Suez Crisis, The Forgotten War 29 October 1956
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The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression,(Arabic: أزمة السويس – العدوان الثلاثي ʾAzmat al-Sūwais/Al-ʿIdwān al-Thalāthī; French: Crise du canal de Suez; Hebrew: מבצע קדש Mivtza’ Kadesh “Operation Kadesh,” or מלחמת סיניMilxemet Sinai, “Sinai War”) was a war fought by Britain, France, and Israel againstEgypt beginning on 29 October 1956.
The attack followed the President of Egypt Gamel Abdel Nasser‘s decision of 26 July 1956 to nationalize the Suez Canal, after the withdrawal of an offer by Britain and theUnited States to fund the building of the Aswan Dam, which was partly in response to Egypt recognizing the People’s Republic of China during the height of tensions between China and Taiwan.
Gamal Abdul Nasser
The offices of the Suez Canal Company were seized illegally, in breach of Treaty obligations. Britain and France were also strongly opposed to Nasser’s plan to annex the Sudan. Egypt had established a joint military command structure with Syria and Jordan, surrounding Israel with coordinated armies. Israel feared that Egypt intended to launch an attack against it in March or April 1957, with Soviet support. From the British, French and Israeli perspective the crisis had begun on 26 July, and the actual military operation was their response to it.
British boats landing during the Suez Crisis
The three allies, especially Israel, were mainly successful in attaining their immediate military objectives, but pressure from the United States and the USSR at the United Nations and elsewhere forced them to withdraw. As a result of the outside pressure Britain and France failed in their political and strategic aims of controlling the canal and removing Nasser from power.
A paratrooper on November 16, 1956, cleaning his rifle at a temporary encampment near the De Lesseps statue at Port Said, during the Suez Crisis.Photo courtesy of Joseph McKeown/Picture Post/Getty Images
Israel fulfilled some of its objectives, such as attaining freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran. As a result of the conflict, the UNEF would police the Egyptian-Israeli border to prevent both sides from recommencing hostilities.
The Tripartite Aggression
The Sinai War
|Part of the Cold War and the Arab–Israeli conflict|
Israeli paratroopers dig in near the Parker Memorial.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Moshe Dayan
|Abdel Hakim Amer|
|Casualties and losses|
The Suez Canal was opened in 1869, after ten years of work financed by the French and Egyptian governments. The canal was operated by the Universal Company of the Suez Maritime Canal, an Egyptian-chartered company; the area surrounding the canal remained sovereign Egyptian territory and the only land-bridge between Africa and Asia.
Action during the Suez crisis, [Nov 5] 1956.
The canal instantly became strategically important; it provided the shortest ocean link between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The canal eased commerce for trading nations and particularly helped European colonial powers to gain and govern their colonies.
In 1875, as a result of debt and financial crisis, the Egyptian ruler was forced to sell his shares in the canal operating company to the British government of Benjamin Disraeli. They were willing buyers and obtained a 44% share in the canal’s operations for less than £4 million; this maintained the majority shareholdings of the mostly French private investors. With the 1882 invasion and occupation of Egypt, the United Kingdom took de facto control of the country as well as the canal proper, and its finances and operations. The 1888 Convention of Constantinople declared the canal a neutral zone under British protection. In ratifying it, the Ottoman Empireagreed to permit international shipping to pass freely through the canal, in time of war and peace. The Convention came into force in 1904, the same year as theEntente cordiale, between Britain and France.
Despite this convention, the strategic importance of the Suez Canal and its control were proven during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904—1905, after Japan and Britain entered into a separate bilateral agreement. Following the Japanese surprise attack on the Russian Pacific Fleet based at Port Arthur the Russians sent reinforcements from their fleet in the Baltic Sea. The British denied the Russian fleet use of the canal and forced it to steam around the entire continent of Africa, giving the Japanese forces time to solidify their position in the Far East.
Invasion of Port Said – Suez Crisis
- In 1948, the canal abruptly lost its traditional rationale…. [British] control over the canal could no longer be preserved on grounds that it was critical to the defence either of India or of an empire that was being liquidated. And yet, at exactly the same moment, the canal was gaining a new role — as the highway not of empire, but of oil…. By 1955, petroleum accounted for half of the canal’s traffic, and, in turn, two thirds of Europe’s oil passed through it.
In August 1956 the Royal Institute of International Affairs published a report titled “Britain and the Suez Canal” revealing government perception of the Suez area. It reiterates several times the strategic necessity of the Suez Canal to the United Kingdom, including the need to meet military obligations under the Manila Pact in the Far East and the Baghdad Pact in Iraq, Iran, or Pakistan. The report also points out how the canal was used in past wars and could be used in future wars to transport troops from the Dominions of Australia and New Zealandin the event of war in Europe. The report also cites the amount of material and oil which passes through the canal to the United Kingdom, and the economic consequences of the canal being put out of commission, concluding:
- “The possibility of the Canal being closed to troopships makes the question of the control and regime of the Canal as important to Britain today as it ever was.
