been the proliferation of many small parties.

Many experts argue that the political system would function better if elections were held according to districts and candidates were accountable to specific constituencies. Assuming that each district elected only one representative (a majoritarian or winner-take-all system), the result would most likely be a reduction in the number of political parties represented in the Knesset.

The minimum percentage of nationwide votes needed for a party to receive seats in the parliament is unsurprisingly controversial, in the context of Israel’s party system. Since 2004 the minimum threshold for receiving seats has been incrementally raised from 1.5% to 2.5%. This threshold is one of the lowest in the world, and many analysts argue that in order to reduce the number of small parties—which in their view cause political instability and polarization—the threshold should be raised much higher. Some have advocated for even more radical changes in the Israeli political system, such as moving from a parliamentary to a presidential or semi-presidential system.

There are those who see the creation of a constitution as providing the best hope for bringing about significant changes in this area. It is unlikely that changes with far-reaching consequences will be passed within the framework of ordinary, day-to-day politics. A constitution which lays down for the first time the structure of the entire political system in a sweeping, holistic manner, could create these changes in a balanced and deliberate way, to ensure that the various reforms are compatible and complementary to each other.

Legislative-Judicial relations

At least until 1992, Israel had generally been viewed as operating under the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, similar to Great Britain. Power rested primarily in the legislature, whose acts were not subject to review by the judiciary. The judiciary tended to take a more restricted view of its role, only occasionally foraying into contentious political or ideological debates. It claimed the right to exercise powers of judicial review only in very limited circumstances. However from 1983 to 1995, during Meir Shamgar’s term as President of the Supreme Court, judicial practice began to change. Firstly, the court virtually eliminated the requirement that a petitioner demonstrate ‘standing’, i.e. a personal stake in the case. Whereas a person in the United States, a person must have a personal “case or controversy” in order to bring a matter before the court, the Israel Supreme Court allows NGOs, advocacy groups and even private citizens to challenge legislation and government policies, even if the petitioners themselves are not actually affected by it. Secondly, the court gradually broadened the range of issues it considers justiciable—or within its mandate. It became particularly eager to hear cases that may concern human rights. In the U.S., the Supreme Court has generally refrained from becoming involved in questions it believes to be inherently political, and therefore properly the jurisdiction of the other branches of government, such as matters of military and diplomatic policy and decisions relating to the national budget. Aharon Barak, Justice and later President of the Supreme Court from 1995-2006, on the other hand, has declared that “anything and everything is justiciable.” [10]

In 1992 the Knesset passed the first two basic laws dealing specifically with human rights. These were Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (chofesh ha’isuk), and Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom (kevod ha’adam ve’chairuto.) The Freedom of Occupation law, which was passed 23-0, protected the right to engage in any occupation or employment not prohibited by law. The Human Dignity and Freedom law, which was adopted by a vote of 32-21, guaranteed the right to life, physical integrity, dignity, property, privacy, freedom of movement and freedom from unlawful search. Aharon Barak, then Justice and later President of the Supreme Court declared that these developments constituted a ‘Constitutional Revolution’, as a result of which “every branch of law had to change its fundamental concepts and its fundamental outlook.” [11] A new balance of power had been created, according to Barak, in which the judiciary had acquired much broader powers to oversee acts of the executive and legislature in order to ensure their compatibility with the ‘constitution’.

Barak’s and others’ designation of the events of 1992 as a constitutional revolution, and their use of that idea as a justification for a greatly expanded role for the Court, has proven very controversial. In my opinion, Barak’s description of the revolution as a conscious decision by the Knesset acting in its role as Constituent Assembly to transform the essential nature of the political system is unconvincing. [12] According to Members of Knesset from Labor, Likud, and the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah whom I interviewed, there had been no special atmosphere or sense in the Knesset at the time of the passage of the laws that an act of particular significance was taking place. Revolutions are not generally carried out by one-fourth of the legislature, as in the case of the Human Freedom and Dignity law, or by one-sixth, as in the case of the Freedom of Occupation law. Of the four main speakers who spoke in favor of Human Dignity and Freedom in the Knesset plenum, two (representing two different segments of the religious population) were explicitly opposed to the idea that the law granted the Court the power to interfere in delicate issues. Uriel Lynn, then chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice committee, also seemed explicitly opposed to the idea that the law would transfer power to the judiciary, though he may have employed a degree of creative ambiguity. Only then-Justice Minister Dan Meridor clearly took a different stance, indicating that the law would lead to greater power for the judiciary vis a vis the other branches of government. The general public including the media did not seem to attach particular importance to the passage of the laws. [13] Several other technical factors relating to the content of the laws also serve to make Barak’s claims problematic.

A better explanation for the promotion of the idea of a Constitutional Revolution was the desire of Barak and other justices to ensure that the actions and policies of the State would be tested against the Court’s conception of what was proper and legitimate in an ‘enlightened democracy’. They were supported in this by old societal elites, largely liberal, secular and Ashkenazic, who saw transfer of policy-making power to the Court as a way of preserving their policy preferences against the vagaries of democratic politics and assertive minorities. This claim is of course is controversial and subject to wide debate within Israeli politics and academia. [14]

The Israeli Supreme Court under Barak, who served as its president from 1995-2006, evolved into one of the most activist in the world, becoming involved in many of the most divisive political, economic and social issues facing the State. The Court ruled (or claimed the authority to rule) on economic questions such as the permissibility of welfare cuts and allocation of the national budget, on military questions including the conduct of the army while actually engaged in combat, and the route of the security fence, on policy questions such as the legality of the disengagement plan, and on sensitive ideological and religious issues such as the ban on the importation of pork, the recognition of homosexual marriages performed abroad, and the right of the state to prevent the naturalization of the Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens.

Debates between those who support and those who oppose the Court’s activism and apparent ideological leanings are manifested in different proposals for aspects of the constitution. Those who wish to restrain the Court and who argue that it is the democratically-elected parliament which is most qualified to decide on these sensitive issues of ideology and policy seek to include within the constitution provisions that would grant the legislature greater power vis a vis the Court. Those who believe that the protection of those human rights that should be guaranteed in an enlightened democracy requires the careful guardianship of professional justices seek to ensconce within the constitution the current powers and jurisdiction of the Court.

Some of the central issues involved in the debate over the power of the judiciary and over judiciary-legislature relations include:

•    The method for selecting judges. Israel’s method for selecting judges is different to that in other countries. They are selected by a special committee made up of current justices including the Court President, members of the Israeli bar, Members of Knesset and government ministers. The dominant voice in the committee is that of the Court President. This has allowed the Supreme Court to decide who may and may not join its ranks and has led, according to the Court’s critics, to the ideological homogeneity of the court bench. Supporters of the current system claim that it ensures a professional judiciary, untainted by the factionalism that would ensue were politicians given a stronger voice in the selection process. Some of those who advocate reform of the selection committee, including current Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, argue for the alteration of the committee’s makeup in order to give more of a voice to the executive and legislative branches. Others would like to see the power to nominate and confirm justices actually transferred to the legislature or executive.

•    The ‘Override’ or ‘Nonwithstanding’ Clause. These types of clauses essentially enable the legislature to ‘disagree’ with the Court’s interpretation of the constitution under specific circumstances. An override clause would allow a special or absolute majority in the Knesset (80, 70, 66, and 61 members have all been suggested as the minimum number) to decide that a law does not in fact conflict impermissibly with a right guaranteed in the constitution, despite a Court decision to the contrary. Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation contains an override clause, which was used to overrule the Court’s determination that the ban on importing pork violated rights guaranteed by that basic law. The Canadian constitution allows legislatures to attach preemptive nonwithstanding clauses to laws, which determine that the law is valid notwithstanding a future court decision to the contrary. There are those who advocate this kind of clause in the Israeli system as well.

•    The Roles of the Supreme Court. Should the highest court of appeals also serve as the constitutional court, as is the case in the United States, or should there be a separate court for constitutional questions, as in Germany and France? At least on the European continent, separate constitutional courts have tended to be subject to greater influence by the legislative and executive branches.

•    Standing and Justiciability. Should the constitution require that a petitioner to the Supreme Court have standing in that case? Can the areas over which the Court is or is not allowed to exercise jurisdiction be delineated in some viable way?


At the opening session of the constitutional discussions of the 17th Knesset, there was a debate within the Law, Constitution and Justice Committee over which course of progress would most likely produce tangible results. One member suggested proceeding directly to issues of religion and state since these had historically been the most contentious, while another suggested beginning with the sections dealing with the powers of the judiciary. Committee Chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson however, insisted that the opening sections dealing with the basic definition and character of the state be addressed first.

I believe that the second approach would be the most effective. Successful constitutional discussions will require willingness on the part of the representatives to compromise and make painful concessions in return for other benefits. Representatives will be unwilling to work out multifaceted compromises on contentious issues if they fear that, no matter what is agreed to, the Court may step in and alter the arrangements. Those who find their views supported by the Court will have less incentive to engage in negotiations and compromise, since the prospects for success via judicial victories are greater. At the same time, those who are opposed to the content and nature of the court-developed constitutional norms will deny their legitimacy, leading to greater political instability and polarization.

There is a growing realization among the Members of Knesset that more important than the actual phrasing of constitutional clauses is the identity of their authoritative interpreter. The most important question is ‘who decides?’ Constitutional proposals which seek to establish substantive compromises on contentious issues, but which fail to make structural changes in the current balance of power between the various branches of government, will not reassure those who are wary of the Court’s willingness to reinterpret statutes and expand its oversight. Furthermore, while the focus had traditionally been on matters of religion and state, current debate over the role of the Court concerns the Court’s involvement in a wide range of economic, political, military, and civil issues. In order for the Knesset to be able to create a constitution successfully, mechanisms must be in place to ensure that key issues relating to Israel’s identity and character will be determined primarily by the representatives of the citizenry and not by self-selecting and unaccountable judges.


1.    An Israeli constitution would not necessarily need to touch on all of these issues. Yet most modern constitutions contain the three elements of 1) ‘rules of the game’ (structure of the political system), 2) credos or basic principles and values of the society, and 3) a bill of rights.
2.    On the one hand, a number of Israeli Arab politicians, intellectuals and NGOs have called into question the legitimacy or desirability of Israel defining itself as a Jewish state. On the other, a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2007 concluded that 75% of Israel’s Arab population would support a constitution defining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as long as equal rights for minorities were guaranteed. See Yoav Stern, “Poll: 75% of Israeli Arabs support Jewish, democratic constitution”, Haaretz.com, 4/29/2007, (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/853564.html) Last accessed 4/2/08.
3.    This approach was taken in the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and is found in the constitution proposed by the Israel Democracy Institute, and in alternative A of the draft presented to the 16th Knesset by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
4.    This approach is taken in alternative B of the 16th Knesset’s draft constitution, and in the constitution proposed by the Institute for Zionist Strategies.
5.    Though this term is problematic in the Israeli context, as it is unlikely that its proponents actually intend the type of system generally described by that term, which exists in states such as France. In such a system, as nationality is seen as congruent with citizenship, no national minorities may be recognized or supported. There would be little room for separate state-supported Arabic educational or cultural institutions, such as those that currently exist, under such a system.
6.    In this and the following sections I do not attempt to list all of the relevant or important issues, only some of the prominent ones.
7.    Many Israelis went abroad to get married, particularly to Cyprus. These marriages were then given legal recognition in Israel.
8.    The issue of civil marriage would also likely affect the possibility of officially recognized gay and lesbian marriages.
9.    At the same time, the IDI’s constitution largely preserves and institutionalizes the expansive scope of the powers which the Supreme Court has assumed for itself. The debate over the Court’s powers and jurisdiction will be discussed in the next section.
10.    Quoted in Ran Hirschl, Towards Juristocracy, p. 169 (Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass, 2004.)
11.    Aharon Barak, “Human Rights in Israel,” Israel Law Review 39, no. 2 (2006), p. 18.
12.    See Barak’s opinion in United Mizrahi Bank v. Migdal Cooperative Village (CA 6821/93, 1908/94, 3363/94), particularly paragraph 57.
13.    For example, the Jerusalem Post relegated a story on the passage of Human Dignity and Freedom to page 12 of the next day’s issue.
14.    For a detailed argument in this direction, as well as a contextualization of the Israeli case within the worldwide trend of increasingly powerful judiciaries, see Hirschl, Towards Juristocracy.


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By Gabriel M. Scheinmann

Gabriel M. Scheinmann ’08, a Government concentrator from Eliot House, graduates from Harvard this year.

In sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East, Israel has experienced unprecedented economic growth and has even outperformed much of the developing world, based on multiple financial indicators. According to the International Monetary Fund World Economic Database, Israel has the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of all Eastern Mediterranean countries. Its financial ranking was upgraded recently to an A by the world’s leading credit agencies. [1] Furthermore, Israel, after the United States, has the second largest number of companies listed on the U.S. stock exchange. [2] Prominent American venture capitalists, such as Warren Buffet, have invested heavily in the Holy Land, instilling high confidence in the future growth of the country. [3] Few scholars have focused on the causes driving Israel’s economic success. Some historians have falsely argued that Israel’s success is a direct result of a reduction in defense spending as a percentage of GDP. However, a close examination of the statistical record demonstrates that the periods of greatest economic growth in Israel follow the implementation of liberal market reforms. As witnessed in the 1980s and the early 2000s, the roots of Israel’s blooming economy lie in liberalization policies that have started to free the Israel economy from direct government control.

Economic Growth and Military Strength

Historian Paul Kennedy was the first to put forth the argument that a powerful state cannot maintain strong economic growth if it has committed significant national resources to its military. Documenting the rises and falls of the great powers in modern history, Kennedy concludes that great powers decline when security and military ambitions take precedence over economic growth. He calls this situation military “over-stretch.” As an increasingly powerful nation with high economic growth and a significant military budget, Israel has become a great regional power, with an economy and a military on a European scale. However, the causal relationship Kennedy draws between military spending and financial decline does not accord with Israel’s continued economic success. An application of Kennedy’s analysis to the modern Middle East would suggest that Israel’s economic growth would only be sustainable if accompanied by a substantial decrease in defense spending.

