The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression or Suez War ( ; ; "Operation Kadesh," or , "Sinai War"), was a diplomatic and military confrontation in late 1956 between Egypt on one side, and Britain, France and Israel on the other, with the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Nations playing major roles in forcing Britain, France and Israel to withdraw. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel, and then began to bomb Cairo. Despite the denials of the Israeli, British and French governments, evidence began to emerge that the invasion of Egypt had been planned beforehand by the three powers. Anglo-French forces withdrew before the end of the year, but Israeli forces remained until March 1957, prolonging the crisis. In April, the canal was fully reopened to shipping, but other repercussions followed.
The attack followed the President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser's decision of 26 July 1956 to nationalize the Suez Canal, after the withdrawal of an offer by Britain and the United States to fund the building of the Aswan Dam, which was in response to Egypt's new ties with the Soviet Union and recognizing the People's Republic of China during the height of tensions between China and Taiwan. The aims of the attack were primarily to regain Western control of the canal and to remove Nasser from power.
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. 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.
Some sources contend that the Crisis began on 26 July with the nationalisation of the Canal, and that the military actions by Britain, France and Israel were their response to the Crisis.
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.
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 Empire agreed 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 the Entente 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.
The importance of the canal as a strategic intersection was again apparent during the First World War, when Britain and France closed the canal to non-Allied shipping. The attempt by German-Ottoman forces to storm the Canal in February 1915 led the British to commit 100,000 troops to the defense of Egypt for the rest of the First World War. The canal continued to be strategically important after the Second World War as a conduit for the shipment of oil. Petroleum business historian Daniel Yergin wrote of the period: "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. At the time, Western Europe imported two million barrels (bbls) per day from the Middle East, 1,200,000 by tanker through the Canal, and another 800,000 via pipeline from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, where tankers received it. The US imported another 300,000 bbls. daily from the Middle East. Though pipelines linked the oil fields of Iraq and the Persian Gulf states to the Mediterranean, these routes were prone to suffer from instability, which led British leaders to prefer to use the sea route through the Suez Canal. As it was, the rise of super-tankers for shipping Middle East oil to Europe, which were too big to use the Suez Canal meant that British policy-makers greatly overestimated the importance of the canal. By 2000, only 8% of the imported oil in Britain arrived via the Suez canal with the rest coming via the Cape route.
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 Zealand in 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:
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 its colonial 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 Egypt and Iraq were 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.
Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, cargo shipments to and from Israel had been subject to Egyptian authorization, search and seizure while attempting to pass through the Suez Canal. On 1 September 1951, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 95 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 suzerainty over 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. The Suez Canal Company was not due to revert to the Egyptian government until 16 November 1968 under the terms of the treaty.
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.
At the same time, the United States was attempting to woo Nasser into an alliance. The central problem for American policy in the Middle East was that this region was perceived as strategically important due to its oil, but the United States owing to defense commitments in Europe and the Far East lacked sufficient troops to resist a Soviet invasion of the Middle East. In 1952, General Omar Bradley of Joint Chiefs of Staff declared at a planning session about what to do in the event of a Soviet invasion of the Near East: "Where will the staff come from? It will take a lot of stuff to do a job there". As a consequence, American diplomats favored the creation of a NATO-type organization in the Near East to provide the necessary military power to deter the Soviets from invading the region. A major dilemma for American policy was that the two strongest powers in the Near East, Britain and France were also the ones that many local nationalists objected to the most. From 1953 onwards, American diplomacy had attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the powers involved in the Near East, both local and imperial to set aside their differences and unite against the Soviet Union. The Americans took the view that just as fear of the Soviet Union had helped to end the historic Franco-German enmity, that so too could anti-Communism could end the more recent Arab-Israeli dispute. It was a source of constant puzzlement to American officials in the 1950s that the Arab states and the Israelis had seemed to have more interest in fighting each other rather that uniting against the Soviet Union.
In May 1953, during a meeting with the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who asked Egypt to join an anti-Soviet alliance, Nasser responded by saying that the Soviet Union has Dulles informed Nasser of his belief that the Soviet Union was seeking world conquest, that the principal danger to the Near East came from the Kremlin, and urged Nasser to set aside his differences with Britain to focus on countering the Soviet Union. In this spirit, Dulles suggested that the Nasser negotiate a deal that would see Egypt assume sovereignty over the Canal Zone base, but then allow the British to have "technical control" in the same way that Ford auto company provided parts and training to its Egyptian dealers. Nasser did not share Dulles's fear of the Soviet Union taking over the Middle East, and insisted quite vehemently that he wanted to see the total end of all British influence not only in Egypt, but all the Middle East. The CIA offered Nasser a $3 million bribe if he would joined the proposed Middle East Defence Organization; Nasser took the money, but then refused to join.
While the Americans were attempting to erect an alliance in the form of the still-born Middle East Defence Organization to keep the Soviet Union out of the Near East, the Soviet Union under the new leadership of Nikita Khrushchev was making a major effort to win influence in the so-called "third world". As part of the diplomatic offensive, Khrushchev had abandoned Moscow's traditional line of treating all non-communists as enemies and adopted a new tactic of befriending so-called "non-aligned" nations, which often led by leaders who were non-Communists, but in varying ways were hostile towards the West. Khrushchev had realized that by treating non-communists as being the same thing as being anti-communist, Moscow had needlessly alienated many potential friends over the years in the third world. The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai who met Nasser at the 1955 Bandung Summit and was impressed by him, recommended that Khrushchev treat Nasser as a potential ally. Zhou described Nasser to Khrushchev as a young nationalist, who though no Communist, could if used correctly do much damage to Western interests in the Middle East. Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, who also come to know Nasser at Bandung told Khrushchev in a 1955 meeting that "Nasser was a young man without much political experience, but if we give him the benefit of the doubt, we might be able to exert a beneficial influence on him, both for the sake of the Communist movement, and...the Egyptian people". Traditionally, most of the equipment in the Egyptian military had come from Britain, but Nasser's desire to break British influence in Egypt meant that he was desperate to find a new source of weapons to replace Britain. Nasser had first broached the subject of buying weapons from the Soviet Union in 1954.
Instead of siding with either super-power, Nasser took the role of the spoiler and tried to play off the super-powers in order to have them compete with each other in attempts to buy his friendship. Nasser's first choice for buying weapons was the United States, but his frequent anti-Israeli speeches and his sponsorship for the fedayeen who were making raids into Israel had made it difficult for the Eisenhower administration to get the approval of Congress to sell weapons to Egypt. American public opinion was deeply hostile towards selling arms to Egypt that might be used against Israel. Nasser had let it be known in 1954-55 that he was considering buying weapons from the Soviet Union as a way of pressuring the Americans into selling him arms he desired. Nasser's hope was that faced with the prospect of Egypt buying Soviet weapons, and thus coming under Soviet influence the Eisenhower administration would be forced to sell Egypt the weapons he wanted. Khrushchev who very much wanted to win the Soviet Union influence in the Middle East, was more than ready to arm Egypt if the Americans proved unwilling.
Britain's close relationship with the two Hashemite kingdoms of Iraq and 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 the Baghdad 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 the Hashemites in an effort to frustrate British efforts to draw Syria, Jordan and Lebanon into 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 Mirror that first made the comparison between Nasser and Mussolini. Anglo-Egyptian relations would continue on their downward spiral.
At the same time, the French Premier Guy Mollet, who facing an increasing serious war in Algeria, where the rebels of the FLN were being supported by Egypt, had come to perceive Nasser as a major threat. During a visit to London in March 1956, Mollet told Eden that his country was faced with an Islamic threat to the very soul of France supported by the Soviet Union. Mollet stated that: "All this is in the works of Nasser, just as Hitler's policy was written down in Mein Kampf. Nasser has the ambition to recreate the conquests of Islam. But his present position is largely due to the policy of the West in building up and flattening him". In May 1956, at a gathering of French veterans, where Louis Mangin, who was speaking in place of the Minister of Defence who was unable to attend the meeting, gave a violently anti-Nasser speech, comparing the Egyptian leader to Hitler, and accused Nasser of plotting to rule the entire Middle East and of seeking to annex Algeria, whose "people live in community with France". Mangin urged France to stand up to Nasser, and being a strong friend of Israel, urged an alliance with that nation against Egypt.
Nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the road to crisis
Nasser announces the nationalization of the canal (Universal Newsreel, 30 July 1956) Britain was eager to tame Nasser and looked towards the United States for support. However, President Eisenhower strongly opposed British-French military action. America's closest Arab ally, 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. The Eisenhower administration took the view that if Nasser were able to secure Soviet economic support for the high dam, that would be beyond the capacity of the Soviet Union to support, and in turn would strain Soviet-Egyptian relations. Eisenhower wrote in March 1956 that "If Egypt finds herself thus isolated from the rest of the Arab world, and with no ally in sight except Soviet Russia, she would very quickly get sick of the prospect and would join us in the search for a just and decent peace in the region". Dulles told his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles "If they [the Soviets] do make this offer we can make a lot of use of it in propaganda within the satellite bloc. You don't get bread because you are being squeezed to build a dam". Finally, the Eisenhower administration had became very annoyed at Nasser's efforts to play the United States off against the Soviet Union, and decided to call Nasser's bluff by refusing to finance the Aswan high dam with the intention of teaching Nasser a lesson. As early as September 1955, when Nasser announced the purchase of the Soviet military equipment via Czechoslovakia, Dulles had written that competing for Nasser's favour was probably going to be "an expensive process", one that Dulles wanted to avoid as much as possible.
Nasser's response was the nationalization of the Suez Canal. On 26 July, in a speech in Alexandria, 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. That same day, Egypt closed the canal to Israeli shipping. Egypt also closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba, in contravention of the Constantinople Convention of 1888. Many argued that this was also a violation of the 1949 Armistice Agreements.
The nationalization of the Suez Canal hit British economic and military interests in the region. Prime Minister Anthony Eden 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 hosting a dinner for King Feisal II of Iraq and his Prime Minister, Nuri es-Said, when he learned the Canal had been nationalised. They both unequivocally advised Eden to "hit Nasser hard, hit him soon, and hit him by yourself" a stance shared by the vast majority of the British people in subsequent weeks. "There is a lot of humbug about Suez," Guy Millard, Eden's private secretary, later recorded. "People forget that the policy at the time was extremely popular." Opposition leader Hugh Gaitskell was also at the dinner. He immediately agreed that military action might be inevitable, but warned Eden would have to keep the Americans closely informed. Jo Grimond, who became Liberal Party leader that November, thought if Nasser went unchallenged the whole Middle East would go his way.
The French Premier Guy Mollet was outraged by Nasser's move, and was utterly determined that Nasser would not be allowed to get away with it. French public opinion was very supportive of Mollet, and besides for the Communists, all of the criticism of his government came from the right, who very publicly doubted that a socialist like Mollet had the guts to go to war with Nasser. During an interview with Henry Luce, Mollet held up a copy of Nasser's book The Philosophy of the Revolution and said: "This is Nasser's Mein Kampf. If we're too stupid not to read it, understand it and draw the obvious conclusions, than so much the worse for us". On July 29, 1956, the French Cabinet had decided upon military action against Egypt in alliance with Israel, and Admiral Nomy of the French Naval General Staff was sent to Britain to inform the leaders of that country of what France had decided to, and to invite them to join if they were interested. At the same time, Mollet was very much offended by what he considered to be the lackadaisical attitude of the Eisenhower administration to the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company. This was especially the case because earlier in 1956 the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov had offered the French a deal in exchange for which Moscow ended its support of the FLN in Algeria, Paris would pull out of NATO and became neutral in the Cold War. Given the way that the Algerian war had become engulfed in a spiral of increasing savage violence that French leaders longed to put an end to, the Mollet cabinet had been tempted by Molotov's offer, but in the end, Mollet who was a firm Atlanticist had chosen to remain faithful towards NATO. In Mollet's view, his fidelity to NATO had earned him the right to expect firm American support against Egypt, and when that support was not forthcoming, he became an more determined that if the Americans were not willing to do anything about Nasser, then France would.
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.
1956 newsreels about the reactions to the nationalization On 1 August 1956, a tripartite meeting was opened at 10 Downing Street between British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd, U.S. Ambassador Robert 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.
The Menzies Committee
Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies led an international committee in negotiations with Nasser in September 1956, which sought to achieve international management of the Canal. The mission was a failure.
Following an 18 power London Conference - involving Australia, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, West Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Britain, and the United States - the Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, was despatched to Cairo to act as chairman of a committee charged with leading negotiations with Nasser.
Menzies, was an elder statesman of the British Commonwealth, who felt that Nasser's actions threatened trading nations like Australia. Menzies' argued publicly that Western powers had built the trade canal, but Egypt was now seeking to exclude them from a role in its ownership or management.
Menzies' September 7 official communique to Nasser presented a case for compensation for the Suez Canal Company and the "establishment of principles" for the future use of the Canal that would ensure that it would "continue to be an international waterway operated free of politics or national discrimination, and with financial structure so secure and an international confidence so high that an expanding and improving future for the Canal could be guaranteed" and called for a Convention to recognise Egyptian sovereignty of the Canal, but for the establishment of an international body to run the canal. Nasser saw such measures as a "derogation from Egyptian sovereignty" and rejected Menzies' proposals. Menzies hinted to Nasser that Britain and France might use force to resolve the crisis, but United States President Eisenhower openly opposed the use of force and Menzies left Egypt without success.
Protocol of S vres
Three months after Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal company, a secret meeting took place at S vres, 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. David Ben-Gurion did not trust the British in view of their treaty with Jordan and he was not initially in favour of the plan, since it would make Israel alone look like the aggressor; however he soon agreed to it since such a good opportunity to strike back at Egypt might never again present itself.
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 Aqaba to Israeli shipping, and saw the opportunity to strengthen its southern border and to weaken what it saw as a dangerous and hostile state. This was particularly felt in the form of attacks injuring approximately 1,300 civilians emanating from the Egyptian-held Gaza Strip. 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. Additionally, Israel believed Egypt had formed a secret alliance with Jordan and Syria.
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." Eden did not expect the Eisenhower administration to oppose the military operation in light of the 1953 Iranian coup d' tat and the 1954 Guatemalan coup d' tat. There was a secret American commitment called "Plan Omega" to bring the Egyptian leader down but by covert means and over a longer period which had been entered into at the end of March 1956, before the seizure of the Canal company. 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. Although Eisenhower later insisted that he first learned of the outbreak of hostilities by "reading it in the newspapers", he knew that aircraft of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were taking high-altitude photos of the allied activities. Further information came from human sources in London, Paris and Tel Aviv. US spy chief Allen Dulles later confirmed that "intelligence was well alerted as to what Israel and then Britain and France were likely to do ... In fact, United States intelligence had kept the government informed".
Universal Newsreel from August 6 about the departure of British and French ships for Egypt British troops were well-trained, experienced and had good morale, but suffered from the economic and technological limitations imposed by post-war austerity. The 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group, which was intended to be the main British strike force against Egypt was heavily involved in the Cyprus Emergency, which led to a neglect of paratroop training in favour of counter-insurgency operations. The Royal Navy could project formidable power through the guns of its warships and aircraft flown from its carriers, but a shortage of landing craft proved to be a serious weakness. It had just undergone a major and innovative carrier modernization program. The Royal Air Force (RAF) had just introduced two long-range bombers, the Vickers Valiant and the English Electric Canberra, but owing to their recent entry into service, the RAF had not yet established proper bombing techniques for these aircraft. Despite this, General Sir Charles Keightley, the commander of the invasion force believed that air power alone was sufficient to defeat Egypt. By contrast, Keightley's deputy General Hugh Stockwell believed that methodical and systematic armored operations centered around the Centurion battle tank to be the key to victory.
French troops were experienced and well-trained, but suffered from cutbacks imposed by post-war politics of economic austerity. In 1956, the French military was heavily involved in the Algerian war, which made operations against Egypt a major distraction. French paratroopers of the elite Regiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux (RPC) were extremely experienced, battle-hardened and very tough soldiers who had greatly distinguished themselves in the fighting in Indochina and in Algeria. The men of the RPC followed a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy towards civilians, first adopted in Vietnam, which was to lead to the killing of a number of Egyptian civilians. The rest of the French troops were described by the American military historian Derek Varble as "...competent, but not outstanding". The main French (and Israeli) battle tank, the AMX-13 was designed for mobile, outflanking operations, which led to a tank that was lightly armoured, but very fast. General Andr Beaufre, who served as Stockwell's subordinate favored a swift campaign of movement in which the main objective was to encircle the enemy. Throughout the operation, Beaufre proved himself be more aggressive than his British counterparts, always urging that some bold step be taken at once. The French Navy had a powerful carrier force which was excellent for projecting power inland, but, like its British counterpart, suffered from a lack of landing craft.