Events leading to the Suez Crisis
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Britain was reassessing its role in the region in light of the severe economic constraints and itscolonial history. The economic potential of the Middle East, with its vast oil reserves, as well as the Suez Canal’s geo-strategic importance against the background of the Cold War, prompted Britain to consolidate and strengthen its position there. The kingdoms of Egyptand Iraqwere seen as vital to maintaining strong British influence in the region.
Britain’s military strength was spread throughout the region, including the vast military complex at Suez with a garrison of some 80,000, making it one of the largest military installations in the world. The Suez base was considered an important part of Britain’s strategic position in the Middle East; however, increasingly it became a source of growing tension in Anglo-Egyptian relations. Egypt’s post-war domestic politics were experiencing a radical change, prompted in no small part by economic instability, inflation, and unemployment. Unrest began to manifest itself in the growth of radical political groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and an increasingly hostile attitude towards Britain and her presence in the country. Added to this anti-British fervour was the role Britain had played in the creation of Israel. As a result, the actions of the Egyptian government began to mirror those of its populace and an anti-British policy began to permeate Egypt’s relations with Britain.
In October 1951, the Egyptian government unilaterally abrogated the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the terms of which granted Britain a lease on the Suez base for 20 more years. Britain refused to withdraw from Suez, relying upon its treaty rights, as well as the sheer presence of the Suez garrison. The price of such a course of action was a steady escalation in increasingly violent hostility towards Britain and British troops in Egypt, which the Egyptian authorities did little to curb.
On 25 January 1952, British attempts to disarm a troublesome auxiliary police force barracks in Ismailia resulted in the deaths of 41 Egyptians.This in turn led to anti-Western riots in Cairo resulting in heavy damage to property and the deaths of several foreigners, including 11 British citizens. This proved to be a catalyst for the removal of the Egyptian monarchy. On 23 July 1952 a military coup by the ‘Free Officers Movement‘—led by Muhammad Neguib and future Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser—overthrew King Farouk and established an Egyptian republic.
FIRST ISRAELI OCCUPATION OF GAZA 1956-57
Photo: Getty Images
Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, cargo shipments to and from Israel had been intercepted, removed, or destroyed by the Egyptians while attempting to pass through the Suez Canal. On 1 September 1951, the UN Security Council called upon Egypt: “… to terminate the restrictions on the passage of international commercial ships and goods through the Suez Canal, wherever bound, and to cease all interference with such shipping.” This interference and confiscation, contrary to the laws of the canal (Article 1 of the 1888 Suez Canal Convention), increased following the coup.
Britain’s desire to mend Anglo-Egyptian relations in the wake of the coup saw her strive for rapprochement throughout 1953 and 1954. Part of this process was the agreement, in 1953, to terminate British rule in Sudan by 1956 in return for Cairo’s abandoning of its claim to suzeraintyover the Nile Valley region. In October 1954, Britain and Egypt concluded an agreement on the phased evacuation of British troops from the Suez base, the terms of which agreed to withdrawal of all troops within 20 months, maintenance of the base to be continued, and for Britain to hold the right to return for seven years.
Despite the establishment of such an agreement with the British, Nasser’s position remained tenuous. The loss of Egypt’s claim to Sudan, coupled with the continued presence of Britain at Suez for a further two years, led to domestic unrest including an assassination attempt against him in October 1954. The tenuous nature of Nasser’s rule caused him to believe that neither his regime, nor Egypt’s independence would be safe until Egypt had established itself as head of the Arab world. This would manifest itself in the challenging of British Middle Eastern interests throughout 1955.
Britain’s close relationship with the two Hashemite kingdoms of Iraqand Jordan were of particular concern to Nasser. In particular, Iraq’s increasingly amicable relations with Britain were a threat to Nasser’s desire to see Egypt as head of the Arab world. The creation of theBaghdad Pact in 1955 seemed to confirm Nasser’s fears that Britain was attempting to draw the Eastern Arab World into a bloc centred upon Iraq, and sympathetic to Britain.Nasser’s response was a series of challenges to British influence in the region that would culminate in the Suez Crisis.
Frustration of British aims
Throughout 1955 and 1956 Nasser pursued a number of policies that would frustrate British aims throughout the Middle East, and result in increasing hostility between Britain and Egypt. Nasser “… played on the widespread suspicion that any Western defence pact was merely veiled colonialism and that Arab disunity and weakness—especially in the struggle with Israel—was a consequence of British machinations. He also began to align Egypt with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia—whose rulers were hereditary enemies of theHashemites—in an effort to frustrate British efforts to draw Syria, Jordan and Lebanoninto the orbit of the Baghdad Pact. Nasser frustrated British attempts to draw Jordan into the pact by sponsoring demonstrations in Amman, leading King Hussein to dismiss the British commander of the Arab Legion Glubb Pasha in March 1956 and throwing Britain’s Middle Eastern security policy into chaos.
