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1956 War

Fearing these actions to be signs of an imminent Egyptian invasion, Israel rapidly mobilized its reserves. On October 29, under Major General Moshe Dayan, the IDF launched a preemptive attack into Sinai. Israeli advances on the ground were rapid, and, supported by air cover, by November 2 they had routed the Egyptian forces and effectively controlled the entire peninsula. With Israeli troops on the east bank of the Suez Canal, British and French troops landed at Port Said and demanded withdrawal of both sides from the Canal. The UN met in an emergency session and demanded that the British and French leave Suez, which they did in December 1956 in response to both United States and UN pressure, and that Israel withdraw to the Armistice line of 1949, which it did somewhat reluctantly in March 1957 after the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) had been stationed in the Gaza Strip and at Sharm ash Shaykh on the Strait of Tiran.

Israel's victory in the 1956 War (known in Israel as the Sinai Campaign) thus afforded it a modicum of increased security by virtue of the UN presence. Far more important, however, was that it enhanced Israel's standing as a military power and as a viable nation. Although many Israelis felt that the military victory was nullified by the UN demand to withdraw from Sinai, Israel had achieved significant psychological gains at a cost of fewer than 170 lives.

The decade after the 1956 War was the most tranquil period in the nation's history. The Egyptian armistice line remained quiet, and there were few incidents along the Jordanian line until 1965, when Egyptian-sponsored guerrilla raids by Al Fatah first occurred. Beginning in 1960, there were repeated guerrilla activities and shellings of Israeli settlements from the Golan Heights of Syria, but these incidents remained localized until 1964.

Underlying tensions, however, did not abate. By the early 1960s, both sides considered a third round of war inevitable. An ominous arms race developed. Egypt and Syria were supplied with Soviet aid and military hardware, and Israel suddenly found European powers--the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Britain, and especially France--to be willing suppliers of modern armaments. Jordan continued to receive arms from Britain and the United States.

Tensions mounted in 1964, when, after Israel had nearly completed a massive irrigation project that involved diverting water from the Jordan River into the Negev Desert, Syria began a similar project near the river's headwaters that would have virtually dried the river bed at the Israeli location. Israel launched air and artillery attacks at the Syrian site, and Syria abandoned the project. Guerrilla incursions from Syria and Jordan steadily mounted, as did the intensity of Israeli reprisal raids.

In April 1967, increased Syrian aircraft-shelling of Israeli border villages encountered an Israeli fighter attack during which six Syrian MiGs were shot down. Syria feared that an all-out attack from Israel was imminent, and Egypt, with whom Syria had recently signed a mutual defense treaty, began an extensive military buildup in early May. On May 18, Egypt's president, Gamal Abdul Nasser, demanded the withdrawal of UN forces from Gaza and Sinai; Secretary General U Thant promptly acceded and removed the UNEF. Four days later, Nasser announced a blockade of Israeli shipping at the Strait of Tiran, an action that Israel since the 1956 War had stressed would be tantamount to a declaration of war. Jordan and Iraq rapidly joined Syria in its military alliance with Egypt.

Data as of December 1988