Arab–Israel War (1956)

views updated Jun 27 2018


a war that lasted from 29 october to 6 november 1956, waged by britain, france, and israel against egypt.

Although Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser's accession to power in 1952 was initially viewed as a positive development by Israel and the West, his leadership of Arab nationalism and his growing military and political strength were viewed with apprehension by Great Britain, France, and Israel.

Preparations for War

Nasser's nonalignment policies, including recognition of the People's Republic of China and opposition to a Western-sponsored alliance in the Middle East, were seen as threats to British and French hegemony in the region. The French were alarmed at Egyptian support of Algerian (FLN) nationalists; the Israelis, by Egypt's support of Palestinian guerrillas located in the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian blockade of Elat and the Gulf of Aqaba. Egypt's formation of a joint command with Syria and Jordan, and increased Fidaʾiyyun incursions from Gaza into Israel, were seen as signs that Egypt was preparing for war. In February 1955 Israel retaliated with a full-scale attack on military bases in Gaza; this prompted Egypt to negotiate an arms deal with the Soviet Union for the purchase of weapons from Czechoslovakia.

When the United States, angered by Egypt's growing ties with the Soviet Union, cancelled negotiations for a development loan to construct a new Nile dam at Aswan, Great Britain and the World Bank also cancelled loan negotiations. Nasser retaliated on 26 July 1956 by nationalizing the Suez Canal Company, in which the British government held the majority of shares. The headquarters and many shareholders of the company were in France. Both Great Britain and France regarded Egypt's action as reason for war.

Throughout the summer of 1956 Israel, England, and France planned for war along parallel but independent lines. Israel negotiated with France for arms and developed operations to open the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping (Operation Kadesh). The British moved ships to Cyprus and to Malta with the aim of seizing the canal and bringing down Nasser (Operation Musketeer). The French then made overtures to the Israelis for joint planning and participation in the operation against Egypt; exploratory meetings began in early September. In October (2224), at the invitation of the French, David Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres, and Moshe Dayan met with French prime minister Guy Mollet and British foreign minister Selwyn Lloyd at Sèvres to plan the joint campaign, in which Israeli forces were to cross the Sinai and link up with the British and the French in the area of Port Saʿid. It was understood that the Anglo-French intervention would be seen as an "impartial"; separation of combatants and that Israel would be able to withdraw its troops if England and France did not carry out their military missions. The allies relied on the assumption that the Soviet Union (involved in Poland and in Hungary) and the United States (in the midst of presidential elections) would be too busy to interfere. Tensions on the Israeli-Jordanian border gave the impression that Israel was preparing to invade Jordan rather than Egypt.

As British and French troops were massing on Cyprus and Malta in August, Nasser anticipated an attack on Egypt and redeployed much of the Egyptian Sinai garrison to the delta region, leaving only 30,000 men in the northeast triangle of al-Arish, Rafah, and Abu Aqayla under the eastern command of Major General Ali Amr, headquartered at Ismaʿiliyya. The troops consisted of one Egyptian division and one poorly trained and lightly armed Palestinian division commanded by Egyptian officers and supported by field artillery and antitank guns, three squadrons of Sherman tanks, and a motorized border patrol. In addition, Amr commanded two infantry divisions and an armored division just west of the canal that could be used in the Sinai. The garrison at Sharm al-Shaykh was directly under the control of headquarters at Cairo. Of Egypt's 255 aircraft, only 130 were operational. Despite intelligence reports of Israeli mobilization, Amr did not return to Egypt from an official visit to Syria and Jordan until the morning of 29 October.

By the evening of 28 October, Israel had mobilized 45,000 men assigned to the southern command and six brigades held in reserve in the north. Israel's objective was to threaten the canal by securing the Mitla Pass (30 miles from the canal) and to achieve the flexibility either to advanceif the British and French carried out their part of the agreementor to withdraw if necessary.

Outbreak of War

On 29 October Israeli parachutists landed east of the Mitla Pass and encountered heavy Egyptian resistance. This action was followed by a high-speed mobile column dash that met up with the Israelis at the pass. The next day, the British and the French issued an ultimatum calling for the withdrawal of forces from both sides of the canal in order to allow their troops to establish themselves along its length. Israel accepted, but Nasser rejected the ultimatum and began to issue orders for an Egyptian withdrawal from the Sinai to the delta. The British and the French vetoed UN-sponsored cease-fire resolutions. They began air attacks on Egypt on 31 October. Nasser subsequently sank all ships in the Suez Canal (4 November) in order to block passage. By 2 November Israel had taken Abu Aqayla and opened up a supply route to the Mitla Pass, cutting the Egyptians off from Gaza. On 5 November Sharm al-Shaykh was taken and Israeli troops reached the canal. Speed and mechanized transport, combined with tank warfare and air superiority, enabled the Israelis to outmaneuver the Egyptian forces sent to defend Sinai, who had no air cover for their troops due to the destruction of more than two hundred aircraft on the ground.

