Ehud Eilam

The war in Sinai 56 years ago and future war with Iran

Reminiscing the war in Sinai 56 years ago.
Will there be a future war with Iran?

56 years ago, from October 29 to November 5 1956 there was a collision between Israel and Egypt, known as the Sinai war. It is seemingly a forgotten war but it has a linkage to the ongoing tension and a possible clash between Israel and Iran and her proxies, such as the Hezbollah.
During the past days Israel and the United States have been conducting a large-scale exercise. Its purpose: defending Israel’s skies, especially against Iran and Hezbollah although officially the drill is not against any state or non-state organization. In 1956 there was a joint effort by Israel and two other Western powers, France and Britain to protect Israel’s skies against Egypt.
In the war of 1956 the IAF (Israel Air Force) was not very well prepared to deal with the aerial threat of Egyptian bombers. The IAF needed support from Britain and France.
Today, the missiles and rockets are the main challenge of Israel’s air defense. The IAF, as in 1956, has limited ability in intercepting the current aerial threat which again requires Western assistance, this time from the U.S.
In the war of 1956 two French squadrons, including ground crews, were sent to Israel, and French warships with anti-aircraft guns patrolled Israel’s coast. Now, during the exercise, U.S. AEGIS, an anti missile ship together with anti missile batteries were dispatched to Israel. This brings to mind what happened on May 2012, during an experiment, when a missile fired from a U.S. ship shot down a missile that simulated a Scud missile.
In 1956 the Egyptian Air Force made only two sorties inside Israel, and they did not cause any casualties. In this respect, the Israeli – French cooperation at that time was like an exercise with almost no combat. Now the drill between Israel and the United States included some clashes between Israel and Hamas when “Iron Dome” intercepted missiles that were launched from the Gaza Strip.
It ought to be mentioned that some feared the exercise with the Americans might have been more than that if Israel had used that opportunity to hit Iran.
In 1956 France and Britain destroyed the Egyptian air force in its bases. The Western powers had more chances to accomplish this task than the IAF did. Similarly, Israel now prefers the United States attacks Iran because American air power is much stronger than the one Israel has.
The United States wishes to get rid of the regime in Iran, partly because of its regional ambitions, but America hesitates whether to take direct military action against the rulers of Iran. If the latter closes the Straits of Hormuz, a vital sea route in the Persian Gulf, it could lead to a confrontation with the United States. In 1956 France and Britain objected to Nasser’s regime and his ambitious goals. After the Egyptian leader nationalized the Suez Canal, another important sea route in the Middle East, France and Britain attacked Egypt.
The likelihood of military cooperation between Israel and the United States against Iran is remote, certainly now, but circumstances may change. In 1956 France and Britain did not develop close ties with Israel, as the latter now has with the United States. However, a common opponent then brought Israel, France and Britain to reach a secret military alliance against Egypt, as may now be the case between Israel and the United States against Iran.
Israel seeks to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, which would threat the existence of the former. In 1956 Israel had a similar concern due to Egypt’s military build- up, albeit with conventional weapons. Israel struck before the Egyptian military could be ready to attack Israel, as it might do now with Iran. Another aspect of the time factor is that in 1956 Israel confronted Egypt during a U.S. presidential election which could have happened now yet it did not.
One of the Israeli aims in the 1956 war was to annihilate the infrastructure of guerrilla and terror in the Gaza Strip. Now Israel, as part of a war with Iran, might seek to destroy the base of guerrilla and terror of the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In the 1956 war the IDF (Israel Defense Force) was tested for the first time in conducting deep armor penetrations for several dozens of kilometers. Now the IDF, with all the knowledge it gathered along the years, might again be checked in another maneuver it never did, launching about 100 planes more than a thousand Kilometers from Israel, into Iran.

All in all it is clear that there are differences between the War of 1956 and preparing and fighting a future confrontation with Iran, but there is a certain similarity in some key aspects. As always when learning from military history the dilemma is both what are the right lessons and how to adapt them to the current situation.

About the Author
Dr. Ehud Eilam has been dealing and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the Israeli military and later on he worked for the Israeli Ministry of Defense. He is now a writer and an independent researcher. He has a Ph.D and he had published five books He lives now near Boston, MA. His email: