Alpha, Operation

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Code name for a major secret peace initiative in the mid-1950s.

Growing from British and U.S. concerns about the Near East conflict, Operation Alpha began as a shared initiative in October 1954 and eventually, after several stages, became a solely U.S. project a year later. Until March 1955, Francis Russell (U.S. State Department) and Evelyn Shuckburgh (British Foreign Office) made detailed plans for a peace settlement that involved financial aid for the resettlement of Arab refugees and security guarantees for Israel within agreed borders.

Subsequently, various efforts were made to "launch" Alpha: discussions with Israel's prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser via normal diplomatic channels, a meticulously prepared speech by U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles in August 1955, and public proposals by British prime minister Anthony Eden in his November 1955 Guildhall speech. In a last-ditch attempt to save the initiative, U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the secret mission of a special envoy, Robert Anderson, a Texan lawyer and personal friend with ties to the U.S. Defense Department. From January to March 1956, Anderson engaged in CIA-supported shuttle diplomacy for negotiations with Ben-Gurion, Israel's foreign minister Moshe Sharett, and Nasser. In spite of the high-level support, Alpha failed. The question of blame remains controversial but the incompatibility of Israeli and Egyptian interests, insufficient willingness to make painful concessions, and inadequate U.S.-U.K. commitment all played a role. Instead of bringing peace, Alpha deepened mutual Israeli-Egyptian distrust and Anglo-American disillusionment with Nasser, thus contributing to developments that led to the Sinai War in 1956. In Washington, D.C., Alpha gave way to "Omega," a project to isolate and politically neutralize Nasser.


Caplan, Neil. Futile Diplomacy, Vol. 4: Operation Alpha and the Failure of Anglo-American Coercive Diplomacy in the Arab-Israeli conflict, 19541956. London: Frank Cass, 1997.

Touval, Saadia. The Peace Brokers: Mediators in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 19481979. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Iris Borowy