As Israel celebrates its 75th year in the modern era, it is always important to review aspects of the past to learn lessons for the future. With all the hullabaloo about “Nakba,” which Rashida Tlaib likes to pull out of her hat frequently, the Arab world started wars with Israel eight years after the so called “Nakba” (of 1948) in 1956, 19 years later in 1967, and 25 years later in 1973. Israel never wanted to go to war ever. The Jewish People despise war. It is against our character and genetics. As Golda Meir said, “…It will be harder for us to forgive them [the Arabs] for having forced us to kill their sons. Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
Just as in 1948, when Israel was forced to defend itself against an invasion by five Arab countries, Israel had to defend itself against constant infiltrations and the closure of the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran in 1956 by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser, in essence, closed the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea and enables oil shipments from the Persian Gulf to Western Europe, on July 26, 1956.
The President of the United States at the time was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had been a great five-star general in World War II, had led the Allied Invasion, and who famously said, when visiting the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp near Buchenwald, “We continue to uncover German Concentration Camps for political prisoners in which conditions of indescribable horror prevail. I have visited one of these myself and I assure you that whatever has been printed on them has been understatement. If you could see any advantage in asking about a dozen prominent editors to make a short visit to this theater in a couple of C-54s, I will arrange to have them conducted to one of these places where the evidence of bestiality and cruelty is so overpowering as to leave no doubt in their minds about the normal practice of the Germans in these camps.”
Despite his great World War II legacy, President Eisenhower did not join Israel in the fight against Egypt and Gamal Abdel Nasser. It is possible that President Eisenhower was swayed by his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was not a friend of Israel. Dulles developed advanced colon cancer soon after the “Suez Crisis” of 1956. The French and the British who had a vested interest in the Suez Canal joined Israel in the ensuing war with Egypt. Israel was able to conquer the Sinai Desert all the way to Sharm El Sheikh and the Gaza Strip. Nasser’s Fedayeen had used Gaza as a launching pad to attack Israel daily. Israel stayed in the Sinai Peninsula until March 1957, when Eisenhower and the United Nations pressured Israel into leaving. Promises were made, which were not kept, and eventually led to the Six-Day War of 1967.
The Gaza Strip has once again become one of the main launching sites for Arab terrorism, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in control. Just as the Gaza Strip was conquered by Israel in 1956 and 1967 to stop the incessant attacks, Israel will ultimately have to do the same in the future. This is one of the lessons of the 1956 War. The Straits of Tiran are crucial to Israel shipping. They were opened after the 1956 War. Any country that closes the Straits will be designated to have committed an “Act of War.” The Gulf of Aqaba, which connects to the Straits of Tiran, were closed by Nasser in 1967, precipitating the War.
Since Israel’s Peace Treaty with Egypt in 1979, this area has been stable. Israel is always concerned that rogue nations like Iran will blockade the Straits, which are only seven nautical miles in width at the maximum.
The 1956 War taught Israel many valuable lessons and led to a miraculous victory in 1967. It continues to teach Israel crucial information about its neighbors. It also highlights the importance of the Israeli-American alliance, which is much more solid today than in the Eisenhower era. The United States learned its lessons, too, from the 1956 War. Israel is critical to the stability of the Middle East and the United States, as well as American interests.
Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.