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Israel - A birth of a nation: The Sinai War
Posted on 04/17/2005 4:56:13 AM PDT by IAF ThunderPilot
Hello FReepers and welcome to my weekly IDF and Israel topic.
As part of my IDF and Israel ping list, I am publishing a series of fascinating stories and facts about the IDF and Israel.
I will include topics about Israeli-Arab wars, IDF's famous missions, war diaries written by IDF warriors, special IDF units, Middle East's strategic balance, Israel beyond politics, and much more.
Feel free to ask questions about the IDF and Israel- from any kind, and to give suggestions for future topics as the publications are for you.
Today's topic will focus on the Sinai War (also known as the Sinai Campaign or the Suez War) of October, 1956.
Have a good reading,
Israel - A birth of a nation: The Sinai War
Between Israel's War of Independence of 1948 (which you can read about in my previous publication) and until the Sinai War of 1956, the Arab states maintained the military pressure by supporting terrorist and guerrilla infiltration across the borders. The continual pressure on the Army, together with the country's very limited financial resources and population, led to the creation of a small standing army backed by a very large reserve force. The principle was Swiss, with major modifications.
The first test of this system came in the 1956 Sinai Campaign. More than 100 thousand soldiers were mobilized within seventy-two hours; the Israel Air Force (IAF) was fully operational within forty-three hours. Subsequent improvements have reduced the time for full mobilization to a minimum.
In the early 1950s, the Armored Corps underwent a number of changes in its command structure. Because of organizational flux and low standards of equipment maintenance, the Corps was poorly prepared to face the growing strength of the Egyptian Army. In 1955, Czechoslovakia began to supply the Egyptians with large quantities of arms, including tanks. The General Staff was forced to undertake immediate steps to rectify the situation. The Armored Corps' entire approach to combat was restricted to seizing strategic points and avoiding direct contact with the enemy. As a result of the Sinai Campaign, the Israeli armored doctrine was changed to one which called for maximum mobility and for actively seeking out the enemy. This change in turn affected the role of the infantry. The new emphasis on mobility was designed to prevent the enemy from regrouping. The success of the tank forces during the Sinai Campaign ensured that the new doctrine would find a place in the IDF.
In accordance with the new doctrine of seeking out the enemy, in the summer of 1953 a special, secret unit was established (unit "101") to retaliate against Arab infiltration across the borders by striking at guerrilla bases inside enemy territory. The unit never comprised more than forty-five soldiers, and was integrated into the paratroopers after only five months. Nevertheless, its success in actively dealing with infiltration, as well as the mystique surrounding its operations, ensured that its style of combat had a great impact on the evolving IDF.
The Sinai Campaign, fought to put an end to to the terrorist incursions into Israel and to remove the Egyptian blockade of Eilat, marked the final transformation of the IDF into a professional army capable of large-scale operations. A battle plan for the operation was adopted in early October 1956, but was revised following Israel's secret agreement with Britain and France. Under this agreement, Israel would transfer the focus of action as close to the Suez Canal as possible.
On its own account, the Israeli government also drew up a course of action allowing it to convert the operation into a brief raid, should the British and French, contrary to the secret agreement, not intervene. In a new plan, adopted on October 25, it was decided to launch the operation with paratroop landing, and to hold the Armored Corps back until October 31.
At 17:00 on October 29, Israeli units parachuted into the eastern approaches of the Mitla Pass near the Canal - a political rather than tactical or strategic objective. The action provided the pretext for a French and British ultimatum to Israel and Egypt, calling on both sides to cease hostilities and withdraw from the Canal area. For diversionary reasons, Israeli forces also advanced on southern and central axes.
The following day, October 30, Britain and France issued the planned ultimatum, but to no effect, as heavy fighting between Egyptian and Israeli units persisted. By November 5, all of Sinai was in Israeli hands. The Sinai Campaign did not so much introduce new principles and policies as reaffirm the direction the IDF had already taken. Above all, the doctrine that the determining factors in Israel's mode of warfare would be the Armored Corps and the Air Force was confirmed.
In the fall of 1948, the UN Security Council called on Israel and the Arab states to negotiate armistice agreements. Egypt agreed, but only after Israel had routed its army and driven to El Arish in the Sinai. At that time, the British were ready to defend Egypt under an Anglo-Egyptian treaty. Rather than accept the humiliation of British assistance, however, the Egyptians met the Israelis at Rhodes.
UN mediator Ralph Bunche brought them together at the conference table and was later honored with a Nobel Peace Prize. He warned that any delegation that walked out of the negotiations would be blamed for their breakdown.
By the summer of 1949, armistice agreements had been negotiated between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Iraq, which had also fought against Israel, refused to follow suit. Bunche succeeded at Rhodes because he insisted on direct bilateral talks between Israel and each Arab state.
Meanwhile, on December 11, 1948, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the parties to negotiate peace and creating a Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC), which consisted of the United States, France and Turkey. All Arab delegations voted against it.
After 1949, the Arabs insisted that Israel accept the borders in the 1947 partition resolution and repatriate the Palestinian refugees before they would negotiate an end to the war they had initiated. This was a novel approach that they would use after subsequent defeats: the doctrine of the limited-liability war. Under this theory, an aggressor may reject a compromise settlement and gamble on war to win everything in the comfortable knowledge that, even if he fails, he may insist on reinstating the status quo ante.
Egypt had maintained its state of belligerency with Israel after the armistice agreement was signed. The first manifestation of this was the closing of the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. On August 9, 1949, the UN Mixed Armistice Commission upheld Israel's complaint that Egypt was illegally blocking the canal. UN negotiator Ralph Bunche declared: "There should be free movement for legitimate shipping and no vestiges of the wartime blockade should be allowed to remain, as they are inconsistent with both the letter and the spirit of the armistice agreements."
On September 1, 1951, the Security Council ordered Egypt to open the Canal to Israeli shipping. Egypt refused to comply.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Muhammad Salah al-Din, said early in 1954:
"The Arab people will not be embarrassed to declare: We shall not be satisfied except by the final obliteration of Israel from the map of the Middle East (Al-Misri, April 12, 1954)."
