The following is from The Sinai Campaign by Moshe Dayan. Dayan had been Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces and in overall military command during this campaign of 1956—fifty-five years ago and only eight years after the founding of the state of Israel.
The Sinai clash became inevitable after Egypt’s president Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, closed it to Israeli shipping and then blockaded the straits of Tiran, bottling up the critical Israeli port of Eilat. The situation rapidly devolved into an international boondoggle as the armed forces of Britain and France became involved, seeking a pretext to force the re-opening of the canal. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were inevitably drawn in, politically at least, with each entity convinced of the duplicity of every other.
Meanwhile on the ground, Israeli tanks and troops were slugging it out with the Egyptian army. The campaign ended as an overwhelming victory for the IDF, which captured all of Sinai from Suez to Sharm el-Sheikh. Alas for peace, however, the triumph proved to be only another “brick in the wall” of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.
Two years after The Sinai Campaign was published (1965), the same terrain was fought over again in the Six Day War, then again after that in 1973 in the Yom Kippur War. We all know the history of the region since then. Has anything changed since Gen. Dayan summed up the lessons of the 1956 campaign? Here is his conclusion to this excellent and still extremely relevant book:
The military victory in Sinai brought Israel not only direct gains—freedom of navigation, cessation of terrorism—but, more important, a heightened prestige among friends and enemies alike. Israel emerged as a state that would be welcomed as a valued friend and ally, and her army was regarded as the strongest in the Middle East. Friendly Powers no longer looked upon her as an infant incapable of assuming responsibility for her own fate. And the sale of arms for her forces ceased to be conditional upon prior agreement among the ‘Big Powers’—the United States, Britain and France.
The main change in the situation achieved by Israel, however, was manifested among her Arab neighbors. Israel’s readiness to take to the sword to secure her rights at sea and her safety on land, and the capacity of her army to defeat the Egyptian forces, deterred the Arab rulers in the years that followed from renewing their acts of hostility. The Sinai Campaign was not intended as a preventive war. It was not meant to forestall a sickness but to cure a situation already sick—to breach an existing blockade of Israel’s southern waters, and to put an end to rampant terrorism and sabotage. But in fact it did have the effect of checking Arab ambitions to do harm to Israel. It is not by chance that the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdul Nasser, bids the Arab States to refrain from attacking Israel as long as they have not strengthened their forces. He makes this plea not because he has stopped seeking Israel’s destruction but because he has learned to respect the power of her army.