In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Arab-Israeli Wars

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Road to War
  • War Objectives
  • Deterrence
  • Early Warning
  • Wars of Attrition

International Relations Arab-Israeli Wars
Avi Kober
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0106


In the post–World War II era, during which some 80 percent of the conflicts were of a low-intensity nature (low-intensity conflicts, LICs), the Arab-Israeli wars have been quite exceptional as a frequent high-intensity phenomenon (high-intensity conflicts, HICs). This has made them probably the best laboratory in the world for analysis of HICs. But LICs have always characterized the interwar periods, often playing a significant role in escalation processes. As LICs have become the major type of confrontation in the Arab-Israeli conflict since the 1980s, the Arab-Israeli LICs have contributed to understanding the dynamics of such conflicts, too. It is not surprising that, having preoccupied so many researchers, journalists, and observers in numerous think tanks, the Arab-Israeli wars have spurred publication of countless books and articles. Therefore, hard choices had to be made in offering a reasonable number of selections to reflect the major aspects of these wars. This article focuses more on academic than on journalistic sources. The reader will also not find in this review listings of the numerous autobiographies or biographies, although one can learn much about the Arab-Israeli wars via these personal accounts, despite their subjectivity. Many of these sources cover more than one war, depending on the political or military career of their authors. Given Israel’s open society and active academic life it is no wonder that most of the items on the Arab-Israeli wars have been written by Israelis. In an attempt to avoid providing a too-unbalanced picture, however, this article includes as many Arab sources, or sources focusing on the Arab side, as proved possible, of course by their own merit. A choice also had to be made between a chronological review and one that is structured on the basis of issues. The latter was chosen for this article because doing so provides the user with deeper insights on the main aspects of these wars. This choice is reflected in the structure of this article, which covers the issues in the following order: the Road to War, escalation, Decision Making Before and During the Wars, War Objectives, Deterrence, Early Warning, and Military Operations. These topics are interrelated and reflect efforts to prevent war, the thin thread that separates war prevention and war waged on the battlefield, and military operations, which, once hostilities take place, put to the test the operational skills of the opponents; LICs; Wars of Attrition; and the Forgotten Dimensions of Israeli battlefield successes during its HICs. This last topic is based on the premise that the operational explanation for battlefield success in the Arab-Israeli wars is too narrow, and that Israel’s successes in war should not be attributed to military competence alone, but also to the logistical effort during the 1948–1949 war, Great-Power Involvement or intervention in the Arab-Israeli wars, and the chronic defection by `Arab states from anti-Israel war coalitions.

General Overviews

Bar-On 2004 and Bregman 2002 are up-to-date sources on most of the relevant military and nonmilitary aspects of the Arab-Israeli wars and the interwar periods. Maarachot, the professional journal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has published numerous articles on the Arab-Israeli wars, with special focus on their military aspects.

  • Bar-On, Mordechai, ed. A Never-Ending Conflict: A Guide to Israeli Military History. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

    This edited volume offers a variety of chapters by Israeli historians, covering the period from the Arab revolt of the 1930s to the Second Intifada.

  • Bregman, Ahron. Israel’s Wars: A History since 1947. London: Routledge, 2002.

    DOI: 10.4324/NOE0415287159

    This is an easy-to-read overview of the Arab-Israeli wars and the interwar periods from 1947 to 1949 to the Second Intifada. Although it purports to focus on Israel’s wars, it covers the political and societal aspects of these wars much more than the military ones.

  • Maarachot.

    The IDF’s professional journal is the only publication that has regularly and uninterruptedly reflected Israeli military thinking and has described and analyzed Israel’s wars, campaigns, and battles from 1939 to the present.

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