A New Type of Warfare
In 1955, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser began to import arms from the Soviet Bloc to build his arsenal for the confrontation with Israel. In the short-term, however, he employed a new tactic to prosecute Egypt's war with Israel. He announced it on August 31, 1955:
"Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine....There will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death."
These "heroes" were Arab terrorists, or fedayeen, trained and equipped by Egyptian Intelligence to engage in hostile action on the border and infiltrate Israel to commit acts of sabotage and murder. The fedayeen operated mainly from bases in Jordan, so that Jordan would bear the brunt of Israel's retaliation, which inevitably followed. The terrorist attacks violated the armistice agreement provision that prohibited the initiation of hostilities by paramilitary forces; nevertheless, it was Israel that was condemned by the UN Security Council for its counterattacks.
The escalation continued with the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal in July 1956. On October 14, Nasser made clear his intent:
"I am not solely fighting against Israel itself. My task is to deliver the Arab world from destruction through Israel's intrigue, which has its roots abroad. Our hatred is very strong. There is no sense in talking about peace with Israel. There is not even the smallest place for negotiations."
Less than two weeks later, on October 25, Egypt signed a tripartite agreement with Syria and Jordan placing Nasser in command of all three armies.
The continued blockade of the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, combined with the increased fedayeen attacks and the bellicosity of recent Arab statements, prompted Israel, with the backing of Britain and France, to attack Egypt on October 29, 1956.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban explained the provocations to the Security Council on October 30:
"During the six years during which this belligerency has operated in violation of the Armistice Agreement there have occurred 1,843 cases of armed robbery and theft, 1,339 cases of armed clashes with Egyptian armed forces, 435 cases of incursion from Egyptian controlled territory, 172 cases of sabotage perpetrated by Egyptian military units and fedayeen in Israel. As a result of these actions of Egyptian hostility within Israel, 364 Israelis were wounded and 101 killed. In 1956 alone, as a result of this aspect of Egyptian aggression, 28 Israelis were killed and 127 wounded."
One reason these raids were so intolerable for Israel was that the country had chosen to create a relatively small standing army and to rely primarily on reserves in the event of war. This meant that Israel had a small force to fight in an emergency, that threats provoking the mobilization of reserves could virtually paralyze the country, and that an enemy's initial thrust would have to be withstood long enough to complete the mobilization.
Israel Routs Egypt
When the decision was made to go to war in 1956, more than 100,000 soldiers were mobilized in less than 72 hours and the air force was fully operational within 43 hours. Paratroopers landed in the Sinai and Israeli forces quickly advanced unopposed toward the Suez Canal before halting in compliance with the demands of England and France. As expected, the Egyptians ignored the Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw since they, the "victims," were being asked to retreat from the Sinai to the west bank of the Canal while the Israelis were permitted to stay just 10 miles east of the Canal.
On October 30, the United States sponsored a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate Israeli withdrawal, but England and France vetoed it. The following day, the two allies launched air operations, bombing Egyptian airfields near Suez.
Given the pretext to continue fighting, the Israeli forces routed the Egyptians. The IDF's armored corps swept across the desert, capturing virtually the entire Sinai by November 5. That day, British and French paratroops landed near Port Said and amphibious ships dropped commandos on shore. British troops captured Port Said and advanced to within 25 miles of Suez City before the British government abruptly agreed to a cease-fire.
The British about-face was prompted by Soviet threats to use "every kind of modern destructive weapon" to stop the violence and the United States decision to make a much-needed $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund contingent on a cease-fire. The French tried to convince Britain to fight long enough to finish the job of capturing the Canal, but succeeded only in delaying their acceptance of the cease-fire.
Though their allies had failed to accomplish their goals, the Israelis were satisfied at having reached theirs in an operation that took only 100 hours. By the end of the fighting, Israel held the Gaza Strip and had advanced as far as Sharm al-Sheikh along the Red Sea. A total of 231 Israeli soldiers died in the fighting.
Ike Forces Israel to Withdraw
President Dwight Eisenhower was upset by the fact that Israel, France and Great Britain had secretly planned the campaign to evict Egypt from the Suez Canal. Israel's failure to inform the United States of its intentions, combined with ignoring American entreaties not to go to war, sparked tensions between the countries. The United States subsequently joined the Soviet Union (ironically, just after the Soviets invaded Hungary) in a campaign to force Israel to withdraw. This included a threat to discontinue all U.S. assistance, UN sanctions and expulsion from the UN (see exchanges between Ben-Gurion and Eisenhower).
U.S. pressure resulted in an Israeli withdrawal from the areas it conquered without obtaining any concessions from the Egyptians. This sowed the seeds of the 1967 Six Day War.
One reason Israel did give in to Eisenhower was the assurance he gave to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Before evacuating Sharm al-Sheikh, the strategic point guarding the Straits of Tiran, Israel elicited a promise that the United States would maintain the freedom of navigation in the waterway. In addition, Washington sponsored a UN resolution creating the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to supervise the territories vacated by the Israeli forces.
The war temporarily ended the activities of the fedayeen; however, they were renewed a few years by a loosely knit group of terrorist organizations that became know as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Ben-Gurion Reviews Sinai Campaign (November 7, 1956)
Two days after the fighting ceased in Sinai, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion reviewed the momentous events of the previous ten days in an address to the Knesset. He described military and political developments and proposed a seven-point plan of future relations between Israel and Egypt. Excerpts follow:
"The glorious military operation which lasted a week and conquered the entire Sinai Peninsula of 60,000 square kilometers is an unprecedented feat in Jewish history and is rare in the world's history. The Army did not make an effort to occupy enemy territory in Egypt proper and limited its operations to free the area from northern Sinai to the tip of the Red Sea.