Nasser struck a further blow against Britain by negotiating an arms deal with communist Czechoslovakia in September 1955 thereby ending Egypt’s reliance on Western arms. Later, other members of the Warsaw Pact also sold arms to Egypt and Syria. In practice, all sales from the Eastern Bloc were authorised by the Soviet Union, as an attempt to increase Soviet influence over the Middle East. This caused tensions in the United States because Warsaw Pact nations now had a strong presence in the region.
Increasingly Nasser came to be viewed in British circles — and in particular by Prime Minister Anthony Eden — as a dictator, akin to Benito Mussolini. Ironically, in the build up to the crisis, it was the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell and the left-leaning tabloid newspaper The Mirrorthat first made the comparison between Nasser and Mussolini. Anglo-Egyptian relations would continue on their downward spiral.
Nationalization of the Suez Canal and the road to crisis
Britain was eager to tame Nasser and looked towards the United States for support. However, President Eisenhower remained unresponsive; America’s closest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, was just as fundamentally opposed to the Hashemite-dominated Baghdad Pact as Egypt, and the U.S. was keen to increase its own influence in the region. The failure of the Baghdad Pact aided such a goal by reducing Britain’s dominance over the region. “Great Britain would have preferred to overthrow Nasser; America, however uncomfortable with the ‘Czech arms deal’, thought it wiser to propitiate him.”
The events that brought the crisis to a head occurred in the spring and summer of 1956. On 16 May, Nasser officially recognised the People’s Republic of China, a move that angered the U.S. and its secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, a keen sponsor of Taiwan. This move, coupled with the impression that the project was beyond Egypt’s economic capabilities, caused Eisenhower to withdraw all American financial aid for the Aswan Dam project on 19 July.Nasser’s response was the nationalization of the Suez Canal. On 26 July, in a speech inAlexandria, Nasser gave a riposte to Dulles. During his speech he deliberately pronounced the name of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the canal, a code-word for Egyptian forces to seize control of the canal and implement its nationalization. He announced that the Nationalization Law had been published, that all assets of the Suez Canal Company had been frozen, and that stockholders would be paid the price of their shares according to the day’s closing price on the Paris Stock Exchange.
The nationalization of the Suez Canal hit British economic and military interests in the region. Britain was under immense domestic pressure from Conservative MPs who drew direct comparisons between the events of 1956 and those of the Munich Agreement in 1938. Since the US government did not support the British protests, the British government decided in favour of military intervention against Egypt to avoid the complete collapse of British prestige in the region. Eden was having dinner with the Opposition leader Hugh Gaitskell when they learned the Canal had been nationalised; Gaitskell immediately agreed that miltary action might be inevitable, but warned Eden would have to keep the Americans closely informed.
Direct military intervention, however, ran the risk of angering Washington and damaging Anglo-Arab relations. As a result, the British government concluded a secret military pact with France and Israel that was aimed at regaining control over the Suez Canal.
On 1 August 1956, a tripartite meeting was opened at 10 Downing Street between British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd, U.S. AmbassadorRobert D. Murphy and French Foreign Affairs Minister Christian Pineau.
An alliance was soon formed between Eden and Guy Mollet, French Prime Minister, with headquarters based in London. General Hugh Stockwell and Admiral Barjot were appointed as Chief of Staff. Britain sought co-operation with the United States throughout 1956 to deal with what it maintained was a threat of an Israeli attack against Egypt, but to little effect. Between July and October 1956, unsuccessful initiatives encouraged by the United States were made to reduce the tension that would ultimately lead to war. International conferences were organised to secure agreement on Suez Canal operations but all were ultimately fruitless.
Protocol of Sèvres
Three months after Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal company, a secret meeting took place at Sèvres, outside Paris. Britain and France enlisted Israeli support for an alliance against Egypt. The parties agreed that Israel would invade the Sinai. Britain and France would then intervene, purportedly to separate the warring Israeli and Egyptian forces, instructing both to withdraw to a distance of 16 kilometres from either side of the canal. The British and French would then argue that Egypt’s control of such an important route was too tenuous, and that it needed be placed under Anglo-French management.
Motivation of the involved states
The interests of the parties were various. Britain was anxious lest it lose efficient access to the remains of its empire. Both the French and the British felt that Nasser should be removed from power. The French “held the Egyptian president responsible for assisting the anticolonial rebellion in Algeria. France was nervous about the growing influence that Nasser exerted on its North African colonies and protectorates. Both Britain and France were eager that the canal should remain open as an important conduit of oil. Israel wanted to reopen the Straits of Tiran leading to the Gulf of Eilat to Israeli shipping, and saw the opportunity to strengthen its southern border and to weaken what it saw as a dangerous and hostile state. The Israelis were also deeply troubled by Egypt’s procurement of large amounts of Soviet weaponry that included 530 armored vehicles, of which 230 were tanks; 500 guns; 150 MiG 15 jet fighters; 50 Iluyshin-28 bombers; submarines and other naval craft. The influx of this advanced weaponry altered an already shaky balance of power.