The British, anticipating heavy opposition by the Egyptian forces, set sail from Malta only on 1 November, delaying their landing in Egypt. The delay permitted the buildup of negative reactions to the mission both at home and in the international community. The allies tried to speed up the process, landing paratroops at Port Saʿid on 5 November and taking the city on the next day just as hostilities ceased.

By then, both the United States and the Soviet Union threatened to intervene, and the newly reelected U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered a global alert of U.S. armed forces. The British, in the midst of the biggest crisis in Anglo-American relations since World War II, fearful of Soviet intervention, and worried about the falling pound sterling (later shored up by a line of credit from the U.S. Export-Import Bank), accepted a cease-fire. France and Israel followed suit.


During the fighting Israel lost about 190 soldiers: an additional 20 were captured and 800 wounded. Egyptian casualties were several thousand killed and wounded and about 4,000 taken prisoner by Israel. Egypt also lost massive amounts of military equipment.

On 4 December United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) troops moved into Sinai, and on 22 December Britain and France withdrew from Egypt. Israeli troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip and the Strait of Tiran on 7 and 8 March under heavy pressure from the United States and following the stationing of UN troops at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba and assurances from the United States that it would uphold the right of innocent passage of Israeli and all other shipping through international waters. The last Israeli forces left Sinai in January 1957; they evacuated Gaza and Sharm al-Shaykh in March 1957. Although Nasser did not acknowledge Israel's right of passage through Egyptian waters, he allowed UNEF forces to remain in Sinai until 1967.

The war marked the end of an active British role in the region and its replacement by U.S. influence. It resulted in the development of modern armed forces in Israel, the beginnings of large-scale U.S. support for Israel, and the emergence of Nasser as victor and hero not only of the Arab region but the Third World as well.

see also arabisrael conflict; nasser, gamal abdel.


Bar-On, Mordechai. The Gates of Gaza: Israel's Road to Suez and Back, 19551957. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

Dupuy, Trevor N. Elusive Victory: The ArabIsraeli Wars, 19471974. McLean, VA: BDM, 1984.

Golani, Motti. Israel in Search of War: The Sinai Campaign, 19551956. Brighton, U.K.: Sussex Academic Press, 1998.

Haikal, Mohammad H. Cutting the Lion's Tail: Suez through Egyptian Eyes. London: André Deutsch, 1986.

Kyle, Keith. Suez. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991.

Louis, William Roger, and Owen, Roger, eds. Suez 1956: The Crisis and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Love, Kennett. Suez: The Twice-Fought War. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Troen, Selwyn Ilan, and Shemesh, Moshe, eds. The Suez-Sinai Crisis, 1956: Retrospective and Reappraisal. London: Frank Cass, 1990.

Reeva S. Simon

Updated by Don Peretz

Arab–Israel War (1973)

views updated May 18 2018


war in october 1973 between israel and egypt and syria; the fourth major military confrontation between israel and the arab states.

The 1973 ArabIsrael War resulted from failure to resolve the territorial disputes arising from the ArabIsrael War of 1967. Despite UN Resolution 242, which called for Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in June 1967, little progress was made in its implementation. President Anwar alSadat of Egypt sought to obtain the return of Sinai through diplomacy, and offered to reopen the Suez Canal if Israel would withdraw to the Mitla and Gidi passes in the Sinai Peninsula. He also offered to resume diplomatic relations with the United States and sign a peace pact with Israel, but Israel refused to withdraw to the armistice lines established before 5 June 1967.

While making diplomatic approaches to the conflict, Sadat was preparing for war. He contacted President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria to plan a two-front attack on Israel. Egypt, however, still depended on the Soviet Union for modern weapons. Angered by the Soviet Union's failure to respond to his demands for an assured supply, Sadat surprised the international community in July 1972 by expelling all 21,000 Soviet military advisers and personnel in Egypt. Although many in the West believed that the gesture would delay moves toward war, the Soviet Union responded by stepping up arms deliveries to both Egypt and Syria in an attempt to regain Sadat's favor.