This heroic advance is a focal point not only for the consolidation of the State's security and internal tranquillity but also for our external relations on the world scene. Our forces did not attack Egypt proper and I hope the Egyptian dictator will not compel Israelis to violate the biblical injunction never to return to that country.
Three weeks ago, I told the Knesset of the increased gravity of the Czech arms deal which had supplied Egypt with a tremendous flow of heavy armaments it is only a week ago that our forces discovered the astonishing quantity and first-rate quality of this copious supply of Soviet arms, only part of which had been dispatched to the Sinai peninsula.
Neither the Egyptian dictator nor his peace-loving friends in Czechoslovakia had the least doubt about the purpose of these enormous quantities of heavy arms. Certainly neither the supplier nor the recipient meant them to fall into Israeli hands. On the contrary, they meant them to bring about the downfall of Israel.
The Suez crisis has aroused the whole world but it has not disturbed Israel to the same extent, not because Israel does not have [an] interest in freedom of navigation of this international waterway but because our right of free navigation was brutally and arbitrarily violated by Egypt's ruler several years ago, and this continued after the Security Council's decision in 1951 which was arrogantly defied.
The United States, Britain and, especially, the Soviet Union appeased Fascist, dictatorial Egypt at the expense of international law and the maintenance of the prestige of the Security Council and the United Nations Charter as long as Israel only was affected.
Israel has confined itself to safeguarding its rights in the international waterway, and world public opinion has supported this demand.
The injury inflicted upon and the danger posed to Israel by Egypt were not limited to the denial of our rights in the Suez Canal. For Israel's economy, both the present and the future freedom of navigation of the Red Sea from Eilat is no less vital than Suez.
For centuries this island [Tiran] has been desolate, and only a few years ago the Egyptians occupied and garrisoned it for the purpose of interfering with Israeli shipping in the Gulf.
The Egyptian dictator, however, did not content himself with the maritime blockade of Israel and the organization of an economic blockade against Israel throughout the world.
He organized and built up in all the Arab countries special units of murderers who crossed the borders to sow terror among workers in the fields and civilians in their homes.
Nasser proclaimed time and again that Egypt was in a state of war with Israel, nor did he conceal that his central purpose was to attack Israel at the first suitable opportunity and wipe it off the earth.
It is no accident that among the large quantities of supplies captured by our forces in the Sinai desert we also found copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf
Since my review to the Knesset three weeks ago, something happened which intensified the danger and compelled us immediately to adopt special vigorous precautionary measures. After the Jordanian elections, in which Egyptian bribery played a decisive role, a pro-Egyptian majority was elected, and immediately a tripartite military alliance was concluded among Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, tinder the terms of which tile armed forces of these three countries were placed under Egyptian command, with one clear goal in view: War to the death against [Israel].
The Egyptian fidayun who, during the Suez crisis, were ordered by the Egyptian dictator to suspend their murderous activities in Israel, were brought back into action as soon as it seemed to Abdel Nasser that the crisis had passed, resulting in the wounding of 28 Israeli soldiers.
There was no room left to doubt that the noose which had been prepared for us was tightening and would neglect no means serving to destroy us, and it was our duty to take urgent and effective measures for self-defence. We mobilized a number of reserve battalions to the Syrian border, and we mobilized a larger force of reserves, consisting especially of armour, on the southern border.
At the beginning of our mobilization, I received two messages from the President of the United States expressing concern over the mobilization of reserves.
In my reply of 29 October to the President, I reminded him of his constant efforts for peace in the region for the past year, which I supported wholeheartedly, as well as the fact that it was the Egyptian dictator who sabotaged these efforts. I also informed the President of the increasing gravity of the situation arising from the dictator's expansionist aims, the extent of his rearmament and attempts to undermine the independence of the Arab countries, and above all his overt intention to destroy Israel, his establishing a military alliance with Jordan and Syria under Egyptian command, and the renewal of fidayun activities.
I ended my reply with: "With Iraqi troops poised in great numbers on the Iraq-Jordanian border; with the creation of a joint command of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan; with the renewal of incursions into Israel by Egyptian gangs, my Government would be failing in its essential duty if it does not take all the necessary measures to ensure that the declared Arab aim to eliminate Israel by force should not come about.
"My Government appealed to the people of Israel to combine alertness with calm, and I feel confident that with your vast military experience you appreciate to the full the crucial danger in which we find ourselves."
That same evening a number of our units set out to put an end to the nests of murderers which were part of the Egyptian Army and to those bases from which they were planned and organized, and the root forces whence the murderous gangs came. Into these engagements the Egyptians brought their air force and fierce battles developed at the end of seven days the entire Egyptian force in Sinai was eliminated.
As I said previously, our forces were given strict orders not to cross the Suez Canal or to attack Egyptian territory proper, and remain entirely within the limits of the Sinai Peninsula. I am confident military histories will make a thorough study of this remarkable operation carried out by the Israeli Army in a few days in a vast desert area against an enemy armed and equipped down to the smallest detail with the finest, most modern weapons of the Soviet Bloc and elsewhere.
It is only now, after the occupation of the Gaza Strip, Abu Ageila, El-Arish, Nekhal, Mitla, and the Filat Gulf, that we have fully realized how great in quantity, how modern and excellent in quality were the Egyptian arms and equipment. They had heavy weapons, tanks, guns, first-class communications equipment, motor transport, armoured cars, clothing supplies immeasurably superior to anything our forces possess.
In spite of all our previous information about the flow of heavy arms of all types which the Egyptian dictator received during the year, we had no real notion of the enormous quantities and superior quality of the arms and equipment he had received. The vast booty which fell into our hands proves that beyond all doubt Egypt's dictator squeezed Egypt's hungry masses to provide his army with everything they had, but all this was of no avail because there was no spirit in them.
About three divisions faced Israel's army, in addition to a number of units, copiously armed and equipped, scattered the length and breadth of Sinai. The Egyptian troops numbered over 30,000 men and heavy reinforcements arrived during the fighting, over two brigades. And this huge army was equipped with hundreds of Czech and British tanks and other armour, supported by an air force equipped with Vampire, Meteor, MIG jet planes, and the Egyptian Navy also came into action.
