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, 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 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.
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
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, and
Jordan-became impatient with the status quo, the propaganda
war with Israel escalated, and border incidents increased
dangerously. 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
Believing that war was inevitable, Israeli Premier Levi
ESHKOL, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, and Army Chief of
Staff Yitzhak RABIN approved preemptive 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.
King HUSSEIN of Jordon rejected an offer of neutrality and
opened fire on Israeli forces in Jerusalem on June 5. But a
lightning Israeli campaign placed all of Arab Jerusalem and
the Jordanian West Bank in Israeli hands by June 8. As the
war ended on the Jordanian and Egyptian fronts, Israel
opened an attack on Syria in the north. In a little more
than two days of fierce fighting, Syrian forces were driven
from the Golan Heights, from which they had shelled Jewish
settlements across the border. The Six-Day War ended on
June 10 when the UN negotiated cease-fire agreements on all
The Six-Day War increased severalfold the area under
Israel's control. Through the occupation of Sinai, Gaza,
Arab Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Golan Heights, Israel
shortened its land frontiers with Egypt and Jordan, removed
the most heavily populated Jewish areas from direct Arab
artillery range, and temporarily increased its strategic
Israel was the dominant military power in the region for
the next six years. Led by Golda MEIR from 1969, it was
generally satisfied with the status quo, but Arab
impatience mounted. Between 1967 and 1973, Arab leaders
repeatedly warned that they would not accept continued
Israeli occupation of the lands lost in 1967.
After Anwar al-SADAT succeeded Nasser as president of Egypt
in 1970, threats about "the year of decision" were more
frequent, as was periodic massing of troops along the Suez
Canal. Egyptian and Syrian forces underwent massive
rearmament with the most sophisticated Soviet equipment.
Sadat consolidated war preparations in secret agreements
with President Hafez al-ASSAD of Syria for a joint attack
and with King FAISAL of Saudi Arabia to finance the
Egypt and Syria attacked on Oct. 6, 1973, pushing Israeli
forces several miles behind the 1967 cease-fire lines.
Israel was thrown off guard, partly because the attack came
on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the most sacred
Jewish religious day (coinciding with the Muslim fast of
Ramadan). Although Israel recovered from the initial
setback, it failed to regain all the territory lost in the
first days of fighting. In counterattacks on the Egyptian
front, Israel seized a major bridgehead behind the Egyptian
lines on the west bank of the canal. In the north, Israel
drove a wedge into the Syrian lines, giving it a foothold a
few miles west of Damascus.
After 18 days of fighting in the longest Arab-Israeli war
since 1948, hostilities were again halted by the UN. The
costs were the greatest in any battles fought since World
War II. The Arabs lost some 2,000 tanks and more than 500
planes; the Israelis, 804 tanks and 114 planes. The 3-week
war cost Egypt and Israel about $7 billion each, in
material and losses from declining industrial production or
The political phase of the 1973 war ended with
disengagement agreements accepted by Israel, Egypt, and
Syria after negotiations in 1974 and 1975 by U.S. Secretary
of State Henry A. KISSINGER. The agreements provided for
Egyptian reoccupation of a strip of land in Sinai along the
east bank of the Suez Canal and for Syrian control of a
small area around the Golan Heights town of Kuneitra. UN
forces were stationed on both fronts to oversee observance
of the agreements, which reestablished a political balance
between Israel and the Arab confrontation states.
Under the terms of an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty signed
on Mar. 26, 1979, Israel returned the Sinai peninsula to
Egypt. Hopes for an expansion of the peace process to
include other Arab nations waned, however, when Egypt and
Israel were subsequently unable to agree on a formula for
Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In
the 1980s regional tensions were increased by the
activities of militant Palestinians and other Arab
extremists and by several Israeli actions. The latter
included the formal proclamation of the entire city of
Jerusalem as the Israeli capital (1980), the annexation of
the Golan Heights (1981), the invasion of southern Lebanon
(1982), and the continued expansion of Israeli settlement
in the occupied West Bank.


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