In Israel, the governing Labor Party generally accepted the principle of "territory in exchange for peace," but it adamantly opposed return of all the occupied lands, asserting that for security reasons, Israel would have to continue occupation of substantial areas. Sadat's failure to follow through after his proclamations about the "year of decision" in 1971, and again in 1972, led Israel's general staff to conclude that the country was safe from an attack for the indefinite future and that the Bar-Lev line along the Suez Canal was impenetrable. Thus Israel's army commanders were unprepared for the October attack by Egypt and Syria. Israel's intelligence misinterpreted the buildup of Egyptian forces along the canal before the war as military exercises unlikely to escalate into a full-fledged attack.

The Two-Front War

The war began on two fronts on 6 October 1973, the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur); hence, in Israel it was called the Yom Kippur War. It also was the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan; thus, the conflict was called the Ramadan War by the Arabs. Egypt's forces quickly crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Bar-Lev line. In the north, Syria moved into the Golan Heights, nearly reaching the 1967 border with Israel. Because Israel had not fully mobilized, it was outnumbered almost twelve to one when the fighting began. Within the next few days, however, rapid mobilization of reserves redressed the balance.

The fighting was the heaviest since 1948, with major losses of manpower and material on both sides. The numbers of tanks, planes, and artillery pieces destroyed was larger than in any battle fought since World War II. Each side had to be rearmed in the midst of the fighting, Egypt and Syria by the Soviet Union, and Israel by the United States.

During the first days of the war, there was great consternation in Israel and fear that Arab forces, especially those of Syria in the north, might succeed in penetrating the pre-June 1967 borders. Within a week, however, Israel's counteroffensives turned the tide of battle. Syria was beaten back on the Golan Heights, and Israel's forces crossed the Suez Canal and began to push toward Cairo. The war precipitated an international crisis when the Soviet Union responded to an urgent appeal from Egypt to save its Third Army, which was surrounded by Israeli forces in Sinai. Despite the UN Security Council cease-fire orders, Israel's troops continued to attack. When the Soviet Union threatened to send troops to assist Egypt, the United States called a worldwide military alert. The crisis ended when all parties agreed to negotiate a safe retreat for the Egyptians.

When the combatants accepted a cease-fire on 22 October, Israel's forces had regained control of Sinai and crossed to the west side of the Suez Canal. Most of the Golan was recaptured, and the IDF occupied some 240 square miles of Syrian territory beyond the Golan Heights. Both Egypt and Israel claimed victory: Egypt, because it drove Israel's forces back into Sinai; and Israel, because it defeated the Arab forces. However, the price of victory was steep. Nearly 3,000 of Israel's soldiers and more than 8,500 Arab soldiers were killed. Wounded numbered 8,800 for Israel and almost 20,000 for the Arabs. Israel lost 840 tanks; the Arabs, 2,550. The cost of the war equaled approximately one year's GNP for each combatant. Israel became more dependent on the United States for military and economic aid, and the Arabs turned to the Soviet Union to restock their arsenals.

The October War also emboldened the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to double prices for its oil, and the Arab members to insist on tieing the sale of oil to support from consuming nations in the war against Israel. Saudi Arabia placed an embargo on shipments to the United States in retaliation for U.S. arms supplied to Israel. Gasoline shortages in the United States resulted, and the rise in oil prices began a spiral of worldwide inflation and a recession in 1974 and 1975.

Peace Negotiations

Attempts to resume the peace process began with Security Council Resolution 338, passed at the same time as the cease-fire ordered on 22 October 1973. It called for immediate termination of all military activity, implementation of Resolution 242, and the start of negotiations "aimed at establishing a just and durable peace." Resolution 338 subsequently became a companion piece to Resolution 242 as the basis for a peace settlement. In December a Middle East peace conference was convened in Geneva under the cochairmanship of the Soviet Union's foreign minister, the U.S. secretary of state, and the UN secretary-general. Egypt, Jordan, and Israel attended, but Syria refused to participate. After two days of wrangling over procedure, meetings were suspended; the conference failed to reconvene.

Its collapse provided U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger with the opportunity to bypass the United Nations and the Soviet Union in striving for

a settlement. The first step was a cease-fire agreement providing for relief of Egypt's besieged Third Army and return to the lines of 22 October. This was the first bilateral accord signed between Israel and Egypt since the 1949 armistice. In January 1974 Kissinger began another round of shuttle diplomacy, persuading Egypt and Israel to sign a disengagement agreement calling for Israel to withdraw its forces back across the Suez Canal. It was much more difficult to attain the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. After several trips between Damascus and Jerusalem, Kissinger finally persuaded Israel to withdraw from territory seized from Syria during October 1973 and from the town of Quneitra in the Golan region. A buffer zone patrolled by United Nations Deployment of Forces was established between forces of Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights, and Syria's President Asad agreed to prevent Palestinian guerrillas from using Syria as a base from which to attack Israel.