American military historian Derek Varble called the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) the "best" military force in the Middle East while at the same time suffering from "deficiencies" such as "immature doctrine, faulty logistics, and technical inadequacies". The IDF's Chief of Staff, Major General Moshe Dayan encouraged aggression, initiative, and ingenuity amongst the Israeli officer corps while ignoring logistics and armoured operations. Dayan, a firm infantry man preferred that arm of the service at the expense of armour, which Dayan saw as clumsy, pricey, and suffering from frequent breakdowns. At the same time, the IDF had a rather disorganized logistics arm, which was put under severe strain when the IDF invaded the Sinai. Most of the IDF weapons in 1956 came from France. The main IDF tank was the AMX-13 and the main aircraft were the Dassault Myst re IVA and the Ouragan. Superior pilot training was to give the Israeli Air Force an unbeatable edge over their Egyptian opponents. The Israeli Navy consisted of two destroyers, seven frigates, eight minesweepers, several landing craft, and fourteen torpedo boats.
In the Egyptian military, politics rather than military competence was the main criterion for promotion. The Egyptian commander, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, was purely a political appointee with an alcohol problem who owed his position to his close friendship with Nasser, and who proved himself grossly incompetent as a general. In 1956, the Egyptian military was well equipped with weapons from the Soviet Union such as T-34 and JS-3 tanks, MiG-15 fighters, Ilyushin Il-28 bombers, SU-100 self-propelled guns and assault rifles. Rigid lines between officers and men in the Egyptian Army led to a mutual "mistrust and contempt" between officers and the men who served under them. Egyptian troops were excellent in defensive operations, but had little capacity for offensive operations owning to the lack of "rapport and effective small-unit leadership".
Eisenhower press conference about the crisis, August 9 In July 1956, Eden ordered his Chiefs of Staff to begin planning for an invasion of Egypt. Eden s plan called for the Cyprus-based 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group to seize the Canal Zone. The Prime Minister s plan was rejected by the Chiefs of Staff who argued that the neglect of parachute training in the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade rendered his plan for an airborne assault unsuitable. Instead, the Chiefs of Staff suggested the sea-power based Contingency Plan, which called for the Royal Marines to take Port Said, which would then be used as a base for three British divisions to overrun the Canal Zone.
In early August, the Contingency Plan was modified by including a strategic bombing campaign that was intended to destroy Egypt s economy, and thereby hopefully bring about Nasser s overthrow. In addition, a role was allocated to the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade, which would lead the assault on Port Said in conjunction with the Royal Marine landing. The commanders of the Task Force led by General Stockwell rejected the Contingency Plan, which Stockwell argued failed to destroy the Egyptian military. Stockwell offered up Operation Musketeer, which was to begin with a two-day air campaign that would see the British gain air superiority. In place of Port Said, Musketeer called for the capture of Alexandria. Once that city had been taken in assault from the sea, British armoured divisions would engage in a decisive battle of annihilation somewhere south of Alexandria and north of Cairo. Musketeer would require thousands of troops, and which led the British to seek out France as an ally. To destroy the 300,000-strong Egyptian Army in his planned battle of annihilation, Stockwell estimated that he needed 80,000 troops, while at most the British Army could spare was 50,000 troops; the French could supply the necessary 30,000 troops to make up the shortfall.
On 11 August 1956 General Keightley was appointed commander of Musketeer with the French Admiral Jobert as Deputy-Commander. The appointment of Stockwell as the Task Force commander charged with leading the assault on Egypt caused considerable disappointment with the other officers of the Task Force. One French officer recalled that Stockwell was By contrast, the majority of the officers of the Task Force, both French and British admired Beaufre as an elegant yet tough general with a sharp analytical mind who always kept his cool. Most of the officers of the Anglo-French Task Force expressed regret that it was Beaufre who was Stockwell s deputy rather the other way around. A major problem both politically and militarily with the planning for Musketeer was the one week interval between sending troops to the eastern Mediterranean and the beginning of the invasion. Additionally, the coming of winter weather to the Mediterranean in late November would render the invasion impossible, which thus meant the invasion had to begin before then.
In late August 1956, the French Admiral Pierre Barjot suggested that Port Said once again be made the main target, which lessened the number of troops needed and thus reduced the interval between sending forces to the eastern Mediterranean and the invasion. Beaufre was strongly opposed to the change, warning that Barjot s modification of merely capturing the Canal Zone made for an ambiguous goal, and that the lack of a clear goal was dangerous.
In early September, Keightley embraced Barjot s idea of seizing Port Said, and presented Operation Revise. Revise called for the following:
- Phrase I: Anglo-French air forces to gain air supremacy over Egypt s skies.
- Phrase II: Anglo-French air forces were to launch a 10-day aero-psychological campaign that would destroy the Egyptian economy.
- Phrase III: Air- and sea-borne landings to capture the Canal Zone.
On 8 September 1956 Revise was approved by the British and French cabinets. Both Stockwell and Beaufre were opposed to Revise as an open-ended plan with no clear goal beyond seizing the Canal zone, but was embraced by Eden and Mollet as offering greater political flexibility and the prospect of lesser Egyptian civilian casualties.
At the same time, Israel had been working on Operation Kadesh for the invasion of the Sinai. Dayan s plan put an emphasis on air power combined with mobile battles of encirclement. Kadesh called for the Israeli air force to win air superiority, which was to be followed up with one continuous battle in the Sinai. Israeli forces would in a series of swift operations encircle and then take the main Egyptian strongpoints in the Sinai. Reflecting this emphasis on encirclement was the outside-in approach of Kadesh, which called for Israeli paratroops to seize distant points first, with those closer to Israel to be seized later. Thus, the 202nd Paratroop Brigade commanded by Colonel Ariel Sharon was to land in the far-western part of the Sinai to take the Mitla Pass, and thereby cut off the Egyptian forces in the eastern Sinai from their supply lines.
In October 1956, Eden, after two months of pressure, finally and reluctantly agreed to French requests to include Israel in Operation Revise. The British alliances with the Hashemite kingdoms of Jordan and Iraq had made the British very reluctant to fight alongside Israel, lest the ensuing backlash in the Arab world threaten London's friends in Baghdad and Amman. The coming of winter weather in November meant that Eden needed a pretext to begin Revise as soon as possible, which meant that Israel had to be included. Under the Protocol of S vres, the following was agreed to:
- 29 October: Israel to invade the Sinai.
- 30 October: Anglo-French ultimatum to demand both sides withdraw from the Canal Zone.
- 31 October: Britain and France begin Revise.
Anglo-French para drops on the Suez Canal and Israeli conquest of Sinai
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, 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. Arish and Abu Uwayulah were 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. On 24 October, Dayan ordered a partial mobilization. When this led to a state of confusion, Dayan ordered full mobilization, and chose to take the risk that he might alert the Egyptians. As part of an effort to maintain surprise, Dayan ordered Israeli troops that were to go to the Sinai to be ostentatiously concentrated near the border with Jordan first, which was intended to fool the Egyptians into thinking that it was Jordan that the main Israeli blow was to fall on.
The conflict began on 29 October 1956. At about 3: 00 pm, Israeli Air Force Mustangs launched a series of attacks on Egyptian positions all over the Sinai. Because Israeli intelligence expected Jordan to enter the war on Egypt's side, Israeli soldiers were stationed along the Israeli-Jordanian frontier. The Israel Border Police militarized the Israel-Jordan border, including the Green Line with the West Bank, during the first few hours of the war. Israeli-Arab villages along the Jordanian border were placed under curfew, and orders were given to shoot curfew violators. This resulted in the killings of 48 civilians in the Arab village of Kafr Qasim in an event known as the Kafr Qasim massacre. The border policemen involved in the killings were later tried and imprisoned, with an Israeli court finding that the order to shoot civilians was "blatantly illegal". This event 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, who at the time were regarded as a fifth column.