Washington disagreed with Paris and London on whether to use force to resolve the crisis. The United States worked hard through diplomatic channels to resolve the crisis without resorting to conflict. “The British and French reluctantly agreed to pursue the diplomatic avenue but viewed it as merely an attempt to buy time, during which they continued their military preparations. The British, Washington’s closest ally, “felt abandoned by the American government.” Prior to the operation, London deliberately neglected to consult the Americans, trusting instead that Nasser’s engagement with communist states would persuade the Americans to accept British and French actions if they were presented as a fait accompli. This proved to be a critical miscalculation.
Operation Kadesh: The Israeli operation in the Sinai Peninsula
Operation Kadesh received its name from ancient Kadesh, located in the northern Sinai and mentioned several times in the Hebrew Pentateuch. Israeli military planning for this operation in the Sinai hinged on four main military objectives; Sharm el-Sheikh, al-Arish, Abu Uwayulah, and the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian blockade of the Tiran Straits was based at Sharm el-Sheikh and, by capturing the town, Israel would have access to the Red Sea for the first time since 1953, which would allow it to restore the trade benefits of secure passage to the Indian Ocean.
The Gaza Strip was chosen as another military objective because Israel wished to remove the training grounds for Fedayeen groups, and because Israel recognised that Egypt could use the territory as a staging ground for attacks against the advancing Israeli troops. Israel advocated rapid advances, for which a potential Egyptian flanking attack would present even more of a risk. al-Arish and Abu Uwayulahwere important hubs for soldiers, equipment, and centres of command and control of the Egyptian Army in the Sinai. Capturing them would deal a deathblow to the Egyptian’s strategic operation in the entire Peninsula. The capture of these four objectives were hoped to be the means by which the entire Egyptian Army would rout and fall back into Egypt proper, which British and French forces would then be able to push up against an Israeli advance, and crush in a decisive encounter.
The conflict began on 29 October 1956. Because Israel’s intelligence service expected Jordan to enter the war on Egypt‘s side, Israeli soldiers were stationed along the Israeli-Jordanian frontier. The Israel Border Police militarised the Israel-Jordan border, including the Green Line with the West Bank, during the first few hours of the war. This resulted in the killing of 48 Arab civilians by the Israel Border Police, and is known as the Kafr Qasim massacre. This event and the resulting trials of officers had major effects on Israeli law relating to the ethics in war and more subtle effects on the legal status of Arab citizens of Israel.
Early actions in Southern Sinai
Israeli para in Sinai near the Mitla Pass
The Israeli chief-of-staff, Major General Moshe Dayan, first planned to take the vital Mitla Pass. Dayan planned for the Battalion 890 of the Paratroop Brigade, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Eitan, a veteran of the Israel War of Independence and future head of the IDF, to drop at Parker’s Memorial, near one of the defiles of the pass, Jebel Heitan. The rest of the brigade, under the command of Colonel Ariel Sharon would then advance to meet with the battalion, and consolidate their holdings.
On 29 October, Operation Kadesh – the invasion of the Sinai, began when Israel air-dropped a battalion into the Sinai Peninsula, east of the Suez Canal near the Mitla Pass. In conjunction with the para drop, four Israeli P-51 Mustangs using their wings and propellers, cut all overhead telephone lines in the Sinai, severely disrupting Egyptian command and control.
Early actions along the Gulf of Aqaba, and the central front
Destroyed Egyptian tanks and vehicles litter the Sinai following heavy fighting, 1956
Meanwhile, the 9th Infantry Brigade captured Ras an-Naqb, an important staging ground for that brigade’s later attack against Sharm el-Sheikh. Instead of attacking the town by a frontal attack, they enveloped the town, and negotiated their way through some of the natural chokepoints into the rear of the town, and surprised the Egyptians before they could ready themselves to defend. The Egyptians surrendered, with no Israeli casualties sustained.
Battle of Jebel Heitan, Paratroop Brigade under attack
The portion of the Paratroopers under Sharon’s command continued to advance to meet with the 1st Brigade. En route, Sharon assaulted Themed, and was able to storm the town through theThemed Gap, and was able to capture the settlement. On the 30th, Sharon linked up with Eytan near Nakla.
Dayan had no more plans for further advances beyond the passes, but Sharon decided to attack the Egyptian positions at Jebel Heitan. Sharon would send his lightly armed paratroopers against dug-in Egyptians supported by air and heavy artillery, as well as tanks. Although the Israelis succeeded in forcing the Egyptians to retreat, the heavy casualties sustained would surround Sharon with controversy. Most of the deaths sustained by the Israelis in the entire operation, were sustained at Jebel Heitan.
