Israel Record

Arab-Israeli Conflicts

Before the Creation of the State of Israel
The War of Independence

The 1956 Sinai Campaign
The 1967 War
After the 1967 War
The 1973 Yom Kippur War
The Israeli-Egyptian Peace
The Lebanon War
The West Bank and Gaza

Israel Record Contents

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In the early 1950s, Egypt violated the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli armistice agreement and blocked Israeli ships from passing through the Suez Canal, a major international waterway. It also began to block traffic through the Straits of Tiran, a narrow passage of water linking the Israeli port of Eilat to the Red Sea. This action effectively cut off the port of Eilat -- Israel's sole outlet to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Closure of the Suez Canal and the Tiran Straits damaged Israel's trade with Asia, for it meant that foreign ships carrying goods bound for Israel and Israeli ships carrying goods bound for the Far East had to travel a long and costly circuitous route to the Atlantic and Israel's Mediterranean ports.

At the same time, Palestinian Arab fedayeen launched cross-border infiltrations and attacks on Israeli civilian centers and military outposts from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Arab infiltration and Israeli retaliation became a regular pattern of Arab-Israeli relations. Israel hoped that its harsh reprisals would compel Arab governments to restrain infiltrators into Israel. In 1955 alone, 260 Israeli citizens were killed or wounded by fedayeen.

In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, threatening British and French interests in oil supplies and western trade. Their interests converging, Israel, Britain and France planned an attack on Egypt, with the former seeking free navigation through international waters and an end to terrorist attacks and the latter two hoping to seize control of the Suez Canal.

On October 29, 1956, Israel began its assault on Egyptian military positions, capturing the whole of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. On October 31, France and Britain joined the fray and hostilities ended on November 5. The U.S. was caught completely by surprise and voiced strong opposition to the joint attack. The U.S. pressured Israel to withdraw from Egyptian territory. United Nations forces were stationed along the Egyptian-Israeli border to prevent an Egyptian blockade and deter cross-border infiltrations. Israel declared that if Egyptian forces would again blockade the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, it would consider this a casus belli.

In the years following the 1956 Suez crisis, Arabs and Israelis maintained an uneasy truce. Tensions began to escalate in the mid 1960s as a result of domestic, regional and international factors independent of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In particular, Arab states competed against each other for dominance in the Arab world. Egypt's Nasser struggled to maintain his position as leader of Arab politics. Facing internal social and economic problems as well, Arab governments increased their anti-Israel posture as a means of quieting internal dissent. In February 1966, for example, a new Syrian regime facing growing economic problems raised the volume of anti-Israel rhetoric and increased cross-border raids on Israeli territory.

In keeping with their attempts to manipulate and control the Palestinian cause, the Arab states created the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Cairo in 1964. The goal of the PLO, according to its founding charter, was to use violence to liberate Palestine. In 1965, Fatah, the main faction of the PLO, began terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and civilian installations.

Soviet-American competition in the Middle East contributed to Arab-Israeli tensions too. While the Soviets lent political and military support to radical Arab regimes, the United States provided the same to conservative Arab states and to Israel.

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