Kennedy’s theory, published in 1987, maintains that it is impossible for a country, such as Israel, to maintain high GDP growth and high military spending. His theory rests on the idea that, in any country, “allocating over the long term more than 10 per cent (and in some cases—when it is structurally weak—more than 5%) of GNP to armaments…is likely to limit its growth rate.” [4] At first glance, the theory seems to explain the meteoric rise of the Israeli economy and the continued decrepit state of most Arab economies. While Israel has sharply reduced the percentage of GDP spent on defense from 21 percent in 1980 to 8 percent in 2006, Arab states have maintained relatively large armies and their economies have stagnated. The chilling of the Arab-Israeli conflict [5] and the end of the Cold War permitted Israel to cut military spending and allowed it to avert “over-stretch.” Israel could then start to reallocate military spending towards internal growth and development, and thereby spur economic growth.

However, Israel’s defense spending has remained far above the 5 percent threshold Kennedy claims necessary for economic growth. His theory states that “if, however, too large a proportion of the state’s resources is diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a weakening of national power over the long term.” [6] In high-performing Western countries, military expenditures never exceeded 5 percent—except during World War I and World War II. However, Israel devoted nearly 10 percent of its GDP to military spending in the periods of highest economic growth between 1988 and 1992, and 2005 to the present. Contrary to Kennedy’s otherwise compelling thesis, Israel has not experienced the economic decline predicted by its comparatively large defense spending.

As Appendix C demonstrates, Israel reduced the percentage of GDP devoted to military spending from 23.1% in 1981 to 8.1% in 2006. During this period, Israel also witnessed a nearly 400% increase in GDP per capita. This data appears to support the simplistic relationship between GDP growth and military spending. Financial historian Niall Ferguson, though disagreeing with Kennedy’s thesis, supports the idea “that there is a close correlation between democracy and defense/GDP ratios: less democratic states tend to spend significantly more on the military.” [7] While there seems to be a general correlation between democratic and economic development and a reduction in military spending, there is no evidence that reduced spending caused such advances in Israel.

Kennedy’s argument fails to explain the nuances in the link between military spending and economic growth. His theory does not address the patters of the Israeli economy in the past 20 years. From 1986 to 1992, Israel doubled its GDP per capita while only modestly decreasing military spending as a percentage of GDP from 14.2% to 10.7%. [8] Kennedy’s theory would have predicted a far smaller economic boost. Second, from 1995 to 2002, Israeli GDP per capita actually shrank, while military spending as a percentage of GDP remained constant. Third, the Israeli economy has exhibited dramatic growth since 2002, reaching Western levels of prosperity. However, Israeli military spending as a percentage of GDP has stayed between 7.9% and 9.5% since 1994 while GDP per capita has risen nearly 50%, from $15,567 to $22,975 in 2008. [9] Since 2002, the figures are even more striking. While military spending has declined by only 1.4%, GDP per capita has grown 33% from $17,267 to $22,975. The Israeli case has defied Kennedy’s theory.

Financial Reforms: Credit Creation and Fiscal Competence

In 1985, the Israeli government instituted a series of drastic financial reforms known as the 1985 Economic Stabilization Plan to stimulate the economy, which had experienced three consecutive years of low growth rates: 1%, 2.6%, and then 2.3%. [10] Immediately prior to 1985, the annual inflation rate had exceeded 400% and net external debt had reached 80% of GDP. [11] The stabilization plan introduced fiscal discipline, increased central bank independence, reduced government intervention in the capital, labor, and financial markets, and enhanced competition in markets that were previously dominated by monopolies. [12] The government liberalized capital flows, allowing increased foreign investment, enabling investment to exceed national savings, and making financial and capital markets more competitive. [13] Israel also adopted a fixed exchange rate, originally at NIS 1.5 per U.S. dollar, in order to stabilize the currency and quell inflation. [14]

The liberalization program produced an explosion of credit for Israeli citizens, encouraging investment and consumption levels that were previously impossible. Direct government involvement in the form of directed credit and earmarked deposits decreased from 65% in 1985 to 5% in 1998. [15] Israeli households received new lines of credit following the liberalization of mortgage lenders. The percentage of homes financed with unrestricted credit increased 40% between 1984 to 1998. For the first time, Israelis could invest freely, sparking a housing boom.

Following the implementation of the reforms, the Israeli economy emerged from its “stagnation.” The share of government expenditure as a percentage of GDP declined 20% in the following ten years. [16] GDP per capita doubled in 7 years, from $7,518 in 1986 to $14,636 in 1992. [17] Net external debt as a percentage of GDP declined from 72% in 1985 to 35% in 1989, with further reduction to 16% in 1998. [18]

By 2002, however, the Israeli economy had plunged under the weight of economic and security concerns. In 2002 alone, Israel suffered 60 suicide bombs. A major pension fund defaulted, unemployment reached 10%, and the economy shrank for two consecutive years, sliding into recession. [19] Further financial reforms were necessary.

Menaced by an unrelenting economic downturn, Israel overhauled its economy with major banking and market reforms. The 2005 Bachar banking reforms, shepherded by former-Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, corrected the massive misallocation of credit administered by Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s two leading banks. The reforms liberalized the banking industry by breaking the banking giants’ duopolistic control on the market. Specifically, the reforms obliged Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim to sell all provident and mutual funds by 2008, [20] thereby opening Israel to fair competition. Prior to these reforms, the three largest Israeli banks controlled more than 80% of national savings. [21] Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim made 70% of all loans to only 1% of borrowers. Netanyahu also sought to eliminate the fiscal deficit by cutting government spending, which immediately dropped from 53% of GDP in 2003 to 47% of GDP in 2006. GDP per capita increased from $17,267 in 2002 to $22,975 in 2008, an increase of 33%. [22]

The Netanyahu-led financial reforms, which expanded the amount of credit available to Israeli citizens and reduced government involvement in the market, are the clearest drivers of Israel’s growth in the last five years. These liberalization efforts mimicked the 1985 Stabilization Plan, which similarly led to an explosion of GDP growth. Following the reforms, Israeli capital markets have issued more than NIS 100 billion of non-banking credit, leading to job creation, productivity enhancement, and growth. [23] Unemployment has decreased from 11% in 2004 to 6.9% in late 2007. [24] The only other Middle Eastern countries experiencing similar booms are Libya and Saudi Arabia, [25] petro-states which have reaped the benefits of the staggering recent increases in oil prices.

The Israeli economy has now experienced 20 years of near-uninterrupted economic growth. In 1980, GDP per capita stood at $6,356 while in 2007 it was at $22,975—on par with several European countries. [26] In 2008, per capita income adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP) in Israel is projected to exceed that in France, Italy, and Germany. [27] Israel is the only Middle Eastern country considered an “advanced economy” by the IMF [28] and it was recently the first Middle Eastern country to be invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). [29] Israel is currently enjoying its fourth consecutive year of real GDP growth of over 5%. [30] With inflation low, unemployment dropping, and exports increasing, Israel’s market is doing better than ever, defying expectations that a state can succeed economically while facing real and imminent threats to its own survival.

Strategic Lift: A New World Outlook

As Israel continues to face growing and constantly adapting security threats, from the nuclear threats posed by Iran and Syria to the activities of terrorist groups at its borders, the country now finds itself in a vastly different geopolitical environment from that 30 years ago. Though it is still not at peace with the vast majority of the countries in its region, three major geopolitical events have transformed the Israeli economy and military, reducing military spending and spurring confidence in a once-fragile economy. A peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 neutralized Israel’s greatest threat and prevented future regional wars. In addition, the 1994 peace agreement with eastern neighbor Jordan legitimated Israel’s permanent status in the region. This period also witnessed the early negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These peace-building efforts loosened the Arab economic boycott and permitted Israel to trade fully and freely with some of its neighbors.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 also had a remarkable effect on Israel’s economic and strategic outlook. First, the immigration of over 1 million, largely skilled, Soviet Jews to Israel boosted the total output of the economy. Second, the reemergence of Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics created new outposts for Israeli exports. Furthermore, the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and its material and financial support for Israel’s enemies, such as Syria, Libya, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, changed Israel’s strategic stance dramatically. The tiny state was no longer threatened by a nuclear superpower or by her proxies. At the same time, Israel’s relationship with the U.S. has grown ever stronger. The “New World Order” has allowed Israel to reorient its military and no longer tremble at the prospect of nuclear destruction, allowing it to reduce military spending slightly. [31]


The dazzling success of the Israeli economy is not the result of a reduction in defense spending. Rather, it is primarily driven by the adoption of liberal market reforms meant to stimulate the economy and release it from government control. Liberalizing financial reforms preceded the two periods of economic growth. In 1985, the introduction of free capital flows, the adoption of a fixed exchange rate, and a reduction in the fiscal deficit liberated the Israeli economy from its stagnant state. Similarly, in 2002, a liberalization of banking laws, which heralded an unprecedented creation of credit, and a reduction in government expenditure galvanized the new market economy. With current Israeli defense spending at 8.1% of GDP, Israel has managed to achieve Western levels of economic success while still maintaining Middle Eastern levels of military spending, contrary to Kennedy’s expectations.

The percentage of national income Israel expends on its military is unlikely to change in the near future. The 2006 Second Lebanon War, Israel’s largest conflict in 25 years, barely increased military expenditures, while the economy continued to grow rapidly. Israel’s economic outlook is encouraging: tax burdens are decreasing, national debt is decreasing and the savings rate is still rising. Not only will Israel free itself from dependence on foreign investment, but it will also become a major foreign investor. Israel has managed to avoid Kennedy’s prediction of “over-stretch” casting doubt on the future applicability of the theory. More research must be done to examine the relationship between economic growth and defense spending, and the mechanisms through which defense spending slows the economy.

More importantly, Israel’s ability to maintain high military spending while developing a flourishing economy could serve as a model to the United States, which has increased its own military spending over the past few years. Though rhetoric of an “Israeli Empire” is usually reserved for the far-left, Israel is in the unique position to extend both its political and economic influence far beyond its borders.


1. Gad Lior, “Israel’s Credit Ranking to be Upgraded.” Ynet News, November 25, 2007.
2. Shirley Yom Tov, “The Nasdaq Loves Israel.” Haaretz, September 17, 2006.
3. Sharon Wrobel, “Buffet: Berkshire in Israel Forever.” The Jerusalem Post, September 18, 2006.
4. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (New York: Random House, 1987), 799
5. There have been no regional Arab-Israel wara since 1973. Moreover, Middle Eastern wars have shifted away from the Levant and into the Gulf.
6. Kennedy, xvi
7. Niall Ferguson, The Cash Nexus (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 405.
8. See Appendix C. Economic data from all appendices is from the International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database. Data on Israeli military spending is from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
9. See Appendix C
10. See Appendix D
11. Avi Ben-Bassat, The Israeli Economy, 1985-1998 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 1.
12. Ben-Bassat, xiii.
13. Ben-Bassat, 15.
14. Joseph Djivre and Daniel Tsiddon, “A Monetary Labyrinth: Instruments and the Conduct of Monetary Policy in Israel 1987-1998,” in The Israeli Economy, 1985-1998 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 96.
15. Ben-Bassat, 18.
16. Ben-Bassat, 2.
17. See Appendix C
18. Ben-Bassat, 42.
19. See Appendix D
20. Ido Efrati, “Bachar Reform clears Knesset,” Ynet News, July 26, 2005.
21. http://www.nysun.com/article/60856
22. See Appendix C
23. http://www.nysun.com/article/60856
24. “Unemployment Falls to 6.9% in October,” Ynet News, December 19, 2007.
25. See Appendix A
26. See Appendix A.
27. See Appendix B
28. IMF World Economic Outlook Database. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2006/01/data/dbginim.cfm
29. “Israel Invited to Join OECD.” Ynet News, May 16, 2007.
30. Economist Intelligence Unit. http://economist.com/countries/Israel/profile.cfm?folder=Profile%2DEconomic%20Structure
31. See Appendix C

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By Professor Jack L. Schwartzwald

Jack L. Schwartzwald, MD, is an Assistant Professor (Clinical) of Medicine at Brown University School of Medicine.


“…Sadat offered Golda Meir an interim deal for opening the Suez Canal in return for a partial Israeli pullback in the Sinai, which she rejected, making the 1973 War inevitable.” – Ehud Ya’ari, The Jerusalem Report (December 13, 2004), p. 28.

“Finding that Israel rejected American peace proposals (which involved the return to Arab sovereignty of virtually all the territories occupied in the 1967 War), and that the Israeli government headed by Mrs. Golda Meir dismissed contemptuously Sadat’s hints of readiness for an accommodation, Sadat decided to launch a fourth full-scale Arab-Israeli war.” – Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern History (revised edition, 1981), pp. 427-8


At 6 PM on June 10, 1967, a cease-fire took effect ending the Six Day War between Israel and her Arab neighbors—Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The war had changed the face of the region, and had left Israel in control of vast new territories: the Sinai Desert, the Golan Heights, the West Bank [1] and the Gaza strip. Israel, however, was not intent on keeping her new-won gains. Led by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Foreign Minister Abba Eban, she sought to barter the territories for a comprehensive peace. On June 19, 1967, Eban approached the American delegation at the UN with the following specific proposals: (i) Israel would return to her international boundary with Egypt in return for peace, demilitarization of the Sinai, and a guarantee of free passage in international waterways; (ii) Israel would return to her international boundary with Syria in return for peace, demilitarization of the Golan Heights, and a guarantee of Israel’s fresh water rights in regional rivers; and (iii) Israel would enter into direct negotiations with Jordan regarding boundaries and peace. Israel’s proposals were forwarded to Egypt and Syria by the American delegation. [2]

On September 1, 1967, Israel got her answer. Led by Egypt’s bombastic President, Gamal Abdel Nasser (whose decision to blockade the Straits of Tiran on May 23 had provoked the Six Day War), representatives of the Arab governments, meeting in Khartoum, promulgated the infamous “3 Nos”: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiation with Israel.” [3] It is probably safe to assume that the annals of diplomacy do not contain a more generous peace proposal by a nation that had prevailed in war, or a more thoughtless response by combatants who had been so soundly defeated. On hearing of the Khartoum declaration, Abba Eban remarked that the Six Day War was “the first war in history in which the victor sued for peace and the loser called for unconditional surrender.” [4]

In light of the impasse, the UN Security Council attempted to formulate its own peace resolution. Preliminary drafts were put forward by the United States and India, but the first was felt to be too “pro-Israel,” and the second too “pro-Arab” to obtain passage. The task of framing a more even-handed proposal thus devolved upon the British Minister of State, Hugh Foot, Lord Caradon. [5]

After an introductory statement against the acquisition of territory by force of arms, Lord Caradon’s resolution declared that a “just and lasting peace” required both “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and “termination of all claims or states of belligerency.”