Air operations, first phase
From the outset, the Israeli air force flew paratroop drops, supply flights and medevac sorties. Israel’s new French Dassault Mystere jet fighters provided air cover for the transport aircraft. In the initial phase of the conflict, the Egyptian air force flew attack missions against advancing Israeli ground troops. The Egyptian tactic was to use their new Russian MiG-15 jets as fighter escorts, while their older British De Havilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor jets conducted strikes against Israeli troops and vehicles. In the air combat the Israelis shot down no fewer than seven and as many as nine Egyptian jets, with the loss of one Israeli aircraft, but Egyptian strikes against the ground forces continued through to 1 November. With the attack by the British and French air forces and navies, President Nasser ordered his pilots to disengage and fly their planes to bases in Southern Egypt. The Israeli Air Force was then free to strike Egyptian troops at will, as the Israelis advanced into the Western Sinai.
On the 3rd November Israeli jets attacked a British vessel, the Black Swan class sloop HMS Crane near the Gulf of Aqaba. In defending herself, Crane shot down one aircraft
The Ibrahim el Awal after its capture by the Israeli navy
On 30 October Egypt dispatched the Ibrahim el Awal, a ex-British Second World War era Hunt class destroyer, to Haifa with the aim of shelling that city’s coastal oil installations. On 31 October the Ibrahim el Awal reached Haifa and began bombarding the city with its four 102 mm (4 inch) guns. Soon after, Israeli warships challenged the Ibrahim el Awal and the Egyptian warship immediately retreated. The Israeli warships gave chase and together with the Israeli Air Force, succeeded in damaging the vessel’s turbo generator and rudder. Left without power and unable to steer, the Ibrahim el Awal surrendered to the Israeli navy. The Egyptian frigate was subsequently incorporated into the Israeli navy and renamed Haifa.
On the night of 31 October in the northern Red Sea, the British light cruiser HMS Newfoundlandchallenged then engaged the Egyptian frigate Domiat, reducing it to a burning hulk in a brief gun battle. The Egyptian ship was then sunk by the escorting destroyer HMS Diana, with 69 surviving Egyptian sailors rescued.
Anglo-French task force
To support the invasion, large air forces had been deployed to Cyprusand Malta by Britain and France and many aircraft carriers were deployed. The two airbases on Cyprus were so congested that a third field which was in dubious condition had to be brought into use for French aircraft. EvenRAF Luqa on Malta was extremely crowded with RAF Bomber Command aircraft. The British deployed the aircraft carriers HMS Eagle, Albion and Bulwark and France had the Jean Bart,Arromanches and La Fayette on station. In addition, HMS Oceanand Theseus acted as jumping-off points for Britain’s helicopter-borne assault (the world’s first).
On 30 October, in the morning, Britain and France sent ultimatums to Egypt and Israel. They initiated Operation Musketeer on 31 October, with a bombing campaign. Nasser responded by sinking all 40 ships present in the canal, closing it to all shipping until early 1957. On 3 NovemberF4U-7 Corsairs from the 14.F and 15.F Aéronavale taking off from the French carriersArromanches and La Fayette, attacked the Cairoaerodrome.
On late 5 November, the 3rd Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment dropped at El GamilAirfield, clearing the area and establishing a secure base for incoming support aircraft and reinforcements. At first light on 6 November, Commandos of Nos 42 Commando and 40 Commando Royal Marines stormed the beaches, using landing craft of World War II vintage (Landing Craft Assaultand Landing Vehicle Tracked). The battlegroup standing offshore opened fire, giving covering fire for the landings and causing considerable damage to the Egyptian batteries and gun emplacements. The town of Port Said sustained great damage and was seen to be alight.
Acting in concert with British forces, 500 heavily armed paratroopers of the French 2nd Colonial Parachute Regiment (2ème RPC), hastily redeployed from combat in Algeria, jumped over the al-Raswa bridges from Noratlas Nord 2501 transports of the Escadrille de Transport (ET) 1/61 and ET 3/61, together with some combat engineers of the Guards Independent Parachute Company. Despite the loss of two soldiers, the western bridge was swiftly secured by the paras, and F4U Corsairs of the Aéronavale 14.F and 15.F flew a series of close-air-support missions, destroying several SU-100 tank destroyers. F-84Fs also hit two large oil storage tanks in Port Said, which went up in flames and covered most of the city in a thick cloud of smoke for the next several days. Egyptian resistance varied, with some positions fighting back until destroyed, while others were abandoned with little resistance.
Aerial photograph, November 1956, showing the area of operations for the British seizure of the Suez Canal. On the right of the photograph are the assault beaches used by British troops and on the left is the entrance to the Suez Canal where the Egyptians had sunk ships as a blockade. The photograph was taken in conjunction with Walter Monckton’s inspection of Port Said, following the British invasion in late November 1956.
