Arab-Israeli Conflicts

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 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 underezding 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