Today, the IDF marks the beginning of the Sinai Campaign, also known as Operation Kadesh, 56 years ago. This campaign changed the face of the Middle East in that era, as Israel insisted on protecting its borders and maintaining its sovereignty in the south.
After the 1948 War of Independence, during which the Arab nations surrounding Israel attacked the new state in an effort to prevent its establishment, Israel concentrated on building up its society from within its government, military and civilian infrastructure.
But these efforts were diverted by countless terrorist incursions, namely “fadayun” infiltrating the Israeli-Egyptian border. Israel was forced to adopt measures to halt these attacks. In addition, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, nationalized the Suez Canal (which had previously been administered by Britain and France) and closed its waters to Israeli shipping. This effectively cut off Israel’s ability to trade with much of the world.
In a sweeping operation of 100 hours, the IDF took control of the entire Sinai peninsula, under the skilled command of Lt. Gen. Moshe Dayan.
Born in 1915 in Israel’s first kibbutz, Degania, Moshe Dayan fought as a teenager in the for Israel’s independence, and after excelling in his military career, he was appointed the IDF’s fourth Chief of General Staff in 1953 and went on to serve as Israel’s Minister of Defense.
The IDF’s successful paratroop landing into the eastern approaches of the Mitla Pass near the Suez Canal (the first paratroop landing in Israel’s military history) launched the Sinai Campaign at 17:00 on the 29th of October, 1956. Once on the ground, IDF forces advanced through southern and central axes into the Sinai peninsula.
The next day, October 30th, an IDF reserve brigade, equipped with requisitioned civilian buses, negotiated the difficult desert track through the Peninsula and captured Sharm el-Sheikh at the southernmost tip of the Sinai peninsula. Britain and France then joined the IDF’s war efforts on November 1st, launching a devastating strike on the Egyptian Air Force, which until that point had been engaged in battle with the Israeli Air Force, leaving it virtually incapacitated.
On November 2, a battalion of the Nachal Brigade achieved the second significant victory of the war by parachuting into El-Tor under the command of Mordechai Gur (later to become the IDF’s tenth Chief of Staff). The battalion was met on the ground by the Paratrooper’s 890th Battalion. This landing marked the completion of Israel’s control over the Sinai Peninsula, though the territory conquered during the Campaign was promptly transferred to Egyptian hands.
Though Israel lost 171 soldiers who were killed in battle, the Sinai Campaign is considered an impressive military success, having achieved its initial goal of halting the terror attacks emanating from Israel’s shared border with Egypt. After the success of the Sinai Campaign, Lt. Gen. Moshe Dayan continued to contribute to the state of Israel and played a key role in four wars, as well as helping to negotiate Israel’s historic peace treaty with Egypt.