In the afternoon, 522 additional French paras of the 1er REP (Régiment Étranger Parachutiste, 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment) were dropped near Port Fouad. These were also constantly supported by the Corsairs of the French Aéronavale, which flew very intensive operations: for example, although the French carrier La Fayettedeveloped catapult problems, no less than 40 combat sorties were completed. In total, 10 French soldiers were killed and 30 injured during the landing and the subsequent battles.
British commandos of No. 45 Commando assaulted by helicopter, meeting stiff resistance, with shore batteries striking several helicopters, while friendly fire from British carrier-borne aircraft caused casualties to 45 Commando and HQ. Street fighting and house clearing, with strong opposition from well-entrenched Egyptian sniperpositions, caused further casualties.
Total British dead were 16, with 96 wounded. Total French dead was ten and the Israelis lost 189. The number of Egyptians killed was “never reliably established. It is estimated 650 were killed by the Anglo-French operation and between 1,000 and 3,000 were killed by Israel.
End of hostilities
The operation, aimed at taking control of the Suez Canal, Gaza, and parts of Sinai, was highly successful for the invaders from a military point of view, but was a disaster from a political point of view, resulting in international criticism and diplomatic pressure. Along with the Suez crisis, the United States was also dealing with the near-simultaneous Hungarian revolution; as events unfolded, the U.S. decided it could not criticise outside Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolt and simultaneously avoid opposing outside aggression by its two principal European allies and Israel. Eisenhower was appalled by the Israeli invasion of Egypt, but feared losing the Jewish vote if he publicly condemned Israel. Despite having no commercial or military interest in the area, many countries were concerned with what was a growing rift between Western allied nations.
On 30 October, the Security Council held a meeting, at the request of the United States, when it submitted a draft resolution calling upon Israel immediately to withdraw its armed forces behind the established armistice lines. It was not adopted because of British and French vetoes. A similar draft resolution sponsored by the Soviet Union was also rejected. On 31 October, also as planned, France and the UK launched an air attack against targets in Egypt, which was followed shortly by a landing of their troops at the northern end of the canal. Later that day, considering the grave situation created by the actions against Egypt, and with lack of unanimity among the permanent members preventing it from exercising its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security, the Security Council passed Resolution 119; it decided to call an emergency special sessionof the General Assembly for the first time, as provided in the 1950 “Uniting for Peace”resolution, in order to make appropriate recommendations to end the fighting.
The emergency special session was convened 1 November; the same day Nasser requested diplomatic assistance from the U.S., without requesting the same from the Soviet Union; he was at first skeptical of the efficacy of US diplomatic efforts at the UN, but later gave full credit to Eisenhower’s role in stopping the war. In the early hours of 2 November, the General Assembly adopted the United States’ proposal for Resolution 997 (ES-I); it called for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of all forces behind the armistice lines, an arms embargo, and the reopening of the Suez Canal, which was blocked. The Secretary-General was requested to observe and report promptly on compliance to both the Security Council and General Assembly, for further action as deemed appropriate in accordance with the U N Charter. Over the next several days, the emergency special session consequently adopted a series of enabling resolutions, which established the firstUnited Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), on 7 November by Resolution 1001. This proposal of the emergency force and the resulting cease-fire was made possible primarily through the efforts of, Lester B. Pearson, the Secretary of External Affairs of Canada, and Dag Hammarskjöld, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The role of Nehru, both as Indian Prime minister and a leader of the Non Aligned Movement was significant; he tried to be even-handed between the two sides, while denouncing Eden and co-sponsors of the aggression vigorously. Nehru had a powerful ally in the US president Dwight Eisenhower who, if relatively silent publicly, went to the extent of using America’s clout in the IMF to make Eden and Mollet back down. Portugal and Iceland went so far as to suggest ejecting Britain and France from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO) defense pact if they didn’t withdraw from Egypt. Nehru achieved his objective of protecting Egypt’s sovereignty and Nasser’s honour; the Suez War ended in Britain’s humiliation and Eden later resigned. Britain and France agreed to withdraw from Egypt within a week; Israel did not.
Meanwhile on 7 November in Israel, David Ben-Gurion addressed the Knesset in a victory speech that would set Israel on a collision course with the UN, the US and others. He declared a great victory and that the 1949 armistice agreement with Egypt was dead and buried, and that the armistice lines were no longer valid and could not be restored. Under no circumstances would Israel agree to the stationing of UN forces on its territory or in any area it occupied. He also made an oblique reference to his intention to annex the Sinai Peninsula. Isaac Alteras writes that Ben-Gurion ‘was carried away by the resounding victory against Egypt’ and while ‘a statesman well known for his sober realism, [he] took flight in dreams of grandeur.’ The speech marked the beginning of a four-month-long diplomatic struggle, culminating in withdrawal from all territory, under conditions far less palatable than those envisioned in the speech, but with conditions for sea access toEilat and a UNEF presence on Egyptian soil.