The specific wording was important: Multiple resolutions had already been put forward insisting on reversion to the pre-war armistice lines. They had all been defeated. The new resolution anticipated an Israeli “withdrawal from occupied territories,” but did not stipulate the extent of this withdrawal. Quite purposefully, the resolution did not call upon Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories or from the occupied territories. The British felt that the pre-war lines were untenable and thus constituted a recipe for renewed conflict. Moreover, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Foreign Secretary George Brown thought a return to these so-called “June 4th lines” was a bad idea on principle, because it would teach the Arab states that a war could be provoked and lost without penalty, thereby rewarding their extremism. [6]

Furthermore, as Abba Eban has noted, by tying any return of territories to an end of belligerency, the resolution appeared to legitimize Israel’s presence on the cease-fire lines until the parties had agreed to “durable” peace terms. [7] Eban let it be known that the proposal would be acceptable to Israel provided that it contained a clause to the effect that the UN would strive to “promote” a settlement between the parties (as opposed to “imposing” one on them). [8]

Caradon’s resolution was duly submitted as UN Resolution 242, which this journal has analyzed in the past (see New Society 1, Fall 2007). Predictably, there were immediate efforts to redefine its meaning: Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin—who was hostile to Israel—pressured United States President Lyndon B. Johnson to construe the resolution as calling for Israel’s withdrawal from “all occupied territories” irrespective of what the document actually said. President Johnson responded that the U.S. “would not agree to a single word beyond what was written in the British text.” Next, the Indian and Arab delegations called upon Lord Caradon to say, informally, that the withdrawal clause obligated Israel to withdraw from “all occupied territories.” Caradon answered that “nothing could be read into the resolution that was not specifically stated therein.” On November 15, U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg spoke at the UN in support of the withdrawal clause as written, noting that the conflicting parties had never come to an agreement on borders—either before or after the war—and that they would thus need to determine these borders by negotiation. [9] One week later, the resolution passed the UN Security Council by a unanimous vote.


By this time, some Israelis had begun to have second thoughts. A vocal minority adhered to the tenets of religious Zionism as espoused by the so-called “Land of Israel Movement,” which maintained that the territories occupied in the war had reconstituted Eretz Israel—the land of Israel promised to the Jews by God—and that the government did not have the authority to partition it again. Many more were moved by pragmatic concerns: Given the Arab position as elucidated in the Khartoum declaration, they felt that peace with the Arab states was an unlikely prospect and that Israel would do better to keep what had been won as a strategic buffer against renewed attack. Although the latter argument resonated with a healthy percentage of the population, the Eshkol government continued to pursue its original policy. Abba Eban has eloquently described the cabinet’s line of thinking: Israel had come into existence in 1948 largely because she had agreed to the notion of partitioning Palestine, and she would be without international support if she now pursued a policy of unilateral annexation. The Arab states would certainly not acquiesce. Thus, the expanded boundaries would not be “a guarantee of the security of the state and of peace,” but “a guarantee of future wars.” [10]

In February 1969, Prime Minister Eshkol died in office, and was replaced by Golda Meir whose attitude was more skeptical. Eban, who continued as Foreign Minister, has described her thus: “She was not a romantic territorialist. . . .Under her leadership Israel enunciated in clear terms a willingness to accept the principle of withdrawal to secure, recognized and agreed boundaries. But she was more inclined to articulate this principle than to ‘risk’ putting it into practice. And she was resolved not to be sold short on Israeli security.” [11]

On her first day in office, Meir declared that her government was “prepared to discuss peace with our neighbors, any day and on all matters.” [12] Nasser replied with his trademark bellicosity, saying: “That which was lost by war must be restored by war.” By month’s end, his shelling of Israeli positions in the Suez Canal Zone had made a mockery of the 1967 cease-fire and had initiated the so-called “War of Attrition” (March 1969 to August 1970). Israel responded by bombarding Ismailia (one of the Egyptian Canal cities).

Three months into the fighting, Meir offered to fly to Egypt to negotiate a settlement. In reply, the Arab press ridiculed her as “behaving like a grandmother telling bedtime stories to her grandchildren.” [13] Ignoring her offer, Nasser stepped up his attacks. Israel retaliated with bombing raids so deep into Egypt that the explosions were audible in Cairo. As Golda Meir has testified, she wanted to make it clear to the Egyptian people “that they couldn’t have it both ways: war for us, and peace for themselves.” [14] Whether or not her approach was the right one, it would be fair to say that the international community was less than delighted with it. And what was worse, Israel didn’t necessarily get the better of the fighting. Egypt obtained anti-aircraft technology from Russia, and the toll on the Israeli Air Force was such that Israel had to obtain new planes from the U.S.

Russian pilots, meanwhile, had begun guarding Egyptian airspace to the rear of the Canal Zone. Hoping to steer clear of them, Israel ceased her deep bombing raids, but in July 1970, there were two altercations involving Israeli and Russian pilots. In the first, there were no casualties, but in the second, Israeli fighters shot down four MiGs, and got away unscathed. [15]


Anxious to avoid any escalation in the conflict that might directly involve the USSR and the U.S., the Nixon Administration proposed a cease-fire agreement in August 1970 that included a joint commitment by Egypt, Jordan, and Israel to press forward with UN Resolution 242. Golda Meir objected to the proposal—not so much to its terms, as to its being thrust upon her without prior consultation. (She had been given assurances by the U.S. that she would be consulted.) Nor did she take solace from Egypt’s subsequent acceptance of the plan, since she was certain that Nasser was only playing for time while he regrouped his forces. [16] The U.S., however, offered Israel some excellent incentives to follow the Egyptian lead: (i) the U.S. would continue to supply weapons to Israel even if there was a cease-fire; (ii) Israel would not have to remove any troops from occupied territories unless or until a durable peace had been negotiated; (iii) Israel would not be expected to solve the refugee problem in a way that would jeopardize her sovereignty; and (iv) the U.S. would exercise its veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from being bullied into concessions. [17] Israel embraced these terms, and in August 1970 the War of Attrition came to an end. Characteristically, as soon as the shooting stopped, Egypt violated the terms of the agreement by bringing new Russian missiles into the cease-fire area. [18]

One month later, Gamal Abdel Nasser died and was succeeded by his Vice President, Anwar Sadat. It was widely presumed inside and outside Egypt that Sadat would be a mere figurehead. Against all expectations, however, he began removing Nasser’s cronies from positions of power, and was soon in a position to pursue his own policies.

At the same time, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Defense Minister, was propounding the idea of an interim settlement with Egypt that would call upon both parties to withdraw a specified distance on either side on the Suez Canal. The plan—which had been conceived as a means of averting a repetition of the attritional war without addressing the potentially difficult choices required for a comprehensive peace—would have removed the combatants from artillery range, and would have allowed a resumption of shipping through the Suez Canal (which had been closed since the beginning of the Six Day War).

Sadat was anxious to have the Canal open again. Deprived of Suez revenues, Egypt’s treasury had been severely drained. Thus, as Sadat relates in his autobiography, he spoke to the Egyptian Parliament on February 4, 1971, essentially saying:

“if Israel withdrew her forces in Sinai to the Passes, I would be willing to reopen the Suez Canal; to have my forces cross to the East Bank; to extend the Rogers Plan cease-fire by six, rather than three, months…and to sign a peace agreement with Israel….” [19]

This was not exactly what Dayan and Israel had envisioned. (For one thing, they could do without the Egyptian troops on the East Bank of the Canal.) Yet it might have been the basis for talks if the plan had not been derailed by a new United Nations initiative put forth by Gunnar Jarring, the UN’s special representative to the Middle East. Jarring’s proposal called upon Israel to withdraw to the June 4th armistice line on the Egyptian front in return for an Egyptian assurance of peace. [20]

Jarring’s opinion was that the proposal should be accepted without amendment. But it had long been a clearly and publicly stated tenet of Israeli policy that border issues would have to be negotiated between the parties, and that territorial exchange would require a formal peace treaty. Jarring’s initiative smacked of an imposed settlement—not the effort “to promote agreement” promised by UN Resolution 242—and it required Israel to make extreme concessions before any discussions had been held. After considering the matter, the Israeli cabinet answered with relative unanimity that the position of final borders would have to be negotiated. A debate ensued, however, over a phrase favored by Meir spelling out that Israel would not withdraw to the June 4th line. In June 1967, the Eshkol government had been willing to do so, but in the interim, Israel had sustained 3000 casualties in the 18-month attritional war waged by Egypt, and Meir presumably felt that it would send the wrong message to suffer such losses without taking a harder line on security.

Abba Eban disagreed. With many years of distinguished service as a diplomat, he felt that the June 4th stipulation was superfluous. Israel was already saying that the border would have to be negotiated. By ruling out a full withdrawal before negotiations even began, Meir might provoke charges of Israeli intransigence when the cabinet was merely adhering to its longstanding position that decisions on borders had to be reached by negotiation, not by imposition. Despite these arguments, the phrase was retained.

Jarring received Israel’s answer as though it had been the Khartoum declaration in reverse. He ceased his initiative forthwith—an unwarranted response given that Israel had clearly expressed her willingness to negotiate. (Indeed, if anyone was refusing to budge from his position, it was Jarring himself.) [21] Moreover, it is enlightening to note that Jarring seemed untroubled by the amendments Egypt wanted to append to his proposal. Indeed, he seems to have agreed with them, [22] even though they were far more demanding. To be sure, Sadat had agreed to talk peace, but he had a number of preconditions: Israel must agree in advance (i) to withdraw her forces from all occupied territories on all fronts, (ii) to settle the refugee issue “in accordance with United Nations resolutions” (undoubtedly as interpreted by Egypt), and (iii) to accept demilitarized zones of equal size on both sides of the June 4th Egyptian-Israeli border. [23] Such maximalist demands were not worthy of serious consideration—never mind acceptance. Nevertheless, just as Abba Eban had foreseen, many of Golda Meir’s detractors, at home and abroad, sought to saddle her with responsibility for the failure of Jarring’s mission. [24] Recalling these negotiations several years later, Meir said: “‘intransigent’ was to become my middle name.” [25]


Israel now reconsidered Dayan’s idea for an interim Israeli-Egyptian agreement consisting of a bilateral withdrawal from the Canal Zone and the reopening of the Canal to international shipping. Dayan’s plan called for a 30-kilometer withdrawal by each party, but Meir and the majority of the cabinet insisted upon a lesser distance—10 kilometers—so that Israel could push back to the Canal in an emergency.

A disengagement of 10 kilometers, however, did not suit the purpose of Dayan’s proposal: At 30 kilometers, the combatants would have been beyond each other’s artillery range and the Canal could be traversed with a sense of security. At 10 kilometers, passage through the Canal would, in effect, be taking place under Israel’s guns. Egypt was unlikely to accept under such circumstances. Eban, therefore, offered his support to Dayan if the latter would press for the greater withdrawal. Sadly, there was a history of antagonism between the two men, and rather than side with Eban against Meir, Dayan preferred not to pursue the matter (May 1971).

Eban thought this decision regrettable. In later years, he argued that if Dayan’s plan had succeeded, the surprise attack on Yom Kippur 1973 could not have taken place. [26] But Dayan’s lack of resolve was not the sole issue. The final nail in the coffin was Sadat’s response: He would approve a bilateral withdrawal from the Canal in order to restore his Suez revenues, but only if Israel agreed in advance that it was a preliminary step in the fulfillment of all clauses of UN Resolution 242 (again as interpreted by Egypt—meaning withdrawal from “all occupied territories,” etc.). Once again, Sadat was seeking maximalist commitments in the absence of face-to-face negotiations—something that Meir’s Cabinet would not abide. [27]

Although the chances for a speedy settlement seemed remote, they received a last boost in the fall of 1971 when four African presidents attempted to jumpstart the Jarring mission. After discussions with Israeli leaders, the four men—representing Senegal, Zaire, Cameroon and Nigeria respectively—reported to the UN that Israel was committed to negotiation and to “withdrawal from territories,” and that in negotiating boundaries she would not pursue an annexationist course, but would focus solely upon her security and her rights of passage in international waterways. [28]

Here was concrete evidence that “intransigence” on Israel’s part was not solely responsible for the failure of Jarring’s mission—indeed, that there was no Israeli intransigence. Unfortunately, the Arab states and their supporters had gained significant currency from the “intransigence” myth and used their votes to prevent the UN from accepting the report of the African leaders. [29]

Thus, by the latter half of 1971, matters had reached an impasse. Golda Meir was unwilling to cede territory in the absence of negotiations. Sadat was not willing to negotiate unless Israel accepted his far-flung preconditions. In this setting, Israel felt confident that the existing cease-fire lines guaranteed her security, and that the Arab states had no choice but to accept the present situation or come to the negotiating table. Nor did events in Egypt do anything to alter this estimate—for an unexpected twist in Egyptian foreign policy was now to make the chance of war seem exceedingly unlikely.


The Soviet Union had been Egypt’s chief arms supplier since the 1950s. In 1967, Soviet arms (and meddling) had helped push Egypt and Syria into war. During the War of Attrition, Soviet weaponry had again played a crucial part. After the collapse of the Jarring mission, Sadat signed a new Soviet arms accord (May 1971) and began speaking of 1971 as “a year of decision” in which the humiliating verdict of 1967 would be overturned. But then matters suddenly deteriorated: The Soviets failed to deliver much of the promised weaponry, and when Sadat questioned them on the matter, they would not be pinned down. Moreover, the thousands of Soviet “advisors” who were stationed in Egypt had begun to act as though Egypt was nothing more than a Soviet bailiwick. So, in July 1972, Sadat kicked the advisors out.

This was the cue that Henry Kissinger (U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s National Security Advisor) had been waiting for. Kissinger had long kept a cautious eye on the Middle East. In his view, Israel’s insistence on direct negotiation was “as seemingly reasonable as it was unfulfillable,” since in essence Israel was asking “for recognition as a precondition of negotiation.” [30] On the other hand, there was no point in pressuring Israel to moderate her approach while the Arab states clung to their pro-Soviet policy and maximalist demands. The best course was to allow the impasse to continue until one or more Arab states broke with the USSR and assumed a more reasonable demeanor. “Then,” believed Kissinger, “would come the moment for a major American initiative, if necessary urging new approaches on our Israeli friends.” [31]

It certainly appeared as if Kissinger’s moment had arrived. By evicting the Soviets, Sadat had dismissed his chief arms supplier. An Egyptian offensive no longer seemed feasible.

