February 28, 1955
Two Israeli paratrooper platoons made up of approximately fifty IDF soldiers storm an Egyptian army camp in Gaza as a reprisal for continued fedayeen (Palestinian militants) attacks against Israeli civilians. Eight Israeli paratroopers and thirty-nine Egyptian soldiers are killed in the raid and another thirty Egyptian soldiers were wounded.
Throughout the early 1950’s, armed infiltrations by fedayeen against Israeli civilians were commonplace. Israel sought ways to provide security for its citizens, especially along armistice lines with Egypt (Gaza), in the center of the country with Jordan, and with Syria in the north. Increasingly the number of infiltrations rose, along with increased cooperation between the fedayeen and the Egyptian Army. Cross the armistice line shooting incidents between Israeli and Egyptian troops had increased as well.
The raid, named Operation Black Arrow, was designed to both curb the growing number of fedayeen attacks, as well as to send a message to the Egyptians that supporting these types of attacks would not be tolerated. The operation targeted an army base that was located near the Gaza railway station. From a military standpoint, the operation was a success for Israel, but it would have a far reaching impact on future developments in the region.
International reaction to the operation was especially severe; the United Nations condemned the attack as a violation of the Armistice Agreement between Israel and Egypt. Western nations criticized Israel for excessive force. The British Foreign Office said that it “deplored” the incident.
Following the raid on Gaza, large scale riots took place in Gaza in support of the armed attacks against Israel. Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser set up commando training camps to better prepare the fedayeen for future incursions into Israel. Recognizing that Egyptian arms were not sufficient for further retaliation, Nasser turned to the Soviet Union as a source for military aid, a step that he had taken secretly the previous year.
The event highlighted a rift within Israeli politics between the country’s first two Prime Ministers, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett. Ben-Gurion, who had returned as Defense Minister just a week before the operation (the photo shows Sharett meeting with Ben-Gurion at the latter’s home in Sdeh Boker on February 20, 1955, informing him of his selection as Defense Minister) after retiring in December 1953, favored an aggressive policy in dealing with security and containing Arab attacks. Ben-Gurion believed that only a show of strength and force would coerce Arab leaders into accepting the reality of a Jewish state. His successor Sharett, who had become Prime Minister in 1954, believed that any censure of Israel in the public arena, especially in the United Nations, was counterproductive. To Sharett and other moderates, the large scale reprisal raids such as the Gaza Raid did little to stop fedayeen activity and often encouraged it. In the aftermath of the raid on Gaza, Ben-Gurion would successfully challenge Sharett for Mapai leadership and become Prime Minister again in November 1955.