There are a number of individual years in modern Middle East history that stand out in importance. The ledger just since the end of WWII would invariably include the following: 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 1991, and 1993. In each of these years war, realignment, and/or peace processes occurred, i.e., some event or series of events that engendered a dramatic and lasting period of change by causing shifts in the balance of power and/or ideological and perceptual transformations in the region. At no time, however, was dramatic and all-encompassing change more apparent in the Middle East in the post-WWII era than in 1979—so much so that, in my opinion, future Middle East scholars will conclude that the year 1979 constituted a, if not the major watershed in modern Middle East history. The happenings of 1979, particularly the signatory events—the Iranian revolution, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—fundamentally altered the entire Middle East and had far-reaching consequences beyond the region itself. The regional instability created by the Iranian revolution led directly to the taking of the U.S. hostages in Teheran later in the year, an event in and of itself that had important domestic political repercussions in the United States as well as opened the door of terrorism against U.S. interests. The Iranian revolution also spawned the environment for the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, a war that lasted eight long years and established the parameters for the infamous Iran-contra affair, and, through the Iran-Iraq war, the revolution can be directly linked to the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Gulf crisis and war. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty created a framework for peace that perforce compelled the Arab states to pursue a negotiated resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, to which the historic 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty owe a great deal; in addition, the treaty upset the balance of power in the Arab world that led directly to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and affected Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran in 1980. Finally, the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan accelerated the break-up of the Soviet empire and the end to the cold war as well as affected the political disposition in the United States that led to the Reagan era. At the regional level, the war ravaged Afghanistan, and in the ensuing chaos it created a multitude of opportunities for the expansion of Islamist movements fighting against godless communism and then American imperialism—the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, the heightening of Pakistani-Indian hostilities, and disruption and turmoil in the former Central Asian Soviet republics are all the off-srping of the Kremlin’s decision to invade Afghanistan. An important breaking point had occurred, and new paradigms had been established. 1979 was both an end and a beginning. After an opening chapter that provides a historiographical analysis of the efficacy and legitimacy of examining the made-made and Western categorization called “1979,” the book offers a historical survey of the three primary events occurring during the year: the Iranian revolution, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The culminating third chapter of the book connects the dots of history, i.e., outlines and explains the important repercussions of the events of 1979 down to the present day.
David W. Lesch is professor of history at Trinity University, San Antonio. His publications include Syria and the United States: Eisenhower’s Cold War in the Middle East (Westview, 1992), 1979: The Year That Shaped the Modern Middle East (Westview, 2001), and The Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Asad and Modern Syria (Yale, 2005).