But the truth was rather more complicated: the USSR had consistently failed to supply Egypt with the very weapons—particularly missile-firing jets—that were required for an offensive war. In effect, the Soviets had been controlling Egyptian policy by depriving her of the means to act. By dismissing them, Sadat had freed his hands to make his own decisions. While it might not have been clear to Kissinger—or to the Israelis—war was actually more likely with the Soviets gone.

Convinced that diplomacy was Sadat’s only option, Kissinger arranged a secret meeting with Hafez Ismail, Sadat’s national security advisor. Owing to America’s preoccupation with the Vietnam War, the talks were delayed until February 1973, by which time Russia had agreed to a massive new arms deal with Egypt in an effort to salvage Soviet influence in the region. As soon as the talks opened, Ismail made it clear that Israel must accept a return to the 1967 borders “with some margin, perhaps, for adjustment on the West Bank,” before any negotiations could take place. Moreover, Israel would have to agree to bilateral demilitarized zones on either side of the Israeli-Egyptian border. In return, Egypt would end her belligerency with Israel and guarantee Israel’s right of passage in international waterways. But there would be no formal peace treaty until Israel had negotiated a settlement with Syria and the Palestinians. Thus, says Kissinger, “the price paid for the return to the prewar borders was not peace, but the end of belligerency, not easy to distinguish from the existing cease-fire.” [32] Further talks were held in May, but there was no movement in the Egyptian position. In October, Kissinger met with Abba Eban and laid plans to open three-way talks in November. But by then it was too late.

In a Newsweek interview in April 1973, Sadat declared that, “For the first time, we see total and complete agreement between the U.S. and Israel on Middle Eastern Policy…. I want a final peace agreement with Israel. But there was no response from the U.S. or Israel—except to supply Israel with more Phantoms [i.e., fighter jets]… Everything in this country [Egypt] is now being mobilized in earnest for the resumption of the battle—which is now inevitable.” [33]

In May, the Egyptian army carried out a full mobilization. At great expense, Israel did the same. Nothing came of it. Thus, in early October, when the Egyptian and Syrian armies began massing troops on their respective borders with Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan thought it was another bluff and did not follow suit. On October 6, 1973—Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar—Egypt and Syria launched a combined surprise attack. The devastating setbacks sustained by Israel during the first week of the conflict, the dramatic airlift of new supplies from the U.S. (a remarkable feat in itself), and Israel’s victorious counterthrusts on both battlefronts must be left to others to recount—for we still have some detective work to do.


So what then is the verdict? Did Golda Meir make the 1973 War inevitable by rejecting Sadat’s offer of an interim deal as Ehud Ya’ari and several other writers aver? Did she provoke Sadat to war by “contemptuously” dismissing his “hints of readiness for an accommodation?” The evidence bears out neither charge. When Sadat’s preconditions are thrown into the mix, the interim pullback from the Suez Canal was hardly an attractive proposition for Israel. But the evidence exonerating Meir is stronger than this. The fact is that the same interim bargain came up several more times before the outbreak of war—in September 1972, January 1973 and February 1973. Each time, it was proposed to Egypt by the U.S. State Department, and each time Egypt turned it down. In contrast, on March 1, 1973, Golda Meir told Nixon and Kissinger that she was prepared to accept such a plan as the opening move toward a comprehensive settlement. [34]

Meir never contemptuously dismissed the notion of an accommodation. What she dismissed—contemptuously or otherwise—was the idea of having final borders imposed on her before anyone had even deigned to talk to her. If one seeks an example of a peace proposal being dismissed with contempt, a far better example can be found in Nasser’s response to Meir’s peace overtures: “There is no voice transcending the sounds of war…and no call holier than the call to war.” [35]

Offered the return of the entire Sinai by the Eshkol Government, Nasser traveled to Khartoum and issued the “3 Nos.” Given a second chance by Meir, he launched the War of Attrition. One may argue that the Egyptian President was not in a position to negotiate, for as Henry Kissinger has noted, “in the mood of Arab humiliation following the defeat in the Six Day War, concessions would in all likelihood be ascribed to military weakness rather than to statesmanship.” [36]

This is undoubtedly true, but one should not lose sight of the fact that Nasser provoked the Six Day War, and if the Arabs were humiliated over having lost it, that was a problem of their own making. Why should it have been incumbent upon Meir to solve it? As she herself was to say: “It was a great pity that the Arab states felt so humiliated by losing the war which they had started that they just couldn’t bring themselves to talk to us, but on the other hand, we couldn’t be expected to reward them for having tried to throw us into the sea. We were bitterly disappointed, but there was only one possible reply: Israel would not withdraw from any of the territories until the Arab states once and for all put an end to the conflict. . . .We waited for the Arabs to accept the fact that the only alternative to war was peace and that the only road to peace was negotiation.” [37]

Nasser’s culpability in the Six Day War and the War of Attrition is beyond doubt. In addition, he can be called to account for stonewalling all progress toward an accord. But Nasser had been dead for three years when the Yom Kippur War erupted. He may have done his part to lay the groundwork, he may have said, “that which was lost by war must be restored by war,” but he certainly didn’t carry the project through.

At whom, then, should we point the finger? As it turns out, one of the key participants has yet to testify. There is an interesting passage in Abba Eban’s Personal Witness, describing a verbal duel between U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Rogers sought to assure Meir that the new Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was ready to make peace (May 1971). Meir replied that Rogers was naïve to place his trust in such protestations. Eban concludes that Meir “was affronted by the idea that an American secretary of state could discern virtue in an Arab leader.” [38] This was certainly one possibility. Another possibility is that Meir was right to distrust Sadat.

Is it possible that the far-sighted Egyptian statesman who would ultimately forge a peace deal and pay for it with his life was simply being duplicitous? The evidence suggests that he was—and the most damning of that evidence is to be found in his own utterances. In his autobiography, Sadat declares that on his accession to the presidency in late 1970,

“the key to everything…was to wipe out the disgrace and humiliation that followed from the 1967 defeat. I reckoned it would be 1,000 times more honorable for us—40,000 of my sons in the armed forces and myself—to be buried crossing the Canal than to accept such disgrace and humiliation. Posterity would say we had died honorably on the battlefield…and posterity would carry on the struggle.” [39]

It is no easy task to square these sentiments with an earnest desire for peace. Still, in his speech to the Egyptian Parliament in February 1971, Sadat did say that in return for an interim Israeli withdrawal from the Suez Canal he would, among other things, “sign a peace agreement with Israel….” Some might argue that this absolves him. But does it? Sadat goes on to say:

“My Peace Initiative of February 4, 1971, launched an Egyptian diplomatic offensive—the only alternative to a military one which I was, at the time, unable to undertake.” [40] [emphasis added]

This is a puzzling way for a man of peace to express himself. Was Sadat truly seeking peace, or was he dissimulating until the times were more conducive toward making war? The answer lies in a startling revelation made by Henry Kissinger:

“If I had been able in mid-1973 to guarantee [Sadat] the 1967 borders without his having to make peace, he would have accepted it—though with reluctance, as he later told me, since it would have done little for Egyptian pride.” [41] [emphasis added]

Each of Sadat’s so-called “hints at an accommodation” during the period under question contained maximalist territorial demands as the price of initiating face-to-face negotiations. Refusing to negotiate until all of one’s demands are met does not constitute “accommodation.” To say that war is “inevitable” unless one’s enemy accedes to maximalist demands is not to propose peace–it is to deliver an ultimatum. And to accept “with reluctance” everything that one has asked for, means that what was asked for was not what was wanted. Anwar Sadat did not want peace with Israel in the period between 1970 and 1973, because peace would not “wipe out the disgrace and humiliation that followed from the 1967 defeat.” War alone could do that. Consequently, war is what Sadat desired.

This, of course, does not mean that Israel achieved perfection in her pursuit of peace during this period. Most Israelis felt secure on the existing cease-fire lines and did not believe that another Arab attack was likely. As a result, they perceived little danger in a continuing stalemate: Either the Arabs would have to accept the status quo or they would have to negotiate – and whichever course they chose, Israel would be holding the stronger cards.

If anyone personified this confident mindset, it was Golda Meir’s Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan—the state’s most popular political figure. In addition to his duties as Minister of Defense, Dayan was responsible for the administration of the occupied territories. In the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, his policy had been to make the occupation as inconspicuous as possible. As he told a subordinate: “I want a policy whereby an Arab can be born, live and die in the West Bank without ever seeing an Israeli official.” [42] At that time, the occupation had been viewed as temporary, but as the years passed with no progress towards a negotiated settlement, Dayan came to believe that the Arabs had no intention of making peace with Israel in exchange for territory. [43] In his view, it was not Israel’s task to remain in suspended animation if the Arabs refused to negotiate. Rather, she should “create facts”—especially by building settlements in crucial areas—so that if the Arab states did eventually agree to negotiate, Israel would already be ensconced in those sites that were critical to her security.

Within certain parameters, this concept was widely accepted in Israel. But there were two common objections to the way Dayan pursued it. First of all, he favored a more aggressive settlement policy than did most members of the cabinet. [44] Indeed, in Abba Eban’s view, his vision, particularly with regard to the West Bank, was “dark with false images.” [45] But the real objection to Dayan’s approach was that his preoccupation with administering the territories took his mind off his primary role as defense minister. His failure to fulfill this responsibility—which included determining, with some degree of accuracy, the likelihood of a major enemy offensive—was to produce consequences of the unhappiest sort once war broke out. Dayan completely missed the boat on Egypt’s and Syria’s war preparations, and he was slow to react even when the ugly truth could no longer be denied.

But even if Dayan didn’t see the war coming, he correctly discerned why it came. As he succinctly summarized it:

“The Yom Kippur War grew out of Egypt’s and Syria’s refusal to reach a peace arrangement with Israel or to leave Sinai and the Golan Heights in Israel’s hands. The Arabs wanted to retrieve the territories they had lost in the Six Day War without reconciling themselves to the fact of Israel’s existence. This goal could only be achieved through war.” [46]

War did not come because Golda Meir scoffed at peace proposals (she didn’t), or because Dayan was pushing too aggressively for settlements (there were only 7000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza in October 1973), [47] or even because Israelis were overconfident in the ultimate issue of the continuing diplomatic impasse. The ultimate cause of the war was Arab rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, compounded by an inimical and overweening Arab sense of pride—pride that could not have been assuaged even if Israel had handed back every inch of occupied territory and demanded nothing in return.


1. I.e., territories on the western side of the Jordan River that had been occupied the Jordanian Kingdom since the 1949 armistice.
2. Abba Eban, Personal Witness: Israel Through My Eyes. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992, p. 437 & 446; Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Siege. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986; pp. 489-90.
3. Eban, p. 446.
4. Eban, p. 450.
5. Eban, pp. 455-6.
6. Eban, p. 456.
7. Eban, p. 457.
8. Eban, pp. 456-7.
9. Comments of LBJ, Lord Caradon and Goldberg: Eban, pp. 458-9.
10. Eban, p. 461.
11. Eban, p. 478.
12. Meir, Golda. My Life. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975, p. 383; see also Gilbert, Martin. Israel, A History. London: Black Swan Books, 1998, p. 410.
13. Meir, p. 384; Gilbert, p. 410.
14. Meir, p. 382.
15. Sachar, pp. 694-5.
16. Reich, Bernard. A Brief History of Israel. New York: Checkmark Books, 2003, p. 98.
17. Eban, pp. 488-9.
18. Sachar, p. 695.
19. Sadat, Anwar. In Search of an Identity, an Autobiography. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977, 1978, p. 219. Mitchell Bard, however, notes that Sadat’s offer of a peace agreement with Israel was not made public (Bard, Mitchell G. Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Chevy Chase, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2002, p. 72).
20. Eban, p. 500.
21. Eban, pp. 501-3.
22. Bard, p. 72.
23. Sachar, p. 696.
24. Eban, p. 501.
25. Meir, p. 373.
26. Eban, pp. 503-5.
27. Sacher, p. 696.
28. Eban, p. 507.
29. Eban, pp. 506-7.
30. Kissinger, Henry. Years of Upheaval. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982, pp. 197-8.
31. Kissinger, pp. 201-2.
32. Kissinger, pp. 215-16.
33. From Anwar Sadat’s interview with Arnaud de Borchgrave, entitled “The Battle is Now Inevitable.” Newsweek, April 9, 1973, pp. 44-5; see also, Kissinger, p. 225. (parenthetical text added by the author for clarity.)
34. Kissinger, pp. 207, 211-15 & 221.
35. Meir, p. 383.
36. Kissinger, p. 226.
37. Meir, p. 370.
38. Eban, p. 504.
39. Sadat, p. 215.
40. Sadat, pp. 221-2.
41. Kissinger, p. 226. (italics added.)
42. Gilbert, p. 396.
43. Perlmutter, Amos. Israel: The Partitioned State. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985, p. 217.
44. The cabinet had more or less officially adopted the “Allon Plan” for the West Bank, which called for a security belt along the Jordan River and the annexation of Jerusalem. Dayan favored more extensive settlement there, but the settlement movement was still in its nascent phase (see Eban, p. 470).
45. Eban, p. 466.
46. Dayan, Moshe. Story of My Life. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976, p. 504.
47. Eban, p. 470.

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By Julie R. S. Fogarty

Julie R. S. Fogarty ’08, a Government concentrator from Dunster House, graduates from Harvard College this year.

The Greater Middle East has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, lower only than that in sub-Saharan Africa. [1] The regional rate has continued to accelerate over the past 60 years, from 2.64 percent per year in the 1950s to 3.1 percent per year between 1980 and 1992, the highest in the world at the time. Although the rate had dropped slightly to 2.79% by 2007, many people remain concerned. [2] Population growth has had enormous economic consequences, including extreme pressure on educational and health services and unattainably high demand for new jobs. In an attempt to alleviate these social pressures, which could in turn prompt political upheaval, Egypt and Iran have sought to curb population growth directly through family planning programs. Although both countries have committed vast resources through sustained programs, Egypt and Iran have exhibited “stop and go” family planning policies. [3] Although Egyptian programs have been supported by international aid organizations, Iran has seen a more dramatic decrease in fertility rates (and a corresponding rise in birth control usage) due primarily to its own, government-sanctioned family planning initiatives of the past 15 years.