The first night of operations we took Kuntilla after 20 minutes of resistance, Ras el Naqeb near Eilat after a brief engagement, and Kusseima after 45 minutes of resistance.
I know this dry description is not adequate for this extraordinary and truly heroic action which few would believe possible, but it did not come out of the blue; in the preliminary planning we kept two principal objectives in view: to ensure speed of operation and to minimize the number of casualties.
I can say with deep satisfaction that both purposes were achieved more successfully than expected and our losses were about 150 killed. Let us stand silent in glorious memory of our heroes. In deep grief and profound pride we send our love and respect to their parents.
I know that I express the feeling of the entire nation and the Jewish people throughout the world when I say that our love and admiration go out to the Israeli army on land, sea, and air. The whole nation is proud of you. You enhanced the prestige of our people in the world and powerfully reinforced Israel's security.
During the fighting I was profoundly concerned with the fate of the cities which might be bombed by Egyptian bombers, and we took special precautions to decrease the danger.
Referring to the international situation, I will not ask the United Nations why it did not take equally prompt action when the Arab countries in 1948 invaded our country, which we revived in accordance with the General Assembly's own recommendations.
There is not a people in the world so deeply concerned for the principles of peace and justice contained in the United Nations Charter as is the Jewish people, not only because these principles are part of our ancient spiritual heritage and were passed on by us to the civilized world, but because the entire future of our people depends largely on the rule of peace and justice in the world.
Israel will not consent, under any circumstances, that a foreign force called whatever it may take up positions whether on Israeli soil or in any area held by Israel. The armistice with Egypt is dead, as are the armistice lilies, and no wizards or magicians can resurrect these lines which cloaked Egyptian murders and sabotage.
Israel has no quarrel with the Egyptian people. Farouk and Nasser incited the Egyptians, but there is no underlying enmity between Israel and Egypt or vice versa. The latter point is proven by the wholesale desertion of Egyptian officers in the Sinai peninsula.
Israel wants peace and neighbourly relations with Egypt under conditions of direct negotiations. It is to be hoped that all peace-loving and freedom-loving people will support Israel in this demand. We are also ready for peace negotiations with the other Arab States on condition that they respect the armistice lines. Israel will not attack the Arab States, but if attacked will strike back.
Mr. Ben-Gurion, summarizing his speech, presented a seven-point declaration which he offered the world "with full moral force and unflinching determination." The seven points were as follows:
1. The armistice agreement with Egypt is dead and buried and cannot be restored to life.
2. In consequence, the armistice lines between Israel and Egypt have no more validity.
3. There is no dispute whatever between the people of Israel and the Egyptian people.
4. We do not wish our relations with Egypt to continue in the present anarchic state and we are ready to enter into negotiations for a stable peace, cooperation and good neighbourly relations with Egypt on condition that they are direct negotiations without prior conditions on either side and are not under duress from any quarter whatever.
5. We hope that all peace-loving nations will support our desire for such negotiations with each of the Arab States, but even if they are unprepared for a permanent peace, so long as they observe the armistice agreements, Israel, on its part, will do so, too.
6. On no account will Israel agree to the stationing of a foreign force, no matter how it is called, in its territory or in any of the area occupied by it.
7. Israel will not fight against any Arab country or against Egypt unless it is attacked by them."
Ben-Gurion on the Results of Sinai Campaign (March 5, 1957)
"On March 2, 1957, after receipt of the letter from President Eisenhower, the Government of Israel approved the withdrawal of its forces from the Gaza Strip and orders to that effect were issued to the Israel Defence Forces. On March 5, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion addressed the Knesset and reviewed the Sinai campaign and its results:
On 1 March, with the Government's authorisation, the Foreign Minister announced in the United Nations Assembly the evacuation of Sharm el-Sheikh and the Gaza Strip, in compliance with the Assembly Resolution of 2 February.
Before discussing the contents of this announcement, I must briefly deal with the motives which brought us to these two areas, how the thing happened, and how and why we continued to occupy them for over four months.
On the morning of 28 October I submitted to the Government the plan for the Sinai operation. As I have already stated elsewhere, this was not a campaign of conquest but a campaign of deliverance.
Like many others, I believed that the Czech-Egyptian arms transaction greatly intensified the danger to our security, and we made desperate efforts to acquire the minimum armament supplies required to deter the enemy, as well as other guarantees for our security. In the latter aim we were completely unsuccessful.
On 15 October 1956 I reviewed in the Knesset our efforts to obtain arms, but I pointed out that, although we were not so defenceless as we had been at the beginning of the year - "Egypt alone still has an enormous superiority over Israel both by sea and in the air, and even on land. It has destroyers and submarines, it has heavy tanks British, Czech and Soviet it has Soviet jet fighters and bombers superior in quality and quantity to anything we possess, and if we add the constantly increasing armament of the other Arab countries, we have still more cause for anxiety."
Directed at Our Heart
In these very days the tripartite military alliance between Egypt, Jordan and Syria was signed, the armies of these three countries were placed under Egyptian command, and their rulers openly declared that they could now choose the time to wipe out Israel. We realized that the enemy's sword was not only hanging over our head but directed straight at our heart.
A glance at the map of Israel is enough to show clearly the immediate danger that faced us in those days: sudden attack by these countries under Egyptian command could easily have cut the country in two at the narrow strip in the neighbourhood of Netanya; our airfields and our two coastal towns, Jaffa-Tel Aviv and Haifa, where most of our population is concentrated, could have been bombed, thus obstructing the mobilization of reserves, who are the sole foundation of our security in view of the smallness of our regular army.
Such interference with the mobilization of our reserves and the bombardment of our airfields would have left us helpless against the aggression unless we had struck out first at the aggression. And the Sinai campaign became a condition of our very survival, an action in self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. I am certain that any other people in our position would have acted likewise.
