Key events that shaped the region’s social, political and cultural history
BY: Arfa Shahid
October 5, 1986: Iran-Contra Affair
The Iran-Contra incident was a political scandal broken by Newsweek reporter Robert Patty in 1986, which shook the foundations of the second Reagan administration. The U.S. had been involved in a secret arms sale to Iran, despite an arms embargo on the Islamic Republic. It was in fact the U.S. that launched Operation Staunch in 1983, a wide-ranging diplomatic effort to persuade nations all over the world not to sell arms to Iran, for fear of Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini’s openly-declared goal of exporting his Islamic revolution all over the Middle East and overthrowing the governments of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. Some of the proceeds from the sales to Iran were used to covertly fund the Contra war in Nicaragua. The Contras were a U.S.-created and funded right-wing force, opposing the ruling socialist Sandinista government. Eugene Hassenfus was captured by troops of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua after the plane in which he was flying was shot down. Under questioning, Hassenfus confessed that he was shipping military supplies into Nicaragua for use by the Contras, culminating in the Iran-Contra affair.
October 6, 1973: Yom Kippur War
Hoping to retake the territories of Sinai and the Golan Heights, which had been captured by the Israelis in the Six-Day War of 1967, Egypt and Syria launched a joint attack against Israel on the day of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. The war began on October 6 and Egypt and Syria initially made significant gains into the Israeli-held territory. However, the Israelis encircled Egypt’s Third Army and the city of Suez. In 1974, Egypt signed the first of the two Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreements, allowing for the return of parts of the Sinai territory to Egypt. In 1979, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and then Israeli Premier Menachem Begin signed the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state and Israel returned the last occupied part of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. For Syria, however, the Yom Kippur war proved to be disastrous. Israel seized even more territory from Syria in the Golan Heights, and in 1979, Syria voted with other Arab states to expel Egypt from the Arab League over its peace agreement with Israel.
October 10, 1924: Saudi Conquest of Hejaz
In 1924, the forces of Ibn Saud, the Emir of Makkah and the first monarch and founder of Saudi Arabia, captured Makkah in the Hejaz province from Sharif Hussein bin Ali Al Hashemi, ending 700 years of Hashemite rule. Hejaz was incorporated into Saudi Arabia, thus leading to the unification of the Kingdom. Ibn Saud was the son of the last ruler of Najd. The pretext for ignited hostilities between Najd and Hejaz came when pilgrims from Najd were denied access to the holy places in Hejaz. Ibn Saud began a military campaign against Hejaz and marched towards Taif, which surrendered without significant resistance. Later, Ibn Saud’s forces moved onto Makkah. Sharif Hussein’s request for British assistance was denied on the basis of non-intervention in religious disputes. Sharif Hussein, meanwhile fled to Jeddah. Thus, Makkah was also defeated without struggle, and the Islamic Conference in Riyadh on October 29, 1924 officially recognized Ibn Saud’s jurisdiction over Makkah. A year later, Madina and several other cities also fell to Ibn Saud. After taking over Hejaz, Ibn Saud was declared king and the Kingdom was later incorporated into the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz, with Ibn Saud being the king of their political union.