Suez Canal was started in 1859 and completed in 1869 which was financed by the French and Egyptian governments as joint venture. Canal was maintained and controlled by the Universal Company of the Suez Maritime Canal which is an Egyptian chartered group. This land is the only bridge between Asia and Africa, and it remained the Egyptian land. Canal after its completion took the advantage of its surrounding areas and location; it became an important strategic area because this is the shortest path between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. This canal provided an easy access for trading between nations and helped Europe in particular to attain powers and govern their colonies. Due to debt and financial crisis in 1875, Egypt head sold shares of the canal operating company to the British government.
British government showed an interest in buying the canal and obtained 44% shares of the canal’s operations for around £4 Million. By this investment, the major shareholders were French investors. After attack at Egypt in 1882, Britain controlled the country as well as the canal operations and finances. Canal was declared as neutral zone under the British rule declared in Convention of Constantinople in 1888. Ottoman Empire allowed international shipping to move free using this canal during war and peace. Even after the enforcement of convention in 1904, the strategic importance of Suez Canal and its operations were well-known during Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905. After Japanese surprise attack at Port Arthur on Russian fleet, in response to that Russian sent their reinforcements from the Baltic Sea fleet. United Kingdom refused to give path from the Suez Canal, therefore Russian fleets covered the whole continent of Africa which allowed Japanese forces to settle down in the Far East region. Suez Canal is equally strategically important after the Second World War as a medium for shipment of petroleum.
Suez Canal strategic importance emerged once again during the First World War when United Kingdom and France denied allowing non-allied forces to use canal for their shipments. Canal became more strategically important during Second World War because it is being used for delivery of oil. Royal Institute of International affairs revealed tactical importance of Suez Canal for Britain in a report named as “Britain and Suez Canal” which includes meeting up the military requirements in the Far East and other impacts in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. This reports also mentioned in detail how this canal was used previously in different wars including First World War and Second World War and how Britain used this canal for meeting its military requirements during these wars. It also focused on the future requirements during wars in Europe to transport military operations including troops from Australia and New Zealand. Report also revealed the material and oil quantity which will be transported to Great Britain through this Canal and economic impacts of the Canal.
After the Second World War, United Kingdom was take measures to asses the economic limitations and colonial history. United Kingdom realized it must have its strong hold in this area due to strategic importance because of transportation of oil and military logistics, huge reserves of petroleum products and economic potential of Middle East. United Kingdom made its strategic view to control Middle East if they control Kingdoms of Iraq and Egypt. For achieving its vision, Britain spread its military operations and strength throughout the region and constructed its defense complex for military support at Suez which can accommodate approx. 80,000 military men which is largest military complex in the world. This base was known to be a part of Britain strategic position in Middle East but this also leads to the increasing tensions in Anglo-Egyptian relations. Egypt’s domestic politics was expecting essential transformation because of various factors including economic crisis, price increases and unemployment. These tensions continued to increase due to growth of radical groups and changed the attitude of Egyptian people attitude towards Great Britain and its presence in Egyptian territory. This tension and attitude was increased due to the role played by United Kingdom in creation and strengthen of Israel. Egyptian government also changed its policies according to its people demands and the anti-British policies came into effect creates tensions between Great Britain and Egypt.
Egyptian government eliminated the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 one sided in 1951 because of that Treaty United Kingdom was a lessee of Suez base up to 35 years effective 1936 while Britain declined to withdraw from this Treaty because of its impinged treaty rights and also because of its presence of Suez garrison. Due to these decisions by the Egyptian government and British decline to accept decision of the Egyptian government, there was steady incline of aggressive antagonism towards the Britain and its military presence in Egypt.
These tensions were escalating further and as result of 25 January 1952 British act to disarm the niggling police force in Ismailia which also led to 51 Egyptian causalities which started anti-British and western rebellions in Cairo which leads to heavy damage to property and causalities of foreigners including 11 British citizens. This provided the base of revolution in country and on 23 July 1952, a military takeover was started by the Free Officers Movement which was led by Muhammad Neguib and future Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser which resulted in establishment of Egyptian republic replacing King Farouk.
