Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War

Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War

Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War

Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War


This book looks at the development of Israeli-Arab relations during the formative years 1949 to 1956, focusing on Arab infiltration into Israel and Israeli retaliation. Palestinian refugee raiding and cross-border attacks by Egyptian-controlled irregulars and commandos were a core phenomenon during this period and one of the chief causes of Israel's invasion of Sinai and the Gaza strip in 1956. Benny Morris probes the types of Arab infiltration and the attitude of Arab governments towards the phenomenon, and traces the evolution of Israel's defensive and offensive responses. He analyzes Israeli decision-making processes, including the emergence and ultimate failure of Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett's dissident policy of moderation, and describes in detail the history of the Arab infiltration, including the terrorist-guerrilla raids by state-organized Fedayeen in 1955-6, and of the IDF raids of Qibya, Nahhalin, Kinneret, and the Sabha. This was a precedent-setting period in the making of Israeli defense policy, and this pattern of raiding and counter-raiding served to define Israeli-Arab relations during the subsequent four decades. In this pioneering study Morris deepens our understanding of the current tuation in the Middle East and of the prospects for a lasting peace there.


This is the first detailed study of the core phenomena of the Israeli-Arab conflict in the years 1949-56--Arab infiltration into Israel and Israel's responses, above all, the retaliatory policy. Together, they moulded the nature of Israeli-Arab relations and set patterns of behaviour that were to characterize the conflict for decades.

Hardening attitudes made peace contacts increasingly remote and the idea of concessions virtually inconceivable. The raiding and counter- raiding severely curbed the leaders' room for manœuvre, inextricably meshing the problems of day-to-day border security with the big strategic conundrum. Events, from the first Israeli-Arab war of 1948 onwards, almost naturally headed in a single direction, towards a 'Second Round', which duly arrived in October-November 1956.

The work tries to present a detailed narrative history while, at the same time, examining and analysing patterns and processes. It describes the emergence, from 1948, of the various types of infiltration, and the variety of defensive and offensive Israeli responses, culminating in the retaliatory policy. It tries to assess the effect of these responses on the Arab border communities and states. It describes the effects of infiltration on Israel's border settlements and on the country's economy and society. It looks, on the one hand, at the Arab states' attitudes to infiltration and at their efforts to cope with the phenomenon, and, on the other hand, at the Israeli decision- making processes. Finally, it evaluates the effect of the infiltrations and the reprisals on Israeli-Arab relations down to 1956.

Britain, the United States, and, eventually, the Soviet Union were all involved in the deteriorating Israeli-Arab border situation. However, during 1949-54, with rare exceptions, the Great Powers remained in the background, leaving the conflict localized. Israel's retaliatory policy, and particularly the Gaza Raid of February 1955, abruptly changed all that and the Middle East became another, major arena of East-West conflict, the Great Powers massively arming and forging alliances with the protagonists.

The historian of the post-colonial Middle East faces major problems of documentation, and this is particularly true of both sides in the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict. Despite Israel's relatively liberal Archives Law and policy (by comparison, say, with the United Kingdom), the historian confronts formidable problems when it comes to Israeli documentation for the conflict during the years 1949-56. The protocols of Cabinet meetings . . .

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