The disengagement agreements, which represented the diplomatic climax of the 1973 war, were the major accomplishment in IsraelArab relations for the next several years. Egypt's military "accomplishments" opened the way for receptivity to Kissinger's diplomatic approaches, and they were a prelude to Sadat's startling peace initiative in 1977.

Israel's setback broke through a psychological barrier to territorial concessions and the belief in Israel's invincibility against any combination of Arab forces. While it enhanced Arab self-confidence, it shook Israel's belief that no concessions were necessary. But some of the long-term consequences of the war were disastrous for Israel. Israel's casualties exceeded those of the two previous wars, and military intelligence was discredited for not having predicted the attack. The Agranat Commission, established in November 1973 to probe the reasons for the setback, blamed the mistaken IDF assessment of Egypt's war prowess for Israel's failures and recommended removal of the chief of staff and other high-ranking officers. Its report led to a major shake-up of the Labor government, the resignation of Prime Minister Golda Meir, and a new cabinet led by Yitzhak Rabin in June 1974. The 1973 setback and the Agranat Report were among the major factors leading to Labor's defeat in the 1977 Knesset election.

see also arabisrael conflict; arabisrael war (1967); asad, hafiz al-; golan heights; kissinger, henry; organization of petroleum exporting countries (opec); sadat, anwar al-.


Amos, John W., II. Arab Israeli Military/Political Relations: Arab Perceptions and the Politics of Escalation. New York: Pergamon Press, 1979.

Aruri, Nasser H., ed. Middle East Crucible: Studies on the ArabIsraeli War of October 1973. Wilmette, IL: Medina University Press, 1975.

El-Badri, Hazzan, Taha El-Magdoub, and Mohammed Dia El-Din Zhody. The Ramadan War: The Egyptian View. Dunn Loring, VA: Dupuy Institute, 1978.

Gawrych, George W. The Albatross of Decisive Victory: War and Policy Between Egypt and Israel in the 1967 and 1973 ArabIsraeli Wars. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Herzog, Chaim. The War of Atonement, October 1973. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

Parker, Richard B., ed. The October War: A Retrospecitve. Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Raswamy, P. R. Kuma, ed. Revisiting the Yom Kippur War. London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2000.

Don Peretz

Arab–Israel War (1967)

views updated May 14 2018


rapid and decisive victory by israel over the combined forces of egypt, syria, jordan, and iraq.

The third major military conflict between Israel and the Arab states, the ArabIsrael War of 1967 between Israel and Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, continued the century-old confrontation by Zionists and Arab nationalists over Palestine. The war erupted because of the failure to settle issues left unresolved by the wars of 1948 and 1956 and by the establishment of Israel in 1948. These issues included the problem of Palestinian refugees, disputes over water rights and the borders between Israel and the Arab states, the Middle East arms race, the rising tide of Arab nationalism, and the question of Israel's right to exist.

Buildup to War

Efforts to peacefully resolve the ArabIsrael conflict had been unsuccessful since 1948; despite the defeat of the Arabs in 1948 and 1956, the state of war continued and intensified many of the problems it had caused. As the number of Palestine refugees increased, their infiltration from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip and from the West Bank of Jordan created incidents that led to repeated border skirmishes. In retaliation for Fidaʾiyyun raids, Israel attacked Egyptian and Jordanian outposts. Disputes over the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between Israel and Syria erupted in battles that escalated into air warfare in which six Syrian MIGs were shot down in early 1967. Israel's insistence on proceeding with land development in the DMZ and its unilateral diversion of the Jordan River headwaters following the failure by the Arabs to ratify the Eric Johnson Jordan Valley Development project led to the decision by the Arab League to begin its own water-diversion scheme. The conflict over the Jordan River was a major cause of rising tensions and repeated border incidents.

The confrontation between Israel and the Arab states became a factor in the Cold War between the Soviet bloc and the West, with the Soviet Union providing arms to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq and with France and the United States helping to supply Israel. Israel continued to resist demands by the Arabs that it permit the return of the Palestinian refugees and that it withdraw to the borders established in 1947 by the UN partition plan.

Hostility to Israel, intensified by the Palestinian refugee problem, increased nationalist fervor throughout the Arab world, and this sentiment was rallied by Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser. After the air battles between Syria and Israel in April, the Arab states (under Egyptian leadership) drew up a military pact to confront Israel. Egypt and Syria signed the agreement on 4 May, Jordan on 30 May, and Iraq on 4 June. The pact was backed by the Soviet Union, which supported Egypt's military buildup along the borders with Israel in Sinai, Gaza, and the Gulf of Aqaba. Border tensions between Israel and Egypt and Syria were intensified by false reports disseminated by the Soviet Union in Damascus and Cairo about an Israeli army buildup along the Syrian border and Israel's intent to attack Syria.

