The Return of the Sinai Peninsula

7 m.   |  2020-11-27

D uring the six-day war in 1967, Israel would gain control over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. During the six-day-long hostilities, Israel managed to conquer the Golan Heights from Syria, the West bank of the River Jordan from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza from Egypt. The area passing under the control of Israeli Armed Forces totaled about 70 thous. square kilometers.

Ariel Sharon, Commander of Israeli military operations in the Sinai Peninsula

Israel managed to occupy the Sinai Peninsula in a blitzkrieg (60 thous. square kilometers) almost 3 times larger than its territory (about 21 thous. square kilometers).

Territories under the control of Israel in 1967

After taking the Sinai Peninsula, between 1967-1970, Egypt led many attacks against Israel to liberate the peninsula, however all the attempts failed. A few Egyptian cities were targeted, as a result of which Egypt suffered among the civilian population. According to various data as a result of the hostilities in 1967, Israeli side had up to 900-1000 victims, 2500 wounded, whereas the victims of the Egyptian side are estimated at more than 11 thous. and 20 thous. wounded.

The Israeli Armed Forces controlled the peninsula for about 15 years with the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979 marking the start of the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Although the process of returning the territories began in 1979, it was carried out step by step. As a result, the Israeli Armed Forces completely left the peninsula in 1982.

In September 1978, preliminary agreements on the principles of a bilateral peace (The Camp David Accords) were signed between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime minister Menachem Begin mediated by the US President Jimmy Carter as a result of the secret talks in Camp David.

The Peace Treaty signing ceremony between Egypt and Israel

The agreements between Israel and Egypt were the basis for the signing of the US-mediated peace treaty between the two countries in 1979, putting an end to hostilities between the two countries with the sides establishing diplomatic relations. Egypt was the first state within the Arabic world to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

The Israeli Armed Forces had set up two air bases, one naval base and many other military facilities in the Peninsula, building roads, with both civilian and military infrastructures. Israel pursued a policy of settling the occupied territories. During those years, a total of about 2 dozen Israeli settlements were established along the Gulf of Aqaba and South to Gaza.

In 1982, however, Israel was obliged to dismantle most of the 18 Israeli settlements and to forcibly evacuate the local Jewish population. The settlements of the Yamit region were withdrawn by Israeli Armed Forces before the withdrawal of the second part from the so-called Persian Gulf regions, such as Ofira, Di Zahav and Neviot. 

A movement called the “Retreat Prevention Movement in Sinai” against the decision of Israeli Government to hand over the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt was formed. The leaders and representatives of the movement undertook the organization of protecting the Yamit settlement. The movement was mainly led by the members of the nationalist and clerical classes. Israeli Defense Army had to block the city of Yamit, which was followed by an attack on the city.

As of 1982, the settlement of Yamit of the peninsula’s Yamit region was home to about 2500 Israelis. In 1982, the settlement was dismantled and demolished using special equipment, and most of the residents of the settlement were forcibly evacuated to Israel.

Israeli military forcibly evacuate local Israelis from the settlement of Yamit

Amnon Beeri was one of the evacuated residents, who once shared his memories of the events: “My family had never regretted returning to Israel. I think it was a good price to pay for peace. Egypt was the biggest and strongest enemy of Israel and since the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai, the border became reliable and stable”.

Israeli Armed Forces are attacking the settlements of Yamit

Witnesses note that most of the soldiers expressed support to the defenders of Yamit settlement. Some of them even joined the defenders, however the armed forces were able to break the resistance by force and evacuate the residents. One of the problems facing the protection of the settlement was the fact that there was no unified leadership of the movement. The defense didn’t have a universal program either. The operation of Israeli Armed Forces to evacuate Yamit settlement was called “Red Dove”.

An article on Yamit’s extradition was published, where the evacuation witnesses and city defense representatives shared their memories: “Yamita is gone. Together with the city, 17 flourishing settlements disappeared from the face of the earth. All this happened before my eyes, literally in a few days, and until the end of my life I will not forget what I saw. We are leaving by the last bus. Among us are several soldiers and a group of rabbis…Today, Sunday, 25 April 1982, at 12 noon, the fifteen-year period of the Jewish Sinai ended. Dozens of Egyptian flags are now flying over the ruins of Yamita. We are moving away from Yamita. On the back of our bus, which closes the caravan, there is a large banner: "We did not retreat - we gave in for the sake of peace!"

Netiv HaAsara was a settlement in the Sinai Peninsula not far from Yamit, which was founded in 1973. After the Camp David Accords, about 70 families living in those particular settlements were also evacuated from the peninsula and settled in the Negev desert in Israel. Based on the peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, the Sinai Peninsula was to be divided into 4 vertical zones:

1․In the first, westernmost zone, Egypt has the right to keep a motorized infantry division with a total strength of 20 thousand people.

2․In the next line, four battalions of border troops are based, which maintain security, together with the local police.

3․Further east, the Egyptian military presence is no longer allowed at all. A relative peace in these areas was maintained by the United Nations International Peacekeeping Missions, which includes representatives from 12 countries, including the United States, Canada and New Zealand, as well as Egypt and Israel.

4․The final fourth vertical zone is a narrow area stretching along the whole border with Israel.

After the peace treaty, Egypt was targeted by the Arab World criticism, accusing President Sadat of betraying Arab solidarity. In October 1981, although President of Egypt Anvar Sadat returned the whole Sinai Peninsula under a peace treaty signed with Israel, he was shot dead by Islamic extremists for signing an agreement with Israel.

After Egypt, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and then the UAE did the same in 2020.