Israeli cargo shipments to and from Israel through Suez Canal were interrupted and shattered by the Egyptians after the establishment of Israel in 1948. United Nations Security Council demanded from Egypt to remove any interference and restrictions for international shipment through Suez Canal and no one can cease the shipments. Great Britain desired to fix to revive the Anglo-Egyptian agreement. In 1954 Britain and Egypt made an agreement on the phase wise evacuation of British military presence from the Suez base within the 20 months while maintaining the base and British posses the right to return for at most seven years. In spite of agreement between Britain and Egypt, Nasser was remained in weak position. A domestic unrest once again emerged with the decisions of more two years British presence in country and loss of Egypt’s claim to Sudan and killing effort against Nasser in October 1954. Nasser made his perception due to his weaker position in the country, that neither his government nor Egypt’s Independence efforts can be achieved unless Egypt would be the head of the Arab countries. This is challenging tasks because strong British interests were present in the Middle East during the whole 1955 year. Nasser had strong concerns over Britain relations with two; Iraq and Jordan. Especially, he had strong concern over Iraq relations with the Britain because he perceived it would be difficult for his country to be the head of the Arab World in these circumstances. Baghdad Pact in 1955 assured him that Britain is trying to make a block headed by Baghdad to all Eastern Arab countries which might have sympathies with the Great Britain. Nasser’s response to all these aims by Great Britain influence in the region led to the Suez Crisis.
Nasser attempted throughout 1955 and 1956 a number of policies that disturb Britain’s aspire throughout the Middle East and this increased aggression between the two countries. Nasser played a wide role with the aim that western defense simply implied colonialism in the region and the due to Arab weaknesses and differences present in them, especially in the case of Israel was a result of Britain plotting. He also attempted to revive and align his policies with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against the Britain whose rulers were always a great enemy of the Hashemite and put his efforts to draw Jordan, Syria and Lebanon not to include in the track Baghdad Pact. Nasser was also successful to withdraw Jordan from Baghdad Pact and in result King Hussein fired the British Commander in March 1956 and which affected Britain’s Middle East security policy and disturbed Britain in achieving his aims. Nasser continued as he planned further how to achieve his goals by signing an arms deal with the Czechoslovakia which enabled Egypt to not be dependent on Western arms. This led to achieve his goals when other members of Warsaw Pact also sold their weapons to Egypt and Syria. These efforts were done to increase Soviet Union influence in the Middle East and to hit Britain’s aims of having his own block in Middle East. This also evolved tensions in United States because with the efforts of Nasser now Soviet Union has firm presence in the Middle East.
Great Britain was keen to stop Nasser in Egypt and looked forward for United States to provide support in this issue. But United States remained neutral as both Egypt and United States are willing to increase their own influence in the Arab World and want to head these states. Failure of Baghdad Pact reduced British influence in the Middle East. Great Britain was interested to through out Nasser from Egypt while United States had its own reservations over the arms deal with the Czech. These events brought the basis of crisis in spring and summer of 1956 when Nasser officially recognized the People’s Republic of China which angered United States and its secretary of the state who was the major sponsor of Taiwan issue. In result of this move by Nasser, United States withdrew its all financial aid for the Egypt for the project of Aswan Dam in July 1956. Nasser responded to this act by nationalization of Suez Canal. During a speech in Alexandria in July 1956, Nasser pronounced the name of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the canal, which was a code word for the Egyptian forces to control and seize the canal and accord his orders of nationalization of the canal. He also declared that Nationalization Law has been established and published for Egypt with which all the possessions of the Suez Company had been seized and the stockholders would be paid on today’s price on Paris Stock Exchange.