In the course of five days, we defeated three Egyptian divisions in Sinai and the Gaza Strip. We destroyed all the fidayun bases, and destroyed or captured large quantities of Egypt's military equipment, including land, sea and air armament.
Essential, Justified and Worthwhile
The Sinai operation was essential, justified and worthwhile, if for this reason alone, and I doubt if any army has achieved such great and important results with so few though such precious casualties: 170 killed and 1 prisoner - as the Israel Defence Forces achieved in the Sinai operation. This was a campaign of deliverance for it saved Israel from a direct and immediate danger, crippled the enemy's aggressive capacity for no short period, and, in my opinion, inflicted a heavy blow on the prestige of the Egyptian dictator, who aims at dominating all the peoples of the Middle East, as well, perhaps, as the entire African continent. And had the Sinai campaign given us no more than this it would have been enough. It would have been justified. And the atmosphere of tension in which we lived for a full year, as the military power of Egypt grew week by week, slackened after the Sinai operation, and we were relieved.
Before the Sinai campaign began, when I placed the matter before the Government, I was asked and perhaps rightly what would be the fate of the Gaza Strip, the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, the coasts of the Straits and Sinai as a whole. At that historic Cabinet session on the morning of 2 October, I told the Government that in addition to our physical security "We are interested in the coast of Eilat and in the Straits" "The essential is freedom of navigation" "That is the main thing, even if we are not stationed there (at the Straits) we should have free passage."
I said that the plan of operation included the expulsion of the Egyptian invader, but I added that the Gaza Strip was an embarrassing objective on that occasion I used the English word "embarrassing" because even then I had no illusions about the tremendous difficulties involved in view of the circumstances within the Strip itself.
I have no need to enlarge on the execution of the Sinai operation; it is recorded in the pages of history. It combined brilliant planning by the Staff and extraordinary performance by the officers and soldiers on the battlefield. The whole world, both friends and enemies, recognize the skill and the heroism of the Israel Defence Forces. The standing which those Forces enjoy today in the eyes of world opinion is, I believe, uniquely high; and this is another welcome result which should not be scoffed at.
Anxieties Not Unfounded
When I reviewed the Sinai operation in the Knesset on 7 November of last year, I ended with the following words:
"It may be that in the near future we shall have to face a difficult political struggle, and perhaps something even graver. We shall not give way to the futile arrogance of the Arab rulers, but on the other hand we shall not humble ourselves before the powerful forces of the world, when justice is not on their side.
"Let us meet the days ahead with courage, with wisdom in the consciousness of the justice of our cause and of our strength, without ignoring our natural and necessary bonds with the world family of nations."
These grave anxieties have proved not unfounded. While the campaign was still in progress the Security Council was summoned with a view to putting an end to the operation and imposing sanctions upon us. The Resolution was not adopted owing to a veto in the Security Council, and the UN Assembly was immediately summoned to an emergency session. The President of the United States turned to us in an urgent appeal, and, as you know, we were confronted with the demand to evacuate Egyptian territory and retire behind the armistice lines, and we informed the President and the Secretary-General of the UN, with the approval of all parties in the Knesset, with the exception of Herut and the Communists, that we would evacuate Sinai when suitable arrangements would have been made with the UN forces. In a communication to the Secretary-General of the UN we defined suitable arrangements as "arrangements that would safeguard Israel against acts of hostility on land and sea", and we had two things in mind: free passage in the Gulf of Aqaba, the Straits of Tiran and the Red Sea, and the ending of the danger of the fidayun and the Egyptian aggression bases.
From a formal point of view, we were in a difficult position at that time. There was an Assembly Resolution, several times repeated, demanding our immediate withdrawal behind the armistice lines. The British and the French, who had seized part of the Canal and Port Said, withdrew without further ado in compliance with the UN's demand. We needed time and no little time to explain to world public opinion: a) the fact that we had acted not as aggressors, but in self-defence, and that it was Egypt which had for eight years carried out belligerent operations against us; b) the fidayun danger and the Egyptian dictator's aggressive plans; c) the vital importance of free passage in the Gulf of Aqaba and the Tiran Straits. And I am happy to be able to say that in the course of the four months since the end of the Sinai operation we were largely successful in this task.
Four months ago only a few persons here and there in different countries were aware of the very existence of the Straits. Little by little public opinion throughout the world came to understand the importance of the Straits for the shipping not only of Israel but of the nations in general, and our right under international law to free passage in this international waterway.
This was one of the most successful information actions on a world scale carried out by the Government of Israel and its representatives during these months. Most of the people of the free democracies and the great organs of the press overwhelmingly recognized our rights to freedom of passage and the importance in general of shipping in the Gulf and in the Straits. Apart from the achievement of the Israel Defence Forces, I doubt if anything received greater publicity during these months than the question of navigation in the Gulf of Eilat. This is an asset of great value that we have won as a by-product of the Sinai operation, and is additional to the principal goal, the saving of Israel from the aggression of the Egyptian dictator and his allies.
A second point which we have succeeded in bringing before world public opinion in the course of these four months is the danger of the fidayun, who were organized, trained and sent into the field by the Egyptian authorities, not only in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai bases but also in the neighbouring Arab countries of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. What fidayun activities spread over seven years more than 3,000 raids on Israel between 1949 and the end of 1956 could not do (for daily acts of sabotage and individual acts of murder were no sensation for the world press) was done by our information work in the course of the past months, thanks to the tremendous repercussions of the Sinai operation.
We cannot congratulate ourselves on having won over the whole of world public opinion. Almost the whole Soviet bloc persevered in its hostility to Israel, without any attempt to take into account the actual facts.
The Indian Government, too, showed a strange and regrettable indifference to Israel's just claim. But in several Asian countries, including even a few Moslem countries, there was considerable understanding and sympathy for Israel's attitude, although for obvious reasons this understanding was not openly and publicly expressed.
