1947 and theestablishment of the modern state of ISRAEL in 1948, there have
been four major Arab-Israeli wars (1947-49, 1956, 1967, and
1973) and numerous intermittent 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 1980s.
THE FIRST PALESTINE WAR (1947-49)
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 (1,930 sq mi) beyond the 15,500
sq km (4,983 sq mi) allocated to the Jewish state in the UN
partition resolution. It had also secured its independence.
During 1949, armistice agreements were signed under UN auspices
between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The
armistice frontiers were unofficial boundaries until 1967.
SUEZ-SINAI WAR (1956)
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 STRIP, 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.
SIX-DAY WAR (1967)
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,