The speech immediately drew increased international pressure on Israel to withdraw. Later on 7 November in New York, the emergency session passed Resolution 1002, again calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops to behind the armistice lines, and for the immediate withdrawal of UK and French troops from Egyptian territory. The Soviet Union applied military pressure, threatening to intervene on the Egyptian side, and to launch rocket attacks on Britain, France and Israel. Eisenhower’s reaction to these threats was, “If those fellows start something, we may have to hit ‘em – and, if necessary, with everything in the bucket. After a long Israeli cabinet meeting late on 8 November, Ben-Gurion informed Eisenhower that Israel declared its willingness to accept withdrawal of Israeli forces from Sinai, ‘when satisfactory arrangements are made with the international force that is about to enter the canal zone.’
The United States also put financial pressure on Great Britain to end the invasion. Because the Bank of England had lost $50 million (US) between 30 October and 2 November, and England’s oil supply had been damaged by the closing of the Suez Canal, the British sought immediate assistance from the IMF, but it was denied by the United States. Eisenhower in fact ordered his Secretary of the Treasury, George M. Humphrey, to prepare to sell part of the US Government’s Sterling Bond holdings. The US Government held these bonds in part to aid post war Britain’s economy (during the Cold War), and as partial payment of Britain’s enormous World War II debt to the US Government, American corporations, and individuals. It was also part of the overall effort of Marshall Plan aid, in the rebuilding of the Western European economies.
Britain’s then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold Macmillan, advised his Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, that the United States was fully prepared to carry out this threat. He also warned his Prime Minister that Britain’s foreign exchange reserves simply could not sustain the devaluation of the pound that would come after the United States’ actions; and that within weeks of such a move, the country would be unable to import the food and energy supplies needed simply to sustain the population on the islands. However, there were suspicions in the Cabinet that Macmillan had deliberately overstated the financial situation in order to force Eden out.
In concert with U.S. actions Saudi Arabia started an oil embargoagainst Britain and France. The U.S. refused to fill the gap until Britain and France agreed to a rapid withdrawal. The other NATO members refused to sell oil they received from Arab nations to Britain or France.
The British government faced political and economic pressure. Sir Anthony Eden, the British Prime Minister, announced a cease fire on 6 November, warning neither France nor Israel beforehand. Troops were still in Port Said and on operational manoeuvres when the order came from London. Port Said had been overrun and the military assessment was that the Suez Canal would have been completely taken within 24 hours. Eisenhower initially agreed to meet with Eden and Mollet to resolve their differences, but then cancelled the proposed meeting after Secretary of State Dulles advised him it risked inflaming the Middle Eastern situation further. Eisenhower was not in favour of an immediate withdrawal of British, French and Israeli troops until the US ambassador to the United Nations, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. pushed for it. Without further guarantee, the Anglo-French Task Force had to finish withdrawing by 22 December 1956, to be replaced by Danish andColombian units of the UNEF. The Israelis refused to host any UN force on Israeli controlled territory and left the Sinai in March, 1957.
The UNEF was formed by forces from countries that were not part of the major alliances (NATO and the Warsaw Pact — though Canadian troops participated in later years, since Canada had spearheaded the idea of a neutral force). By 24 April 1957 the canal was fully reopened to shipping.
The imposed end to the crisis signalled the definitive weakening of the United Kingdom and France as global powers. Middle-sized powers were no longer free to act independently. Nasser’s standing in the Arab world was greatly improved, with his stance helping to promote pan-Arabism. Although Egyptian forces had stood no chance against the three allies, many Egyptians believed that Nasser had won the war militarily. The Suez Crisis may have directly led to the 14 July Revolution in Iraq. Egyptian sovereignty and ownership of the Canal had been confirmed by the United States and the United Nations. In retirement Eden maintained that the military response to the crisis had prevented a much larger war in the Middle East. The crisis also arguably hastened the process of decolonization, as many of the remaining colonies of both Britain and France gained independence over the next several years. The fight over the canal also laid the groundwork for the Six Day War in 1967 due to the lack of a peace settlement following the 1956 war. The failure of the Anglo-French mission was also seen as a failure for the United States, since the western alliance had been weakened and the military response had ultimately achieved nothing. The Soviets got away with their violent suppression of the rebellion in Hungary, and were able to pose at the United Nations as a defender of small powers against imperialism.
As a direct result of the Crisis and in order to prevent further Soviet expansion in the region, Eisenhower asked Congress on 5 January 1957 for authorization to use military force if requested by any Middle Eastern nation to check aggression and, second, to set aside $200 million to help Middle Eastern countries that desired aid from the United States. Congress granted both requests and this policy became known as the Eisenhower Doctrine.