Conflict Grew Sharper
After we had evacuated the whole of the Sinai desert apart from the coastal strip of the Straits, the conflict between ourselves and the United Nations and especially between ourselves and the US Government grew sharper. In my political review in the Knesset on 23 January, I said, speaking of the coastal strip: "We have no interest in occupying this strip, and we wish to evacuate it at the earliest opportunity, when we receive effective guarantees against any interference with Israeli and international free passage, such as prevails now in this international waterway."
On the Gaza Strip I said: "In compliance with the stand of the Assembly, Israel has no intention of maintaining armed forces in the Gaza Strip but, for the good of the inhabitants of the area and their neighbours outside it, the Strip must be occupied by Israel, appropriate relations being established between the Israeli administration and the United Nations."
Since then our political efforts have been concentrated on two objectives, the safeguarding of the free passage in the Straits and an Israeli administration in cooperation with the United Nations in the Gaza Strip for three purposes: 1) security for Israel in general and the settlements of the south and the Negev in particular, 2) the rehabilitation of the resident population of the area, 3) the solution of the problem of the Gaza refugees by the United Nations, to which Israel would make its contribution.
On 2 February, the UN Assembly again adopted two Resolutions: the first deplored Israel's failure to complete the withdrawal behind the armistice lines in spite of the Assembly's repeated demands, and insisted on the completion of Israel's withdrawal without further delay; and in the second Resolution the Assembly recognized, inter alia, that the Israeli withdrawal must be followed by measures to ensure progress towards the creation of peaceful conditions.
Reply to the President
On the following day, on 3 February, I received a letter from the President of the United States couched in friendly terms but containing a grave warning. The President stated that the Resolution of 2 February was submitted to the Assembly by the United States and other countries with a view to bringing about peaceful conditions in the Middle East, but that the first step must be the completion of the Israeli withdrawal behind the armistice line.
In my reply to the President I pointed out that to our great regret the UN organs were adopting a double standard, and discriminating between Israel and Egypt. For the last eight years the Egyptians had been violating the UN Charter and the armistice agreement, defying the Security Council, engaging in hostilities against Israel, denying our ships free passage in the Suez Canal, and breaking their pledged word given in 1950 to the U.S. Government in regard to free passage in the Gulf of Eilat.
All this had been done for the purpose of destroying Israel by force while those who had the power and the authority had done nothing to prevent these grave violations of international obligations. Though Israel was a small country, it was entitled to security, liberty and equality of rights in the family of nations. Like any other independent State, we were free as of right, and we asked whether the United Nations Organization was going to discriminate between one nation and another.
The main question was whether the Egyptian Government was prepared to put an end to its acts of hostility against us. Only in this way, and not by a return to the status quo ante, was it possible to ensure peace in our area. For these reasons we are unable to complete the withdrawal without prior satisfactory arrangements.
A Resolution demanding sanctions against Israel was submitted in the Assembly, but our contention against the imposition of a double standard met with considerable sympathy in the world, in almost all the free countries, including the United States. We declared that we would not be deterred by the threat of sanctions. On 10 February, Mr. John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State, made an attempt to break the deadlock. He informed our representative in Washington that the President had read my letter with attention and sympathy, and a reply was prepared in the form of a memorandum which was handed to our Ambassador and published a day or two later.
(The Prime Minister then briefly summarized the main points of Mr. Dulles' memorandum of 11 February.)
The talks with the American Secretary of State to clarify various points in his memorandum lasted several days, and we stated our attitude in a written memorandum that was handed to the Secretary of State and later published. In this memorandum we expressed our appreciation of the United States' positive approach to the problem of the Gulf of Eilat and the Straits as an international waterway, and the statement on American use of the free passage with the cooperation of other States; we also welcomed the Secretary's statement that the UN Force would be stationed at Sharm el-Sheikh.
We pointed out, however, that the recognition of the right to free passage in itself did not guarantee free passage for Israel, as had been seen in the case of the Suez Canal; therefore it was essential that the UN Force should remain in the area until a peace settlement had been arrived at.
As for Gaza, we emphasized that this strip of land had never been Egyptian territory, and that Egypt was not entitled to claim any rights under the armistice agreement after violating the agreement throughout the years, and maintaining a formal and actual state of war against us in violation of the Security Council's decision.
The Egyptians must, therefore, on no account be restored to the Strip, which they had transformed during the period of their occupation into a base for aggression against Israel.
In view of these talks the Assembly's sitting was postponed. On the other hand, the demand of the Arab and Soviet bloc for the imposition of sanctions grew in strength.
Arriving at an Agreed Settlement
On 18 February, I sent a Note, with the approval of the Government, to the Secretary of State, urgently asking for the postponement of further deliberations in the Assembly and the despatch of a committee, which should if necessary also visit the Straits, so as to arrive at an agreed settlement of the problems of Sharm el-Sheikh and the Gaza Strip.
In this letter I stated that if the United Nations Organization, with the support of the United States, should impose sanctions upon us, it would be committing a historic injustice which would undermine the moral basis of the international organization.
In the light of the recent talks I felt that there were grounds for hope that an agreed solution might be arrived at after a thorough investigation on the spot, and that the delay involved was worthwhile in order to save Israel and the United States from a most tragic development.
I received no reply from Mr. Dulles to this appeal, but two days later, on 20 February, I received a long message from the President of the United States to the effect that, in response to my letter of 18 February, the United States delegation had supported the proposal to postpone the Assembly's sitting; a long-term postponement, however, was out of the question, and in the absence of an affirmative decision on the part of the Israel Government there was no certainty that the Assembly's deliberation would not involve grave consequences.
It was the President's hope that we would immediately announce our compliance with the demand for withdrawal, and rely on the resoluteness of all friends of justice to bring about a state of affairs which would conform to the principles of justice and international law and serve impartially the proper interests of all in the area. In this message the President stated that, after consultations with Congressional leaders, he intended to broadcast to the American people on these questions.
The President Broadcasts
I replied the same evening that I had no right to take any decisions on my own responsibility, but that I would submit his message to the Government the next day, and would immediately inform him of the Government's decisions.
