Eastern Mediterranean 1956: Suez Crisis
In July 1956 President Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Anglo-French owned Suez Canal. Incensed, the United Kingdom and France engineered an invasion of Egypt with Israel to retake the Canal, but were immediately met with international condemnation. Facing threats from both the United States and the Soviet Union, the two colonial powers backed down in a humiliating withdrawal.
26 Jul 1956 Nationalization of the Suez Canal▲
On 19 July 1956, irritated by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s arms deal with the Eastern bloc and neutralist stance in the Cold War, the United States and the United Kingdom withdrew their offer to finance construction of Egypt’s Aswan Dam. One week later, Nasser announced the nationalization of the British and French-owned Suez Canal Company so that Egypt could use the company’s profits as a means of funding the dam instead. Although the action was technically in breach of the 1954 Anglo-Egyptian agreement on the canal, Nasser ensured that all existing stockholders would be paid off and the announcement was greeted with enthusiasm throughout the Arab world.
22–24 Oct 1956 Protocol of Sèvres▲
Following unsuccessful attempts to reach a compromise with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser over the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the United Kingdom and France decided on military action. Secretly meeting with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion of Israel at an isolated house in Sèvres, British and French representatives planned for a two-step invasion of Egypt: first Israel would invade the Sinai; then the UK and France would intervene to protect the Suez Canal.
29 Oct–5 Nov 1956 Operation Kadesh▲
After the British agreed to evacuate the Suez Canal Zone in 1954, Israel was designated as Egypt’s principal enemy: raids from Gaza intensified and Israel was banned from using the Suez Canal and blockaded in the Tiran Straits. Secretly supported by France and the United Kingdom, Israel attacked Egypt on 29 October 1956, overrunning Sinai and the Gaza Strip in just a few days. Openly intervening on 30 October, the British and French called for a ceasefire and demanded both sides withdraw ten miles (16 km) from the Suez Canal.
31 Oct–7 Nov 1956 Condemnation of Suez Crisis▲
The October 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli actions against Egypt met international condemnation and on the 31st the United States called for the first UN General Assembly emergency special session. Despite opposition from the UK, France, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand, the General Assembly called for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all invading forces. Under financial pressure from the crisis, the British sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund, but were blocked by the Americans, who also threatened to sell part of the US Government’s Sterling Bond holdings.
31 Oct–7 Nov 1956 Operation Musketeer▲
On 30 October 1956 the United Kingdom and France issued an ultimatum to Egypt and Israel, calling for a ceasefire and demanding both sides withdraw from the Suez Canal. When the Egyptians refused to accept their demands, the Anglo-French forces bombed Egyptian airfields, destroying much of the Egyptian Air Force. Troops were landed on 5 November—with British and French paratroopers seizing Port Said and Port Fuad the next day—but political pressure brought the operation to an end on the 7th.
5 Nov 1956 Soviet threats over Suez Crisis▲
In November 1956 Nikolai Bulganin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, sent letters to the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and Israel, threatening rocket attacks on London, Paris, and Tel Aviv if they did not agree to the United Nations ceasefire in Egypt. In reality the threats were empty, as the Soviets did not possess enough ICBMs to go ahead with the attacks at the time. However, the West was not aware of this and took the threats seriously.
7 Nov 1956 Ceasefire in Suez▲
On 6 November 1956 British PM Sir Anthony Eden, responding to international pressure to withdraw from Suez but without warning the French or Israelis, announced a ceasefire in Egypt within 24 hours. The Anglo-French forces withdrew by 22 December, to be replaced by the United Nations Emergency Force. The Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai was complete by March 1957, allowing for the reopening of the Suez Canal in April.