Early actions in Southern Sinai
Israeli paratrooper 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 1948 Arab Israeli War 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 an Israeli paratrooper battalion was air-dropped 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. Due to a navigation error, the Israeli DC-3 transports landed Eitan's 400 paratroopers three miles away from Parker's Memorial, their intended target. Eitan marched his men towards Jebel Heitan, where they dug in while receiving supplies of weapons dropped by French aircraft. At the same time, Colonel Sharon's 202nd Paratroop Brigade raced out towards the Mitla Pass. A major problem for Sharon was vehicle break-down. Dayan s efforts to maintain strategic surprise bore fruit when the Egyptian commander Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer at first treated the reports of an Israeli inclusion into the Sinai as a large raid instead of an invasion, and as such Amer did not order a general alert. By the time that Amer realized his mistake, the Israelis had made significant advances into the Sinai.
Early actions along the Gulf of Aqaba, and the central front
As the paratroopers were being dropped into the Sinai, the Israeli 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 in a night attack, and negotiated their way through some of the natural chokepoints into the rear of the town, surprising the Egyptians before they could ready themselves to defend. The Egyptians surrendered, with no Israeli casualties sustained.
The 4th Infantry Brigade, under the command of Colonel Josef Harpaz, captured al-Qusaymah, which would be used as a jumping off point for the assault against Abu Uwayulah. Colonel Harpaz out-flanked al-Qusaymah with two pincers from the south-east and north-east in a night attack. In a short battle lasting from 3:00 am to sunrise, the IDF stormed al-Qusaymah.
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 in a dawn attack, and was able to storm the town with his armor through the Themed Gap. Sharon routed the Sudanese police company, and captured the settlement. On his way to the Nakla, Sharon's men came under attack from Egyptian MIG-15s. 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 sent his lightly armed paratroopers against dug-in Egyptians supported by aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery. Sharon's actions were in response to reports of the arrival of the 1st and 2nd Brigades of the 4th Egyptian Armored Division in the area, which Sharon believed would annihilate his forces if he did not seize the high ground. Sharon sent two infantry companies, a mortar battery and some AMX-13 tanks under the command of Mordechai Gur into the Heitan Defile on the afternoon of 31 October 1956. The Egyptian forces occupied strong defensive positions and brought down heavy anti-tank, mortar and machine gun fire on the IDF force. Gur's men were forced to retreat into the "Saucer", where they were surrounded and came under heavy fire. Hearing of this, Sharon sent in another task force while Gur's men used the cover of night to scale the walls of the Heitan Defile. During the ensuing action, the Egyptians were defeated and forced to retreat. A total of 260 Egyptian and 38 Israeli soldiers were killed during the battle. Although the battle was an Israeli victory, the casualties sustained would surround Sharon with controversy. In particular, Sharon was criticized for ordering the attack on Jebel Heitan without authorization, and not realizing that with the Israeli Air Force controlling the skies, his men were in not such danger from the Egyptian tanks as he believed. Dayan himself maintained that Sharon was correct to order the attack without orders, and that under the circumstances, Sharon made the right decision; instead he criticzed Sharon for his tactics of attacking the Egyptians head-on, which Dayan claimed led to unnecessary casualties. Most of the deaths sustained by the Israelis in the entire operation were sustained at Jebel Heitan.
Air operations, first phase
Universal Newsreel from November 1 about the attack on Egypt From the outset, the Israeli Air Force flew paratroop drops, supply flights and medevac sorties. Israel's new French-made Dassault Mystere IV 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 forces. The Egyptian tactic was to use their new Soviet-made MiG-15 jets as fighter escorts, while their older British-made De Havilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor jets conducted strikes against Israeli troops and vehicles. In the air combat Israeli aircraft shot down between sevena and nine Egyptian jets with the loss of one 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 ground forces at will, as Israeli forces advanced into the Western Sinai.
On 3 November, four Israeli warplanes attacked a British warship, the Black Swan class sloop HMS Crane as it was patrolling the approaches to the Gulf of Aqaba. According to the IDF, Crane had been identified as an Egyptian warship, and the Israeli General Staff authorized the attack. Three rockets penetrated the ship's hull and caused significant internal damage, including severed power mains and a ruptured oil tank. The ship also sustained some external damage from shrapnel and cannon fire, and three crewmen were wounded. Crane shot down one Israeli plane and damaged another during the engagement.
The Ibrahim el Awal after its capture by the Israeli Navy On 30 October, the Egyptian Navy dispatched the Ibrahim el Awal, an ex-British 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 102mm (4-inch) guns. The French destroyer Kersaint, which was guarding Haifa port as part of Operation Musketeer, returned fire but failed to score any hits. The Ibrahim el Awal disengaged and turned northwest. The Israeli destroyers INS Eilat and INS Yaffo then gave chase and caught up with the Egyptian warship. The Israeli destroyers, together two Israeli Air Force Dassault Ouragans, succeeded in damaging the destroyer's turbo generator, rudder and antiaircraft guns. Left without power and unable to steer, the Ibrahim el Awal surrendered to the Israeli destroyers. The Egyptian destroyer was subsequently incorporated into the Israeli Navy and renamed INS Haifa (K-38).
On the night of 31 October in the northern Red Sea, the British light cruiser HMS Newfoundland challenged and engaged the Egyptian frigate Domiat, reducing it to a burning hulk in a brief gun battle. The Egyptian warship was then sunk by the escorting destroyer HMS Diana, with 69 surviving Egyptian sailors rescued.
The Hedgehog-Abu Uwayulah operations
The village of Abu Uwayulah in the central Sinai served as the road centre for the entire Sinai, and thus was a key Israeli target. To the east of Abu Uwayulah were several ridges that formed a natural defensive zone known to the Israelis as the "Hedgehog". Holding the "Hedgehog" were 3,000 Egyptians of the 17th and 18th battalions of the 3rd Infantry Division commanded by Colonel Sami Yassa. Yassa's men held a series of well fortified trenches. The "Hedgehog" could only be assaulted from the east flank of Umm Qataf ridge and the west flank of Ruafa ridge.
On 30 October, a probing attack by Israeli armour under Major Izhak Ben-Ari turned into an assault on the Umm Qataf ridge that ended in failure. During the fighting at Umm Qataf, Colonel Yassa was badly wounded and replaced by Colonel Saadedden Mutawally. To the south, another unit of the Israeli 7th Armored Brigade discovered the al-Dayyiqa gap in the Jebel Halal ridge of the "Hedgehog". The Israeli forces stormed and took the al-Dayyiqa gap. Colonel Mutawally failed to appreciate the extent of the danger to his forces posed by the IDF breakthrough at al-Dayyiqa. Led by Colonel Avraham Adan an IDF force entered the al-Dayyiqa and at dawn on 31 October attacked Abu Uwayulah. After an hour's fighting, Abu Uwayulah fell to the IDF. At the same time, another IDF battalion attacked the Ruafa ridge. Concurrently, another attack was launched on the eastern edge of the "Hedgehog" by the IDF 10th Infantry Brigade (composed mostly of reservists) that ended in failure. By noon, the Israeli Air Force had carried out a series of punishing airstrikes on the Egyptian positions, sometimes accidentally hitting IDF ground forces. Such was the tendency of the IAF to stage "friendly fire" incidents the IAF was arguably as much as danger to the Israeli troops as to the enemy.
After taking Abu Uwayulah, Adan committed all of his forces against the Ruafa ridge of the "Hedgehog". Adan began a three-pronged attack with one armored force striking northeastern edge of Ruafa, a mixed infantry/armored force attacking the north edge and a feint attack from a neighbouring knoll. During the evening attack on 31 October, a chaotic battle raged on Ruafa ridge with much hand-to-hand fighting. Through every IDF tank involved was destroyed, after a night's fighting, Ruafa had fallen to the IDF. Another IDF assault that night, this time by the 10th Infantry Brigade on Umm Qataf was less succcessful with much of the attacking force getting lost in the darkness, resulting in a series of confused attacks that ended in failure. Dayan, who had grown impatient with the failure to storm the "Hedgehog", sacked the 10th Brigade's commander Colonel Shmuel Golinda and replaced him with Colonel Israel Tal.
On the morning of 1 November, Israeli and French aircraft launched frequent napalm attacks on the Egyptian troops at Umm Qataf. Joined by the 37th Armored Brigade, the 10th Brigade again assaulted Umm Qataf, and was again defeated. However, the ferocity of the IDF assault combined with rapidly dwinding stocks of water and ammunition caused Colonel Mutawally to order a general retreat from the "Hedgehog" on the evening of 1 November.