I asked, however, for the postponement of the Assembly's sitting for a few days so that the discussions should take place in a quiet atmosphere.
On the same day the President broadcast to the American people.
(The Prime Minister then briefly summarized the main points of the President's broadcast.)
The next day, on 21 February, I replied to the President in the Knesset, and there is no need for me to repeat what I said on that occasion.
We instructed our Ambassador, who had come home for consultations with the Government, to endeavour to separate the problem of the Straits from that of the Gaza Strip, and to arrive at a settlement of one of these problems, even if the other could not yet be settled. He was to inform the United States and the other members of the United Nations that in accordance with the attitude we had adopted all the time we would withdraw from the Straits if freedom of passage for Israel was assured (whether by the stationing of the UN Force, by guarantees from various countries, by an agreement between the four littoral States, or by any other arrangement satisfactory to the Government of Israel).
As for Gaza, our attitude was that the Egyptians must on no account be restored to Gaza, and we proposed that a UN commission should be sent to discuss with us the three problems of the Strip: security, the rehabilitation of the residents, and the problem of the refugees. On the same day, 21 February, I informed the President that our Ambassador was returning to Washington with the instructions of the Government and it was our hope that we would reach mutual understanding.
It became clear in New York and Washington that the two problems could not be separated.
Faced with Deadlock
We were faced with total deadlock and both the Government and the nation were prepared to endure sanctions if the Arab and Soviet blocs with the support or the abstention of the United States succeeded in organizing a two-thirds majority for its imposition, although a vigorous and comprehensive and not unsuccessful effort was made in several European, American and other capitals, to secure effective opposition to such a decision, and a number of States undertook to vote against a sanctions Resolution or to abstain.
Two draft Resolutions emerged: one submitted by several Arab countries calling for sanctions, and another in the form of an ultimatum to Israel to evacuate its forces in the course of three to five days, failing which measures would be taken against it. In the meantime, the UN Assembly was postponed for a few days, and the discussions between ourselves and the U.S. Government continued. Friends of ours in various countries, as well as newspapers which had supported us, advised us to do whatever possible to reach a solution on the basis of the prospects held out to us in our talks with the United States.
Towards the end of last week, there was a turning point in the negotiations, thanks to the participation of representatives of Canada and France in the discussions and consultations. It became clear that there was practically no prospect of the adoption by the Assembly of any resolution requiring as it did a two-thirds majority even if the resolution was acceptable to all the countries friendly to us, including the United States.
After thorough deliberations that continued for days on end both here and in the United States, the Government authorized the Foreign Minister to make a statement in the Assembly on I March to the following effect:
Israel will withdraw from the Gaza Strip and Sharm el-Sheikh. In regard to Sharm el-Sheikh, we had stated all the time that we had no interest in the coastal strip, and our only aim was that after the withdrawal free passage should be assured in the Gulf of Eilat and the Straits of Tiran. Such free passage is vital to Israel, and is also of great importance to other countries which are interested in shipping and trade in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Gulf as International Waterway
There has been a growing conviction in the world recently that the Gulf of Aqaba is an international waterway. The Secretary of State's Memorandum of 11 February to the Israel Ambassador declares that the United States is ready to make use of freedom of passage in the Straits and cooperate with other countries to ensure universal recognition of the right of free passage. The Government of Israel was subsequently informed that other maritime countries are also prepared to undertake to support the principles laid down in the Memorandum of 11 February and also intend to make use in practice of the right of free and innocent passage in the Straits The Memorandum states that in accordance with the second Assembly Resolution of 2 February, the UN Emergency Force will occupy Sharm el-Sheikh after the Israeli withdrawal, and that it is universally recognized that the functions of the UNEF in the Straits includes prevention of acts of hostility. In this connection the Government of Israel recalls the statements of the U.S. delegates to the Assembly of 28 January and 2 February that it is the duty of the UN units stationed in the Straits to separate the land and sea forces of Israel and Egypt. This separation is essential until it is clear that no alleged belligerent rights are being exercised, and until the peaceful conditions which are essential in a waterway of international importance such as this one are established in practice.
No Hasty Withdrawal
The Government of Israel viewed with concern the possibility that the UN forces, whose function it is to prevent acts of hostility, might be withdrawn in conditions that would permit interference with free and innocent passage, and thus lead to the renewal of hostilities., Such a premature withdrawal of the UN's security measures for the prevention of belligerent acts could injuriously affect important international interests and endanger peace and security. For this reason the Government asked for and received an undertaking contained in the Secretary-General's memorandum of 26 February 1957, to the effect that any proposal for the withdrawal of the UN forces from the Straits must first come before the Advisory Committee that represents the Assembly in the implementation of the decision of 2 November 1956. This procedure will in my opinion enable the United Nations to ensure that no hasty step is taken which is liable to lead to hostilities, and we have reason to believe that many members of the UN will be guided by the policy expressed by the U.S. delegate on 2 February. namely, to maintain the UN Force in the Straits until peaceful conditions are established in practice.
In the light of the principles, policies and arrangements of the UN and of the maritime States, the Government believes that free and innocent passage for Israel and other ships will be fully maintained even after Israel's withdrawal. As a maritime State and as a country that will fully implement its rights to free passage in the Gulf and the Straits, Israel believes that no country has the right to interfere with free and innocent passage in the Gulf and the Straits as these terms are defined in maritime law.
As a littoral Gulf State, Israel will gladly offer facilities in Eilat to ships of all nations. We welcome the undertakings received from the principal maritime countries that they look forward to regular and constant traffic by their ships in the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel will not interfere in any way with the free and innocent passage of Arab ships.
Israel Will Defend its Ships
Israel will defend its shipping in the international waterways and the [high] seas. Any interference by armed force with ships of the Israel flag exercising free and innocent passage in the Gulf of Aqaba and through the Straits of Tiran will be regarded by Israel as an attack entitling it to use its inherent right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter and to take all such measures as are necessary to ensure the free passage of its ships through the Straits and in the Gulf This declaration has been made in accordance with the accepted principles of international law, although the Government hopes that this contingency will not occur."
TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Israel; Miscellaneous; Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: idf; israel; israeldefenseforces; sinaicampaign; sinaiwar; suezwar
To: Convert from ECUSA; Laffalot; SJackson; Alouette; SirLurkedalot; yonif; anotherview; dervish; ...
FRmail me to be added or removed from this Israel Defense Forces and Israel ping list. Here you will find news, articles and fascinating stories about the IDF and Israel.
posted on 04/17/2005 4:59:32 AM PDT
by IAF ThunderPilot
(The basic point of the Israel Defense Forces: -Israel cannot afford to lose a single war.)
To: IAF ThunderPilot
I remember watching Walter Cronkite's "20th Century" as a boy. I was facisinated by costal guns and for some reason.
Remembered the emplacements at Sharm el Sheik when I went to the Sinai in '85 as part of the MFO. The mounts are still there (or were in '85) along with mine fields, unexploded ordnance, etc.
posted on 04/17/2005 5:27:44 AM PDT
To: IAF ThunderPilot
I have long wondered, if Eisenhower had been president during the formation of Israel, if he may have gone about it in a way that wouldn't have created so many future problems for Israel.
posted on 04/17/2005 5:35:55 AM PDT
(Tyranny breeds terrorism. Freedom breeds peace.)
To: dennisw; Cachelot; Yehuda; Nix 2; veronica; Catspaw; knighthawk; Alouette; Optimist; weikel; ...
If you'd like to be on or off this middle east/political ping list, please FR mail me.
posted on 04/17/2005 5:42:38 AM PDT
(The first duty of a leader is to make himself be loved without courting love, Andre Malraux)
To: IAF ThunderPilot
Map of the 1956 Sinai campaign
To: M. Espinola
posted on 04/17/2005 2:26:12 PM PDT
by IAF ThunderPilot
(The basic point of the Israel Defense Forces: -Israel cannot afford to lose a single war.)
To: IAF ThunderPilot
Mystére IVA of the 101 Sqn, seen shortly before the "Suez Campaign" - as the Israelis call the war in 1956. With the acquizition of the Mystéres, the IDF/AF for the first time had a fighter equal - if not slightly superior - to the enemy top fighters. (IDF)
Ouragan serial 49 in 1956 Sinai Campaign markings
Row of Israeli Ouragans, showing the mix of camouflaged and non-camouflaged aircraft. The Ouragan proved maneuvreable at low level and suitable as a firing platform during the war, and the Israelis were to purchase 24 additional examples after the war. (IDF)
The P-51D flown by Capt. Elad Paz was shot down over Sinai by Egyptian AAA. Note the variant of the "Invasion Stripes". (IDF)
Ouragan "445": the serialling of the Israeli Ouragans is relatively unclear. The first plane delivered to Israel was the c/n M.D.450-378, marked 4.X.FRB for transit purposes, and getting the official IDF-AF serial 5642. As it seems, the two first digits - at the time used to designate the type - were usually removed. So, the 5642 is known to became "42" already on arrival in Israel. This example is actually either "44" or "45", with one digit added for security purposes. (AMD)
Pictures of the RAF aircraft from the Suez Crisis campaign are rare; also, there are not many illustrations of how cramped with aircraft the airfields on Cyprus were. Even a single Egyptian bomber could wreack havoc and neutralize a large part of the British and French contingents stationed there. Here the RAF Venom WR398/H of the 249 Sqn taxis past RF-84F 52-7325/33-DD of the ER.4/33 at Akrotiri. ("Wings over Suez")
To: M. Espinola
Good photos, thank you for posting :)
posted on 04/17/2005 2:53:12 PM PDT
by IAF ThunderPilot
(The basic point of the Israel Defense Forces: -Israel cannot afford to lose a single war.)
To: IAF ThunderPilot
To: Feckless; IAF ThunderPilot; All
OHHH that show was briefly was on History INternational channel 20th century and A&E was showing for while
It is me or what but does Nassar is going down as Jack*** of Terrroist regime LOL!
posted on 04/17/2005 5:21:49 PM PDT
(Not everybody in, it for truth, justice, and the American way,"=Det Lennie Briscoe)
To: IAF ThunderPilot
Have you read, "The game of Nations."
by Miles Copeland?
He was an American advisor to Nasser
and it was written during that time.
Not a very pretty picture of American foreign policy.
posted on 04/17/2005 6:11:19 PM PDT
( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
To: IAF ThunderPilot; SJackson; yonif; Happy2BMe; Simcha7; American in Israel; Binyamin; ...
posted on 04/17/2005 9:43:31 PM PDT
(FREE REPUBLIC - Fighting to win within the Arena of the War of Ideas! So get in the fight!)
To: IAF ThunderPilot
Thanks for the ping! Very interesting. Ike thought if he pressured Israel, the UK, and France to withdraw that Nasser and company would be grateful to the US and become our buddies against the Soviets in the Cold War (similar to what the current administration is doing in trying to get Abbas and company to be our "buddies" and be "democratic"). Nasser and company laughed at us and became more pro-Soviet. We never seem to get it, that most Arab countries don't want to be "buddies" with the USA, what they want above all else is the elimination of Israel, one way or another.
To: M. Espinola
Great pictures, thanks for posting them!
To: IAF ThunderPilot
My father fought in the '56 Sinai campaign. Thank you for posting this.
The reason posts like this are so important is that there are many in the U.S. and Europe who want to rewrite history and make it seem that the '56 war was an "Israeli aggression" against Egypt and one of many "Israeli aggressions" against the poor, innocent Arabs. Trying to blockade a nation and choke it economically is an act of war and this is precisely what Egypt did. Israel's response was, as always, defensive in nature.
posted on 05/06/2005 9:27:34 AM PDT
("Ignorance is the choice not to know" -Klaus Schulze)
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