Iranian Family Planning

Iranian family planning has gone through two dramatic transformations. First, in 1965, the government of Mohammed Reza Shah instituted a family planning program that stressed the “supply side” of fertility rates: the availability of contraception. [4] For the first time, the government created educational and promotional campaigns endorsing contraception as a means to stem population overgrowth and improve the standard of living of Iranian families. Likewise, the Shah’s government encouraged women’s participation outside the home, granted women the right to vote, and reformed the Family Protection Law. The results were dramatic and immediate. In the ten years following the new policies, the Iranian average growth rate fell from 3.1 percent to 2.7 percent and hundreds of thousands more women began to use contraception.

However, the 1979 Islamic Revolution, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, fundamentally changed the nature of Iranian society. Khomeini established an Islamic state, reversing many of the gains made in the area of women’s rights under the Shah and dismantling the family planning program. [5] In stark contrast to the previous policies, Khomeini nurtured a pro-natalist policy as a result of his religious outlook and his desire to usehigh birth rates as a strategic threat in the Iran-Iraq War (which began in 1980) and other conflicts. Islamic leaders publicly proclaimed that a woman’s first priority should be marriage and children. Subsequently, the government reduced the availability of contraceptives, lowered the legal age of marriage, dissolved the Family Planning Council, and provided subsidies for larger families. [6] These changes raised the growth rate to 3.4% and created a growing demand for food, health care, education, and employment. [7]

Changes within the Islamic Republic of Iran during the late 1980s altered the previously stringent pro-natalist policy. The 1986 national census served as a “wake up call” to family policy planners, underscoring the growing economic and social crisis. The end of the war with Iraq in 1988 and Khomeini’s death in 1989 provided the impetus for further change. [8] In 1989, the Ministry of Health announced plans for a new family planning program with three major goals: encouraging women to space their pregnancies, discouraging pregnancy for women not between the ages of 18 and 35, and limiting family size to three children. [9] Furthermore, sterilization for both sexes was legalized in 1990. [10] The program was endorsed by the country’s High Judicial Council, which declared that “Islam does not pose any barrier to family planning.” [11] In 1993, the government went a step further by restricting maternity leave and compelling the Ministries of Education, Health and Medical Education, and Culture and Education to incorporate information on family planning. [12]

The Iranian government has promoted these family planning initiatives through the state-run television and media, emphasizing the link between overpopulation and poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. [13] The media encouraged the use of contraceptives, which were provided free of charge on demand, and legal reforms were made in favor of women. [14] Interestingly, religious leaders endorsed the program, directing all religious authorities to support family planning because it was initiated by the Islamic government. [15] Religious leaders now describe smaller families as a social responsibility. [16] In addition, the majlis, the Iranian parliament, voted to support the program. As a result, the number of women using contraceptives has nearly doubled from 37 percent in the 1970s to 65 percent now, although urban women are more likely to use them than rural women are. [17]

Moreover, the population growth rate sharply declined to 2.5 percent between 1986 and 1991 then to only 1.2 percent in 2001, one of the fastest declines on record. [18] In only 15 years (from 1985 to 2001), Iran’s total fertility rate dropped from more than births per woman to fewer than 3. [19] From 2000 to 2005, Iran’s average fertility rate was 2.53 births per woman, [20] and the United Nations predicts that it will drop to 2 births per woman (replacement level) by 2010.

Egyptian Family Planning

Egypt’s family planning programs have followed a similarly unsteady course. Debated by Egyptian social scientists since the 1930s, Egypt’s high population growth became widely viewed as an acute problem in the 1960s, when the government acknowledged the serious economic and social problems associated with it. The government soon established the National Family Planning Program as one response to the economic problems. [21] Yet, the program languished in the 1970s as President Anwar Sadat adopted the slogan “Development is the best contraceptive,” and focused on economic development. He also yielded to Islamists’ pro-natalist views in an attempt to gain their political support against the pro-Soviet left. [22]

Following Sadat’s assassination, new Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak rejuvenated the family planning program and established the “National Strategy Framework of Population, Human Resource Development, and the Family Planning Program,” which promoted contraceptive use by married women. [23] From 1980 to 1992, the government, pressured by donor agencies like USAID, began to focus on expanding and strengthening family planning service delivery in both public and private sectors. These efforts doubled contraceptive use from 24 percent in 1980 to 50 percent in 2000, and reduced the total fertility rate from 5.3 births per woman to 3.5 births per woman in the same time period. [24]

Yet, the total fertility rate has remained at around 3.5 since 1995, a curious fact that one researcher attributes to upper and middle class Egyptian women. Although these groups drove the decline at the beginning, their fertility rates have since leveled off because of an increase in the level of fertility within marriage (which is offset by a higher age of first marriage). [25] Interestingly, while total fertility has remained stagnant at 3.5 among upper classes in the last decade, it has continued to decline among poorer women, moving from 5.02 children in 1988 to 4.03 children in 1995, and further to 3.62 children in 2000. Thus, while wealthier women still have lower total fertility rates than poorer women, the gap is steadily narrowing.

Unlikely Results

Although they took different paths, by the end of the 1980s both countries had made strong commitments to curb rapid population growth with family planning programs. The dire economic crises experienced by both Egypt and Iran in the late 1980s made both countries increasingly willing to support the distribution of contraceptives and economic conditions played a crucial role in the reintroduction of family planning programs later on. [26] Despite these similarities, the programs also exhibit several important differences.

First, the Egyptian program received significant aid from international donor organizations such as USAID. USAID pressured the Egyptian government to introduce family planning programs throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, and providing millions of dollars ($87 million from 1977 to 1983) in funding to Egyptian organizations that supported USAID’s emphasis on training personnel and promoting the use of intrauterine devices (IUDs). [27] IUDs and permanent devices such as Norplant (a birth control device implanted in the upper arm that lasts for five years) rank as the most popular methods of birth control in Egypt. These contraceptives are distributed in Ministry of Health facilities by trained professionals and were widely encouraged by USAID members who were concerned that women would not use birth control pills correctly. [28]

In contrast, Iran developed its family planning program independently. As one of the world’s largest oil exporters, it had the financial security to avoid dependence on international aid organizations. [29] Thus, the Iranian government has funded the creation of a comprehensive health network throughout the country, in which “health houses” include family planning as an aspect of primary care (thus removing the stigma). [30] Furthermore, the government covers 80 percent of family planning costs and provides various contraceptives (including condoms, pills, and sterilization) free. The country is the only one in the region with a government-sanctioned condom factory. Consequently, Iranians tend to use oral contraceptives like “the Pill” and condoms rather than IUDs. Additionally, men have an increasingly active role in family planning. Iran is the only country in the Greater Middle East that requires a couple to complete a class on contraception before receiving a marriage license, and vasectomies are becoming more common.

Despite the aid and influence of international organizations like USAID and the International Monetary Fund, the use of contraceptives in Egypt is less widespread than in Iran. In 1995, only 48 percent of married Egyptian women were using contraceptives, compared to 70 percent of Iranian women. [31] In both countries, urban women use contraceptives at a far higher rate than rural women (most likely because of higher education levels and employment rates). [32] In Egypt, the divide between the rural fertility rate of 4.2 children per woman and the urban fertility rate of 3 children per women can be largely attributed to the fact that rural women must travel to receive IUDs from trained professionals or pay for expensive private services. [33] Although Iran also exhibits a divide between rural and urban contraceptive use, the gap is narrowing because of the country’s extensive network of health clinics in rural areas, and presumably, the easy and free access to contraceptives. [34]

Finally, the religious views of the predominantly Muslim population of both these countries influence women’s decisions about contraception. Contrary to popular belief, Islam does not forbid contraception. [35] Yet, because Islam teaches that a woman’s sphere is the home, and that children are the major source of her value, Islamic women are often pressured to forgo contraception. [36] Because of these potentially restrictive social norms, the Iranian religious leadership’s support of contraception was an important element to that country’s campaign. On the other hand, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist organization, condemned family planning initiatives as “a Western conspiracy to limit the number of Muslims,” and Islamic media sources have also criticized the program. [37]

In addition to encouraging the use of contraceptives, both Iran and Egypt have supplemented their family planning programs with female education initiatives and improvements in health care, which are also likely causes of a decrease in fertility. As Iran and Egypt demonstrate, a comprehensive family planning program backed by the government, media, and religious leaders can lead to dramatic decreases in population growth and fertility rates, which are widely understood to relieve pressure on the economy. Although Egypt and Iran have made large gains since the 1980s, many issues, such as the discrepancy between urban and rural contraceptive use, remain. Furthermore, the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalist groups in Egypt and the resurgence of religious fundamentalists in Iran may the trend of the past two decades.


1. John Waterbury and Alan Richards, A Political Economy of the Middle East, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007), 77.
2. Josh Martin, “The Population Time Bomb.” Middle East, 03050734, Nov 2003, Issue 339
3. Martin, 86.
4. Martin, 87.
5. Richards and Waterbury, citing Bulatao and Richardson, 1994
6. S. Edwards, “Iran’s Population Growth Rate Increases by About 40% After Abandonment of Fertility Control Policy in 1979.” International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 18, No. 3. (Sep., 1992), 117. The legal marriage age for females was reduced to an unbelievably low nine years.
7. Akbar Aghajanian and Amir H. Merhyar. “Fertility, Contraceptive Use, and Family Planning Program Activity in the Islamic Republic of Iran. International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 25, No. 2. (June 1999), 98.
8. Maryann Poya, Women, Work, and Islamism: Ideology and Resistance in Iran. (London: Zed Books, 2000), 98.
9. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 98.
10. Richards and Waterbury, 87.
11. Aghajanian and Merhyar, p. 98.
12. Janet Larsen, “Iran’s Birth Rate Plummeting at Record Pace: Success Provides a Model for Other Developing Countries.” Earth Policy Institute, 12/28/2001. 1.
13. Poya, 99.
14. Poya, 100.
15. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 99.
16. Larsen, 1.
17. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 100.
18. Richards and Waterbury, 87.
19. Larsen, 1.
20. http://globalis.gvu.unu.edu/indicator.cfm?Country=EG&IndicatorID=138
21. Richards and Waterbury, 86.
22. Richards and Waterbury, 87.
23. Kamran Asadar Ali, Planning the Family in Egypt: New Bodies, New Selves (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2002), 32.
24. USAID website. March 31, 2006. Viewed May 4, 2008. http://www.usaid.gov/stories/egypt/ss_egypt_family.html
25. E. Eltigani, “Stalled Fertility Decline in Egypt: Why?” Population and Environment. Sep 2003. Vol. 25, Issue 1, 41.
26. Ali (2002), 2.
27. Ali (2002), 38.
28. Poya, 38.
29. Poya, 44.
30. Larson, 1.
31. Rosalin P. Petchesky and Karen Judd, eds. Negotiating Women’s Reproductive Rights: Women’s Perspectives Across Cultures (London: Zed Books, 1998)
32. Kamran Asdar Ali, “Modernization and Family Planning Programs in Egypt.” Middle East Studies Network: the Politics of a Field. (Oct- Dec. 1997), 41.
33. Petchesky and Judd, 78.
34. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 100.
35. B.F. Musallam, Sex and Society in Islam: Birth Control before the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 16.
36. Petchesky and Judd, 96.
37. Ali 2002, 155.

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By Abigail R. Fradkin

Abigail R. Fradkin ’09 attends Harvard College and is a Classics and Government concentrator in Lowell House.

On the night of the first of August 2007, Egyptian soldiers at the Egypt-Israel border killed four Sudanese refugees attempting to flee to refuge in Israel. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers witnessed the event, which was also captured on surveillance tapes. According to an IDF soldier’s account on Israel’s Channel 10 News, Israeli soldiers discovered the Sudanese refugees just as Egyptian troops arrived. The Egyptians immediately fired upon the refugees, killing two and wounding another. The fourth refugee ran toward the Israeli border, but an Egyptian soldier caught hold of him. After an IDF soldier intervened, a ‘tug of war’ [1] over the man ensued. Fearing that the Egyptians would shoot both him and the refugee, the IDF solider eventually loosened his grip. Several meters from the border fence, Egyptian guards beat the third and fourth refugees to death with stones and clubs. The Jerusalem Post quoted one soldier who witnessed the event: “What happened there yesterday was a lynch [sic]. These are not men, they’re animals. They killed him without even using firearms. We just heard screams of pain and the sounds of beating. Then the screams stopped.” [2]

This well-publicized atrocity, combined with the recent exponential increase in the number of Sudanese crossing the border into Israel, has made the issue of the beleaguered refugees from the both the Darfur region of western Sudan and southern Sudan particularly pressing. During the whole of 2006, only several refugees entered Israel, but by the summer of 2007, that number had increased to 50 or 60 each day. [3] Advocacy groups estimate that there are approximately 2,400 African asylum-seekers in Israel, including about 1,700 Sudanese, 300 to 500 of whom come from Darfur. [4] Twelve hundred of those Sudanese arrived in Israel in the past half-year after having successfully crossed the Egyptian border. [5] Many of the other asylum-seekers come from Eritrea, Ghana, and Kenya.

Israel is currently planning to set a quota for the number of refugees it can absorb. Referring to the 300 Vietnamese boatpeople whom Israel welcomed in 1977, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit pledged that Israel will absorb the African asylum-seekers “with the same compassion” with which it “absorbed the Vietnamese refugees.” [6] The government is now working with the UN to determine which asylum-seekers qualify for refugee status. UN representatives are in the process of interviewing the Sudanese refugees and will publish their recommendations upon completing their research. Considering the ongoing influx of refugees, this may take a long time.

The representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, Michael Bavli, asserts that ultimately “the decision on the quota will not be dictated by numbers, but on a personal, case-by-case basis.” [7] It seems most likely that the Darfurian refugees will be given priority because they are unable to safely return to their homes and are considered to have suffered the most; the future of the southern Sudanese refugees will likely remain less secure. On September 4, Sheetrit announced that Israel intended to grant citizenship to several hundred refugees from Darfur. The decision was widely praised in Israel, including by 63 Members of the Knesset (the 120-member Israeli parliament) who crossed party lines to sign a petition demanding that the Darfurians not be deported. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) affirmed that it has long believed that “it is the moral duty of the Jewish nation to do all it can to alleviate the human suffering caused by genocide wherever it arises.” [8]

This focus on Darfur reflects the fact that the situation in Darfur is even more dire than conditions in southern Sudan. In Darfur, ongoing and systematic terrorization, rape, mutilation, and murder have escalated into full-scale genocide. The current conflict began in February 2003 when a new opposition group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, embarked on an armed campaign against the government to protest the lack of government protection for, and development in, the marginalized region. The government, with its capital in Khartoum, responded by unleashing the Janjaweed (“guns on horseback”), or Arab militias, who proceeded to attack villages in Darfur, killing, raping and abducting villagers and destroying property and resources. Government troops have also been involved in the Janjaweed attacks, both on the ground and through bombing coordinated with subsequent ground assaults. [9]

In his February 2006 review of Julie Flint and Alex de Waal’s Darfur: A Short History of a Long War and Gérard Prunier’s Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, Nicholas Kristof describes the bases of the conflict: “While shorthand descriptions are simplistic, they’re also essentially right. In Darfur, the cleavages between the Janjaweed and their victims tend to be threefold. First, the Janjaweed and Sudanese government leaders are Arab and their victims in Darfur are members of several non-Arab African tribes, particularly the Zaghawa, Fur, and Masalit. Second, the killers are frequently lighter-skinned, and they routinely use racial epithets about the ‘blacks’ they are killing and raping. Third, the Janjaweed are often nomadic herdsman, and the tribes they attack are usually settled farmers, so the conflict also reflects the age-old tensions between herders and farmers.” [10] According to UN estimates, the fighting that began in Darfur in 2003 has killed between 200,000 and 400,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million. [11]

However, despite the greater urgency of the situation in Darfur, some Israeli and international organizations worry about the distinction made between refugees from Darfur and those from elsewhere in Sudan, primarily the south, whom both the UN and the Israeli government have tended to place in the economic refugee category. Eitan Schwartz, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for the Advancement of Refugees from Darfur (CARD), urged the government “to go the extra mile and to offer citizenship to all the Sudanese refugees in Israel.” [12] During the Second Sudanese Civil War, which began in 1983 and ended in January 2005 with the treaty between the Islamic government in the north and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in the largely Christian south, 1.9 million southern Sudanese civilians were killed and more than four million were internally displaced. [13] Although the UN is effectively focused on repatriating people in the south, it has not found long-term solutions to the continuing problems in the region. The southern Sudanese still face serious difficulties, including the continued presence of government troops and associated militias in defiance of the accord, child slavery, terrorization of the population, and religious persecution, as well as extreme poverty. Alex de Waal, in a talk at Harvard University on his most recent book, War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, repeatedly stressed the importance of “Sudan as a whole,” and of making any peace talks in Darfur a part of the larger goal of implementing the procedures set forth by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. [14]

The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by its 1967 protocol, defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” [15] Refugees from the nightmarish conditions of fear and persecution in southern Sudan fit this definition, making a compassionate international response to the plight of all Sudanese asylum-seekers, not just those from Darfur, the only humane one.

The refugees face yet another complication: because the Sudanese government has consistently refused any diplomatic relations with Israel, it automatically charges with high treason any Sudanese national who sets foot in Israel, including refugees seeking asylum there. [16] According to a report by Israel Radio, Sudanese Interior Minister Bashir Taha accused Israel of encouraging Sudanese emigration to Israel in an effort to damage Khartoum’s international image. He also declared that Sudan would prosecute any refugees who returned. [17] It is therefore imperative that both UN interviewers in Israel and the Israeli government give serious consideration to asylum requests by all Sudanese, regardless of their regional origin.

Moreover, the Egyptian government, in its treatment of these refugees, makes no distinction between those from Darfur and those from southern Sudan. Indeed, by the time they reach the Israeli border, the Sudanese refugees have not only encountered unimaginable horror in Sudan, but brutal mistreatment in Egypt as well. A candid article in the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly asserts, “Excessively harsh socio-economic conditions and racist attitudes in Egypt seem to be the main reason why Sudanese refugees want to relocate to Israel. Of the Sudanese refugees now resident in Israel 71 per cent report verbal and physical abuse as the main reason for their fleeing Egypt.” [18] The article also mentions the December 2005 Mustafa Mahmoud mosque incident in which Egyptian police fired on a crowd of Sudanese refugee protestors, killing at least 27. [19] Since that incident, the number of Sudanese refugees fleeing to Israel has risen considerably.

After conducting several interviews with refugees in their temporary home on the grounds of Israel’s Ketziot Prison, where food, clothing, housing, medical care, other amenities and various courses have been provided, Sheera Claire Frenkel reports that “for many of the refugees, it is still difficult to talk about their lives in Egypt. Many of the men point to scars and burn marks as physical evidence of the abuse they say they endured at the hands of Egyptian gangs. The women point to new offspring, lighter skinned than the rest of their brood.” Atoi Magit, a 27-year-old mother of four, pregnant with her fifth child, declared that “her worst fear” was that Israel would return her family to Egypt. “Anywhere but there,” she said. [20]

To cross the Sinai Desert between Egypt and Israel, refugees pay Bedouin smugglers hundreds of dollars and risk being caught by the Egyptian border patrol. If they make it to Israel safely, they are sheltered in the temporary caravan park at Ketziot, where a more permanent camp is being constructed, or they are taken in by Israeli families or kibbutzim. Due to the initial lack of sufficient official aid or clear government policy on the issue, the task of refugee care has largely fallen to Israeli organizations and individual volunteers. Israeli families and businesses have donated food and clothing, doctors have volunteered their medical services, students have set up educational programs for children, and volunteers have provided general care for traumatized refugees.

Nevertheless, despite these efforts on behalf of the refugees, the Israeli government has yet to settle upon a clear and comprehensive official policy. On August 18 Israel deported 48 Africans—many reportedly from Darfur—back across the Egyptian border. [21] At the same time, David Baker, a government spokesman, announced that Israel would absorb the approximately 500 Darfurian refugees already in Israel. Two weeks later, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert granted citizenship to several hundred refugees. [22]

However, Baker also declared that any further crossing of the border would be considered illegal and that all migrants would be sent back to Egypt under the terms of an agreement with Egyptian authorities. [23] The deportation of refugees is officially contingent upon Egypt’s assurances that it will treat refugees well, but Egypt itself has denied making such a guarantee. On August 12, the Jerusalem Post quoted the Egyptian Foreign Ministry as saying, “Egypt has informed Israel—officially—that it is not obligated to receive any non-Egyptian citizen who illegally crosses the border into Israel.” [24] This statement appears to contradict Olmert’s July 1 announcement that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak agreed to take back the refugees and guarantee their safety, a pledge Mubarak has never publicly acknowledged. Indeed, the killing of the four refugees on August 1, the discovery of the bound and bloodied body of a 30-year-old refugee in the northern Sinai and continued shootings by Egyptian forces belie the value of that supposed guarantee. Moreover, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry condoned the August 1 killings and responded to news of the incidents with the following statement: “If those crossing refuse to heed the orders of authorities to stop, then authorities are forced to deal with them in such a manner to ensure respect for the law.” [25]

It is almost certain that refugees who are forced to return to Egypt will be met with harsh, even brutal, treatment. With this likelihood in mind, the spokesman for the Israeli Hotline for Migrant Workers, Romm Lewkowicz, charged Israel with violating the provision of the Geneva Conventions concerning a government’s obligation toward refugees from an enemy state. Moreover, Lewkowicz pointed out that it was Israel that promoted the provision after the Second World War, mindful of the shelter German Jewish refugees had received in Britain. [26] Echoes of the historical experience of many Israelis make the plight of the Sudanese refugees that much more poignant for them. As Liat Collins declared in the Jerusalem Post, “Look at them and see us…Even many of those opposed to granting them permanent asylum in Israel can easily imagine them as Jewish refugees struggling to cross borders or board boats to take them away from the Nazi hell.” [27]

Compassion alone is not an adequate solution to the problem, however. While countless acts of generosity have aided and comforted the refugees in their temporary home and occasioned sweet stories like that of the Sudanese girl Miyati thrilled with her all-pink clothes, [28] much more has to be done to meet the needs of these most needy of people. Though Israel has an unusually comprehensive system for immigrant absorption, the persistent social problems experienced by the approximately 85,000 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants are perhaps a good indication of the difficulty that the Sudanese are likely to face. Two decades after the first large influx of Ethiopian Jews, 62% of Ethiopian families have no income at all, 72% of children live below the poverty line and more than 90% of employed Ethiopians have low-paying, manual jobs. [29] These obstacles are also reflected in the population’s poor educational performance, with 32% of Ethiopian students, as opposed to 50% of the general population, eligible for higher education matriculation exams. [30]

Based on Israel’s difficulties in integrating its Ethiopian immigrants, it is clear that absorption of the Sudanese, with their experience of terror and their unfamiliarity with the developed world, will be no easy task. Various possible plans have been suggested, including a (gradual) replacement of some of Israel’s 100,000 legal foreign workers and 100,000 illegal workers with refugees. [31] Most Sudanese were involved in farming at home and there are now 29,000 legal foreign workers in agriculture. The kibbutzim have already taken in many refugees, who will be allowed to stay to live and work. An additional pilot program to employ Sudanese refugees in Eilat hotels has proven successful.

While the great powers of the world hem and haw over what to do about the genocide in Darfur, as well as the possibility of intensified conflict in southern Sudan, Israel has been forced to look into the eyes of Sudan’s suffering people and grapple seriously with the practical and moral implications of these conflicts. Two recent developments have so far done little to reduce the suffering or improve the prospects for a cessation of the ongoing genocide in Darfur. First, on July 31, 2007, over four years after the beginning of the current fighting in Darfur, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to deploy a joint African Union and UN peacekeeping force of up to 26,000 troops in an attempt to bring an end to the violence in the region. Though initially slated to begin in October, deployment of this greatly expanded force was delayed by disagreement over its composition. On January 1, after months of bureaucratic wrangling and particular intransigence on the part of the Sudanese government, formal authority was finally transferred from the current African Union force to the joint mission. However, what was to have been the largest peacekeeping effort in the world now consists of only 9,000 troops, a number which experts worry can do little to seriously affect change. [32] Second, the opening on October 27 in Libya of the latest round of peace talks was marred by a boycott by major rebel figures and disputes among the rebel groups present. [33] Furthermore, while Sudan called for an immediate cease-fire, it fired seven missiles at a target in Darfur that very day [34] and, while delegates are now involved in private talks, [35] no progress has been made. In the meantime, and as the would-be forces attempt to establish peace, the people of Darfur and southern Sudan will continue to face unspeakable daily horror and to seek refuge wherever possible.

In the Western World, only the United States, with 28,123 accepted refugees, Australia, with 21,241, and Canada, with 6,258, have given asylum to large numbers of Sudanese. The other major countries offering asylum are, in descending order, Chad, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [36] Alex de Waal described this international response as “mean, measly, unethical and even illegal.” [37] Beyond a doubt, the world has yet to fulfill its moral and legal obligation to shelter the beleaguered refugees of Sudan. Other countries must not only exert concerted pressure on Egypt to treat these refugees well, but must finally, themselves, pursue a serious campaign of refugee assistance and give practical consideration to a resolution of the conflict. This should not be Israel’s problem alone.


[1] “Egyptians killed 4 Sudanese on border,” Jerusalem Post, 2 August 2007.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sheera Claire Frenkel, “Israel, UN to stem tide of Sudanese refugees. Officials seek countries to absorb Africans,” Jerusalem Post, 9 August 2007.

[4] Refugee estimates vary.

[5] Ilene R. Prusher, “Israel to grant Darfur refugees citizenship,” The Christian Science Monitor, 6 September 2007.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Mazel Mualem, “Israel to grant citizenship to hundreds of Darfur refugees,” Haaretz, 5 September 2007.

[9] Amnesty International: Appeals for Action, “Sudan Crisis – Background,” Amnesty International, 16 September 2007, <http://web.amnesty.org/pages/sdn-background-eng&gt;

[10] Nicholas Kristof, “Genocide in Slow Motion,” The New York Review of Books, 9 February 2006.

[11] Mazal Mualem, “Israel to grant citizenship to hundreds of Darfur refugees,” Haaretz, 5 September 2007.

[12] Ibid.

[13] UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, “South Sudan Operation,” UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/southsudan?page=intro (accessed 19 September 2007).

[14] Alex de Waal, Book forum on War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard University, Cambridge, 27 September 2007.

[15] OHCHR: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights , “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” adopted 28 July 1951, United Nations OHCHR, http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/o_c_ref.htm.

[16] Gamal Nkrumah, “Here today, gone tomorrow,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 16 September 2007.

[17] Sheera Claire Frenkel, Ilana Diamond, and Staff, “Sudan: Israel encouraging emigration,” Jerusalem Post, 9 July 2007.

[18] Gmal Nkrumah, “Here today, gone tomorrow,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 2-8 August 2007

[19] Amnesty International Library, “Egypt: Amnesty International calls for inquiry into killings and opposes threatened collective expulsions of Sudanese protesters,” Amnesty International, 6 January 2006, <http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE120022006?open&of=ENG-2AF&gt;.

[20] Sheera Claire Frenkel, “‘We knew it would be safe here’”, Jerusalem Post, Pg. 1, 31 July 2007.

[21] Isabel Kershner, “Israel Returns Illegal Migrants to Egypt,” The New York Times, 20 August 2007.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Sheera Claire Frenkel, “Cairo warns it won’t take back refugees who sneak into Israel,” Jerusalem Post, 12 August 2007.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Liat Collins, “The Sudanese Dilemma,” Jerusalem Post, 17 July 2007.

[28] Sheera Claire Frenkel, “A Sudanese refugee with her child at her temporary home at Ketziot Prison,” Jerusalem Post, 31 July 2007.

[29] Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), “IAEJ Employment Initiative,” http://www.iaej.org.il/pages/our_projects.htm (accessed 6 October 2007).

[30] Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), “IAEJ Education Initiative,” http://www.iaej.org.il/pages/our_projects.htm (accessed 6 October 2007).

[31] Evelyn Gordon, “Why a ‘genuine refugees only’ policy makes sense,” Jerusalem Post, 23 August 2007.

[32] Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Bush Signs Bill Allowing Sudan Divestment,” The New York Times, 1 January 2008.

[33] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Rebels Split at Talks on Darfur, The New York Times, 27 October 2007.

[34] Warren Hoge, “U.N. Objects to Expulsion of Aid Official from Darfur,” The New York Times, 8 November 2007.

[35] Gettleman.

[36] UNHCR Statistics, “2006 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons,” UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, http://www.unhcr.org/statistics.html (accessed 7 October 2007).

[37] De Waal.

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By Gabriel M. Scheinmann

Gabriel M. Scheinmann ’08 attends Harvard College and is a Government concentrator in Eliot House.

