The Suez Crisis (also Suez Crisis , Suez War , Sinai War and Sinai Campaign ) was an international conflict in October 1956 between Egypt on the one hand and Great Britain , France and Israel on the other. The trigger was the nationalization of the largely British-French Suez Canal Society by the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser . This wanted to free the formally sovereign Egypt from the British sphere of influence . For Great Britain the Suez Canal was of great importance for the oil supply . Britain, France and Israel agreed that Egypt would first be attacked by Israel on the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip , and that Britain and France would then occupy and permanently control the Suez Canal as part of an airborne strike disguised as a mediation mission .
After unsuccessful international negotiations about the rights to use the Suez Canal, France and Great Britain agreed to overthrow the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, stylized as a "Hitler from the Nile". France was motivated by the Egyptian support of the Algerian liberation movement FLN , which fought against French colonial rule . Israel wanted to break free from the Arab embrace and from ongoing border fighting with Palestinians . After the attack by the three states on Egypt, the USA and the Soviet Union brought the Anglo-French company before the UN and, in this diplomatic way, forced the withdrawal of French, British and Israeli troops from the areas they had occupied in Egypt. In December 1956 a UN peacekeeping force was relocated to the Israeli-Egyptian border, and in March 1957 the crisis was resolved. The planned overthrow of Nasser and a regime change had not been achieved.
The result was a strengthening of Egypt's position in the Middle East; In the medium term, the events led to close ties between Egypt and the Soviet Union. The Middle East conflict thus became part of the Cold War . The old European colonial powers had to learn that the two world powers, the USA and the Soviet Union, could temporarily unite for a common goal, even though they were opponents in the Cold War. Independent operations by the Europeans were consequently no longer so easy.
The fact that Great Britain and France tried to force Egypt to return the Suez Canal through military aggression and to overthrow its regime, while at the same time the Soviet Army put down the Hungarian popular uprising, put the countries on the same late-imperialist level in public perception . The up to then "final development of imperial machismo" sparked outrage and criticism worldwide.
The causes of the crisis lie in the structure of the use of the Suez Canal. The granting of a construction concession to a foreign company included the economic use of the canal by the same company until 1968. In addition, with the increasing economic importance of oil, the dependence of the European powers on the use of the canal increased. Great Britain in particular tried to achieve free passage by exerting a strong influence on the domestic politics of Egypt and through a military presence on the Suez Canal. After the Second World War, French colonial rule in French West Africa was initially consolidated again. In North Africa, which is dominated by Arabs, there was an open fight by national movements against colonial rule at the beginning of the 1950s. France had to give up its protectorates of French Morocco and Tunisia in 1956 , but still waged war against the Algerian liberation front FLN with a large part of its armed forces . Great Britain , weakened as a result of World War II , gradually and largely peacefully withdrew from the Middle East. Egypt initially remained under British control, but gained increasing independence, especially since King Faruq cooperated with British politics. The British troops withdrew from Egypt in 1946, but remained in the Suez Canal Zone, for which they had reserved stationing rights in the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 . The Egyptian termination of this treaty in 1951 created tension. After King Faruq was overthrown in a military coup in 1952 , a new generation of nationalist and pan-Arab politicians came to power, increasing the pressure on the British. After Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power, the Suez Agreement finally agreed on the withdrawal of British troops. In 1953 about 80,000 British soldiers were stationed on the Suez Canal; by June 1956 the British withdrew their troops. Nasser planned the construction of the Aswan Dam to eradicate the mass misery . Because the western countries, especially the USA, refused to give the new regime development aid, Nasser successfully turned to the Soviet Union. In 1955, Egypt appeared to join the Soviet bloc when it signed arms supply agreements with Czechoslovakia and Soviet funding for the dam became likely. The USA followed suit and in turn offered financing for the dam. US President Eisenhower (term of office 1953–1961) withdrew this offer seven months later on July 19, 1956 by Foreign Minister Dulles , because the Egyptian government officially recognized the People's Republic of China in 1956 and its neutrality policy aroused the displeasure of the USA. Nasser turned sharply against the West and nationalized the Suez Canal Society on July 26th without involving his cabinet in this decision. The Egyptian army entered the offices of the Suez Canal Society. With the fees for the use of the Suez Canal, the costs for the construction of the dam should now be raised. The shareholders of the Suez Society were financially compensated. Great Britain saw itself attacked economically and geostrategically . France also turned against Egypt, as President Nasser supported the fight of the Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) against the French colonial power with arms deliveries. In the course of 1956 the conflict between Egypt and Israel intensified, which increasingly had to fend off attacks by Fedayeen from Egyptian territory and from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip . Egypt blocked the Strait of Tiran , cutting Israel off from maritime trade through the Red Sea and closing the Suez Canal to Israeli ships. At the same time, Egypt formed a “United Arab High Command” together with Jordan and Syria , which in fact had little authority. Israel hoped to weaken the Egyptians militarily as well as to conquer the Gaza Strip and Sharm El Sheikh . A paratrooper attack on the western end of Mitla Pass should be justified with retaliation for Palestinian attacks.