The Gaza Strip operations
The city of Rafah was strategically important to Israel because control of that city would sever the Gaza Strip from the Sinai and provide a way to the main centres of the northern Sinai, al-Arish and al-Qantarah. Holding the forts outside of Rafah were a mixture of Egyptian and Palestinian forces in the 5th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Jaafar al-Abd. In Rafah itself the 87th Palestinian Infantry Brigade was stationed. Assigned to capture Rafah were 1st Infantry Brigade led by Colonel Benjamin Givli and 27th Armored Brigade commanded by Colonel Haim Bar-Lev of the IDF. To the south of Rafah were a series of mine-filled sand dunes and to the north were a series of fortified hills.
Daylan ordered the IDF forces to seize Crossroads 12 in the central Rafah area, and to focus on breaking through rather than reducing every Egyptian strongpoint. The IDF assault began with Israeli sappers and engineers clearing a path at night through the minefields that surrounded Rafah. French warships led by the cruiser Georges Leygues provided fire support, through Dayan had a low opinion of the French gunnery, complaining that the French only struck the Egyptian reserves.
Using the two paths cleared through the southern minefields, IDF tanks entered the Rafah salient. Under Egyptian artillery fire, the IDF force raced ahead and took Crossroads 12 with the loss of 2 killed and 22 wounded. In the north, the Israeli troops fought a confused series of night actions, but were successful in storming Hills 25, 25A, 27 and 29 with the loss of six killed. In the morning of 1 November, Israeli AMX-13s encircled and took Hills 34 and 36. At that point, General al-Abd ordered his forces to abandon their posts outside of Rafah and retreat into the city.
With Rafah more or less cut off and Israeli forces controlling the northern and eastern roads leading into the city, Dayan ordered the AMX-13s of the 27th Armored Brigade to strike west and take al-Arish. By this point, Nasser had ordered his forces to fall back towards the Suez Canal, so at first the Bar-Lev and his men met little resistance as they advanced across the northern Sinai. Hearing of the order to withdraw, General al-Abd and his men left Rafah on the morning of 1 November through a gap in the Israeli lines, and headed back towards the Canal Zone. Three hours later, the Israelis took Rafah. It was reported that after taking Rafah, Israeli troops killed 111 people, including 103 refugees, in Rafah's Palestinian refugee camp. Not until the Jeradi Pass in the northern Sinai did the IDF run into serious opposition. A series of hooking attacks that out-flanked the Egyptian positions combinded with airstrikes led to an Egyptian defeat at the Jeradi Pass. On 2 November, Bar-Lev's forces took al-Arish.
Meanwhile, the IDF attacked the Egyptian defenses outside of Gaza City late on 1 November. After breaking through the Egyptian lines, the Israeli tanks headed into Gaza City. Joined by infantry, the armor attacked the al-Muntar fortress outside of Gaza City, killing or capturing 3,500 Egyptian National Guard troops. By noon of 2 November, there was no more Egyptian opposition in the Gaza City area. On 3 November, the IDF attacked Egyptian and Palestinian forces at Khan Yunis. After a fierce battle, the Israeli 37th Armored Brigade's Sherman tanks broke through the heavily fortified lines outside of Khan Yunus held by the 86th Palestinian Brigade. After some street-fighting with Egyptian soldiers and Palestinian fedayeen, Khan Yunis fell to the Israelis. There are claims that after taking Khan Yunis, the IDF committed a massacre. Israel maintained that the Palestinians were killed in street-fighting, while the Palestinians claimed that Israeli troops started executing unarmed Palestinians after the fall of Khan Yunis. The claims of a massacre were reported to the UN General Assembly on 15 December 1956 by the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Henry Labouisse, who reported from "trustworthy sources" that 275 people were killed in the massacre of which 140 were refugees and 135 local residents.
In both Gaza City and Khan Yunis, street-fighting led to the deaths of "dozens, perhaps hundreds, of non-combatants". During the Gaza Strip fighting, anarchy reigned in the streets, and the warehouses belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were sacked by Palestinian mobs, leading to a humanitarian crisis as many people in the Gaza were left without food and medicine. This was compounded by a widespread view in Israel that the responsibility for the care of the Palestinian refugees rested with the UNRWA, not Israel, which led the Israelis to be slow with providing aid. By noon of 3 November, the Israelis had control of almost the entire Gaza Strip save for a few isolated strongpoints, which were soon attacked and taken. The UN estimated that in total 447 to 550 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli troops during the first weeks of Israeli occupation of the strip.
The Sharm el-Sheikh operations
By 3 November, with the IDF having successfully taken the Gaza Strip, Arish, the Hedgehog, and Mitla Pass, Sharm el-Sheikh was the last Israeli objective. The main difficulty faced by Colonel Abraham Yoffe's 9th Infantry Brigade was logistical. There were no good roads linking Ras an-Naqb to Sharm el-Sheikh. After taking the border town of Ras an-Naqb on 30 October, Daylan ordered Yoffe to wait until air superiority was ensured. To outflank Sharm el-Sheikh, Dayan ordered paratroopers to take the town of Tor in the western Sinai. The Egyptian forces at Sharm el-Sheikh had the advantage of holding one of the most strongly fortified positions in the entire Sinai, but had been subjected to heavy Israeli air attacks from the beginning of the war. Yoffe set out for Sharm el-Sheikh on 2 November, and his major obstacles were the terrain and vehicle break-down. Israeli Navy ships provided support to the 9th Division during its advance. After numerous skirmishes on the outskirts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Yoffe ordered an attack on the port around midnight on 4 November. After four hours of heavy fighting, Yoffe ordered his men to retreat. On the morning of 5 November, Israeli forces launched a massive artillery barrage and napalm strikes against Egyptian forces defending Sharm el-Sheikh. At 9:30 am on 5 November, the Egyptian commander, Colonel Raouf Mahfouz Zaki, surrendered Sharm el-Sheikh.
Anglo-French task force
A battle-damaged de Havilland Sea Venom on the
To support the invasion, large air forces had been deployed to Cyprus and 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. Even RAF 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 battleship Jean Bart and aircraft carriers Arromanches and La Fayette on station. In addition, HMS Ocean and Theseus acted as jumping-off points for Britain's helicopter-borne assault (the world's first).
Revise: Phases I and II
In the morning of 30 October 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 shipping would not move again until early 1957. Despite the risk of an invasion in the Canal Zone, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer ordered Egyptian troops in the Sinai to stay put, as Amer confidently assured Nasser that the Egyptians could defeat the Israelis in the Sinai and then defeat the Anglo-French forces once they came ashore in the Canal Zone. Amer also advised Nasser to send more troops into the Sinai to inflict his promised defeat on Israel, even through there the risk of them being cut off if the Canal Zone was seized by Anglo-French forces was enormous. Not until late on October 31, did Nasser disregard Amer's rosy assessement and ordered his forces to disengage in the Sinai and to retreat back to the Canal Zone to face the expected Anglo-French invasion. Eden and Mollet ordered Phase I of Operation Revise to begin 13 hours after the Anglo-French ultimatum. British bombers based in Cyprus and Malta took off to Cairo with the aim of destroying Cairo airport, only to be personally ordered back by Eden when he learned that American civilians were being evacuated at Cairo airport. Fearful of the backlash that might result if American civilians were killed in a British bombing attack, Eden sent the Valiant bombers back to Malta while the Canberras were ordered to hit Almaza airbase outside of Cairo. British night bombing proved ineffective. Starting on the morning of 1 November, carrier-based de Havilland Sea Venoms, Chance-Vought Corsairs and Hawker Sea Hawks began a series of daytime strikes on Egypt. By the night of 1 November the Egyptian Air Force had lost 200 planes. With the destruction of Egypt's air force, Keightley ordered the beginning of Revise Phase II. As part of Revise Phase II, a wide-ranging interdiction campaign began. On 3 November F4U-7 Corsairs from the 14.F and 15.F A ronavale taking off from the French carriers Arromanches and La Fayette, attacked the aerodrome at Cairo.
The very aggressive French General Beaufre suggested at once that Anglo-French forces seize the Canal Zone with airborne landings instead of waiting the planned ten days for Revise II to be worked through, and that the risk of sending in paratroops without the prospect of sea-borne landings for several days be taken. By 3 November, Beaufre finally convinced Keightley and Stockwell of the merits of his approach, and gained the approval for Operation Telescope as Beaufre had code-named the airborne assault on the Canal Zone.