The People’s Republic of China has extended its footprint in the Middle East, even as the United States has grappled with myriad regional messes. Beijing is building political relationships with key oil-producing states in the region, based on its briskly growing need for energy, particularly crude oil and natural gas. Communist China has also become involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking and UN peacekeeping, spheres that have traditionally been American territory.

Since 9/11, many Arab states, pressed by the U.S. for democratic reforms and human rights improvements, have warmed to the prag-matic and business-friendly Chinese approach that ignores the authoritarian nature of their regimes. Washington has been late in recognizing China’s new initiatives in the Middle East. Instead, the U.S. has been preoccupied with the chaos in Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan, as well as the threat from terrorist groups and Iran. The U.S. has also traditionally assumed that if conflict with China did erupt, it would be triggered by acknowledged flashpoints such as Taiwan or North Korea. As a result, the U.S. has neglected the possibility that a return to a bipolar world may actually arrive via the Middle East. Though direct military conflict is unlikely in the near future, recent economic trends, Chinese strategic decisions, and American preoccu-pations with short-term goals have signaled the beginning of the Cold War of the Twenty-First century.

China’s Middle East Policy

Beijing’s Middle East policy has four basic components. First, China has pursued extensive political ties in the region consistent with its energy needs. Second, China has reached out to isolated Middle East states in order to minimize criticism of its brutal repression of a rapidly growing, separatist-leaning, and violent Muslim population in its western autonomous region. Third, China has developed a series of naval bases, known as a “string of pearls”, across the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean as part of a gradual expansion of its naval capability. Finally, China has sought to gain geopolitical leverage by turning the Middle East into America’s renegade province, diverting U.S. energy and resources away from East Asia.

At this stage, China is unwilling and unable to directly challenge American primacy and is keenly aware of Washington’s red lines in the region. Thus China has been supportive of American and UN efforts to create an international tribunal to prosecute the (Syrian) killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and has paid lip service to American efforts to bar Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. [1] Chinese Premier Wen Jibao has reiterated that “Resolution 1737 adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council members reflects the concerns of the international community about the Iranian nuclear issue.” [2] China is also keenly aware of and has avoided challenging the new U.S.-sponsored Sunni-Israeli regional realignment against Iran. It has demonstrated its commitment to greater stability in the region and has avoided opposing the American initiatives in Lebanon, Pakistan, or in the Palestinian territories.

The sole exception, Chinese opposition to the Iraq War, was rooted in China’s firm belief that national sovereignty is inviolable, an atti-tude that pleases its Arab trade partners and deflects international criticism of its own domestic policies. Additionally, Beijing was concerned that its growing energy interests would be supplanted by a stronger and more physical American presence in the region. Many Chinese strategists are suspicious of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf, believing that the invasion of Iraq and American threats to attack Iran are part of a plan to monopolize regional oil supplies. [3]

Meanwhile, China has begun flexing its own muscles. In early 2006, Beijing sent a 182-member engineering battalion to Lebanon under UNIFIL—its first peacekeeping contingent sent to the Middle East. [4] It has since increased its contribution to 354 soldiers following the end of the Second Lebanon War, and reports suggest it will double that number in the near future. Increased Chinese confidence in its ability to direct events in the Middle East led Beijing to appoint its first special envoy for Middle Eastern affairs in 2002. [5] Though both the first envoy, Wang Shijie, a veteran diplomat who had served as ambassa-dor to Bahrain, Jordan, and Iran, and his successor, Sun Bigan, have had little to show for their time and efforts, their appointments and Chinese troop deployments mark a volte-face from China’s previous ignorance of, abstention from, and powerlessness in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

China also currently enjoys far greater positive standing in the Middle East than the U.S. Unencumbered by historical records of colonialism or current accusations of imperialism that beset Europe and the U.S., China is seen as a benign power in the region. It has neither publicly laid out a specific vision or policy for the region, nor has it announced that it intends to transform the regimes and institu-tions of the region’s countries. Having never participated in large military or diplomatic endeavors in the region, Communist China is a relative unknown to many Arabs. Ruling elites in Iran and the Arab world appreciate China’s willingness to conduct business uncondi-tionally, disregarding their country’s record on human rights or democracy. In Egypt, a recent government poll showed that China was the most favorably viewed non-Arab country, with 73 percent of Egyptians seeing it as “friendly”. [6]

Energy: Sine Qua Non

Chinese ambitions in the Middle East are primarily driven by the energy needs of its rapidly growing and industrializing economy. In addition to meeting the needs of its expanding power sector, Chinese energy imports are also needed to satisfy its transportation needs, which are primarily driven by the automobile market. [7] Some estimates suggest that China will have more cars on the road than the U.S. as early as 2030. Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once told the Chinese that “Israeli know-how is more valuable than Arab oil,” Chinese actions suggest otherwise. [8]

After becoming a net oil importer in 1993, China is now the second largest importer of crude oil after the U.S. and could surpass it by 2025. In April 2007, Beijing imported nearly 50 percent of its oil needs, quickly approaching the U.S. level of 61.9 percent. [9] In August 2006, Chinese oil imports from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Oman alone amounted to 43 percent of total oil imports. [10] Led by its three major state-owned energy companies, the China National Petroleum Corpo-ration (CNPC), the China National Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec), and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), 75 percent of Beijing’s oil imports will be from the Middle East by 2015. [11] As Washington slowly diversifies its energy sources, Beijing is becoming increasingly dependent on the Persian Gulf. In 2005, trade between China and members of the Arab League totaled $51.3 billion. Estimates suggest that this could double by 2010. [12]

The Dragon’s Fire: A Minor Factor

China has never been a major player in the Middle East arms market, though it has been somewhat involved in the region’s weapons trade. In 1985, the Middle East was the recipient of all Chinese arms sales, with Iran and Iraq absorbing 91 percent of these. [13] However, after 1988, that percentage dropped into the teens. Even at its peak in 1987, Chinese arm transfers amounted only to 12 percent of total arms sales to the region. The Chinese delivered around 60 to 75 anti-ship missiles known as C-802s (designated Yingji-8 in China) to Iran by 1997. China also sought to sell M-9 ballistic missiles to Libya and Syria before shelving the deal due to American pressure. [14] Overall, however, China has remained a marginal player in the Middle Eastern arms market since the end of the Cold War.

That may change. In the recent past, China has sold Saudi Arabia CSS-2 “East Wind” intermediate range ballistic missiles. [15] Sudan, currently murdering civilians in Darfur and potentially engaged in a reignited civil war, is the greatest recipient of Chinese arms, including small arms, anti-personnel mines, howitzers, tanks, helicopters, and ammunition. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired a C-802, at an Israeli anti-aircraft warfare ship, killing four Israeli soldiers. [16] Recent reports suggest that China has agreed to sell two dozen J-10 fighter planes, a jet based on Israeli components and technology, to Iran at a time when Iran is facing a third round of international sanctions over its nuclear program. [17]

Axis of Cooperation

Beijing has established warmer ties with Syria, Iran, and Sudan, all declared American enemies. Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted in 2004 as saying that “China is now a superpower and is very important after the absence of the Soviet Union.” [18] Trade between China and Syria surged 55 percent to $1.4 billion in 2006. [19] By the end of last year, Chinese companies had signed project contracts in Syria worth $819 million. CNPC will begin construction on a $1 billion refinery in Deir al-Zor, the same site of a purported Israeli air attack on possible nuclear installations in September, in 2008. [20]

Beijing has also sought to fill the void created by American and European sanctions against Iran and Syria, undermining American efforts to isolate both regimes. The new Sino-Syrian relationship was summarized by Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah al-Dardari: “Our strategy is to stop exporting crude in three years and refine every drop of oil Syria produces. . . . Syria has had strong and historic political ties with China and it is natural for the economic relationship to strengthen.” [21]

Though it has stood by EU and UN-led efforts to curb Iran’s nu-clear program, Beijing has gone out of its way to reach out to Amer-ica’s most serious adversary. In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin and then-Premier Zhu Rongji visited Iran and Libya, labeling the two U.S.-defined state sponsors of terrorism as “friendly countries.” [22] President Jiang’s trip to Iran marked the first by a Chinese head of state since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979. In December 2002, when Iranian Majlis speaker Mehdi Karrubi visited Beijing, President Jiang declared that “both states share almost similar stances on most issues.” In return, Iran has come to expect support from Tehran. Alae’ddin Broujerdi, head of the Majlis National Security and Policy Committee, announced that Iran expects “Moscow and Beijing to show more strength, power and independence . . .We expect them to use their veto power as a show of their independence and political strength, as the U.S. invariably does in instances involving the Zionist regime.” [23]

Chinese trade with Iran was estimated at $10 billion in 2006. [24] In 1994, Tehran accounted for just 1 percent of Beijing’s oil imports; today the proportion is nearly 13 percent. [25] At the end of 2004, Iran’s oil minister said that he expected China to eventually replace Japan as Iran’s largest oil market. Sinopec recently signed a $100 billion deal with Iran to import 10 million tons of liquefied natural gas over a 25-year period in exchange for a Chinese stake of 50 percent in the devel-opment of the Yadavaran oil field in Iran. [26]

China has also sold Iran anti-ship cruise missiles such as the Silkworm (HY-2), the C-801, and the aforementioned C-802. [27] In November 2003, the CIA issued a report stating that China was one of the leading providers of assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile programs. [28] China had planned to supply Tehran with a uranium conversion facility and nuclear power reactors, but public disclosure of the deal in 1995 and heavy American diplomatic pressure led to its cancellation. [29] In 1997, China pledged to stop selling cruise missiles to Iran, but in January 2005 the U.S. imposed penalties on eight Chinese companies for transferring ballistic missile technology to Iran. [30]

The same pattern has been repeated elsewhere. Since 1995, China, led by CNPC and Sinopec, has heavily invested in Sudan’s energy sector. [31] In addition to selling a variety of weapons and transport vehicles to the Sudanese regime, China has also established three arms factories in Sudan, leading to the proliferation of AK-47s across the country. [32] Today, Beijing is Khartoum’s leading oil partner, importing 64 percent of all Sudanese oil. Here, too, China has established energy and political relationships with a regime hostile to the U.S.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Chinese Boon

Anticipating American troubles in Iraq, China swiftly positioned itself to be one of Baghdad’s largest trading partners and political friends. The Chinese embassy in Baghdad opened less than two weeks after the transfer of authority from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the interim Iraqi government in June 2004. China also offered material assistance for the subsequent January 2005 elections and has provided fellowships for Iraqi students, technicians, and diplomats to travel to China and train in their respective fields. Last year, trade between China and Iraq topped $1.1 billion. [33]

A Chinese oil exploration and development contract has recently been the subject of two groundbreaking Iraqi gestures. First, the Iraqi government agreed to honor a CNPC deal signed with former leader Saddam Hussein in 1997 to develop the al-Ahdab oil field, valued at the time at $1.2 billion. [34] The field had an estimated pre-war capacity of 90,000 barrels/day and has been prioritized by the Iraqi government because of its proximity to new power stations and refineries. The deal was also the first to be offered to a foreign company by the new Iraqi government. [35] Additionally, China has cancelled $8 billion of Saddam-era debt, an important gesture of friendship and a symbol of closer political ties. [36] The Iraqi ambassador to China has remarked that friendship between China and Iraq dates back 2,000 years, blur-ring the historical truth but implying the intimacy of the new relationship.

The GCC and China

Beijing has also sought to establish economic ties with Gulf Cooperation Council states. Trade between China and the GCC topped $32 billion in 2005 and a free trade agreement is due to be completed by the end of 2007. [37] The overseas construction arm of CNPC moved into the Kuwaiti market in 1983 and embarked on a major business expansion in 1995 when the group won an oil storage reconstruction project. [38] China initially developed oil relationships with Oman and Yemen, rather than Saudi Arabia, because they both produced a light, sweet crude oil that Chinese refineries could easily handle. [39] By 2001, China had signed almost 3,000 contracts with the six GCC states for labor services worth $2.7 billion. [40] In 2002, the GCC had no major investments in new company facilities in China, but by 2006 they had thirteen, seven of which were bankrolled by the UAE. [41] Bilateral trade between China and Yemen reached $3.2 billion in 2005 and, in 2006, China became Yemen’s largest trading partner. [42] In December 2006, OPEC and China jointly announced that they had established a future cooperation framework on energy issues, “in particular, the security of supply and demand, in order to enhance market stability.” [43]

A New Pillar? Beijing and Riyadh

The emerging Sino-Saudi special relationship is crucial to Beijing’s Middle East policy and perhaps its biggest coup in the region. Overcoming the deep-rooted ideological polarity between the birth-place of Islam and an atheist Chinese communism, Riyadh has partly embraced Beijing in order to offset new strains in the U.S.-Saudi relationship after 9/11. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in 2004 that Saudi Arabia would reduce its dependence on U.S.-dominated security arrangements in the future. When King Abdullah made his first overseas trip as the new Saudi king in January 2006, he notoriously skipped Washington and became the first Saudi monarch ever to visit China. [44] In January 2007, a delegation from a Shanghai political think-tank was told in Dubai that a bigger Chinese role in the Gulf would be welcomed, especially if Beijing backed Arab positions in the UN Security Council.

Diplomats from both countries have worked furiously to construct a strategic energy relationship that will permanently ensconce a Sino-Saudi partnership. In 1999, then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Riyadh and inaugurated a “strategic oil partnership” between the two countries. [45] Saudi Arabian oil exports represent a greater share of Chinese oil imports (17 percent) than American oil imports (14 percent). [46]

Sinopec has partnered with Aramco to build oil refineries capable of handling Saudi high-sulfur crude oil in China’s Fujian and Qingdao provinces—a development that will ease and increase Saudi oil exports to China. [47] China has also been a major investor and partner in the Saudi oil industry. The China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau and the China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Group recently announced that they will lay down a 225-mile pipeline, as a section of the Abu Dhabi Pipeline, and will transmit oil from Saudi Arabia’s Habshan Oil Field to Fujairah, one of the seven emirates of the UAE. [48] Sinopec received a contract to explore and produce natural gas in the Rub al-Khali Basin, the first time Riyadh has opened the area up for investment in nearly 30 years. [49] In February 2007, Sinopec partnered with ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco to set up an oil refining, chemical products, and finished oil marketing venture in China’s Fujian Province. [50] While many believe that the U.S.-Saudi strategic relationship is based on energy supplies, applying the same calculus to the rapidly emerging Sino-Saudi relationship would imply a similar conclusion.

