Suez Conflict - 1956

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Suez Conflict - 1956

Suez Conflict - 1956


The Suez crisis of 1956 effectively marked the end of British and French efforts to play the role of superpower independent from the United States in world affairs. Acting without U.S. approval but expecting that it would come, Britain, France, and Israel planned a military operation against Egypt that designed to reestablish British control over the Suez Canal (Rabinovich and Abraham 2004, p. 22). The Eisenhower administration, however, publicly rebuked the British and French for their actions and sponsored a United Nations resolution that demanded their withdrawal.

U.S. attention had been drawn to the Middle East in the early 1950s as the Eisenhower administration sought to create an alliance network that would further encircle the Soviet Union. It was to be patterned on the Southeast East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). To that end, in 1955 the Baghdad Pact was formed, linking Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Great Britain. The United States did not formally join due to Israeli objections.

Egypt had been a British colony. In 1952, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser led a successful revolt against the pro-British monarch, King Farouk. Once in power Nasser promised to take control of the Suez Canal from Great Britain. He also promised land reform, and in 1955, the United States offered to fund the construction of the Aswan Dam that would provide electric power and water. The offer got withdrawn abruptly in1956 as U.S. officials reacted negatively to Egypt's involvement in an anti-Israel alliance, proclamations of the cold war neutrality, and purchase of arms from Soviet ally Czechoslovakia. This last move posed a direct challenge to the ability of the Baghdad Pact to stop communist influence in the Middle East.

Nasser responded by seizing the Suez Canal. This act provided the spark for the British, French, and Israelis. Their plan called for Israel to attack Egyptian positions in the Sinai Desert and push toward the Suez Canal. Great Britain and France would use this as a pretext for their own military intervention. The Israeli attack occurred on October 29, 1956. After a French and British veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel, British, and French forces joined the conflict on October 31. A cease-fire called on November 6, and in December UN peacekeepers took up positions in the Suez and returned the canal to Egypt. Congress had held up approval of Dwight Eisenhower's Middle East resolution, also known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, until Israeli forces had left the Sinai and assurances had been given that Israel would not face a cut off in aid because of its participation in the crisis.

The United States was somewhat ambivalent at the outset of this drama. Washington sympathized with its allies' desire to bring stability to the area, and it distrusted Nasser, but it did not want war. In the end, the United States reacted negatively for several reasons. First, the Suez crisis diverted attention from the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary that was going on at the same ...
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