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 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


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