Telescope Modified: the Paratroops land
On late 5 November, an advance element of the 3rd Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment dropped on El Gamil Airfield, a narrow strip of land led by Brigadier M.A.H. Butler. The "Red Devils" could not return Egyptian fire while landing, but once the paratroops landed, they used their Sten guns, three-inch mortars and anti-tank weapons with great effect. Having taken the airfield with a dozen casualites, the remainder of the battalion flew in by helicopter. The Battalion then secured the area around the airfield. During the ensuring street fighting, the Egyptian forces engaged in methodical tactics, fighting on the defense while inflicting maximum casualties and retreating only when overwhelming force was brought to bear. In particular, the SU100s proved to be a formiable weapon in urban combat. The British forces moved up towards Port Said with air support before digging in at 13:00 to hold until the beach assault. With close support from carrier-based Wyverns, the British paratroops took Port Said's sewage works and the cemetery while becoming engaged in a pitched battle for the Coast Guard barracks.
At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Chateau-Jobert landed with a force of the 2e RPC at Raswa. Raswa imposed the problem of a small drop zone surrounded by water, but General Jacques Massu of the 10th Parachute Division assured Beaufre that this was not an insolvable problem for his men. 500 heavily armed paratroopers of the French 2nd Colonial Parachute Regiment (2 me 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 A ronavale 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. The French paratroops stormed and took Port Said's waterworks that morning, an important objective to control in a city in the desert. Chateau-Jobert followed up this success by beginning an attack on Port Fuad. Derek Varble, the American military historian, later wrote "Air support and fierce French assaults transformed the fighting at Port Fuad into a rout". During the fighting in the Canal Zone, the French paratroops often practiced their "no-prisoners'" code and executed Egyptian POWs.
The Egyptian commander at Port Said, General Salahedin Moguy then proposed a truce. His offer was taken up, and in the ensuring meeting with General Butler, Chateau-Jobert and General Massu, was offered the terms of surrendering the city and marching his men to the Gamil airfield to taken off to POW camps in Cyprus. Moguy had no interest in surrendering and only made the truce offer to buy time for his men to dig in. Strongly supported by British Admiral Manley Laurence Power, Beaufre urged that the sea-borne landings be accelerated and that Allied forces land the very next day. In this, Beaufre was opposed by Stockwell and Knightley who wished to stick with the original plan. Stockwell was always in favour of rigidly following already agreed to plans, and was most reluctant to see any changes, whereas Beaufre was all for changing plans to match with changed circumstances. The differences between Stockwell and Beaufre were summarized by the American historian Derek Varble as: "Stockwell favored existing plans; their methodical construction and underlying staff work reduced risks. Beaufre, by contrast an opportunist, saw plans merely a means to an end, without much inherent value. For him, altered circumstances or assumptions provided adequate justfication to jettison part or all of the original plan".
The Royal Marines come ashore at Port Said
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 Assault and 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. The men of 42 Commando as much as possible chose to by-pass Egyptian positions and focused on trying to break through inland. The Royal Marines of 40 Commando had the advantage of being supported by Centurion tanks as they landed on Sierra Red beach. Upon entering downtown Port Said, the Marines became engaged in fierce urban combat as the Egyptians used the Casino Palace Hotel and other strongpoints as fortresses.
Nasser proclaimed the Suez War to be a "people's war". As such, Egyptian troops were ordered to don civilian clothes while guns were freely handed out to Egyptian civilians. From Nasser's point of view, a "people's war" presented the British and French with an insolvable dilemma. If the Allies reacted aggressively to the "people's war", then that would result in the deaths of innocent civilians and thus bring world sympathy to his cause while weakening morale on the home front in Britain and France. If the Allies reacted cautiously to the "people's war", than that would result in Allied forces becoming bogged down by sniper attacks, who had the advantage of attacking "...with near impunity by hiding among crowds of apparent non-combatants". These tactics worked especially well against the British. British leaders, especially Eden and the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Louis Montbatten were afraid of being labelled "murderers and baby killers", and sincerely attempted to limit Egyptian civilian deaths. Eden frequently interfered with Revise Phrase I and II bombing, striking off various targets that he felt were likely to cause excessive civilian deaths, and restricted the gun sizes that could be used at the Port Said landings, again to minimize civilian deaths. The American historian Derek Varble commented that the paradox between Eden's concern for Egyptian civilians and the object of Revise Phrase II bombing, which was intended to terrorize the Egyptian people was never resolved. Despite Eden's best efforts, British bombing still killed hundreds of Egyptian civilians during Revise II, though these deaths were due more to imprecise aiming rather than a deliberate policy of "area bombing" a la like that employed against Germany in World War II At Port Said, the heavy fighting in the streets and the resulting fires destroyed much of the city, killing thousands of civilians
2 me RPC paratroopers patrol in Port Said
. October 1956
In the afternoon, 522 additional French paras of the 1er REP (R giment tranger Parachutiste, 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment) were dropped near Port Fouad. These were also constantly supported by the Corsairs of the French A ronavale, which flew very intensive operations: for example, although the French carrier La Fayette developed catapult problems, no less than 40 combat sorties were completed. The French were aided by AMX-13 light tanks. While clearing Port Fuad, the Ier Regiment Etranger Parachutiste killed 100 Egyptians without losing a man in return. 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. The helicopter borne assault of 45 Commando was the first time helicopters were used by UK Forces to lift men directly into a combat zone. Lieutenant Colonel N.H. Tailyour, who was leading 45 Commando was landed by mistake in a stadium still under Egyptian control resulting in a very hasty retreat. Street fighting and house clearing, with strong opposition from well-entrenched Egyptian sniper positions, caused further casualties. Especially fierce fighting took place at the Port Said's Customs House and Navy House. The Egyptians destroyed Port Said's Inner Harbour, which forced the British to improvise and use the Fishing Harbour to land their forces. The 2nd Bn of the Parachute Regiment landed by ship in the harbour. Centurion tanks of the British 6th Royal Tank Regiment were landed and by 12:00 they had reached the French paratroops. While the British were landing at Port Said, the men of the 2 RPC at Raswa fought off Egyptian counter-attacks featuring SU100 self-propelled guns.
After establishing themselves in a position in downtown Port Said, 42 Commando headed down the Shari Muhammat Ali, the main north-south road to link up with the French forces at the Raswa bridge and the Inner Basin lock. While doing so, the Marines also took Port Said's gasworks. Meanwhile, 40 Commando supported by the Royal Tank Regiment remained engaged in clearing the downtown of Egyptian snipers. Colonel Tailyour arranged for more reinforcements to be brought in via helicopter.
Hearing rumours that Moguy wished to surrender, both Stockwell and Beaufre left their command ship HMS Tyne for Port Said. Upon landing, they learned the rumours were not true. Instead of returning to the Tyne, both Stockwell and Beaufre spent the day in Port Said, and were thus cut off from the news. Only late in the day did Beaufre and Stockwell learn of the acceptance of the United Nations ceasefire. Rather than focusing on breaking out to take al-Qantarah, the Royal Marines became bogged down in clearing every building in Port Said of snipers. The Centurions of the Royal Tank Regiment supported by the paratroops of 2 RPC began a slow advance down to al-Qantarah on the night of 6 November. Egyptian sniper attacks and the need to clear every building led to the 3 para to be slowed in their attempts to link up with the Royal Marines. When Stockwell learned of the ceasefire to come into effect in five hours time at 9: 00 pm, he ordered Colonel Gibbon and his Centurions to race down and take al-Qantarah with all speed in order to improve the Allied barganing position. What followed was a confused series of melee actions down the road to al-Qantarah that ended with the British forces at al-Cap, a small village four miles north of al-Qantarah at 2:00 am, when the ceasefire came into effect.
Total British dead were 16, with 96 wounded. French casualties stood at 10 dead and 33 wounded. The Israeli losses were 177 dead and 899 wounded. The number of Egyptians killed was "never reliably established". Egyptian casualties to the Israeli invasion were estimated at 1,000-3,000 dead and 4,000 wounded, while losses to the Anglo-French operation were estimated at 650 dead and 900 wounded. 1,000 Egyptian civilians are estimated to have died.
