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Canadian members of the UNEF on the Egypt - Israel border in 1962

The first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was established by United Nations General Assembly to secure an end to the 1956 Suez Crisis with resolution 1001 (ES-I) on November 7, 1956. The force was developed in large measure as a result of efforts by UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and a proposal from Canadian minister of external affairs Lester Pearson. The General Assembly had approved a plan[1] submitted by the Secretary-General which envisaged the deployment of UNEF on both sides of the armistice line. However, the government of Israel refused to permit UNEF to deploy on their side of the line.[2]



UNEF was the first UN military force of its kind, its mission was to:

... enter Egyptian territory with the consent of the Egyptian Government, in order to help maintain quiet during and after the withdrawal of non-Egyptian forces and to secure compliance with the other terms established in the resolution ... to cover an area extending roughly from the Suez Canal to the Armistice Demarcation Lines established in the Armistice Agreement between Egypt and Israel.
An image of Canadian and Panamanian UNEF UN peacekeepers in the Sinai, during 1974.

UNEF was formed under the authority of the General Assembly and was subject to the national sovereignty clause, Article 2, Paragraph 7, of the U.N. Charter. An agreement between the Egyptian government and the Secretary-General, The Good Faith Accords, or Good Faith Aide-Memoire,[3] placed the UNEF force in Egypt with the consent of the Egyptian government.[4]

Since the operative UN resolutions were not passed under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the planned deployment of a military forces had to be approved by Egypt and Israel. Israel's Prime Minister refused to restore the 1949 armistice lines and stated that under no circumstances would Israel agree to the stationing of UN forces on its territory or in any area it occupied.[5] [6] After multilateral negotiations with Egypt eleven countries offered to contribute to a force on the Egyptian side of the armistice line: Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, India, Indonesia, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Yugoslavia. Support was also provided by United States, Italy, and Switzerland. The first forces arrived in Cairo on November 15, and UNEF was at its full force of 6,000 by February 1957. The force was fully deployed in designated areas around the canal, in the Sinai and Gaza when Israel withdrew its last forces from Rafah on March 8, 1957. The UN Secretary-General sought to station UNEF forces on the Israeli side of the 1949 armistice lines, but this was rejected by Israel.[7]

The mission was directed to accomplish its mission in four phases:

  1. In November and December 1956, the force facilitated the orderly transition in the Suez Canal area when British and French forces left.
  2. From December 1956 to March 1957, the force facilitated the separation of Israeli and Egyptian forces and the Israeli evacuation from all areas captured during the war, except Gaza and Sharm-el-Sheik.
  3. In March 1957, the force facilitated the departure of Israeli forces from Gaza and Sharm-el-Sheik.
  4. Deployment along the borders for purposes of observation. This phase ended in May 1967.

Due to financial constraints and changing needs, the force shrank through the years to 3,378 by the time its mission ended in May 1967.

On May 16, 1967, the Egyptian government ordered all United Nations forces out of Sinai effective immediately. Then Secretary-General U Thant tried to redeploy UNEF to areas within the Israeli side of the 1949 armistice lines to maintain buffer, but this was rejected by Israel.[8] In a decision that proved to be controversial, Thant acted to effect the Egyptian order without consulting either the Security Council or the General Assembly. Most of the forces were evacuated by the end of May, but 15 UNEF forces were caught in combat operations and killed in the Six Day War. The last United Nations soldier left the region on June 17.

Force Commanders

Stationed in Gaza City.

  • Nov. 1956 - Dec. 1959 Lieutenant-General E. L. M. Burns (Canada)
  • Dec. 1959 - Jan. 1964 Lieutenant-General P. S. Gyani (India)
  • Jan. 1964 - Aug. 1964 Major-General Carlos F. Paiva Chaves (Brazil)
  • Aug. 1964 - Jan. 1965 Colonel Lazar MuŇ°icki (Yugoslavia) (Acting)
  • Jan. 1965 - Jan. 1966 Major-General Syseno Sarmento (Brazil)
  • Jan. 1966 - June 1967 Major-General Indar J. Rikhye (India)

See also


  1. ^ Resolution 1001 (ES-1), 5 November 1956
  2. ^ Report to the Security Council from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, S/7906, 26 May 1967
  3. ^ Good Faith Aide-Memoire, 11 UN GAOR Annexes, Supp. 16 U.N. Doc. A/3375 (1956)
  4. ^ The Withdrawal of UNEF and a New Notion of Consent, page 5
  5. ^ Eisenhower and Israel: U.S.-Israeli Relations, 1953-1960, Isaac Alteras, University Press of Florida, 1993, ISBN 0813012058, page 246
  6. ^ A Restless Mind: Essays in Honor of Amos Perlmutter, Amos Perlmutter, Benjamin Frankel, Routledge, 1996, ISBN 0714646075, Michael Brecher Essay, page 104-117
  7. ^ Norman G. Finkelstein alludes to Brian Urquhart's memoir, A Life in Peace and War (ISBN 0060158409), where Urquhart, describing the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis, recalls how Israel refused to allow the UNEF to be stationed on the Israeli side of the line, and labels the Israeli rejection as a "grave weakness for a peacekeeping force." (Finkelstein 2003:277)
  8. ^ U Thant in his memoir describes how he met permanent representative of Israel to the UN ambassador Gideon Rafael on May 18, 1967 and asked him, "in the event of the United Arab Republic's official request for a UNEF withdrawal, if the government of Israel would be agreeable to permit the stationing of UNEF on the Israeli side of the line..." The ambassador refused, declaring such a proposal was "entirely unacceptable" to his government. U Thant later stated that if only Israel had agreed to permit UNEF to be stationed on its side of the border, "even for a short duration, the course of history could have been different. Diplomatic efforts to avert the pending catastrophe might have prevailed; war might have been averted." (Thant 1978:223)


  • Finkelstein, Norman G. (2003). Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, 2nd ed., New York: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-442-1.
  • Oren, Michael B. (2002). Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-46192-4.
  • Rikhye, Indar Jit (1980). The Sinai Blunder, London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-3136-1.
  • Thant, U (1978). View from the UN, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-385-11541-5.

External links



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