Free «The Suez War» Essay

The Suez War

October 29 was the anniversary of the beginning of the war that entered the history in the second half of the XX century under different names – the Anglo-Franco-Israeli War against Egypt, the Second Arab-Israeli War, the Operation Musketeer, the Operation Kadesh, and the Hundred-Hour War. However, this short-term war did not exist by itself but was the part of the events that are known as the Suez Crisis. Being one of the most significant world transport arteries, the Suez Canal became a reason for the significant collapse in world politics. Hostilities of all the parties participating in the Suez Crisis were not prolonged. They started on October 29, 1956, and ended on November 6, 1956, when a peace agreement was signed (Smith, 2016). The first related events started four years before the crisis when Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power. Nonetheless, it was only an accelerator but not a cause of the motive. It is possible to allocate five groups of causes of the Suez Crisis. Primarily, there were internal Egyptian cases connected with the confrontation of Egypt with France, Great Britain, as well as the United States. The fourth group included the tense relationships between Israel and Egypt. The last factor implied the growing impact of the Soviet Union in the Middle East. Therefore, all these five groups of reasons caused the Suez War, which had considerable consequences for the future of the region.

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Internal Causes in Egypt

Nationalism is considered the major internal problems in Egypt. Earlier, the country was a colony of France, the Ottoman Empire, and Great Britain. In 1922, Egypt received nominal independence and in 1936, the real one (Smith, 2016). Despite this fact, the impact of the most influential European states on the policy of Egypt remained considerable. It is mainly connected with the fact that the country occupies a highly important strategic position on the world map. At that time, the Suez Canal was one of the major objects on the territory of Egypt. It was the most significant transport net connecting the Old World with the states of Southeast Asia and Hindustan. The Suez Canal exists for more than 130 years (Cashman, 2013). It connects the Red and the Mediterranean seas allowing the shortest way from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Shareholders, France and Egypt, constructed the Suez Canal together (Cashman, 2013). However, Britain later bought Egyptian stocks.

The Egyptians created the Suez Canal, and it was always the part of Egypt. However, it was a source of great income for Great Britain. In the profitable part of the joint-stock company, Egypt was not included. Cairo had about 6% of the profits from the revenue going to the capital of Great Britain (Cashman, 2013). In 1955, the profit constituted more than 34 million Egyptian pounds, and it was 3% in relation to the Egyptian national income (Cashman, 2013). Egypt was highly interested in participating in various investment programs aimed at the development of the Suez Canal. Nonetheless, the United Kingdom, the United States, and France did not consider this country as an equal partner. From year to year, the development of navigation was heightening the significance of the Suez Canal. In 1955, it transported approximately 46% of the world’s oil and freight exports (Cashman, 2013). Besides, the joint-stock company promised to improve ports and it was an extremely crucial agreement with Egypt. However, the company did not meet the obligations, which hampered the reconstruction of the Suez Canal.

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It is the reason why the Suez Canal became the object of fierce fighting collisions in both world wars. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that Great Britain has been keeping the troops there since the end of World War II. The Anglo-Egyptian treaty, which was enforced in the 1950s, envisaged that the British military is allowed to remain in the zone of the canal until 1956 with the possible elongation (Cashman, 2013). Obviously, for the state that was one of the symbols of the liberation movement and one of the leaders of the anti-colonial campaign, the presence of British troops on its territory was unacceptable. Besides, it was clear that the Suez Canal brought colossal profits to Egypt. Another internal Egyptian cause consisted in the fact that long history of country’s existence as a colony pushed the radical political forces to the most decisive actions (Cashman, 2013). They constituted the most authoritative group in the country who wanted to defeat independence of their state. In such a way, the existence of British troops on the territory of Egypt and radically configured political forces of the country were the major internal reasons for the beginning of the Suez War.

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London and Paris against Cairo

The aspiration of Abdel Nasser, as well as radical political forces that supported him in dislodging influential countries, namely France and Great Britain, from the Middle East foredoomed states to escalate the tension from the very beginning. The French were the first who started demonstrating dissatisfaction. The new government of Egypt provided the open direct support and the political patronage to the rebels in the French colonies, especially in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria (Smith, 2016). In addition, Paris was one of the most consistent and loyal allies of Tel Aviv while Cairo had strenuous relations with the latter. In 1954, Israel and France signed a treaty on the supply of French weapons to the Israelis (Smith, 2016). Egyptian intelligence knew about this military equipment provision, and this fact fastened the confrontation between Paris and Cairo.

Great Britain and France were the only owners of the General Company of the Suez Canal. The French party had a controlling stake of 53% while the British possessed 47% (Smith, 2016). However, the new Egyptian government was against such a state of affairs, and London understood that. The British evaluated causes of the quick worsening of the criminal situation around the canal and the British contingent connected with it. The abduction of technical and military personnel, as well as the more frequent attacks by Egyptian radicals on individual British service members and military units, became important constituents of the growing tension between Cairo and London. Active actions began quite soon when on July 26, 1956, President Nasser announced that the government of Egypt intended to begin nationalization of the Suez Canal (Smith, 2016). Therefore, the war in several months was inevitable.

