At Israel's birth there was much fear-mongering on both sides. Some 850,000 Jews fled from Arab countries to the new state of Israel while 720,000 Palestinians were panicked into leaving Palestine as it became Israel.
But the major divide between Islamists and secularists was there long before Israel made its international debut. It was the Palestinian refugee exodus from Palestine as it became Israel that triggered wars and territorial disputes for decades to come.
The armies of five Arab nations took on the new Jewish state, beginning with an Egyptian air attack on Tel Aviv. The armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Transjordan (later renamed Jordan) invaded Israel from the north, east and south.
The Arab armies came with artillery, tanks, armored cars, personnel carriers. They had plenty of gas and ammunition. Egypt, Syria and Iraq also threw their small air forces into the mix.
The Jews had no artillery, tanks or aircraft as the Arab armies attacked. But these came quickly from Jewish organizations abroad.
The humiliating Arab defeat was the genesis of several subsequent Middle Eastern wars:
-- Gamal Abdul Nasser's 1952 coup in Egypt was directed against the Muslim Brotherhood, which six months earlier had torched some 300 buildings in Cairo. The young colonel's coup toppled the monarchy, a move designed to control the state against Muslim extremists.
-- 1950s-1960s: Reprisal raids by Israel's military following guerrilla attacks from Syria, Egypt and Jordan into Israel. Designed as a deterrent, these operations were usually 10 times the size of Arab guerrilla attacks.
-- 1956: Three months after Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, Britain and France invaded Egypt to seize the critically important waterway while Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula.
Taken by surprise (no overhead satellite recon in those days) an angry U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the three powers to exit Egypt immediately. They complied.
Whatever propaganda value the West might have gained from the Soviet invasion of Hungary at that time vanished. Moral equivalence was quickly established by countless millions straddling the Cold War fence.
-- June 1967: Six Day War. Nasser's military maneuvers in the Sinai gave Israel the pretext for the most spectacular victory in the history of human conflict. The Israeli air force destroyed the entire Egyptian air force on the ground in a couple of hours.
Nasser called Jordan's King Hussein and told him to look on his radar and he will see scores of Egyptian fighter bombers on their way to attack Israel. "Are you with us?" Nasser asked Hussein. In what he later said was the worst mistake of his reign, the Jordanian monarch answered, naam.
As a result, Jordan lost the West Bank. Israel's phenomenal booty: the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan; Golan Heights from Syria; Sinai and Gaza from Egypt.
-- 1967-70: War of Attrition. Started by Egypt as a way of recapturing the Sinai, it was fought mostly in the Suez Canal Zone and involved militarily Egyptian, Russian (missiles) Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian units. It was Nasser's attempt to recapture the Sinai from the Israelis, which failed and kept the canal closed to shipping.
-- October 1973: three-week Yom Kippur War. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat launches a surprise attack to seize the Suez Canal and dig in on the eastern side for subsequent negotiations. Syrian forces attacked on the Golan Heights at the same time.
The Israeli army, taken by surprise on Yom Kippur, fought back with some supplies from the United States flown directly to the frontline in Sinai.
Israeli forces, momentarily off balance, recovered, and launched a counterattack that took them to within 60 miles of Cairo. U.S. President Richard Nixon, via Henry Kissinger, warned the Israelis to scrap the plan that would have taken them in to Cairo. Subsequent negotiations, masterminded by Kissinger, got the Israelis out of Sinai.
-- 1971-82: long-playing war of attrition against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (relocated to Beirut from their defeat in Jordan by King Hussein's army in 1970).
-- 1981: Muslim extremists never forgave Sadat for recognizing Israel. They use their sympathizers in the Egyptian army to assassinate Sadat.
-- 1982: Lebanon War. Triggered by the assassination of Shlomo Argov, Israel's ambassador to Britain, the Israeli military invaded Lebanon to expel the PLO. The Palestinian organization was indeed expelled and had to relocate at the other end of the Mediterranean, in Tunisia. Israel established a security zone in southern Lebanon.
-- 1982-2000: South Lebanon war of attrition for almost two decades against Lebanese Hezbollah supplied by Iran.
-- Oct. 23, 1983: largest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated kills 243 U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers in their badly guarded barracks on the outskirts of Beirut. U.S. President Ronald Reagan decides to pull out of Lebanon. He orders the invasion of Grenada 48 hours later.
-- 1987-93: First Intifada was the Palestinian uprising against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza.
-- 2000-05: Second Palestinian uprising.
-- 2006 Lebanon war. Touched off by the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, this rapidly grew into a major confrontation between Hezbollah's paramilitary forces and the Israeli military. Coupled with an Israeli naval blockade of the Lebanese coast, a U.N.-negotiated cease-fire led to momentary stability in southern Lebanon.
-- 2008: Three-week Gaza war, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, is designed to put an end to Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. The Israeli military attacked military and civilian targets, including police stations and government buildings.
-- 2011: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a friend of the West in power for almost 30 years, is arrested by Muslim extremists and deposed under guard.
-- 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense was the latest Israeli military punitive expedition into Gaza.
-- 2013: Mubarak's successor, Mohamed Morsi, is deposed by pro-Western Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The army clearly feared that the incompetent Morsi would lead Egypt into a confrontation with Israel.
The future of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan is unpredictable. And the United States would be wise to keep its powder dry.