The political and psychological impact of the crisis’s denouement had a fundamental impact on British politics. Anthony Eden was accused of misleading parliament and resigned from office after significant pressure was leveled by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the United States government. His successor, Harold Macmillan, greatly accelerated decolonisation and sought to recapture the benevolence of the United States. The two leaders enjoyed a close friendship from their first meeting at a highly successful conference in Bermuda in March 1957. Increasingly, British foreign policy thinking turned away from acting as a great imperial power. During the 1960s there was much speculation that Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s continual refusals to send any British troops to Vietnam, even as a token force, despite President Lyndon B. Johnson‘s persistent requests, was partially due to the Americans failing to support Britain during the Suez Crisis.
The events leading to Eden’s resignation marked the last significant attempt Britain made to impose its military will abroad without U.S. support. An exception could be made for the Falklands War in 1982, though in the event the US government under President Ronald Reagandecided to completely support Britain. Macmillan was every bit as determined as Eden had been to stop Nasser, although he was more willing to enlist American support. Some argue that the crisis also marked the final transfer of power to the new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.
Despite the US betrayal, and although British domestic politics suffered, the British relationship with the United States did not suffer lasting consequences from the crisis. “The Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ was revitalised immediately after the Suez Crisis.” “The two governments … engaged in almost ritualistic reassurances that their ‘special relationship’ would be restored quickly. Eisenhower himself later stated privately that he regretted his opposition to the combined British, French and Israeli response to the Crisis. After retiring from office Eisenhower came to see the Suez Crisis as perhaps his biggest foreign policy mistake. Not only did he feel that the United States weakened two crucial European Cold War allies, but he created in Nasser a man capable of dominating the Arab world. In later years a revisionist view held that the real mistake during the Crisis was made not by Eden but by Eisenhower, since in failing to support his allies he gave the impression that the West was divided and weak, which the Soviets were quick to exploit. Eisenhower was intensely worried supporting his allies might harm his chances of winning re-election – had the invasion been launched on 7 November, his reaction might have been more muted and the whole Canal would have been taken by the British and French troops.
Franco-American ties never recovered from the Suez crisis. There were various reasons for this. “Prior to the Suez Crisis, there had already been strains in the Franco-American relationship triggered by what Paris considered U.S. betrayal of the French war effort in Indochina at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The incident demonstrated the weakness of the NATO alliance in its lack of planning and co-operation beyond the European stage. Mollet believed Eden should have delayed calling the Cabinet together until 7 November, taking the whole Canal in the meantime, and then veto with the French any UN resolution on sanctions. From the point of view of General de Gaulle, the Suez events demonstrated to France that it could not rely on its allies; the British had initiated a ceasefire in the midst of the battle without consulting the French, while the Americans had opposed Paris politically. The damage to the ties between Paris and Washington D.C. “culminated in President de Gaulle’s 1966 decision to withdraw from the military integration of NATO.
According to the protocol of Sèvres agreements, France secretly transmitted parts of its own atomic technology to Israel, including a detonator.
An Israeli soldier stands next to an Egyptian gun that had blocked the Tiran Straits
Israel emerged victorious from the war. Its forces executed a military campaign that leading military theorist B.H. Liddell Hart termed “brilliant. The Israel Defense Forces gained confidence from the campaign. The war proved that Israel was capable of executing large scale military maneuvers in addition to small night-time raids and counter insurgency operations. The war also had tangible benefits for Israel. The Straits of Tiran, closed by Egypt since 1951 was re-opened. Israeli shipping could henceforth move freely through the Straits of Tiran to and from Africa and Asia. The Israelis also secured the presence of U.N. Peacekeepers in Sinai. Operation Kadesh bought Israel an eleven year lull on its southern border with Egypt.In October 1965 Eisenhower told Jewish fundraiser and Republican party supporter Max M. Fisherthat he greatly regretted forcing Israel to withdraw from the Sinai peninsula; Vice-President Nixon recalled that Eisenhower expressed the same view to him on several occasions.
Lester B. Pearson, who would later become the Prime Minister of Canada, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his efforts in creating a mandate for a United Nations Peacekeeping Force, and he is considered the father of the modern concept of peacekeeping. The Suez Crisis contributed to the adoption of a new nationalflag for Canada in 1965, without references to that country’s past as a colony of France and Britain. The Egyptian government had objected to Canadian peacekeeping troops on the grounds that their flag at that time included a British ensign. As Prime Minister, Pearson would advocate the simple Maple Leaf that was eventually adopted.
After Suez, Cyprus, Aden and Iraq became the main bases for the British in the region while the French concentrated their forces at Bizerteand Beirut. UNEF was placed in the Sinai (on Egyptian territory only) with the express purpose of maintaining the cease-fire. While effective in preventing the small-scale warfare that prevailed before 1956 and after 1967, budgetary cutbacks and changing needs had seen the force shrink to 3,378 by 1967.