Playing Both Sides: Arabs and Israelis

Beijing’s relationship with Israel, Washington’s greatest ally in the region, has been rather warm in order to avoid any discord with the U.S. Though Israel was the first Middle Eastern country to recognize Communist China, the two did not exchange ambassadors until 1992. [51] Additionally, Israel is one of only a handful of countries to have never granted diplomatic recognition to Taiwan. [52] During Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s January 2007 visit to Beijing, the band at the banquet in his honor played “Jerusalem of Gold”, a striking change from a time when Chinese diplomats refused to even mention the word “Jerusalem” in deference to Palestinian sensitivity. [53]

Chinese weapons purchases from Israel have often been a major irritant in U.S.-Israel relations. Israel remains China’s second largest arms provider, including of “Harpy” anti-radar drones and Python-3 air-to-air missiles. [54] Twice in recent times, Israel has been forced to cancel arms deals with China after heavy American pressure. Israel’s 1999 agreement with China to upgrade China’s Harpy Killer UAVs greatly angered the U.S. defense establishment. [55] In 2004, China tested the upgraded UAVs over the Taiwan Strait. In 2003, under heavy American pressure, Israel cancelled the sale of one $250 million Airborne Early Warning Command and Control radar system to China. [56] The U.S. is concerned that Israeli-supplied weapons could be used against the United States in the event conflict over Taiwan erupts.

The Chinese “War on Terror”

China has forged strong ties with Muslim states in order to quiet criticism over its ruthless tactics of suppression directed against a Muslim separatist movement in the Uighur region of its western, autonomous Xinjiang province. While estimates put the overall Mus-lim population in China around 20-30 million, the distinctly non-ethnically Chinese Uighurs concentrated in Xinjiang account for 7.2 million of that population.

China is a strong supporter of Hamid Karzai’s Afghan government, with which it shares a 20-mile border. It, moreover, backed U.S.-led efforts to eliminate the Taliban because the Taliban had supported the East Turkistan terrorist forces that threatened the stability of the Uighur region. [57] Between 1990 and 2001, East Turkistan terrorist forces staged more than 200 attacks in Xinjiang, killing 162 people and wounding many more. Then-Chinese Minister of Religious Affairs Zhou Guohai announced that harsh measures against Muslims were needed because the Chinese “deeply fear Islamic extremism” and “deeply distrust the Koran and what it teaches.” He also went on to declare, “We will make sure that Islam is practiced in a way that is in line with Chinese culture and tradition.” [58] In December 2002, in a concession to the Chinese, the State Department agreed to put one obscure Uighur separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Move-ment, on the list of global terrorist organizations. For Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, energy and diplomatic relations trump the plight of Chinese Muslims.

Patience and Protection

China’s unwillingness openly to confront the U.S. in the Middle East is due to its self-perceived Achilles’ heel: its inability to protect energy supplies in American-controlled seaways. At present, 60 percent of Chinese oil imports arrive on tankers through the Strait of Hormuz. Securing deliveries therefore means safeguarding sea lanes from piracy, terrorist attacks, and hostile powers. An American naval blockade of Chinese tankers in the Strait of Hormuz or the Straits of Malacca would paralyze the Chinese economy. That, in turn, could catalyze domestic popular uprisings, which is China’s biggest fear. In 2006, Chinese naval forces conducted exercises simulating the rescue of a threatened tanker, a clear symbol of defensive preparatory measures. [59]

China is also helping Pakistan build a new and major deep-water port and electronic eavesdropping station at Gwadar, a mere 100 miles from the Iranian border and along the direct path of oil imports. Though ostensibly for Pakistani commercial use, the level of Chinese investment and Gwadar’s lack of usefulness as a feeder port in the Baluchistan deserts suggest that Beijing also has strategic interests in the development. [60] The basing of a Chinese fleet, even a token force, would be a clear signal of Chinese intentions to defend its oil investments from superior naval powers. [61] A February 2007 visit by President Hu to the Seychelles also suggested that China may hope to take advantage of the archipelago’s strategic position to construct a naval base. [62] China has also finalized a deal to build a naval base in the Maldives, due to be operational by 2010, as well as a naval bunker facility on Sri Lanka, much to the displeasure of the Indian government. [63] By assembling a “String of Pearls”, an image describing China’s expanding geopolitical strategy of acquiring a chain of small naval bases along its most vulnerable oil routes, Beijing is investing in protecting its energy supplies from possible U.S. threats in the not-too-distant future. China’s willingness to upgrade Iran’s anti-ship cruise missile capability is another attempt to erode U.S. naval superiority. [64]

When the Time is Right

Careful not to invite conflict with the U.S. before it has adequately protected itself against a potentially crippling American naval blockade, China has also embraced regional American allies, such as Israel. By supporting Israel’s right to security—a position unthinkable ten years ago—and following the Western lead on sanctions for Tehran, Beijing has sought to portray itself as benign to American hegemony. As long as America still controls the game, China is willing to abide by the rules the U.S. establishes.

Nevertheless, China has reached deep into the Middle East, creat-ing robust economic and political relationships with American pariah states such as Syria, Iran, and Sudan. Furthermore, it has developed its own “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia, Washington’s other ally in the region. As Sino-Saudi trade, energy investment, and diplomatic cooperation continue to increase, the Saudi royal family will have to balance its various American and Chinese interests against each other.

Chinese leaders have been emboldened by what is perceived as an American retreat from strong positions in East Asia. U.S. troop deployments in South Korea and Japan have dropped by nearly 13,000 since 9/11. [65] The Bush Administration’s willingness to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program signals a softening in attitude on the Korean Peninsula. The War on Terror, the Iraq War, and the recent destabilization of several countries in the Middle East have shifted Washington’s attention away from the Asian rim—a development welcomed by Beijing. The Bush Administration has also exhibited a marked rhetorical shift on Taiwanese issues since 9/11. Initially announcing that the U.S. would do “whatever it takes” to defend the island, President Bush has explicitly opposed Taiwanese independence in recent statements in a major backtracking from his former position. [66] As China recognizes U.S. softening of its positions on and presence in Japan, Taiwan, and the Korean Peninsula, it has cautiously entered a traditional American sphere: the Middle East.

As Chinese dependence on Middle Eastern oil deepens, it can be expected that Beijing will vociferously back the interests of oil-producing Middle East states at the UN Security Council and in relations with the U.S. and EU. Forced to choose between a rising power that promises investment without conditions about democracy or human rights, and an established power whose stated goal is to democratize all authoritarian regimes, states will likely choose the former. The Middle East could easily become the Twenty-First Cen-tury’s Africa—a Cold War battlefield laden with natural resources but scarred by proxy wars and backward economic development. While careful to continue being a responsible stakeholder in the international system, China has begun to battle the U.S. for supremacy and re-sources in the opening stages of the next Cold War.

[1] This has also meant soothing the fears of America’s most important regional ally, Israel. Following his January 2007 trip to Beijing, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he heard “many surprising and positive things” from Chinese Premier Wen and that Wen “made it absolutely clear” that Beijing opposed an “Iran with a nuclear bomb.” Haaretz, January 10, 2007.

[2] M. K. Bhadrakumar, “China’s Middle Easy Journey via Jerusalem,” Asia Times, January 13, 2007.

[3] Zhong Wu, “China Aims to Diversify Oil Sources,” Asia Times, February 28, 2007.

[4] Shichor, Yitzhak, “Silent Partner: China and the Lebanon Crisis,” The Jamestown Foundation, Volume 6, Issue 17, August 16, 2006, http://www.jamestownfoundation.org

[5] Yufeng Mao, “Beijing’s Two-Pronged Iraq Policy,” The Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, Volume 5, Issue 12, May 24, 2005, http://www.jamestownfoundation.org

[6] Alistair Lyon, “Energy-Hungry China Breaks Ground in the Middle East,” Reuters News, November 27, 2006.

[7] Leverett, Flynt and Bader, Jeffrey, “Managing China-U.S. Energy Competition in the Middle East,” The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2005-06.

[8] Rubin, Barry, “China’s Middle East Strategy,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, Volume 3, Number 1, March 1999.

[9] Shai Oster, “Iraq Turns to China for Help in Reviving Oil Industry,” The Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2007.

[10] David Winning, “China Taps Middle East for Crude as Demand Surges,” Dow Jones Interna-tional News, September 24, 2006.

[11] Lyon, Ibid.

[12] “China Seeks to Expand Trade, Energy Ties with Arab World,” Agence France Presse, May 31, 2006.

[13] Shichor, Yitzhak, “Mountains out of Molehills: Arms Transfers in Sino-Middle Eastern Relations,” Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, Volume 4, Number 3, September 2000.

[14] Eisenstadt, Michael, “U.S. Policy and Chinese Proliferation to Iran: A Small Leap Forward?,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 31, 1997 <www.washingtoninstitute.org>

[15] Henderson, Simon, “China and Oil: The Middle East Dimension,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 15, 2004 <www.washingtoninstitute.org>

[16] Shichor, Ibid.

[17] Yossi Melman, “Iran to Buy 24 Jet Fighters from China”. Haaretz, October 23, 2007.

[18] Lyon, Ibid.

[19] “Syria Open to More Chinese Investment in Energy, Infrastructure,” Xinhua News Agency, July 10, 2007.

[20] Khaled Yacoub Oweis, “Syria, China Edge Closer to Oil Refinery Deal,” Reuters News, July 9, 2007.

[21] Oweis, Ibid.

[22] Blumenthal, Dan, “Providing Arms: China and the Middle East,” The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005, Volume XII, Number 2.

[23] Bhadrakumar, Ibid.

[24] Bhadrakumar, Ibid.

[25] Jin Liangxiang, “Energy First: China and the Middle East,” The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005, Volume XII, Number 2.

[26] Chietigj Bajpaee, “China Becomes Increasingly Involved in the Middle East,” Power and Interest News Report, March 10, 2006 <www.pinr.com>

[27] Bajpaee, Ibid.

[28] Blumenthal, Ibid.

[29] Rubin, Ibid.

[30] Calabrese, John, “The Risks and Rewards of China’s Deepening Ties with the Middle East,” The Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, Volume 5, Issue 12, May 24, 2005 <www.jamestownfoundation.org>

[31] Calabrese, Ibid.

[32] Nicholas Kristof, “China and Sudan, Blood and Oil,” The New York Times, April 23, 2006.

[33] “China Welcome to Explore Iraqi Oil Resources,” China Daily, June 19, 2007.

[34] Frank Gaffney Jr., “China’s Double Standard,” The Washington Times, June 26, 2007.

[35] Jamil Anderlini and Steve Negus, “Iraq Revives Saddam Oil Deal with China,” Financial Times, June 23, 2007.

[36] “Beijing Cancels Part of $8 billion Iraq Owes,” International Herald Tribune, June 23, 2007.

[37] Emma Graham-Harrison and Chris Buckley, “Oil-hungry China Courts Saudi King,” Reuters, January 22, 2006.

[38] Jin Liangxiang, Ibid.

[39] Leverett, Ibid.

[40] Jin Liangxiang, Ibid.

[41] Jim Krane, “Warm Relations between China and the Gulf Arab Countries,” AP, April 11, 2007.

[42] “China, Yemen discuss Middle East, Gulf; Sign Eight Deals,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 6, 2006.

[43] “China and OPEC Start Energy Dialogue,” China Daily, December 23, 2006.

[44] Krane, Ibid.

[45] Leverett, Ibid.

[46] Energy Information Administration <http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/Saudi_Arabia/OilExports.html&gt;

[47] “Big Deals in Gulf-China Trade Boom,” AP, April 11, 2007.

[48] “PetroChina to Lay Oil Pipe in Saudi Arabia,” Xinhua News Agency, June 5, 2007.

[49] Calabrese, Ibid.

[50] “Sinopec in Talks with Companies from Middle East,” Sinocast China Business Daily News, May 29, 2007.

[51] Jin Liangxiang, Ibid.

[52] Bajpaee, Ibid.

[53] Bhadrakumar, Ibid.

[54] Bajpaee, Ibid.

[55] Migdalovitz, Carol, “Israel: Background and Relations with the United States,” CRS Report for Congress February 13, 2006.

[56] Mark, Clyde R. “Israeli-United States Relations.” CRS Report for Congress April 28, 2005.

[57] Jin Liangxiang, Ibid.

[58] Blumenthal, Ibid.

[59] Liu, Melinda, “The Merchant Marine,” Newsweek International, March 28, 2007 <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7243349/site/newsweek&gt;

[60] Masood Anwar, “Real Significance of Gwadar Port,” The International News, March 29, 2007 <www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=47664>

[61] Haider, Ziad, “Baluchis, Beijing, and Pakistan’s Gwadar Port,” Georgetown Journal of Interna-tional Affairs, February 2005, 98, www,stimson.org/southasia/pdf/GWADAR.pdf

[62] Chellaney, Brahma, “China Covets A Pearl Necklace,” Asian Age, April 7, 2007 <www.asianage.com>

[63] Kumar, Amit, “A New Balance of Power Game in the Indian Ocean,” Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, November 24, 2006

[64] Blumenthal, Ibid.

[65] Kane, Tim, “Global U.S. Troop Deployment 1950-2003,” The Heritage Foundation, Center for Data Analysis Report #04-11, October 27, 2004

[66] Kan, Shirley, “China/Taiwan: Evolution of the ‘One China’ Policy—Key Statements from Washington, Beijing, and Taipei,” CRS Report for Congress, September 7, 2006

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By Gabriel M. Scheinmann

Gabriel M. Scheinmann ’08 attends Harvard College and is a Government concentrator living in Eliot House. He is a dual citizen of France and the United States.

On March 12, 2003, French-American relations were at their lowest nadir since General Charles de Gaulle occupied L’Elysee. Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, Chair of the Committee of House Administration at the time, renamed all French fries served in House cafeterias “Freedom fries,” calling the gesture a “small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France.”[1] Rather than react with anger or acknowledge Ney’s ploy as a personal affront, designed to excoriate the French for blocking a second United Nations resolution authorizing the Second Iraq War, the French Embassy declined to comment and meekly announced that French fries were actually Belgian.

This amusing episode trivializes the greater tensions between French and American policies on the Middle East. The two freedom-loving countries are at loggerheads with one another over almost every major policy issue concerning the region and they seldom pass up an opportunity to talk past one another. While the French accuse Yankee foreign policy as imperialistic, materialistic, and unilateral, Americans revel in reminding the Frogs that if it were not for the U.S. army, the French would be speaking German and eating bratwurst.


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