The Suez Canal crisis of 1956 apparently internationalized the crisis in the Middle East for the first time. The then extra-regional powers that had been secretly influencing the crisis militarily got involved in an open battle in the Middle East.
This is the crisis that barely challenged Egypt to have a decisive stand in the Middle East affairs. During this period, the Egyptian leader was Gamel Abdel Nasser, a product of the Egyptian revolution of 1952.
Then there was a kinda friendly relationship between the United States and Egypt, and Israel feared this relationship for security reasons (or other reasons best known to Israeli politicians). Israel thought of launching pre-emptive attacks against Egypt, as they imagined the relationship between the superpower and Nasser can be a dangerous military threat.
Many Israeli politicians warned Israeli not to attack Egypt for no reason as that would also interrupt Israeli blissful relations with the United States. In 1954, there were a series of overtures made by Egypt to Israel, but the latter rejected them entirely and began to rather match on Egyptian movie houses to release a series of bomb attacks (for an unsure reason of imminent attack from Egypt).
Suez Canal Crisis: War Began
The Israeli organised series of bomb attacks and fires in Cairo movie houses, including the US embassy in Cairo, killed nothing less than 40 Egyptians, and the Egyptian Fadeyeen headquarters was destroyed.
The attack woke Egypt from being sedentary to militarily taking part in the Arab-Israeli conflicts in the Middle East. Abdel Nasser felt bad about the deaths of the Egyptian civilians despite their non-military intervention in the Arab-Israeli conflicts after the 1948 war.
Suez Canal: Egypt’s Response
Abdel Nasser replied with his shift in diplomatic relations; Egypt shifted from all Western-influenced resolutions and pacts and cultivated relations with the East. Egypt declined participation in the Bagdad Pact of 1954 which was aimed to contain communism and rather moved to the 1955 Bandung Non-alignment Movement in Indonesia.
Egypt had relations with China, India, and Yugoslavia. This saddened the US, and when the relations with Egypt became jeopardized, the latter got ammunition from the Soviet Union.
The US-Egyptian relations retarded and they began to be showing their national interests on the international level. While Egypt recognised the Peoples Republic of China in 1956, the US recognised Taiwan.
What finally made the crisis unavoidable is the US withdrawal from the sponsorship of the High Aswan Dam construction on the Nile River. In this line, the World Bank and Britain also withdrew their sponsorship.
In response to the West’s withdrawal, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal before its nationalization was owned and managed by the Anglo-French Canal Company. That is, it was a company that was jointly owned by Britain and France in Egypt.
The nationalization of the Suez Canal infuriated Britain and France who now suffered the loss of about 50% of petroleum imports that used to pass through the canal before its nationalization. And France was concerned about Egypt’s influence in the Algerian revolution.
However, both Britain and France lacked justification to attack Egypt militarily and reclaim the canal. They, therefore, instigated Israel to attack Egypt and they would appear on the side of the Israeli troops, afterwards.
Israel, therefore, masterminded an attack since there was a secret agreement that the Anglo-French troops would support them. The aims of these attacks were to: end the Egyptian blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba, truncate the support of Egypt for the Palestinian refugees in the Fadeyeen quarter in the Gaza Strip and West Bank of River Jordan and overthrow Nasser from being Egyptian leader.
Suez Canal: The Bombardment
Shunning the assurance that it had pledged to the UN Security Council on the 25th of October that Israel would never begin a war with Arab neighbours, the Israeli forces matched into the Sinai Peninsula and destroyed the Fadeyeen bases.
Just as secretly agreed, Britain and France acted to be lovers of peace as they demanded a cease-fire, and there was no positive heed to the demand, the Anglo-French forces matched to the Suez Canal and destroyed the Egyptian troops with heavy bombardments and finally occupied Port-Said, fulfilling their furtive interest in the war.
Though Britain and France justified their aggressions with mere aims of preventing Arab aggressive nationalism that would be championed by Egypt and to remedy the issue of nationalization, it was glaring that they were baseless and pointless with their actions. The involvement of the distanced powers internationalized the Middle East crisis, formally.
Suez Canal: UN Intervention
The UN condemned the actions of Britain and France, and this was unanimously agreed by major world powers like the United States and the Soviet Union, notably shunning the action of the Israeli forces. As long as the canal was kept open to ships of all nations, Egypt had access to its nationalization and the Anglo-French action was nothing more than being bullies.
With the opposition these Western powers faced, they withdrew their troops from the Suez Canal and the UN Peacekeeping force, for the first time, was dispatched into the Suez Region in 1956. After 60 days, it was reopened to shipping and there were moves to return it back to the control of Egypt. Therefore, Egypt lost the battle but won the war.
Suez Canal Crisis: Consequences
The Suez Canal Crises had a lot of consequences for the participants. It strengthened the course of Arab nationalism in the Middle East with the victory of Egypt by gaining control of the Suez Canal and the global humiliation the Anglo-French powers incurred. Nasser was globally celebrated among the Arabs as he became a significant Arab hero after the war
Also, this crisis brought the ideological war in the world, the Cold War, to the region. The Soviet Union threatened to have military intervention in the Suez Canal crisis by contributing to the Egyptian troops with Russian volunteers when the Anglo-French forces invaded the region during the war, and the United Nations (leader of the NATO) warned the Soviets not to use any military intervention in the crisis.
While the Soviet Union supported Egypt and promised other Arab states like Syria and Iraq arms supply and loans if attacked, the United States supported the Zionist fraternity by making provisions of arms and finance to Israel.
Moreover, China promised support for Syria, if attacked and announced the availability of 250, 000 volunteers to fight on the side of Egypt.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union were using the Middle East as a battlefield for their ideological Cold War, and their intervention in the conflicts further compounded the crises.
The war thus took another dimension with the involvement of these powers, to the extent that the then resolute Israeli forces that had occupied the Sinai Peninsula withdrew its military for the UN Emergency Force in the area. Finally, Egypt agreed to open the Straits of Tiran of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping.
- Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021, July 19). Suez Crisis. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Suez-Crisis
- Eznack, Lucile. (2012). The Suez Crisis. 10.1057/9781137289322_4.
- Allain, Jean. (2004). 2 – The Suez Canal: Imperial Ventures and International Law – from International Law in the Middle East. 10.4324/9781315252018-3.