Monday, October 10, 2016

AltHistory Scenario #25: What if Israel Lost the 1948 Arab-Israeli War?

Oooooh boy, flame war time!

He will never be able to recover if I call him Hitler!

As anyone that has looked at a newspaper in the past seventy years can tell you, the Middle East is a mess. The legacies of colonialism, the wealth of oil (and in some places, the lack of it), and the ever present tension of religion, ideology, oppression and great power politics have turned the region into a powder keg, which has gone up into flame time and time again.

At the centre of it all is Israel. For decades, the goal of many Arab strongmen and Islamist ideologue was to drive the Jews into the sea, and liberate the land for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, many of whom fled to refugee camps in surrounding nations but have never been able to integrate with the nation they found themselves in.

I'm not going to get into who's right or wrong here, but I'm going to pose a simple question: What if the modern nation of Israel just didn't exist? What if Israel lost the 1948 Arab-Israeli War?


In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Jews that survived the Holocaust desperately wanted one thing: to get as far away from the horrors and the trauma that the past years had taken on them. Many immigrated to the United States and other countries, but as many traveled to Palestine, to full fill the long promised Zionist dream of returning to the homeland of Judaism, Israel.

Borders subject to change without notice.

Palestine was a former Ottoman territory, which, along with areas like Iraq and Transjordan, was held by the British as a League of Nations mandate. Syria and Lebanon was held by the French under similar conditions. While the British as early as 1917 had promised a new homeland for Jews in Palestine, the Arab population that lived in the region were nervous and resented the immigrants. Violence and civil war between the two groups broke out, which gave the British Empire headaches for decades, as they supported first one group, then the other. By 1947, Britain wanted to get out of Palestine and wash themselves of the whole mess.

The new United Nations proposed a partition: half the land to Jews, half to Arabs, and Jerusalem would be divided along similar lines. While the Jews supported this, the Arabs despised the dictate from the world organization. Fighting between the two groups reached a fever pitch, until eventually war broke out. Eventually the US withdrew its support for the split, which encouraged the Arabs to push on.

Point of Divergence

The supporters of Israel were many: the US, British and French all wished to give a homeland to the long suffering Jewish population, as well as providing a beacon of Western democracy (and interests) in a region where the locals were less than hospitable to the colonizing powers. However, except for diplomatic recognition, almost no support was given. In OTL, a major supporter of the new state of Israel was Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR, who as early as 1947 allowed Czechoslovakia, soon to become another satellite state of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, to send arms and train flight crews for Israel that proved decisive to allow them to fight for their independence. However, by 1949, Stalin had lost interest and began to see Israel as a stooge to the west, and began to denounce it.

However, what if Stalin came out against Israel at the beginning? What if those arms and support from Czechoslovakia didn't happen?

Joseph Stalin: ruining history (and alternate history!) since 1878.

In 1947, Stalin sent a memorandum to the government of Czechoslovakia, demanding that they do not support Israel. Faced with possible invasion and the destruction of the last democratic government in the region, Czechoslovakia acquiesced. No weapons or planes arrived in Palestine to help the Jews.


The Jewish Agency, the nominal government of Israel, felt it would be able to purchase weapons if they declared themselves an independent country, and they did so the day before the British Mandate was to end on May 14, 1948. However, the nations of the Arab League: Transjordan (soon to be known simply as Jordan), Iraq, Syria and Egypt declared war the next day, and with support from nations like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and irregular forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab Liberation Army all invaded the upstart nation. Egypt, with the largest army, and Jordan, with the British trained and led Arab Legion, made quick strides, occupying the Negev Desert, Gaza Bank and West Bank within a few weeks, cutting off Israeli settlements, and pushing the Jewish fighters out of much of Palestine.

With only the few supplies left by the British behind and whatever could be smuggled in past the British Blockade that remained up until the British surrendered the mandate. Some airplanes, like B-17's, and trucks were purchased in the US, but they were lacking rifles, artillery, machine guns and tanks. Attempts to purchase weapons in the US, France and other nations was hampered by the difficulty in getting them into Israel. The little bit that did arrive showed up infrequently, and some was captured by the invading Arab armies. United Nations attempts at a cease fire failed dramatically, severely crippling the world organization only a few years after it was created.

You would think if you could get almost every nation in the world to sit in a room together would actually help solve issues....
However, this was far from enough to supply the thousands of Israeli fighters, and soon brigades established had to be disbanded or merged with others. While hidden factories managed to produce some of what was needed, it wasn't enough. By the start of 1949, the outgunned and outnumbered Jewish fighters were surrounded at the port of Tel Aviv, having been forced out of the rest of the territory. On March 3, 1949, the Siege of Tel Aviv ended as the last members of the Jewish Agency surrendered.


