- The Question of Arab Solidarity in the 1948 War: Political Interests versus Military Considerations
From the decision on 29 November 1947 to partition Palestine until the conclusion of the 1948 war, the relationships prevailing among Arab states were predominantly characterized by a lack of cooperation. The animosity among the Arab states derived from various conflicts of interest. The most prominent concerned King Abdullah of Transjordan’s aspiration to annex Palestine to his own territory, an aim that was opposed by all the other Arab nations, who made extensive efforts throughout the 1948 war to thwart this objective. In addition to working to prevent the fulfillment of Abdullah’s plans, each of the other Arab nations had aims that had ramifications for all the Arab nations directly involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict. On account of the extent of these conflicts of interest, the attempt by the secretary-general of the Arab League, Abd al-Rahman Azam, to bridge the gaps among the league members, each with its own jealously guarded national interests, and to resolve the various disputes among them was doomed to failure, and all attempts to engender cooperation among the members of the league during the war would come to naught.1 [End Page 19]
In this essay I examine the attempt by the Arab League to establish a unified front following the United Nations’ decisions on the partition of Palestine, the establishment of Israel, and the war in Palestine. I also analyze the meetings of the Arab League — and the decisions that came out of those meetings over the duration of the war — and discuss the extent to which the vested interests of the various Arab rulers played a role in the discussions and decisions of the Arab League. Also discussed is whether the Arab rulers were astute enough to rise above their narrow personal interests for the sake of pan-Arabism and if so, in what situations and at what times.
The information presented supports the argument that there was no cooperation among the Arab countries during the 1948 war, and that the main reason for Arab leaders to be involved in Palestine was their desire to prevent King Abdullah from annexing Palestine to Transjordan. One of the more important studies of this problem is the essay by Joshua Landis, “Syria and the Palestine War: Fighting King Abdullah’s ‘Greater Syria Plan,’ ” in a volume edited by Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. But the author discussed only the Syrian aspect of the war and took the story only up to the Arab invasion of Palestine on 15 May 1948. In other books and essays on the subject, authors have either been focused only on one aspect of the war (political or military) or lacked use of both Israeli and Arab documents. I have based this essay on Israeli and British documents and Arabic sources and present, as far as possible, a complete picture of Arab interests in the war.
The Arab League’s Response to the Partition Plan
The decision that regular Arab armies would go to war against the Zionists in Palestine was taken during a session of the Arab League on 19 October 1947 in Aliya in Lebanon.2 The decision represented a compromise between using regular military forces — as Iraq and Syria had demanded — and Egypt’s [End Page 20] preference for sending volunteer cadres to Palestine. King Abdullah, whose Arab Legion had been established in Palestine since the Second World War, withheld his intentions and declared simply that Transjordan reserved for itself freedom of maneuver.3
The Arab League’s decision was puzzling in light of reports being disseminated among members by Ismail Safawat, head of the league’s military committee, asserting that the Zionists’ power should not be underestimated. Those reports contained dire warnings concerning the future of Palestine should the Arab nations fail to adopt sufficient measures. For all these admonitions, and in spite of their declared intentions to aid the Arabs of Palestine, the actions of the Arab rulers exposed their indifference and apathy, and they failed completely to put Safawat’s recommendations into practice.4...