This act by Nasser directly hit the British interests including its economy and military in the Middle East region. There was domestic pressure from the conservation MPs who directly compare the events of 1956 and 1938 Munich Agreement. As United States did not supported Britain protests, the government of Britain decided to invade Egypt to save its influence and military interests in the region. They did not directly invaded Egypt as it would anger the Washington and would cause damage to Anglo-Arab bilateral relations. England decided to secretly take control over the Suez Canal with the support of France and Israel. United States tried to control the situation and to reduce tensions were seemed as unsuccessful. After three months of nationalization of Suez Canal, France, Israel and Great Britain decided to invade into Egypt to take the control of the Suez Canal themselves. Plan was that Israel invade in Egypt and take control the Suez Canal and than Britain and France will force Egypt to revive Anglo-French management for the canal. Israel started the Operation Kadesh which will allow Israel to take control the Sham el-Sheikh, al-Arish, Abu Uwayulah and Gaza strip and with this it will have access to the Red Sea for the first time after 1953 which enable Israel for trading with other countries directly. Israel also wanted to control Gaza strip to control Fedayeen groups and also Egypt can attack on Israeli troops which will be advancing to Egypt. Al-Arish and Abu Uwayulah was considered to be the strong military base for Egyptian army in the Sinai. If it would be controlled the whole Egyptian resistance might be controlled. On the first day of the attack, Israel expecting that Jordan will help Egypt, they put their border police across the Israel-Jordan border. During this activity 48 Arab civilians were killed by Israeli border police which questioned ethics of war of Israel war.
Operation Kadesh started on 29 October 1956 during which Israel dropped its battalion in Sinai but the actual landing was not according to the planned one and troops were several miles away from the Egyptian positions. This wasted time, energy and money during this activity. First succeed by Israeli was in Ras an-Naqb where they did not attacked from front side instead they enveloped the whole town and before Egyptian can defend they complete this all activity. They surrendered in front of Israeli forces. Israeli used their French Dassault Mystere fighters to provide cover to their transport aircrafts which dropped troops in Egyptian land. Egyptian Air Force flew their new MiG-15 jets as fighter lead and their old British De Havilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor for attacking on the Israel ground troops. During this air combat, seven Egyptians jets gone down while one Israeli air craft. When French and British Air and Naval forces attacked, Nasser ordered his pilots to stop and move to southern bases which cleared the pathway for Israeli Air Force. To provide support to the troops and Air Force, British stayed their forces in Cyprus and Malta and many air craft carriers engaged there. Britain and France sent an challenge to Egypt and started bombing the aerodrome in Cairo from October 31 till November 3. In response to this attack Nasser order to destroy all 40 ships present in the canal.
At November 5, British and French heavily bombarded the Egyptians and cause a strong damage to the Egyptians batteries and gun compounds and storage. Egyptians changed their planning and they acted in some areas to fight back until destroyed and on other hand, some were dumped with the little confrontation. In afternoon, French dropped its parachute regiment near Port Fouad which provided support for operations. In total 10 French soldiers killed and 30 injured during this activity. After these actions, street fighting and house clearing operations started where a strong opposition was faced by them due to Egyptian sniper commandos. In this total battle total 16 British soldiers were killed while 96 injured, 10 French was dead and Israel lost their 189 soldiers. The causalities at Egyptian side was not reliably measured but it is estimated that 650 were killed during Anglo-African operations and 1000 killed by the Israel attackers.
This operation which had a goal to control the Suez Canal was successful by military point of view. United States was dealing with Hungarian revolution and did not actively play a role to stop all this because its two important western allies were involved into all this. Also they were feared that might be Soviet Union come to help Egypt and start heavy rocketing over Britain, Israel and France. Nasser requested help from United States of America at November 1 while not requested any Russian assistance which than leads to cease fire through UN. Although Britain and France vetoed the resolution of Security Council than US and Canada called upon the General Assembly to pass a resolution of cease fire. General Assembly consequently held emergency session to stop all this and Portugal and Iceland went deeply even to eject Britain and France from NATO if they did not withdraw from Egypt. Britain and France evacuated from Egypt within a week.
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