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American Participation

The United States that played a role of the main peacemaker at the end of the Suez War was one of the main catalysts in its beginning. The American position served as the detonator in the development of the situation with the idea of nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt. The United States demonstrated an interest in this country governed by Colonel Nasser and a desire to take this process under the control in 1953 when the US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles arrived in the Egyptian capital (Gorst & Johnman, 2013). The initial purpose of this visit was to convince Egypt to join the Baghdad Pact, which was a union of Iran, Iraq, Great Britain, Turkey, and Pakistan. Formally, Great Britain was an initiator of the pact while the United States was not de jure its participant. However, the American side was the most active in promoting the idea of this union (Gorst & Johnman, 2013). De facto, Washington was a participant in all major committees.

The American emissaries tried to persuade Egypt to join this union that consisted of NATO member countries for one-third. However, the Egyptian president made several demands. Firstly, he insisted on the provision of the financial assistance to the Egyptians in the building of the Aswan Dam. With this structure, it was possible to solve significant climate, agricultural, and energy problems, thus strengthening the independence of Egypt (Gorst & Johnman, 2013). Secondly, Cairo demanded from the United States to supply arms to resist Tel Aviv. Although Washington agreed with the first condition, the American side refused to perform the second one as relations with Israel that was a strategic partner were more important for the United States. France and Great Britain also could not provide arms to the Egyptians and the latter chose the only possible way, which is signing the Warsaw Pact (Gorst & Johnman, 2013). This fact aroused indignation in the United States. America was involved entirely in the armed confrontation with the USSR and its allies. It was a reason why the Americans could not forgive Egypt such an act. Thus, the USA stopped issuing loans for the construction of the Aswan Dam (Gorst & Johnman, 2013). In one week, the Egyptian president enounced words that are considered an immediate trigger of the Suez War. He announced that the annual income of the Suez Canal was $ 100 million, and the Egyptians could receive this money themselves (Gorst & Johnman, 2013). Immediately, Egyptian troops occupied the zone of the Suez Canal and in several days, Israel attacked.

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The Actions of Israel

Since the establishment of Israel, all Muslim neighbors, in particular Egypt, rejected categorically the presence of the Jewish state in the Middle East. The capital of Egypt was one of the centers of the Arab states’ coalition with which Tel Aviv led the War of Independence in 1948 (Barak, 2008). It was the first armed conflict in a long series of Arab-Israeli wars. Moreover, Cairo directed and supported the activities of the terrorist group that had confrontations with Israel since 1955 (Barak, 2008). Besides, despite the repeated demands of France, the United Nations, and Great Britain to allow Israeli ships to use the Suez Canal, Egypt did not respond to these requests (Barak, 2008). It meant the blockade of the Israeli shipping in its coastal waters. This fact could have a highly negative effect on the economic situation of the state.

One more step undertaken by Cairo causing panic in Israel was the decision to buy weapons from the Eastern Bloc. At that time, Tel Aviv constantly cooperated with the member states of the NATO, and Israeli relations with the Soviet Union experienced a crisis. Thus, such a move of Egypt frightened the Israelis (Barak, 2008). If the countries from the Warsaw Treaty supplied Egypt with the newest models of military equipment, the Egyptian army would become stronger than the Israeli one (Barak, 2008). This circumstance raised the question of not only the retention of Israel’s presence on the territories of the Palestinian state, which it could seize during the war of 1948, but also the existence of the Jewish state.

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The Influence of Moscow

Fears of the Jewish were not in vain. By the middle of the 1950s, the Soviet Union had made considerable efforts to strengthen greatly its influence as well as military and political presence in the Middle East. When Moscow failed to subordinate Israel to its influence, it shifted the attention to other Muslim states that participated in the process of decolonization. It totally complied with the concept of socialism export followed by the regime of the Soviet Union (Smith, 2016). In addition, the enlargement of many states-allies in the Middle East allowed Moscow to have parity with America, as the latter was anxious about the development of its system of collaborators in the same region and wanted to attract the Jewish state. Due to the active presence in the region, the Soviet Union received a market for the sale of weapons (Smith, 2016). It resulted in long-term contracts for their services and a unique polygon for testing new models of equipment in real fighting.

When the United States, France, and Great Britain rejected to supply weapons to Egypt, its capital appealed to the Soviet Union for help. With the mediation of Czechoslovakia, Moscow provided the Egyptians with a great amount of military equipment and arms (Smith, 2016). Totally, the country received weapons worth $ 250 million including 200 armored personnel carriers, 230 T-34-85 tanks, 100 Su-100 self-propelled guns, 200 fighter jets, more than 500 artillery barrels, transport aircraft and bombers, modern jet MiG-15bis and Il-28, submarines, boats, torpedo, and destroyers (Smith, 2016). In these circumstances, the Israeli capital started seeking allies in the West. The growing impact of the Soviet Union in Muslim states simplified and accelerated the process that resulted in the war outbreak.