Beginning of the crisis
Great Britain and France called the UN Security Council to get Nasser to return the canal by UN resolution . Conferences initiated by the US government had previously taken place to avoid armed conflict, but they failed. The US government deliberately did not take the side of the European powers in order to avoid a confrontation with the Soviet Union, which would then have supported Egypt. The Soviet Union and India ultimately approved the nationalization at three international conferences that were unsuccessful. The UN resolution sought by France and Great Britain was not designed for success - a veto by the Soviet Union was expected and was even desired, since Great Britain and France would have had an excuse to attack Egypt in order to overthrow President Nasser. However, a coup attempt on the part of Great Britain and France cannot be proven, on the contrary. In his “Footnote to History”, the then US ambassador in London clearly shows that the removal of Nasser would have required completely different military preparations. In addition, the British General Charles Keightley , who was in charge of the occupation of Ismailia, made it clear that his mandate was solely to establish a ceasefire. The British Prime Minister Eden wanted the "destruction" of Nasser, but hoped to achieve this through the fact that the military defeat in Suez would lead to the fall of Nasser.
In order to attune public opinion to the need for war, the British Prime Minister Anthony Eden demanded that the threat posed by the "Mussolini of the Nile" must be resolutely countered. This did not fail to have an effect, because Eden was considered a resolute opponent of the appeasement policy towards Hitler and Mussolini . Eden received assurance from Air Marshal Denis Barnett that air strikes would be enough to bring down the Nasser administration. On July 27, 1956, a planning staff was formed in the British armed forces to design the attack on Egypt under the name "Operation Musketeer". The plan envisaged massive air strikes on the airfields of the Egyptian Air Force and then on ground troops. Then the air and sea landing should take place. To this end, a large armada rallied off Malta and Algiers, even during Washington's de-escalation efforts. However, there were considerable differences of opinion as to how far a weakening of the ground troops through pure air preparation was at all possible and where exactly the subsequent landing should take place. Meanwhile, the military planners began to consider Alexandria as the site of the attack. This would not have allowed the canal zone to be conquered immediately, but Alexandria was easier to reach for the British and French armed forces and a greater political impact for the overthrow of Nasser was in sight. However, in September the Egypt Committee rejected this plan. It was probably too difficult for politicians to justify an attack on Alexandria by conquering the Canal Zone. In addition, individual representatives of the French military wanted to limit the operation to the Canal Zone. The Egyptian Committee then instructed the military to plan an attack on Port Said . At the same time, the French began planning an attack on Port Said in parallel. An attack on the southern end of the canal was also briefly discussed, but was rejected again. On September 19, the revised "Musketeer Revise" plan was presented to the British Cabinet. In addition to the extensive destruction of the Egyptian combat strength by air strikes, it also envisaged a comprehensive psychological effect of the air strikes, which was intended to break the will of the military, the population and politics to fight.
At several meetings in Sèvres near Paris , the cooperation between the French and Israeli secret services was intensified. On September 29, France’s Foreign Minister Christian Pineau and Defense Minister Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury met with Israel’s representatives Golda Meïr , Shimon Peres and Moshe Dajan . In October this was followed by assurances from France and Great Britain about arms deliveries. France also pledged to protect Israeli airspace and the coast. In addition, France wanted to use its veto in the UN Security Council to counteract a decision directed against Israel. Israel should launch an invasion so that Britain and France could intervene as supposed peace powers. The Europeans would then move the Israeli and Egyptian armies to retreat to either side of the canal and station a British-French intervention force on the canal around Port Said. On October 24th, the three states signed an agreement on how to proceed.
