The 1956 War
After President Gamal Abdul Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal in July 1956, the British, French, and Israelis began coordinating an invasion. On October 29, 1956, the Israelis struck across Sinai toward the canal and southward toward Sharm ash Shaykh to relieve the Egyptian blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba. At the crossroads of Abu Uwayqilah, thirty kilometers from the Israeli border, and at the Mitla Pass, Egyptian troops resisted fiercely, repelling several attacks by larger Israeli forces. British and French forces bombed Egyptian air bases, causing Nasser to withdraw Egyptian troops from Sinai to protect the canal. At the heavily fortified complex of Rafah in the northwestern corner of Sinai and at other points, the Egyptians carried out effective delaying actions before retreating. Egypt vigorously defended Sharm ash Shaykh in the extreme south until two advancing Israeli columns took control of the area. At Port Said (Bur Said), at the north end of the canal, Egyptian soldiers battled the initial British and French airborne assault, but resistance quickly collapsed when allied forces landed on the beach with support from heavy naval gunfire.
The performance of many of the Egyptian units was determined and resourceful in the face of the qualitative and numerical superiority of the invaders. Nasser claimed that Egypt had not been defeated by the Israelis but that it had been forced to abandon Sinai to defend the canal against the Anglo-French attacks. According to foreign military observers, about 1,650 of Egypt's ground forces were killed in the campaign. Another 4,900 were wounded, and more than 6,000 were captured or missing.
Respect for the armed forces grew in response to Nasser's rise to political preeminence in the Arab world, his widespread support among Egyptians, hostility toward Israel, and the broadened base of military service. But Egypt's army suffered a psychological setback in September 1962 when it intervened unsuccessfully in a civil war in what later became the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen). Nasser moved large numbers of Egyptian troops into the country after a group of Yemeni army officers staged a coup against the royalist regime. The number of Egyptian troops in the country rose from 20,000 in 1963 to 70,000 by 1965. The Egyptians, who were not well trained or equipped for battle in Yemen's rugged mountain terrain, failed to defeat the royalists. Some of Egypt's best troops were still stalemated in Yemen when Israel attacked Egypt in 1967.
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