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A Hundred-Hour War

The war began on October 29, 1956, with the operation of Israeli paratroopers (Smith, 2016). The next day, the Israelis entered a fighting clash with the Egyptians and by November 5, the former could capture the Sinai Peninsula (Smith, 2016). On October 31, British bombardments began and in one week, allies disembarked in the area of the Suez Canal without resistance (Smith, 2016). Several rounds of highly secret negotiations between Israel, France, and Britain preceded these military operations. Specifically, the allies elaborated a detailed plan of the war with Egypt. The major purpose was to return the Franco-British control over the Suez Canal and change the government in Egypt (Smith, 2016). The associates believed that Nasser should be replaced by someone more loyal to the West.

Nevertheless, the joint efforts of two implacable enemies – the Soviet Union and the United States - hindered the successful elaboration of the military operation of the Israeli, French, and British troops. The American representatives acted with the application of diplomatic means. They exerted pressure on the participants of the conflict through the United Nations and its General Assembly (Smith, 2016). During an active phase of the Suez War, this organization realized the idea of applying the Peacekeeping Forces for the first time, and they started active actions in the zone of the Suez Canal on November 15, 1956 (Smith, 2016). In turn, the Soviet Union made an emphasis on the military pressure. The Soviet Foreign Minister sent a telegram to the UN Security Council Secretary where under the threat of the direct military assistance to Egypt, he demanded to achieve the cessation of hostilities within several hours and withdraw Israeli troops from Egyptian territory within the next days (Smith, 2016). The USSR was ready to dispatch units of air and naval forces, military equipment, and land armed units to help the victim of aggression, namely Egypt. The same day, the heads of government of France, Israel, and Britain received special letters in which the Soviet Union notified officially about its readiness to destroy the aggressor and reestablish the peaceful life in Egypt with the help of force applying atomic weapons and missile technology.

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Actions of Washington and Moscow had a result. The French and British military forces were withdrawn from the conflict zone in December 1956, and several months later, the Israelis left the occupied lands at Sinai as well (Smith, 2016). According to the official data, the Egyptian army lost more than 3,000 officers and soldiers in military operations with Israel (Smith, 2016). According to different estimates, about 8 thousand people were captured and more than half of the tanks of the Egyptian army were lost (Smith, 2016). In turn, Israel lost from 30 to 100 armored vehicles and 10 aircrafts (Smith, 2016). France and Great Britain lost 5 planes and 300 people (Smith, 2016). Therefore, the losses of the second party were insignificant.

There were no changes in the geopolitical situation of the region and none of the sides of the conflict received territorial acquisitions. However, Israel obtained the access to navigation through the Tiran Strait and the Suez Canal (Barak, 2008). Despite this fact, a political situation changed crucially. Both the Soviet Union and the United States of America proved the soundness of pretensions for the political influence in the region. Since that time, they had strengthened it. In addition, the United Nations proved its political weight with the constant practice of peacekeeping forces’ application (Pierre, 2014).











Besides, Egypt and its President Gamal Abdel Nasser became highly important figures on the political map of the world. The state strengthened its position in the world, especially in the Middle East. The name of Gamal Nasser achieved a new height that was unattainable for many rulers of the region. The President of Egypt became a new leader of the Arab world and all developing states. This fact amplified the anti-colonial tendencies in the East and Africa buried an idea of the peaceful conflict resolution in the regions for a long time. After ten years of the permanent small-scale collisions between Israel and Egypt, the Six-Day War started (Smith, 2016). The latter turned into the war of depletion and six years later, in the War of the Day of Judgment. Besides, numerous wars for independence had been outbreaking on the continent for a decade. They resulted in the appearance of endless conflicts and the permanent political and military tension on the map (Smith, 2016). Therefore, the Suez Crisis changed the political situation in the region considerably.


When Gamal Abdel Nasser became the President of Egypt, his authority in the Arab world started growing. Immediately, the situation in the region became highly acute. The Egyptian President intended to destroy Israel, dislodge the British from the region, and restore the former magnificence and dominance of Islam. It became a reason for the French and the British to oppose Nasser. Due to Egyptian relations with Moscow and uncompromising position with respect to Israel, American relations with the former also deteriorated. The government of the United States initially had an intention to provide funds to Egypt for the building of the Aswan Dam. However, the refusal to finance the construction prompted the Egyptian president to nationalize the General Sea Suez Canal Company. These are regarded the most important reasons for the onset of the Suez War. The Suez Crisis also had important consequences as it determined a new alignment of forces in the international arena. After the war, numerous anti-monarchist revolutions swept the Middle East and many of them last until today.

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