Since the United Nations partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, there have been four major Arab-Israeli wars (1947-49, 1956, 1967, and1973) and numerous smaller battles. Although Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, hostility between Israel and the rest of its Arab neighbors, complicated by the demands of Palestinian Arabs, continued into the 1900s. Thats why Im writing about past issues.
The first war began as a civil conflict between Palestinian Jews and Arabs following the United Nations recommendation of Nov. 29, 1947, to partition Palestine, then still under British mandate, into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Fighting quickly spread as Arab guerrillas attacked Jewish settlements and communication links to prevent implementation of the UN plan. Jewish forces prevented seizure of most settlements, but Arab guerrillas, supported by the Transjordanian Arab Legion under the command of British officers, besieged Jerusalem. By April, Haganah, the principal Jewish military group, seized the offensive, scoring victories against the Arab Liberation Army in northern Palestine, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. British military forces withdrew to Haifa; although officially neutral, some commanders assisted one side or the other.
After the British had departed and the state of Israel had been established on May 15, 1948, under the premiership of David Ben-Gurion, the Palestine Arab forces and foreign volunteers were joined by regular armies of Transjordan (now the kingdom of Jordan), IRAQ, LEBANON, and SYRIA, with token support from SAUDI ARABIA. Efforts by the UN to halt the fighting were unsuccessful until June 11, when a 4-week truce was declared. When the Arab states refused to renew the truce, ten more days of fighting erupted. In that time Israel greatly extended the area under its control and broke the siege of Jerusalem. Fighting on a smaller scale continued during the second UN truce beginning in mid-July, and Israel acquired more territory, especially in Galilee and the Negev. By January 1949, when the last battles ended, Israel had extended its frontiers by about 5,000 sq km beyond the 15,500 sq km allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition resolution. It had also secured its independence. During 1949, armistice agreements were signed under UN rules between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The armistice frontiers were unofficial boundaries until 1967.
Border conflicts between Israel and the Arabs continued despite provisions in the 1949 armistice agreements for peace negotiations. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who had left Israeli-held territory during the first war concentrated in refugee camps along Israel’s frontiers and became a major source of friction when they infiltrated back to their homes or attacked Israeli border settlements. A major tension point was the Egyptian-controlled Gaza stripe, which was used by Arab guerrillas for raids into southern Israel. Egypt’s blockade of Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba intensified the hostilities.
These escalating tensions converged with the Suez Crisis caused by the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egyptian president Gamal Nasser. Great Britain and France strenuously objected to Nasser’s policies, and a joint military campaign was planned against Egypt with the understanding that Israel would take the initiative by seizing the Sinai Peninsula. The war began on Oct. 29, 1956, after an announcement that the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were to be integrated under the Egyptian commander in chief. Israel’s Operation Kadesh, commanded by Moshe Dayan, lasted less than a week; its forces reached the eastern bank of the Suez Canal in about 100 hours, seizing the Gaza Strip and nearly all the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai Operations were supplemented by an Anglo-French invasion of Egypt on November 5, giving the allies control of the northern sector of the Suez Canal.
The war was halted by a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of all occupying forces from Egyptian territory. The General Assembly also established a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to replace the allied troops on the Egyptian side of the borders in Suez, Sinai, and Gaza. By December 22 the last British and French troops had left Egypt. Israel, however, delayed withdrawal,
Insisting that it receive security guarantees against further Egyptian attack. After several additional UN resolutions calling for withdrawal and after pressure from the United States, Israel’s forces left in March 1957.
Relations between Israel and Egypt remained fairly stable in the following decade. The Suez Canal remained closed to Israeli shipping, the Arab boycott of Israel was maintained, and periodic border clashes occurred between Israel, Syria, and Jordan. However, UNEF prevented direct military encounters between Egypt and Israel.
By 1967 the Arab confrontation states–Egypt, Syria, and Jordan–became impatient with the status quo, the propaganda war with Israel escalated, and border incidents increased. Tensions culminated in May when Egyptian forces were massed in Sinai, and Cairo ordered the UNEF to leave Sinai and Gaza. President Nasser also announced that the Gulf of Aqaba would be closed again to Israeli shipping. At the end of May, Egypt and Jordan signed a new defense pact placing Jordan’s armed forces under Egyptian command. Efforts to de-escalate the crisis were of no avail. Israeli and Egyptian leaders visited the United States, but President Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to persuade Western powers to guarantee free passage through the Gulf failed.
Believing that war was inevitable, Israeli Premier Levi Eshkol, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, and Army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin approved Israeli strikes at Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi airfields on June 5, 1967. By the evening of June 6, Israel had destroyed the combat effectiveness of the major Arab air forces, destroying more than 400 planes and losing only 26 of its own. Israel also swept into Sinai, reaching the Suez Canal and occupying most of the peninsula in less than four days.
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