End of hostilities
Anti-war protests in Britain
Protests against the war occurred in Britain after the invasion began. On the popular television talk show Free Speech, an especially bitter debate took place on 31 October with the leftist historian A. J. P. Taylor and the Labour journalist and future party leader Michael Foot calling their colleague on Free Speech, the Conservative M.P. Robert Boothby, a criminal for supporting the war. One television critic spoke of Free Speech during the war that the team seemed to not only on the verge of, but actually losing their tempers...Boothby boomed, Foot fumed and Taylor trephined, with apparent real malice .
The angry, passionate, much-watched debates about the Suez war on Free Speech mirrored the divided public response to the war. The British historian A. N. Wilson wrote that "The letters to The Times caught the mood of the country , with great majority opposing military intervention...". The journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and actor Robert Speaight wrote in a public letter that Lady Violet Bonham Carter, an influential Liberal Party member, wrote in a letter to the Times that According to public opinion polls at the time, 37% of the British people supported the war while 44% were opposed. The Observer newspaper in a leader (editorial) attacked the Eden government for its "folly and crookedness" in attacking Egypt while the Manchester Guardian urged its readers to write letters of protest to their MPs. The Economist spoke of the "strange union of cynicism and hysteria" in the government and The Spectator stated that Eden would soon have to face "a terrible indictment".
The Labour Party and the Trade Union Congress organized nation-wide anti-war protests, starting on 1 November under the slogan Law, not war!  On 4 November, at an anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square attended by 30,000 people (making it easily the biggest rally in London since 1945), the Labour M.P. Aneurin Bevan accused the government of a policy of bankruptcy and despair . Bevan stated at the Trafalgar rally:
Inspired by Bevan s speech, the crowd at Trafalgar Square then marched on 10 Downing Street chanting Eden Must Go! , and attempted to storm the Prime Minister s residence. The ensuring clashes between the police and the demonstrators which were captured by television cameras had a huge demoralizing effect on the Eden cabinet, which was meeting there.
Some modern historians contend, however, that the majority of public opinion at the time was on Eden's side. The British historian Barry Turner wrote that A.N. Wilson wrote that The economist Roy Harrod wrote at the time that the "more level-headed British, whom I believe to be in the majority through not the most vocal" were supporting the "notable act of courage and statesmanship" of the government.
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. Vice President Richard Nixon later explained: "We couldn't on one hand, complain about the Soviets intervening in Hungary and, on the other hand, approve of the British and the French picking that particular time to intervene against Nasser". Despite having no commercial or military interest in the area, many countries were concerned with what was a growing rift between Western allied nations.
While Israel refused to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip and Sharm el-Sheikh, Eisenhower declared, "We must not allow Europe to go flat on its back for the want of oil." He sought UN-backed efforts to impose economic sanctions on Israel until it fully withdrew from Egyptian territory. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson and minority leader William Knowland objected to American pressure on Israel. Johnson told the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that he wanted him to oppose "with all its skill" any attempt to apply sanctions on Israel.
Dulles rebuffed Johnson's request, and informed Eisenhower of the objections made by the Senate. Eisenhower was "insistent on applying economic sanctions" to the extent of cutting off private American assistance to Israel which was estimated to be over $100 million a year. Ultimately, the Democratic Party-controlled Senate would not cooperate with Eisenhower's position on Israel. Eisenhower finally told Congress he would take the issue to the American people, saying, "America has either one voice or none, and that voice is the voice of the President - whether everybody agrees with him or not." The President spoke to the nation by radio and television where he outlined Israel's refusal to withdraw, explaining his belief that the UN had "no choice but to exert pressure upon Israel."
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 Zone. 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 session of 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. Universal Newsreel about Dag Hammarskj ld's meeting with Nasser 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); the vote was 64 in favor and 5 opposed (Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, and Israel) with 6 abstentions. 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 now 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 first United 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 Hammarskj ld, 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 to Eilat 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 British and French troops from Egyptian territory. 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.'
Although the Soviet Union's position in the crisis was as helpless as was the United States' regarding Hungary's uprising, Premier Nikolai Bulganin threatened 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." Eisenhower immediately ordered the U-2s into action over Syria and Israel to search for any Soviet air forces on Syrian bases, so the British and French could destroy them. He told Under Secretary of State Herbert Hoover Jr. and CIA director Allan Dulles, "If the Soviets attack the French and British directly, we would be in a war and we would be justified in taking military action even if Congress were not in session." (The Americans excluded Israel from the guarantee against Soviet attack, however, alarming the Israeli government.) Eden was not worried by the apparent Soviet threat, since Britain was itself a nuclear power and his government had extensive knowledge of all the Soviet Union's weapons. Bulganin accused Ben-Gurion of supporting European colonialism, and Mollet of hypocrisy for leading a socialist government while pursuing a right-wing foreign policy. He did however concede in his letter to Eden that Britain had legitimate interests in Egypt.
Newsreel from November 12 The United States also put financial pressure on the UK to end the invasion. Because the Bank of England had lost $45 million between 30 October and 2 November, and the UK'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. The UK government considered invading Kuwait and Qatar if oil sanctions were put in place by the US.
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. What Treasury officials had told Macmillan was far less serious than the version he told to the Cabinet.
In concert with U.S. actions Saudi Arabia started an oil embargo against 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.
Israelis protesting against the UN order to evacuate Gaza and Sinai, February 14, 1957 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 could 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. Eden's predecessor Sir Winston Churchill commented on 22 November, "I cannot understand why our troops were halted. To go so far and not go on was madness." Churchill further added that while he might not have dared to begin the military operation, nevertheless once having ordered it he would certainly not have dared to stop it before it had achieved its objective. Without further guarantee, the Anglo-French Task Force had to finish withdrawing by 22 December 1956, to be replaced by Danish and Colombian units of the UNEF. The Israelis refused to host any UN force on Israeli controlled territory and left the Sinai in March, 1957. Before the withdrawal the Israeli forces systematically destroyed infrastructure in Sinai peninsula, such as roads, railroads and telephone lines, and all houses in the villages of Abu Ageila and El Quseima. Before the railway was destroyed, Israel Railways took captured Egyptian National Railways equipment including six locomotives and a 30-ton breakdown crane.
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.
1957 newsreels about the aftermath of the crisis 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. King Faisal II and Prime Minister Nuri-es-Said were murdered within two years of their advice to Eden to "hit Nasser hard and quickly". 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. Israel had been expecting an Egyptian invasion in either March or April 1957, as well as a Soviet invasion of Syria. 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. Some argued that the imposed ending to the Crisis led to over-hasty decolonisation in Africa, resulting in civil wars and military dictatorships. 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 Soviet Union made major gains with regards to influence in the Middle East. The American historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote about the aftermath of the crisis:
Nikita Khrushchev's much publicized threat expressed through letters written by Nikolai Bulganin to begin rocket attacks on November 5 on Britain, France and Israel if they did not withdraw from Egypt was widely believed at the time to have forced a ceasefire. Accordingly, the prestige of the Soviet Union, which was seemingly prepared to launch a nuclear attack on Britain, France and Israel for the sake of Egypt soared to new heights all over Egypt, the Arab world and the Third World in general. Through Nasser in private admitted that it was American economic pressure that had saved him, nonetheless it was Khrushchev, not Eisenhower who Nasser publicly thanked as Egypt's savior and special friend. Khrushchev was later to boost in his memoirs:
Khrushchev took the view that the Suez crisis had been a great triumph for Soviet nuclear brinksmanship, arguing in both public and private that his threat to use nuclear weapons was what had saved Egypt. Khrushchev claimed in his memoirs:
The great conclusion that Khrushchev drew from the Suez crisis, which he saw as his own personal triumph was that the use of nuclear blackmail was a very effective tool for achieving Soviet foreign policy goals. Thus began a long period of crises starting with the Berlin crisis of 1958 and culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, where Khrushchev threatened to start World War III if he did not get his way. Equally important in explaining the Soviet diplomatic triumph in the Near East was Nasser's reaction to the Eisenhower Doctrine. Nasser never wanted Egypt to be aligned with one superpower, and instead preferred a situation where he was the object of rival American and Soviet efforts to buy his friendship. After Suez, the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles perceived that there was a power vacuum in the Middle East, and thought the United States should fill it. Dulles's polices, which were to ultimately lead to the proclamation of the Eisenhower Doctrine were based on the assumption that Nasser and other Arab leaders shared the American fear of the Soviet Union. This was not in fact the case, and Nasser hated Israel far more than whatever reservations he might have about the Soviet Union, and in any case preferred a situation where both super-powers were competing for his favour instead of him becoming aligned with one superpower. The Eisenhower Doctrine was regarded by Nasser as a heavy-handed American attempt to dominate the Middle East (a region that Nasser believed he ought to dominate), and led him to swinging behind the Soviet Union as the best counter-weight. It was only with the quiet abandonment of the Eisenhower Doctrine in a National Security Council review in mid-1958 that Nasser started pulling away from the Soviet Union to resume his favored role as the spoiler who tried to play both superpowers against each other.