Responding to the challenge by Arab nationalists that he take a more confrontational position, in May Nasser ordered the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force from its post along the Egyptian-Israeli border. Despite Egypt's heavy military involvement at the time in the Yemen civil war, Nasser deployed thousands of troops along the Israeli border and ordered a blockade of Israeli shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba.

The War and Its Aftermath

These actions created a sense of crisis in Israel, which led to the formation of a national unity government that for the first time included Menachem Begin and his right-wing Herut Party. Efforts to mediate the crisis through the United Nations and the Western nations failed, and proposals to form an international naval flotilla to test free passage in the Gulf of Aqaba were rejected. While negotiations to ease tensions were still being discussed in the United States, the Israel cabinet decided to initiate preemptive surprise strikes in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, and early on 5 June 1967 Israeli warplanes bombed airfields in these countries. Simultaneously, Israeli forces attacked Gaza and quickly advanced into Sinai. After three days, the Egyptian army was routed, and Israel seized the Gaza Strip, Sinai up to the Suez Canal, and Sharm al-Shaykh at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Shortly after Israel attacked Egypt, Jordanian forces fired on the Jewish sector of Jerusalem, despite Israel's warnings to King Hussein not to intervene in the fighting. However, Hussein entered the war as a result of mass pressure to join forces with Egypt in expectation of a decisive victory. Within three days, Israel captured Jordanian East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank. On 7 June the UN Security Council called for a cease-fire, which Syria refused to accept. Shelling of Israeli settlements in northern Israel led Israel to attack and then capture the Golan region, and Syria to accept a cease-fire on 10 June. In the six days of combat, Israel destroyed over 400 Arab aircraft (mostly on 5 June), destroyed or captured more than 500 tanks, and demolished 70 percent of Egypt's, Syria's, and Jordan's military equipment. Egyptian casualties included more than 11,000 men killed and 5,600 prisoners of war; Jordan lost 6,000 men; and Syria about 1,000. Israel lost more than 20 planes and 60 tanks, and 700 of its soldiers were killed.

As a result of the war, Israel occupied territory equivalent to more than three times its pre-1967 area, including the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan's West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The routing by Israeli forces and flight of some 300,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians increased the refugee problem and further intensified Palestinian nationalism. The defeat led to the discrediting of most Arab leaders and to a new phase in the Palestine national movement, which ultimately resulted in the expansion of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Immediately after the war, efforts to establish peace were renewed through the United Nations and passage of Security Council Resolution 242, which called for Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories and peaceful resolution of the conflict. Resolution 242 became the basis of most attempts to settle the conflict. Although the Arab states passed a resolution at a summit meeting in Khartoum in September 1967 that called for no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition of Israel, they eventually moderated their demands for a settlement from a return to the 1947 UN partition borders to an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967that is, to the 1949 armistice lines. They also no longer insisted on the repatriation of all refugees to their original homes within Israel.

In Israel, the war reinforced those militant nationalists who called for unification of the "whole land of Israel" and led to the formation of the Likud Party, which opposed withdrawal from territory acquired in June 1967. Arab East Jerusalem was for all practical purposes annexed by Israel soon after the war, and the Golan area was subjected to Israeli law in 1981. Israel's victory polarized politics between those who favored a peace settlement based on return of territory in exchange for secure borders and those who opposed any territorial concessions.

Victory in the 1967 War underscored Israel's position as the dominant military power in the region and strengthened the view of those who believed that territorial concessions were neither necessary nor advisable to resolve the ArabIsraeli conflict. This perception led to a program to establish a network of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, and Sinai, and plans to integrate the economies of the conquered areas into Israel's economy. However, occupation and the imposition of military government in the territories stimulated Palestinian nationalist sentiment and led eventually to the Intifada in December 1987.

see also arabisrael conflict; begin, menachem; fidaʾiyyun; nasser, gamal abdel; palestine liberation organization (plo); united nations emergency force.


Gawyrch, George W. The Albatross of Decisive Victory: War and Policy Between Egypt and Israel in the 1967 and 1973 ArabIsraeli Wars. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Gordon, Haim, ed. Looking Back at the June 1967 War. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999.

Haddad, William W.; Talhami, Ghada H.; and Terry, Janice L.; eds. The June 1967 War after Three Decades. Washington, DC: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, 1999.