On October 29, 1956, Israel began invading Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula (Operation Kadesh) and advanced rapidly towards the Canal.
The following afternoon, the Egyptian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office in London and received a catalog of demands from the representative of the British Foreign Minister Selwyn Lloyd , Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, and the French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau . In the British-French ultimatum, which was limited to twelve hours, the Egyptian troops were required to retreat ten miles behind the Suez Canal and thereby evacuate the entire Sinai Peninsula. For their part, the Israelis were instructed not to move closer than ten miles to the Suez Canal. They hadn't got that far at this point, however. In addition, the consent of Egypt to the temporary occupation of Suez , Ismailia and Port Said was requested.
As expected, President Nasser rejected the request and the ultimatum. By rejecting it, he provided Great Britain and France with the pretext they wanted to gain military control of the Canal and overthrow Nasser's regime.
On October 31, Great Britain and France began bombing Egyptian airports. The day before, the targets of psychological warfare had been dropped. The air force should now focus on military objectives. At the beginning of November there were diplomatic clashes between Great Britain and France, as the British government was only partially informed about the support of the French air force for Israel. The British wanted to maintain the appearance that the Europeans were neutral and in no way supported Israel.
The Israeli paratroopers - Battalion 890 had become the east exit of the strategically important for an airdrop Mitla Pass secured. The remainder of the paratrooper brigade 202 under Ariel Sharon fought their way overland the 200 km through enemy territory to the Mitla Pass. An Israeli scouting party came under heavy Egyptian fire in the pass and was cut off from the way back. Sharon had his men seize the passport to save the scouting party and at the same time to secure the only possible spot for a major Egyptian counterattack in southern Sinai.
On November 5, 668 British paratroopers landed in Port Said at Gamil Airport, secured the area and established an air support base. In the early hours of November 6th, Commandos 40 and 42 of the Royal Marines landed on the beaches of Egypt with amphibious vehicles and fire support from warships . Port Said was almost completely destroyed by devastating fires.
The landing commands encountered stiff resistance as they continued their advance. Command 45 of the Marines attacked by helicopter - the first operation of its kind in war history - and began house-to-house fighting in a region where gun ownership is common among civilians. Egyptian snipers and their own friendly fire inflicted painful losses on the marines , but they nevertheless won the battle.
The hastily spread rumor that the Soviet army was coming to Egypt's aid could no longer stabilize Nasser's demoralized troops: the Egyptian army and its seven armored divisions had to back off because of the rapid advance of the attackers and their air superiority.
The commandos reached the canal and turned southwest towards Cairo . Now that the canal was in the hands of the colonial powers, they secured their positions before making any further advance south and west.
Political pressure, ceasefire and withdrawal
Contrary to expectations, the European powers received no US support for their actions. The British Prime Minister Eden had expected Dwight D. Eisenhower , despite reservations, to side with his central European allies in the event of war. Against the backdrop of the Cold War , Washington pursued a containment policy and considered good relations with Third World countries to be more important than British-French power and economic interests.
The United States and the Soviet Union tabled draft resolutions in the United Nations Security Council to end the conflict. France and Great Britain, as veto powers in the Security Council, each prevented the adoption of these resolutions as agreed. With the start of the ground operations, diplomatic pressure on Great Britain, France and Israel increased sharply. On October 31, the United States stopped development aid for Israel and Great Britain and threatened to sell reserves of British currency, which could have caused the pound to collapse.
In order to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Washington and the Soviet Union applied for an "emergency special session" of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the basis of the Uniting for Peace resolution . Emergency meetings can be called when decisions in the Security Council are blocked.
After several days of meeting, the General Assembly passed four resolutions. On November 2, 1956, the General Assembly declared the actions to be contrary to international law and demanded that Israel - and only Israel - cease fighting and withdraw beyond the armistice line, and on November 4, the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force.
Israel tried to delay the inevitable withdrawal of its troops and to obtain guarantees from the UN beforehand: guaranteeing safe borders and free navigation for Israel through the Strait of Tiran into the Indian Ocean. The US supported this demand.