Within weeks, the Jewish settlers of the region were being driven out, on top of the massacres that the Arab armies and Palestinian fighters had already engaged in. Ships full of Jewish refugees sailed away from Palestine, the hope of the Zionist movement crushed. Many fled to the US and Canada, helped by Jewish populations that already existed in both nations. Those that weren't able to evacuate by sea instead were able to go to the territory held by the Arab Legion and Jordan, namely the West Bank. King Abdullah I of Jordan was a moderate, compared to most of the rest of the Arab League, and he favoured the division of Palestine, if just so areas like the West Bank could be annexed by Jordan, and that a Jewish state would be easier to deal with than one run by Arabs who opposed him. Of course, Syria and Egypt had their own land claims on Palestine as well, to the point that any possible Palestinian state would be non-viable.

King Abdullah, however, was patient. He decided not to annex the land he held immediately, instead allowing the Palestinian Authority to set up it's government in occupied Jerusalem, only so long as they promised to end their attacks on the Israeli refugees. Reluctantly, Amin al-Husseini, who had been loosely allied with Nazi Germany during World War Two accepted. While Abdullah's goal was for a Middle East spanning kingdom, he was also a realist, and knew it would take a lot more than the 10,000 soldiers of the Arab Legion to make it a reality. He instead began a press campaign to encourage Palestinians that they would be better off in Jordan, with seats in the Jordan parliament (along with the Jewish refugees that resigned to live in Jordan), and announced that a referendum would be held in 1950 to determine the fate of the West Bank.

And then he scored a slam dunk, winning the NBA Championship... wait, not that Jordan? Oops.

King Farok of Egypt, however, was not to be denied, and he annexed the entire Gaza strip and other territories he held, earning him enmity among the Palestinian's who wanted their own territory. Attacks on occupying Egyptian troops soon began. Jordan used it as an excuse to attack Egypt, which was then supported by Syria and in June 1950 the Palestinian War flared up again. Jordan quickly gained the advantage, splitting Egypt and Syria on land, and using the British trained air force to rain bombs on Cairo and Damascus. By September, the Palestinian War was over, this time occupied by Jordan.

Now, with all of Palestine under Jordan's control, the entire territory was annexed. This sparked anger in much of Palestine, but after two decades of war, most of the people in the region wanted peace. The assassination of King Abdullah in 1951 over his failure to allow a free Palestinian state hung over the expanded Jordan for years, but after years of fighting, and the Six Day War of 1964 that saw Egypt, Syria and Iraq, all under influence from the Soviet Union attack the overstretched American and British allied Jordan and forced them out of Palestine finally allowed Palestine to become an independent nation. Jordan retreated, but would became a bellicose and aggressive nation, seeking to avenge the humiliation, which they did when they managed to overthrow Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1985 after his successful war that toppled the Shah of Iran.

Brutal Middle Eastern dictator or Prohibition-era gangster wannabe? You decide!
The rest of the Middle East continued to fight, first supported by one of the superpower blocs, then another, all in a quest to get a source of stable oil supplies. However, because of the wealth in oil, and long simmering nationalist and religious tensions in the area, peace in the region was fleeting, and by the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the US wanted little to do in the area, especially after the effort to occupy and stabilize Iraq in the 1990s proved expensive and costly. The valuable oil of the area was just not worth the price in lives, and soon efforts in the US and Europe turned more to trying to end oil dependence on the Middle East, which was still ongoing as of 2016.


Plausibility wise, I give it a 6/10. The possibility that Israel would survive was a 50/50 chance in 1948, and would be less without the supplies it got from Czechoslovakia. Had the Arab states worked together, had the leaders of the nations sought to establish an independent Palestine instead of tearing off pieces for themselves, then Israel wouldn't have stood a chance. Even with the disunity, Egypt, Syria and Jordan were able to claim territory of the Palestinian Mandate that Israel would have to fight multiple wars in the next few decades to reclaim.

But the thing about the Middle East, something that has bedeviled the rest of the world for decades, is that there just doesn't seem to be a solution that anyone will find satisfactory. Land, religion, oil, ideology, the wishes of the great powers; everyone has a hand and a say in the area, and no one can agree to anything. In an attempt at Middle East peace, someone will lose. And in geopolitics, no one likes to lose.

Let's face it: we already lost.
But what do you think? What would have happened had the nation of Israel never came to be? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

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