Oren, Michael B. Six Days of War; June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Parker, Richard B., ed. The Six-Day War: A Retrospective. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

Don Peretz

Arab–Israel War (1982)

views updated May 17 2018


war that began with israel's invasion of lebanon in june 1982.

Israel invaded Lebanon on 6 June 1982 in order to destroy the infrastructure and leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and to install in Lebanon a Maronite-dominated government, led by the Phalange Party, which would ally itself with Israel. Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan believed that the elimination of the PLO would convince West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to seek an accommodation on Begin's terms of limited autonomy, thereby preempting the establishment of a Palestinian state, which was gaining international support.

The timing of the invasion favored Israel. The Arab world was in disarray. The most powerful Arab country, Egypt, had made peace with Israel in 1979 under the terms of the Camp David Accords. Support for Israel in the Reagan administration was strong. Israel's border with Lebanon had been quiet since July 1981, when U.S. emissary Philip Habib negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and the PLO. The invasion, however, was triggered not by a border incident, but by the attempted assassination on 3 June of the Israeli ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov. This was a pretext for invasion, though, because the attacker belonged to the anti-PLO Abu Nidal group, and PLO officials were also on the hit list.

The invasion might have been regarded in Israel and the United States as a necessary preemptive invasion (Israel called it "Operation Peace for Galilee") if it had been confined to "surgical" action against PLO forces within the 25-mile belt south of the Litani River, as Sharon had declared. However, once the invasion began on 6 June, Sharon ordered the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to proceed north to Beirut, defeated Syrian forces in the air and on the ground, and drove the PLO forces back to Beirut. The IDF reached Beirut in mid-June, laid siege to and shelled West Beirut for seven weeks, and linked up with Israel's Lebanese allies, the Phalange.

Originally, Sharon had hoped that the Phalange forces (rather than the IDF) would enter PLO strongholds in West Beirut. Phalange leader Bashir Jumayyil and his aides had sought Israel's intervention and shared Sharon's goal of eliminating the PLO, especially from South Lebanon and West Beirut. Sharon's advisers, who lacked confidence in Phalange military ability, rejected such an operation; but fearing a high level of Israeli casualties, they also counseled against an Israeli assault. The result was a stalemate, and heavy Israeli bombardments and air strikes against West Beirut led to heavy civilian casualties. The nightly television pictures of death and destruction caused disquiet in the West. Although U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig seemed to acquiesce, the White House in fact disapproved of the bombing of civilians. Haig resigned shortly thereafter, and the U.S. government sent Habib to Beirut to try to reach an agreement on PLO withdrawal.

An accord was reached wherein a multinational force, including U.S. Marines, would supervise an orderly PLO evacuation and safeguard civilians in the refugee camps. By 1 September, about 14,420 PLO fighters and officials had departed West Beirut for various Arab localesparticularly Tunis, which became PLO headquarters. About 3,000 Syrian troops were withdrawn from the city; U.S. troops were also removed. The same day, the United States announced the Reagan Plan, which opposed Israel's annexation of the West Bank and Gaza and called for a freeze on Israeli settlements there. The plan also declined to support the establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead, it supported Palestinian autonomy in association with Jordan, which the United States urged to begin negotiations with Israel. Some Arab states, the PLO, and Israel rejected the plan.

Much of Sharon's grand design seemed to have been realized, including the election in late August of Bashir Jumayyil as president of Lebanon. However, Jumayyil resisted Begin and Sharon's demands for an immediate LebaneseIsraeli treaty and rejected Israeli insistence that their proxy in the South, Saʿd Haddad and his troops, remain under Israeli authority. Then, on 14 September, Jumayyil was assassinatedaccording to some, with Syrian help. Two days later, Sharon and Eitan ordered the IDF into West Beirut, in violation of the U.S.-brokered truce agreement.

Sharon approved the entry of Phalange forces into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, provided them with light at night, and extended their stay in the camps. The Phalange proceeded to kill between 800 and 1,500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians from 16 to 18 September. An Israeli commission of inquiry, the Kahan Commission (1983), found that Israeli officials, in particular Sharon and Eitan, were indirectly responsible for the killings. An international commission chaired by Sean MacBride charged that Israel was directly responsible because it had been the occupying power and had facilitated the actions of its ally. In 2001 both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for an investigation of Ariel Sharon's involvement into the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

