Sinai Campaign, 1956
on october 29, 1956, Israel’s campaign began with a daring paratroop drop deep into the central area of the Sinai Peninsula at the eastern entrance to the Mitla Pass, some 150 miles from Israel and 50 miles from the Suez canal. At this key line of communication at the western end of the Sinai Peninsula, paratroopers would sever communications with Egypt’s forces in the Sinai.
This was to pave the way for the AngloFrench intervention to protect the canal and ensure it would remain open. one day after the drop, on october 30, the French and British issued an ultimatum calling on both sides to cease fire and withdraw to positions 10 miles on either side of the canal.
The Egyptians refused the ultimatum on october 30, allowing Israel to continue fighting and consolidate its control over the peninsula and remove the threat of the Egyptian army. Israeli forces reached the Suez canal and gained control of the Sinai Peninsula.
Israeli army General Headquarters issued a communiqué:
Units of the Israeli defense forces have penetrated and attacked fedayeen bases . . . and have taken up positions . . . toward the Suez Canal. This operation was necessitated by the continuous Egyptian military attacks on citizens and on Israel land and sea communications, the purpose of which was to cause destruction and to deprive the people of Israel of the possibility of peaceful existence.
After the commencement of hostilities, the United States took the matter to the United Nations Security council, and President Dwight Eisenhower made a national radio and television address on october 31, 1956, in which he stated that the action Israel took was wrong.
President Eisenhower wrote to Ben-Gurion and pressured Israel to withdraw from Sinai. In its efforts to secure Israel’s withdrawal, the United States sought to reassure Israel with regard to the passage of Israeli shipping through the Strait of Tiran and in the Gulf of Aqaba.
As part of that process, U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles handed to the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Abba Eban, an aide-mémoire on February 11, 1957, seeking to assure Israel that the Gulf of Aqaba “comprehends” international waters and that no state had the right to prevent free and innocent passage in the gulf and “through the Straits giving access thereto.” He said that the United States, “in the absence of some overriding decision to the contrary, as by the International court of Justice,” was prepared to exercise the right of free and innocent passage and to “join with others to secure general recognition of this right.”
Eventually Israel withdrew from all of the captured Egyptian territory and the Gaza Strip to the prewar frontiers under the weight of UN resolutions, but especially the Eisenhower administration’s pressure. The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was created to patrol the Egyptian side of the armistice line, which it did until the days immediately preceding the 1967 Six-Day War.
The UN force was also to have deployed in the Gaza Strip to keep that area demilitarized and end the threat of further fedayeen raids, but this provision was never implemented. The sea lanes through the Strait of Tiran from the red Sea to the Israeli port of Eilat were opened, for the first time, to Israeli shipping. But the hope that peace talks might follow was not realized.
Although the other Arab states did not join in the hostilities they made no effort to reach a peace agreement with Israel, and the territories of those states that shared a frontier with Israel, often became bases for attacks across the border into Israel. Israel maintained and strengthened its defensive posture and capability to deal with the Arab threat.