The great military lesson that was reinforced by the Suez War was the extent that the desert favored highly fluid, mobile operations and the power of aerial interdiction. French aircraft destroyed Egyptian forces threatening paratroops at Raswa and Israeli air power saved the IDF several days worth of time. To operate in the open desert without air supremacy proved to be suicidal for the Egyptian forces in the Sinai. The Royal Marine helicopter assault at Port Said "showed promise as a technique for transporting troops into small landing zones". Strategic bombing proved ineffective. Revise Phrase II failed to achieve its aim of breaking Egyptian morale while at the same time, those civilian deaths that did occur helped to turn world opinion against the invasion and especially hurt support for the war in Britain. Egyptian urban warfare tactics at Port Said proved to be effective at slowing down the Allied advance. Finally, the war showed the importance of diplomacy. Anglo-French operations against Egypt were militarily succcessful, but proved to be counterproductive as opinion in both in the home front in Britain and France and the world abroad, especially in the United States, was against the operation.
In October 1956, when the Suez Crisis erupted, 1,000 Jews were arrested and 500 Jewish businesses were seized by the government. A statement branding the Jews as "Zionists and enemies of the state" was read out in the mosques of Cairo and Alexandria. Jewish bank accounts were confiscated and many Jews lost their jobs. Lawyers, engineers, doctors and teachers were not allowed to work in their professions. Thousands of Jews were ordered to leave the country. They were allowed to take only one suitcase and a small sum of cash, and forced to sign declarations donating their property to the Egyptian government. Foreign observers reported that members of Jewish families were taken hostage, apparently to insure that those forced to leave did not speak out against the Egyptian government. Some 25,000 Jews, almost half of the Jewish community left, mainly for Israel, Europe, the United States and South America, after being forced to sign declarations that they were leaving voluntarily and agreed with the confiscation of their assets. Similar measures were enacted against British and French nationals in retaliation for the invasion. By 1957 the Jewish population of Egypt had fallen to 15,000.
The British historian D. R. Thorpe wrote that the imposed ending to the Crisis gave Nasser "...an inflated view of his own power". In his mind, he had defeated the combined forces of the United Kingdom, France and Israel, whereas in fact the military operation had been "defeated" by pressure from the United States. Despite the Egyptian defeat, Nasser emerged as an enhanced hero in the Arab world. The American historian Derek Varble commented "Although Egyptian forces fought with mediocre skill during the conflict, many Arabs saw Nasser as the conqueror of European colonialism and Zionism, simply because Britain, France and Israel left the Sinai and the northern Canal Zone". Thrope wrote about Nasser's post Suez hurbis that "The Six Day War against Israel in 1967 was when reality kicked in a war that would never have taken place if the Suez crisis had had a different resolution".
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 on 9 January 1957, after significant pressure was leveled by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the United States government. Eden had barely been prime minister for two years by the time of his resignation, and his unsuccessful handling of the Suez Crisis eclipsed the successes he had achieved in various government and opposition roles over the previous 30 years. Eden's successor, Harold Macmillan, greatly accelerated decolonisation and sought to recapture the benevolence of the United States. He enjoyed a close friendship with Eisenhower from their first meeting at a highly successful conference in Bermuda in March 1957. Benefiting from his personal popularity and a good economy, Macmillan's government increased its Parliamentary majority in the 1959 general election.
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. Edward Heath was dismayed by the US opposition to Britain during the Suez Crisis; as Prime Minister in October 1973 he refused the US permission to use any of the UK's air bases to resupply during the Yom Kippur War, or to allow the Americans to gather intelligence from British bases in Cyprus.
The events leading to Eden's resignation marked the last significant attempt Britain made to impose its military will abroad without U.S. support, until the Falklands War in 1982. 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 lack of US co-operation, 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. Revisionists further argued that by failing to show enough leadership in finding a diplomatic solution to the Crisis, Eisenhower and the United Nations had made the Anglo-French military response inevitable. 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, in which case the whole Canal could have been taken by the British and French troops.
The American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery during the week of the Suez war. During a visit by the UK Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, Dulles asked, 'Selwyn, why did you stop? Why didn't you go through with it and get Nasser down?' A surprised Lloyd replied, 'If you had so much as winked at us ...'. The record of a bedside visit by President Eisenhower five days earlier shows his Secretary of State made an almost identical remark.
Eden was reported to have said to a Conservative backbencher that he found it strange that so few people compared the Suez crisis to 1938 and wrote, "Egypt might be no Germany but Russia was and Egypt was Moscow's 'pawn'. Yet so many seem to fail to see this and give Nasser almost as much trust as others gave Hitler years ago." In 1977, the year Eden died, The Times wrote "He was the last prime minister to believe Britain was a great power and the first to confront a crisis which proved she was not."
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 S vres 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 Israeli Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan (at left) speaking at Sharm el Sheikh. To his right is Avraham Yoffe, commander of the 9th Brigade whose forces captured the strategic position 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. David Ben-Gurion, reading on 16 November that 90,000 British and French troops had been involved in the Suez affair, wrote in his diary, 'If they had only appointed a commander of ours over this force, Nasser would have been destroyed in two days.' 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. Fisher that 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 national flag 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 Bizerte and 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.
The Soviet Union, after long peering through the keyhole of a closed door on what it considered a Western sphere of influence, now found itself invited over the threshold as a friend of the Arabs. Shortly after it reopened, the canal was traversed by the first Soviet warships since World War I. The Soviets' burgeoning influence in the Middle East, although it was not to last, included acquiring Mediterranean bases, introducing multipurpose projects, supporting the budding Palestinian liberation movement and penetrating the Arab countries.
- Alteras, Isaac. Eisenhower and Israel: U.S.-Israeli relations, 1953-1960 (University Press of Florida, 1993)
- (translated from French by Richard Barry)
- Bromberger, Merry and Serge Secrets of Suez Sidgwick & Jackson London 1957 (translated from French Les Secrets de l'Expedition d'Egypte by James Cameron)
- . Chapter 24 is devoted entirely to the Suez Crisis.
- Media links
The following links are not functioning as of 6 December 2009. They are retained here for reference.
"The Suez canal and the nationalization by Colonel Nasser" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 1 August 1956 Fr.
(views of Nasser EG, Pineau FR, Lloyd UK, Murphy US, Downing street, comment on international tension)
"The new pilots engaged for the Suez canal" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 3 October 1956 French
(views of Port Said, the canal and Ferdinand de Lesseps' statue few weeks before the Suez Crisis, incl. a significant comment on Nasser)
"French paratroopers in Cyprus" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 6 November 1956 French
(details on the French-British settings and material, views of Amiral Barjot, General Keightley, camp and scenes in Cyprus)
"Dropping over Port Said" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 6 November 1956 French
(views of British paratroopers dropping over Port Said, comment on respective mission for the French and British during Operation Amilcar)
"Suez: French-British landing in Port Fouad & Port Said" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 9 November 1956 mute
(views of French-British in Cyprus, landing in Port Fouad, landing Port Said, Gal Massu, Gal Bauffre, convoy)
"The French in Port Said" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 9 November 1956 mute
(views of prisoners and captured material, Gal Massu, para commandos, Egyptian cops surrender, Gal Beauffre, landing craft on the canal)
"Dropping of Anglo-French over the canal zone" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 14 November 1956 French
(views of 2 Nordatlas, paratroopers, dropping of para and material circa Port Said, comment on no bombing to secure the population)
"Canal obstructed by sunken ships" French news from the National Audiovisual Institute, 14 November 1956 French
(views of troops in Port Said, Ferdinand de Lesseps' statue, comment on the 21 ships sunken by the "dictator")
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