In late September 1982 the IDF evacuated Beirut and were replaced by the multilateral force that included the U.S. Marines. The ArabIsrael War of 1982 was costly for all involved. According to Lebanese authorities, 17,825 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed, 84 percent of whom were civilians. Israel lost more than 1,000 soldiers by 2000, and spent $3 billion on the three-month operation. The war hurt Israel's international image and divided its own people; 400,000 Israelis (8 percent of the population) demonstrated against the war. Even the United States, which had sent the Marines to help fill the vacuum left by the Israeli departure from Beirut, got mired in Lebanese politics. The new secretary of state, George Shultz, engineered a security agreement between Israel and Lebanon that ignored Syria's interests in Lebanon, ratified Israel's control of South Lebanon, and hinted at U.S. support for Maronite primacy. Lebanese Muslims responded by bombing the U.S. embassy in Beirut, and after the White House approved naval shelling of Druze villages, a suicide bomber attacked the Marine naval barracks, killing 241 Marines. U.S. forces were withdrawn four months later, and the LebaneseIsraeli agreement was aborted on 5 March 1984. Similar attacks took place against the French and the Israelis, who finally withdrew from Lebanon in 1985 after establishing a six-mile security zone patrolled by Haddad's army.

In 1999 a new Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, sensed the growing unpopularity of Israel's protracted involvement in southern Lebanon. In May 2000 Barak unilaterally and unconditionally withdrew all Israeli troops from Lebanon, except for those in a small disputed area called Sheba Farm.

see also barak, ehud; begin, menachem; camp david accords (1978); eitan, rafael; gaza; habib, philip charles; haddad, saʿd; israeli settlements; jumayyil, bashir; kahan commission (1983); palestine liberation organization (plo); phalange; reagan plan (1982); sabra and shatila massacres; shamir, yitzhak; sharon, ariel; west bank.


Fisk, Robert. Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. New York: Atheneum, 1990.

Friedman, Thomas L. From Beirut to Jerusalem. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1989.

Khalidi, Rashid. Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking during the 1982 War. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Rabinovich, Itamar. The War for Lebanon, 19701985. New York: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Schiff, Zeʾev, and Yaʾari, Ehud. Israel's Lebanon War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

Smith, Charles D. Palestine and the ArabIsraeli Conflict. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Tessler, Mark. A History of the IsraeliPalestinian Conflict. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Philip Mattar

Arab–Israel War (1948)

views updated Jun 11 2018


the first conflict between the arabs and the new state of israel.

The ArabIsrael war of 1948 culminated half a century of conflict between the Arab and Jewish populations in Palestine. It began as a civil conflict between Palestinian Jews and Arabs following announcement of the United Nations (UN) decision in November 1947 to partition the country into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and an international enclave encompassing the greater Jerusalem area. While the majority of the Jewish population approved the plan, Arabs in Palestine and surrounding countries vehemently objected, considering it a violation of Palestinian Arabs' self-determination. In Palestine, Arab demonstrations against the UN decision and Jewish celebrations welcoming it met head-on and quickly erupted into violent clashes between the two communities. Within a few days armed Arab and Jewish groups were battling each other throughout the country.

Palestinian Arab guerrillas received weapons and volunteers from the neighboring states and were assisted by unofficial paramilitary units from Syria and Egypt. The Arabs, however, were not as effectively organized as the Jewish forces. The latter consisted of three principal groups: the Haganah, the defense organization of the mainstream Jewish community; and two dissident factions, the Irgun Zvaʾi Leʾumi (IZL or Etzel; National Military Organization) and Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Lehi; Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), also known as the Stern Gang. The latter two were associated with Revisionist Zionism.

Following the partition resolution, casualties mounted on both sides. Arabs attacked Jewish settlements and bombed such urban targets as the Palestine Post and the headquarters of the Jewish Agency. Retaliatory and preemptive Jewish attacks against the Arab populationsuch as the Etzel raid on Dayr Yasin, which has been viewed by some as an instance of ethnic cleansingset off a mass flight and military expulsion of the Arab population from areas seized by the Jewish forces.

By the end of the mandate in May 1948, when the British army left Palestine, Jewish forces had seized most of the territory allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan as well as land beyond the partition borders.

With departure of the British and Israel's declaration of independence on 15 May 1948, the struggle became an international conflict between the Jewish state and the regular armies of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Saudi Arabia sent a token unit, and Yemen was nominally involved.

Arab states other than Transjordan intervened to preempt the plans of Amir Abdullah, developed in accord with Israel, to take over the largely Arab-inhabited parts of Palestine. In an attempt to gain Transjordan's cooperation in the war against Israel, the other Arab combatants agreed to appoint Abdullah commander in chief of the invading forces. The Arab military plans called for Egypt's units to move north along the Mediterranean coast toward Tel Aviv; for Syria's, Lebanon's, and Iraq's troops to come through Galilee and move to Haifa; and for Transjordan's Arab Legion to approach the coast after occupying central Palestine. The Arab Legion, however, did not cross the UN partition line, and the other Arab forces were blocked from their objectives. Despite appointment of a commander in chief, the Arab armies failed to coordinate their plans, each operating under its own generals without integrating its actions with those of its allies. Except for the Arab Legion, the Arab armies were poorly trained and badly equipped, and morale was low. By June 1948 their offensive lost its momentum. Both sides accepted a twenty-eight-day truce ordered by the UN Security Council that went into effect on 10 June.