On November 5, the Soviet Union threatened France and Great Britain with "using force to destroy the aggressors and restore peace in the Middle East". Party leader Khrushchev even spoke of the - militarily unrealizable - destruction of the western capitals with nuclear weapons. The Soviet Prime Minister Bulganin issued a warning to Israel : As the executor of a foreign will and on behalf of others, the Government of Israel is playing a criminal and irresponsible game with the fate of the world, with the fate of its own people. It sows a hatred among the peoples of the East that must affect the future of Israel and call its state existence into question ... We expect the Government of Israel to change its mind before it is too late and its military operations against Egypt . At the same time she called her ambassador from Tel Aviv.
Due to massive political pressure, especially from the US, the next day, November 6, 1956, Great Britain, France and Israel stopped fighting and Great Britain and France signed an armistice with Egypt.
The theater of war was evacuated by the attackers on December 22, 1956. On March 7, 1957, the last Israeli soldiers left Egyptian territory. The UN General Assembly had previously repeated the demand for troops to be withdrawn on November 24, 1956, January 19, and February 2, 1957. The United Nations set up and deployed the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I) to secure the border between Israel and Egypt and to guarantee the right of passage for Israeli ships through the Straits of Tiran in the Gaza Strip and East Sinai. UNEF I was the United Nations' first peacekeeping military force.
Thus, only the goal of the colonial powers to occupy the Canal Zone was temporarily achieved. Nasser's fall through the intervention failed.
The shareholders of the Suez Canal Company received financial compensation from Egypt. Egypt reopened the Suez Canal to international shipping and on April 4, 1957, affirmed the Convention of 1888 in a declaration that was binding under international law . In the Six Day War in 1967 this convention was broken again and the Suez Canal was closed until June 4, 1975.
After the initial military success, the Suez crisis had become a first-rate humiliation, especially for Great Britain. As a result, Prime Minister Anthony Eden had to resign and the British economy and currency came under pressure. The loss of the world power position of Great Britain became obvious - it was the last attempt of the former world power to enforce its interests militarily without cooperation with the new superpower USA. Great Britain was henceforth only a middle power . In addition, now the resistance grew the Third World: The British defeat accelerated the development, with the remaining British in the coming years and French colonies on the way over the decolonization their independence aspired. In this regard, the Suez Crisis marked an important step on the way to the dissolution of the British Empire.
The NATO -members France and Britain had begun an invasion of Egypt, without consulting the other NATO countries or to teach. As the dominant NATO state, the USA strictly rejected this approach. As a result, the rulers of Great Britain and France had the impression that the superpowers USA and Soviet Union were coming together in this crisis, against the interests of European NATO countries.
France tried in the following years to increase its influence in NATO, but failed; it then oriented its defense policy increasingly nationally and also worked towards a purely national nuclear capacity to act.
Israel still relied on Great Britain and France as supporters of its foreign policy, but increasingly also on the USA. In the face of the British-French Suez debacle, the US now viewed itself as the sole defender of Western interests in the Middle East, from which Israel benefited in the form of American security guarantees and arms deliveries.
As a result, the USSR intervened in the Middle East conflict and supported Egypt and Syria militarily and economically. In addition, it was able to suppress the Hungarian uprising unhindered, as Washington had to rely on the support of the USSR for the " Uniting-for-Peace " resolution.
On the Egyptian side, the crisis massively strengthened Nasser's position in the Arab world and his pan-Arabism, despite the military defeat . Nasser succeeded in turning the military defeat in front of the Arab public into a political victory. In non-public conversations, he said he was disappointed with the performance of the Egyptian military.
UNEF I ( United Nations Emergency Force ) peacekeepers have been stationed in Sharm El Sheikh and on the Egyptian side in the Gaza Strip . This averted the threat to the Israeli border from the Egyptian fedayeen . Israel was able to use the economically important shipping route from Eilat through the Gulf of Aqaba to East Africa and Asia. After the war, France supplied aircraft and components for the Israeli nuclear weapons program . In the Arab world, on the other hand, according to Nahum Goldmann, the image of Israel as an ally of the "imperialist powers" [...] was finally fixed , and further confrontations were thus mapped out.
Sunk ships blocked the passage through the Suez Canal for a few more weeks. It could be passed again on April 10, 1957; the first ship was the Italian Oceania .
In Iraq, the Suez crisis led to a further domestic political weakening of the pro-British monarchy . This suppressed several anti-British demonstrations and eventually had to declare martial law and suppress further demonstrations by the military in order to restore public order.
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