The Suez Canal Crisis
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - War in The Middle East
The Suez War, also known by the other names of Suez Canal Crisis and Tripartite Aggression, was a short lived conflict that has had long standing complications for all those involved.
The Suez War is named after the Suez Canal in which the conflict was a major factor. This canal is not simply a canal like any other, in fact it was the most important man made canal in the world as it made trade between Europe and Asia quicker, easier and more reliable. The Suez Canal actually has the nickname as “The highway to India”.
The issue with the Suez Canal is that it is currently 193.3 kilometres long (164 km long it time of opening) and runs through Egypt. While this may not be an issue today, historically it has had huge implications for Egypt, its neighbouring countries and western European powers like Britain and France.
Prior to the Suez Canal Crisis
Post World War II Britain was in a position where it needed to assess its Empire due to being financially crippled by the two World Wars that have occurred. This assessment actually led to consolidation in some areas, this was namely the Suez Canal and the Middle East.
The Middle East has long been known to be a vast oil field offering wealth through oil and the Suez Canal has always been known as a geographical and strategic waterway.
As of the end of the Nineteenth century Britain still held colonial power of Egypt, including the Suez Canal waterway that ran through it. After World War II and with the Cold War starting Britain decided to consolidate its stronghold on the canal for future use because of its geographical location.
The strength of military might from the British in the area to the point that the British had military installations everywhere, including a garrison holding around eighty thousand troops.
The problems started after World War II for two reasons, first the British were consolidating, but also the Egyptians were becoming increasing unhappy with the British. Egypt felt that the British treated them as second class citizens; further to this they did not appreciate Britain’s involvement in the creation of an Israeli state.
For those that don’t know Israel as a country was only created post World War II by the United States with supporting from European powers to give the Jewish a place of their own post the atrocities they suffered at the hands of Hitler.
By 1951 the Egyptian government had also grown to have a dislike for the British along with their people so they cancelled a treaty that had been in place since 1936 giving the British lease of the Suez Canal. The British decided that with their large garrison as a deterrent and their treaty still being valid, that they were not going to withdraw from the canal.
Over time the hostilities towards the British were to build up into a crescendo that started conflict. But before this could happen another key move occurred. The British wanted American support but did not get any; this was because the US wanted to lower British dominance over the area so they could build their own influence.
This all changed when Egypt recognised the People's Republic of China, a move that made the Americans changed tactics and withdraw funding for key projects in Egypt. Egypt’s response was swift and sudden as the Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser took to his soap box and made a speech on the 26th July in which he announced Nationalisation of the Suez Canal. This also included a reference to the initial builder of the canal as a code word for Egyptian troops to move in and take control from the British.
The British could not get anyone to hear its complaints so decided to flex its military muscles so not to lose face and control of the region.
In August 1956 a meeting took place in London between France, the UK and the US to talk about diplomacy of the situation. This actually meant that the British and French gained an alliance against Egypt.
Both the British and French wanted to depose Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser so they could both protects their influence and colonies in the region. Israel was then bought into the situation as they wanted to strengthen its southern borders to open up shipping in the region.
The military intervention started.
The Suez War
On October 29th the conflict started in earnest. The Israelis stationed troops on the Israeli border with Jordan so it wouldn’t come into the war on Egypt’s side. After this Israel started an operation called Operation Kadesh where they invaded the Sinai Peninsula taking control very quickly. This involved land, air and sea attacks.
The following day the British and French veto USSR demand for Israel-Egypt cease-fire, however the UN agrees a plan for a cease fire only 3 days later. On the 30th October the British and French did however put an ultimatum forward to both Israel and Egypt, with no reply they both started a bombing campaign on the 31st October.
Egypt responded by sinking all 40 ships on the canal and closing it to further ships.
On the 5th November British and French forces moved into the area with the British Para’s landing at a small airfield then moving on to the beach so the Navy Commando’s could land under guard from the Parachute Regiment. The French redeployed five hundred Paratroopers from Algeria to Egypt and air dropped another five hundred or so paratroopers.
Combat sorties by planes around this time accounted for many as bombing raids and soldier drops occurred continuously.
Some soldiers of the British 45 Commando Regiment were dropped in by helicopter and met resistance. It took time and effort but eventually they managed to overpower the resistance with the support of tank regiments and other troops.
The British dead number 16, with the French losing 10 and Israelis losing 189. In total estimates put Egypt’s losses at between 1,650 and 3,650 in total.
On November 7th the UN votes unanimously for Britain, France and Israel to withdraw its troops, by the 29th November the pressure from the UN ended the invasion.
In December 1956 Israel refuses to give Gaza back to Egypt, an issue it still suffers with today. British and French troops also leave Egypt.
The start of 1957 sees the nationalisation of all French and British banks in Egypt, Israeli ships being barred from using the Suez Canal and the first ships from Britain paying the toll to the Egyptians for using the canal.
The occupation and conflict officially ends in March 1957 with a resounding victory for Egypt.