With resumption of fighting on 8 July, Israel's forces, now consolidated and equipped with heavy weapons, took the offensive. Arab areas including Nazareth in Galilee were seized, although attempts to capture the Old City of Jerusalem failed. Efforts to break through Egypt's lines to reach Jewish settlements in the Negev also were unsuccessful.

A second truce, initiated on 19 July, was broken several times when Israel's forces attempted to break Egypt's blockade of the Negev; Israel captured Beersheba in October and isolated most of Egypt's units south of Jerus alem. By the end of the year, Egypt's forces were either driven from Palestine or besieged in the south. In the north, another offensive extended the area under Israel's control to Lebanon's territory adjoining upper Galilee.

On 5 January 1949, Egypt agreed to accept a Security Council call for a new truce and negotiations for an armistice. Negotiations opened on 13 January 1949, on the island of Rhodes, under the chair-manship of Ralph Bunche. The General Armistice Agreement signed on 24 February 1949 served as a model for similar armistices with Lebanon on 23 March, with Jordan on 3 April, and with Syria on 20 July. Iraq refused to participate in armistice negotiations.

The armistice agreements were considered preliminary to permanent peace settlements. They established frontiers between Israel and its neighbors that remained in effect until the ArabIsrael War of 1967. A UN Truce Supervisory Organization with four Mixed Armistice Commissions, comprised of Israel and of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, was established to deal with disputes between the signatories.

Israel's casualties in the war, which it called the War of Independence, were heavyover 4,500 soldiers and 2,000 civilians killed (about 1 percent of the Jewish population). The Arab regular armies lost 2,000; there were no reliable figures for Palestinian irregulars, although some estimates ran as high as 13,000.

Israel extended territory under its control from the 5,400 square miles (13,986 sq km) allocated to it in the partition plan to 8,000 square miles (20,720 sq km), including land allocated to the Arab state and to what became Jewish West Jerusalem; Jordan occupied the old city and Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel emerged from the war as a regional power equal in strength to any of its Arab neighbors.

A major consequence of the war was the Palestine Arab refugee problem. Although there was no accurate census of the refugees, their number was estimated by the United Nations to be over 700,000more than half the Arab population of mandatory Palestine. Failure to prevent establishment of the Jewish state was considered a major disaster in the Arab world; loss of the war, the flight of the Palestinians, and the establishment of Israel were called by many the nakba, a disaster that was to intrude into inter-Arab politics, affect Arab relations with the West, and color Arab self-perceptions for decades to come.

see also arabisrael war (1967); bunche, ralph j.; haganah; irgun zvaʾi leʾumi (izl); lohamei herut yisrael; mixed armistice commissions.


Begin, Menachem. The Revolt: Story of the Irgun. New York: Schuman, 1951.

Khouri, Fred. The ArabIsraeli Dilemma, 3d edition. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 19471949. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Rogan, Eugene L., and Shlaim, Avi, eds. The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Shlaim, Avi. Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement and the Partition of Palestine. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Don Peretz

Arab-Israeli Wars

views updated May 17 2018

Arab-Israeli Wars (1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973–74) Conflicts between Israel and the Arab states. After the creation of the state of Israel (May 14, 1948), troops from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan (now Jordan) invaded the new nation. Initial Arab gains were halted and armistices arranged at Rhodes (January–July 1949). UN security forces upheld the truce until October 1956, when Israeli forces under Moshe Dayan attacked the Sinai peninsula with support from France and Britain, alarmed at Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. International opinion forced a cease-fire in November. In 1967 guerrilla raids led to Israeli mobilization, and in the ensuing Six-Day War, Israel captured Sinai, the Golan Heights on the Syrian border, and the Old City of Jerusalem. In the October War of 1973 (after intermittent hostilities), Egypt and Syria invaded on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (October 6), Israel pushed back their advance after severe losses. Fighting lasted 18 days. The UN supervised subsequent disengagement agreements. In 1979 Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt, but relations with other Arab states remained hostile. In 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon under the pretext of destroying bases of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1984, after widespread international criticism, Israeli forces withdrew to s Lebanon. After 1988 the PLO renounced terrorism and gained concessions, including limited autonomy in parts of the occupied territories. See also Israeli-Palestinian Accord

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