What was the background of the Sinai Campaign in 1956?
Israeli Officers (1955): Lieutant Meir Har-Zion, Major Arik Sharon
In 1955, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser began to import arms from the Soviet bloc to build his arsenal for the confrontation with Israel. In the short-term, however, he employed a new tactic to prosecute Egypt’s war with Israel. He announced it on August 31, 1955:
- Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the Land of Israel….There will be no peace on Israel’s border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel’s death.
These “heroes” were Arab terrorists, or “fedayeen”, trained and equipped by Egyptian intelligence to engage in hostile action on the borders and to infiltrate Israel to commit acts of sabotage and murder. The fedayeen operated mainly from bases in Jordan, so that Jordan would bear the brunt of Israel’s retaliation, which inevitably followed. The terrorist attacks violated the armistice agreement provision that prohibited the initiation of hostilities by paramilitary forces; nevertheless, it was Israel that was condemned by the UN security council for its counterattacks.
The escalation continued with the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal in July 1956. On October 14, 1956 Nasser made clear his intent:
- I am not solely fighting against Israel itself. My task is to deliver the Arab world from destruction through Israel’s intrigue, which has its roots abroad. Our hatred is very strong. There is no sense in talking about peace with Israel. There is not even the smallest place for negotiations.
Less than two weeks later, on October 25, Egypt signed a tripartite agreement with Syria and Jordan, placing Nasser in command of all three armies. A massive arms deal with Czechoslovakia threatened to flood Egypt with new Soviet equipment. When Egypt sealed off the Israeli port of Eilatby blocking the Straits of Tiran, effectively stopping Israel’s sea trade with much of Africa and the Far East, it was a violation of international agreements that amounted to an act of war.
The continued blockade of the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, combined with the increased fedayeen attacks and the bellicosity of recent Srab statements, prompted Israel, with the backing of Britain and France, to attack Egypt on October 29, 1956.
The Sinai Campaign temporarily ended the activities of the fedayeen; however, they were renewed a few years later by a loosely knit group of terrorist organizations that became know as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
For Britain and France, who allied with Israel in the Sinai Campaign, the war was about the Suez Canal. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal for Egypt on July 26, 1956. The nationalization of the canal took the world by surprise, especially the British and French stockholders who owned the Suez Canal Company. Although Nasser promised that the company would be compensated for its loss, Britain, France, and Israel began plotting to take back the canal and overthrow Nasser as well. Britain, France and Israel united in secret in what was to become known as the tripartite collusion, something that they denied publicly for many years. Israel opted to participate in the plans against Egypt to gain favor in the sight of western nations because the small developing nation of Israel was in constant fear of being overrun by Arab nations.