War Stories

War Stories

Sinai 1956

By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 4, 2011

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.

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4 Responses to “Sinai 1956”

  1. Larry Adams
    July 4, 2011 at 7:32 am

    C’mon Steven, Israel has been running the table for the same reason that Walter Sobchak quoth in “The Big Lebowski”, when he analyzed the Gulf War…”What we have here is a bunch of fig eaters wearing towels on their heads trying to find reverse on a Soviet tank”…
    Now, I’m not in any way disparaging the efficacy of the IDF, but their success over the last 50 some-odd years has more to do with the fact that the Arab military culture is not one that is effects-based than their relative abilities to successfully execute combined arms. Their valor is unquestioned, but one could argue that my one-legged aunt Mildred could shwack an Egyptian Motorized Rifle Regiment…Just sayin’

  2. Larry Adams
    July 4, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Also, you’ve inspired me, my friend. I’m actually working on a manifesto. I’d be honored if you could provide any feedback: http://fearfiles.blogspot.com/2011/05/manifesto-of-effective-part-1.html

  3. July 16, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Larry, Israel used surprised, tactics and training to beat their enemies. Like any other war, a bit of luck was a factor.

    However, what Israel didn’t do is underestimate their enemies. If any general would have said “t my one-legged aunt Mildred could shwack an Egyptian Motorized Rifle Regiment” I could guarantee you he was about to get his ass kicked.

    Mr. Pressfield, I’m sure you know that Dayan was also a historian.

    • Larry Adams
      April 2, 2012 at 12:05 am

      Sir,

      Of course the Israelis did not underestimate their enemies…until the Yom Kippur War. Even then, they did a truly amazing job of using available A-4 sorties to make up for their comparative lack of tube artillery, and more importantly, kept those sorties in deep attack and close air support roles, despite losses from air-to-air and ground-to-air threats. Please forgive my tongue-in-cheek response to Steven’s above story, having a lark at the expense of a shared (and dispensed) enemy is by no means a slight of the IDF.