Gulf War of 1991 Effects on Israel & Palestinian Arabs

What was the effect of the Gulf War of 1991 on Israel and the Palestinian Arabs?

Regional Dynamics

During the 1980’s, two regional focal points began to take shape in the Arab world. In the early 1980’s, six Persian Gulf countries Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates formed their own economic alliance. In the late 1980’s, the countries of North Africa Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania and Libya did the same. At the end of the 1980’s, and the beginning of the 1990’s, the power of these two focal points increased.
The 'revolt of the margins' the 'revolt' of the North African states on the one hand, and of the Persian Gulf on the other, against the states of the Arab 'center,' i.e. the confrontation states neighboring Israel became apparent mainly in the Gulf War period. In March 1991, the 'Damascus Declaration' was agreed to in the Syrian capital by the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Egypt and Syria, regarding mutual security arrangements in the Persian Gulf waters. This declaration was never implemented, since the Arab Gulf states, in practice, opposed Egyptian and Syrian military hegemony, and in fact any involvement by those two countries in their territory. Despite the great pressures brought to bear by Damascus and Cairo, the oil emirates stuck to this position. Before the Gulf War, these states would not have dared to rebel like this against Egypt and Syria the two most important 'center' states according to the old terminology. They would also not have dared to halt payment of the 'steadfastness funds' the billions of dollars which the Gulf emirates paid to the states which were in confrontation with Israel and to the PLO in 1978-90. These funds were, to some extent, protection money, which the Gulf states paid because of their fear of Arab, primarily Palestinian, subversion. Since the war, the two new regional focal points have slowly begun to detach themselves from the Arab world's institutions, and to create independent institutions and new points of linkage. From many standpoints, the 'center' moved precisely towards these two focal points. Today, Manama and Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf are the economic capitals of the entire Arab world, while Casablanca and Tunis are the face of the Arab world to Western Europe. The cultural center has also shifted, from Egypt and Lebanon to the Gulf states and North Africa, and the Arab League's center has moved from Egypt to Tunisia. In a world of pan-Arab television satellites, the foci are located precisely at the former margins: MBC and ArabSat operate out of the Persian Gulf, Morocco and Tunisia operate the all-Arab M2 satellite broadcasts, etc. The growing strength of these processes is fed to a great extent by the distress of the old center. Lebanon collapsed and has not yet recovered, neither economically nor culturally; Egypt, which after the peace agreement with Israel was boycotted and disappeared from the all-Arab body, suffers from severe domestic problems and has ceased to serve as the most important political center. Syria finds itself in a daily worsening isolation, and its supposed pan-Arab regime has yet to adjust to the changes taking place in the region and the world. The slogans of the past about pan-Arabism and the unity of the Arab nation, 'from the (Atlantic) Ocean to the (Persian) Gulf,' after the region's division into three substantive focal points appear to be unrealistic today.


The Persian Gulf states could not defend themselves from Iraqi aggression. Despite billions in arms purchases, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states had small armies who did not match the large Iraqi army, battle hardened from its war with Iran. The only Army in the region that could provide a deterrent to Iraq was Israel. The US took immediate steps to bolster Israel's stockpiles and Israel, in turn, made clear that Iraqi moves against Jordan would not be unanswered by Israel. Israel provided logistical and technical support to the US-led coalition that was a vital part of the swift victory, offering intelligence, military techniques and Israeli-developed weaponry, the use of Haifa for port calls and R and R, and medical support. The Gulf War increased Israel's importance to the United States. Israel was held in reserve, but had the American position become jeopardized, it would have had Israel as an ally. Israel benefited from the destruction of Iraq's military capability by the United States-led coalition, a weakening of Israel's enemy, but the cost was enormous. To maintain its forces at a heightened state of alert, Israel had to drastically increase its budget for military and civil defense. The damage caused by the 39 Iraqi Scud missiles that landed in Tel Aviv and Haifa was extensive with approximately 3,300 apartments and other buildings were affected in the greater Tel Aviv area. Beyond the direct costs of military preparedness and damage to property, the Israeli economy was also hurt by the inability of many Israelis to work under the emergency conditions. The economy functioned at no more than 75 percent of normal capacity during the war, resulting in a net loss to the country of $3.2 billion.

Palestinian Arabs

The PLO, Libya and Iraq were the only members who opposed an Arab League resolution calling for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. The intifada leadership sent a cable of congratulations to Saddam Hussein, describing the invasion of Kuwait as the first step toward the "liberation of Palestine". Yasser Arafat played a critical, active role in sabotaging an Arab summit meeting that was to have been convened in Saudi Arabia to deal with the invasion. The PLO claimed that more than 50,000 Palestinian fighters were ready to attack US and Saudi targets if the US attacked Iraq. The PLO used its contacts among Palestinians in Kuwait to facilitate the Iraqi invasion. Arafat and the PLO continued their support through the war and even after Iraq's defeat. The vast majority of Palestinians made no secret of their support for Iraq, and many were seen on their rooftops cheering as Scuds rained on Israeli population centers.

After the War

Following the war, Secretary of State James Baker undertook several trips to the Middle East, an effort that resulted of an international conference on Arab-Israel peace jointly sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union in Madrid in October 1991. Representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria as well as a Palestinian delegation participated from the Arab block. The increased Arab readiness to participate in such talks was probably created by the war. It was certainly helped by Israel's non-retaliation posture during the conflict. The after-effects of the war also enabled the United States to forge closer cooperation with certain regional allies that participated in the coalition. The US signed new defense agreements with several coalition members providing for joint exercises, training, and pre-positioning of military equipment. These enabled the administration of US President Bill Clinton to react quickly and decisively when Iraq briefly threatened Kuwait again in October 1994 by moving troops toward the Kuwait border.

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