Suez Crisis

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The Suez Crisis was the abortive military invasion of Egypt by British and French troops in October-November 1956 in an attempt to overthrow the radical government of Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and restore western control of the Suez Canal. At the same time Israel also attacked.

Nasser came to power in 1954 and had persuaded the United States , Britain and the World Bank to lend money to build the Aswan High Dam which would supply Egypt with hydro-electric power. In July 1956 the US withdrew its promise of a loan (the largest component of the international loan), followed by the other participants. To secure alternative funding, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company. This was perceived as an act of aggression by Britain and France. The two powers drew up an intervention plan with Israel: Israel would respond to Egyptian provocations by launching an attack; Anglo-French forces would then 'intervene' to protect the security of the canal.

Israel attacked Egypt on 29 October 1956. On 30 October Britain and France demanded that both sides withdrew ten miles from the canal; on 31 October they began to bomb Egyptian airfields following Egyptian refusal to comply with the ultimatum; on 5 November Anglo-French paratroopers captured Port Said and prepared to advance along the canal.

However, US President Eisenhower condemned the joint action at the United Nations and pressed for a cease-fire. This was concluded on 6 November 1956, and British and French forces withdrew by mid December. Britain had been forced to agree by its need for an International Monetary Fund loan which America could otherwise have vetoed.

The outcome of the crisis was a severe blow to the prestige and great power pretensions of Britain and France, and helped Nasser to build up an image as a pan-Arab strong man. It also diverted Western attention from the Soviet Union's intervention in Hungary as Nikita Khrushchev crushed the anti-Communist uprising in that country.

Sir Anthony Eden, who had been British Prime Minister throughout the crisis, resigned in early 1957, ostensibly for health reasons.

The incident demonstrated the weakness of the NATO alliance regarding prior consultation with allies before a use of force and NATO's lack of planning and cooperation outside the European theatre.


Further reading

  • Tucker, Spencer C., ed. The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict A Political, Social, and Military History (4 vol. 2008)
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