United Nations Emergency Force

The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was a military and peacekeeping operation established by the United Nations General Assembly to secure an end to the Suez Crisis of 1956 through the establishment of international peacekeepers on the border between Egypt and Israel. Approved by resolution 1001 (ES-I) of 7 November 1956, UNEF 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 B. Pearson, who would later win the Nobel Peace Prize for it. The General Assembly had approved a plan submitted by the Secretary-General which envisaged the deployment of UNEF on both sides of the armistice line; Egypt accepted receiving the UN forces, but Israel refused it.[1] In May 1967, Egypt asked that UNEF leave Egypt; as the troops started to evacuate over the next days, Israel invaded Egypt on 6 June 1967, initiating the Six-Day War and causing the death of one Brazilian Sergeant and 14 Indian peacekeepers – 17 other members of UNEF were also injured.[2] The last member of UNEF left Egypt on 17 June.[2]

UNEF soldiers from the Yugoslav People's Army in Sinai, January 1957

The UN General Assembly later established a Second United Nations Emergency Force in 1973 in response to the Yom Kippur War.[3]


F/L Lynn Garrison crew with UNEF DHC-3 Otter, Sinai, 1962
UNEF DHC-4 Caribou at El Arish, 1962
Swedish peacekeepers evacuating their position at Hill 88 during the Six-Day War

The first UN military force of its kind, UNEF's 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.

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,[4] placed the UNEF force in Egypt with the consent of the Egyptian government.[5]

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.[6][7] After multilateral negotiations with Egypt, ten countries offered to contribute to a force on the Egyptian side of the armistice line: Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, India, Indonesia, Norway, Sweden, and Yugoslavia. Support was also provided by United States, Italy, and Switzerland. The first forces arrived in Cairo on 15 November, 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 8 March 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.[8]

The mission was directed to be accomplished 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 May 1967.

On 16 May 1969, the Egyptian government ordered all United Nations forces – at the time, composed mostly of military contingents from Brazil, Canada, and India, with a smaller Swedish contingent – out of Sinai.[9] Secretary-General U Thant tried to redeploy UNEF to areas on the Israeli side of the border, in order to maintain a buffer, but this was rejected by Israel.[10]

By 31 May, the Canadian contingent had already been completely evacuated by air, with the Brazilian, Indian and Swedish contingents still preparing for evacuation, when Israel invaded Egypt on 5 June 1967, starting the Six-Day War.[2] In different episodes, Israeli forces attacked a UNEF convoy, camps in which UNEF personnel were concentrated and the UNEF headquarters in Gaza.[2] In these episodes, one Brazilian peacekeeper and 14 Indian officials were killed by Israeli forces, with an additional seventeen wounded in both contingents.[2]

The last United Nations peacekeeper left the region on 17 June.[2]

Force Commanders

UNEF postage stamp

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 Mušicki (Yugoslavia) (Acting)
  • Jan. 1965 – Jan. 1966 Major-General Syseno Sarmento (Brazil)
  • Jan. 1966 – June 1967 Major-General Indar Jit Rikhye (India)

Contributing countries


Contributors of military personnel were: Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, India, Indonesia, Norway, Sweden, and Yugoslavia.

See also



  1. ^ Resolution 1001 (ES-1), 5 November 1956
  2. ^ a b c d e f "UNEF I withdrawal (16 May - 17 June 1967) - SecGen report, addenda, corrigendum". Question of Palestine. Retrieved 2022-05-19.
  3. ^ "Middle East – UNEF II". www.un.org. Department of Public Information, United Nations. Archived from the original on 2018-07-18. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  4. ^ Good Faith Aide-Memoire, 11 UN GAOR Annexes, Supp. 16 U.N. Doc. A/3375 (1956)
  5. ^ The Withdrawal of UNEF and a New Notion of Consent, page 5 Archived 31 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Eisenhower and Israel: U.S.-Israeli Relations, 1953–1960, Isaac Alteras, University Press of Florida, 1993, ISBN 978-0-8130-1205-6, p. 246
  7. ^ A Restless Mind: Essays in Honor of Amos Perlmutter, Amos Perlmutter, Benjamin Frankel, Routledge, 1996, ISBN 978-0-7146-4607-7, Michael Brecher Essay, pp. 104–117
  8. ^ Norman G. Finkelstein alludes to Brian Urquhart's memoir, A Life in Peace and War (ISBN 978-0-06-015840-8), 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)
  9. ^ canada.ca: on 16 May 1967, as was his right, the Egyptian President ordered UNEF to leave his country
  10. ^ U Thant in his memoir describes how he met Ambassador Gideon Rafael, permanent representative of Israel to the UN, on 18 May 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. 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 978-1-85984-442-7.
  • Oren, Michael B. (2002). Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-46192-6.
  • Rikhye, Indar Jit (1980). The Sinai Blunder, London: Frank Cass. ISBN 978-0-7146-3136-3.
  • Thant, U (1978). View from the UN, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-385-11541-4.

Further reading

  • Kochavi, Doran (1984). The United Nations' peacekeeping operations in the Arab-Israeli conflict : 1973–1979. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms. OCLC 229042686.
  • Stjernfelt, Bertil (1992). The Sinai peace front: UN peacekeeping operations in the Middle East, 1973–1980. Translated by Nihlén, Stig. London: Hurst. ISBN 978-1-85065-090-4. SELIBR 6427285.