The Suez Crisis (1956)
After being denied funding for the construction of the Aswan Dam, Egypt’s president Nasser nationalized the British-French owned Suez Canal Company in the summer of 1956, a move that angered the British and French governments. Outright military intervention was not an option however, since it lacked diplomatic backing from the United States. To roll Nasser back the British turned to the French and to Israel.
At a secret meeting in France the three parties decided to enlist Israel in a ploy. Israel at that time was looking for ways to stop attacks by Palestinian fedayeen (guerrilla fighters) from the Gaza Strip (since 1948 under the control of Egypt). It was decided that Israel would attack the Gaza Strip to neutralize fedayeen and lure the Egyptian army into retaliating. Then, the Israeli army would quickly invade the Sinai, a perfect excuse for the British and French governments to intervene with a ‘peace enforcing’ mission. In the process the British and French forces would reclaim authority over the Canal.
On October 29, Israeli paratroopers dropped east of Suez at the southern entrance of the waterway. The next day, after more paratroopers had secured more important passes in the ‘hinterland’ of the Egyptian army in the Sinai, the Israeli army crossed into the northern part of the desert. The Israeli Air Force could pit the recently acquired French Mystère fighters against the new MiG-15 in air battles over the Sinai. Air superiority was soon established.
On November 5th, British and French forces started their intervention with airborne landings near Port Said. On the same day Israeli forces stopped near the Canal Zone and, in the south of the peninsula, occupied Sharm el-Sheikh and lifted the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba.
The American refusal to support the British-French-Israeli military expedition led to a humiliating diplomatic defeat for the countries involved. Israeli troops were forced under pressure from the United Nations and the United States to withdraw from the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Despite this, the Israeli offensive was considered a success as it strengthened Israel’s reputation as a military power.
A UN force was stationed in Sinai. The presence of UN troops also offered Israel increased security – the decade after the war was the most tranquil period in the nation’s history. It also obtained guarantees from the United States that the Suez Canal, as an international waterway, would remain open to Israeli shipping.