Monday, June 4, 2018
The 1956 Suez War and the New World Order in the Middle East - Exodus in Reverse, By Yagil Henkin (Lexington Books, 2016)
Dr. Yagil Henkin's study expands the perspective of the 1956 Suez War and regards it as a key point in the history of the Middle East and the on-going conflict between the Arab countries and Israel
This year, Israel marks the 60th anniversary of the Kadesh (Sinai) campaign. Some of the autobiographical books published recently address that campaign, among others. For example, the autobiography of Maj. Gen. Yeshayahu Gavish (who served as head of the IDF GHQ Operations Department during that campaign) and the autobiography of Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit (who served as the IDF GHQ liaison officer to the French forces). Another book published recently that addresses the Kadesh campaign exclusively is the comprehensive study by Dr. Yagil Henkin, headed "The 1956 Suez War and the New World Order in the Middle East – Exodus in Reverse" (the subheading was derived from a speech delivered by Col. Avraham Yaffe, commander of the IDF 9th Brigade during the Kadesh campaign).
Dr. Henkin, a military historian and an academic instructor at the IDF Command & Staff College, is a researcher of military history in our region, but his studies have extended to other focal points of conflict around the world, like Rhodesia in the southern part of Africa and Chechenia in Eastern Europe. In this study, Dr. Yagil Henkin returns, once again, to our region and to a chapter in the history of the Israeli-Arab wars.
The Kadesh campaign, and in fact the execution of the operational plan of IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan codenamed "Kadesh 2", was described for the first time in the book "100 Hours to Suez" by Col. Robert Henriques, published as far back as 1957. The comprehensive study by the IDF History Department, published in the book "There will be War this Summer" by Professor Motti Golani, expanded the perspective and provided a description of Israel's road, in 1955 and 1956, to the Sinai campaign as a "conspiracy" of the declining superpowers, France and the UK, with Israel as a partner attempting to serve their interests opposite Egypt under Nasser.
Dr. Yagil Henkin's study of the 1956 Suez War expands the perspective even further and once again describes the war of the British-French-Israeli coalition against Egypt, but regards it as a key point in the history of the Middle East and the on-going conflict between the Arab countries and Israel. Israel's swift, Blitzkrieg-style victory proved, according to Dr. Henkin, that the Israeli success in the War of Independence of 1948 was not merely an unsuccessful round of fighting that could be "corrected" easily and quickly by the Arab armed forces. This round also provided Israel with 11 years of tranquility until the next clash in 1967.
The lack of British-French success marked the withdrawal of British and French involvement and influence from this part of the world – if not throughout the world. The British and French involvement was replaced by Soviet and American involvement. The Egyptian resistance to the invasive intervention of the superpowers marked the peak of Arab nationalism under Nasser's leadership.
Despite the importance of the Suez conflict, no comprehensive military history study of this magnitude has ever been published. This book contributes a methodical military review, along with a thorough description of the battles, wrapped in a description of an additional extensive layer of the various diplomatic and political circles. The book describes the diplomatic thinking and the military execution of each of the participating parties – Egypt, Israel, France and Britain, and even the USSR and the USA. The book does not confine itself to a description of the war but delves into its results in the diplomatic layers as well as in the military strategic and even tactical layers.
The study of the military moves corrects various mistakes in previous descriptions of the battles. The stages of the difficult march through untrafficable terrain by the IDF 9th Brigade from the area of Eilat along the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat) to the capturing of Ras Nasrani and the area around Sharem el-Sheikh, with the intention of lifting the blockade imposed on the maritime shipping route, are described here in detail. Another chapter of the book reviews the period of Israeli military administration in the Gaza Strip following the occupation and the implications of that period that are still relevant to this day. The book also describes some hitherto unfamiliar anecdotes, like the landing, in 1954, of an Israeli C-47 transport aircraft at an Egyptian airbase held by the British to the west of the Suez Canal owing to a navigational error and the dispatching thereof, after refueling, by the local British forces before the Egyptian forces had a chance to intervene.
To clarify how much the history of that period is relevant to our times, Dr. Henkin also describes the foreign policy of the USA during the time of President Eisenhower and draws parallels between that policy and the policy during the tenure of President Obama, while demonstrating how the present US President repeats the same mistakes Eisenhower had made in the 1950s and adds a few mistakes of his own.