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Arab-Israeli Conflict RBCS
The Suez War
In 1956 American pressure stopped an Anglo-French military expedition into
Egyptian from fulfilling its aim of toppling President Nasser of Egypt and
de-nationalising the Suez Canal. This event, often known as the Suez Crisis had
greater effects beyond Israel and Egypt, but affected the British Empire and
Background to the Suez Crisis:
The Suez Canal was of vital military importance to Britain. It was the
back door to the East and the front door to the West (especially
important during the Cold War)
Most of the Suez Canal Company's shares were held by Britain and
France. In fact, safeguarding this asset was the main motive behind
Britain's occupation of Egypt in 1882. Twenty years later, Egypt gained
independence but with the condition that Britain could keep a military
base on the Suez Canal. This base played a crucial role in the Second
World War, supplying the Middle East, North Africa and southern
After the war, the Suez base was central to the defence of the Middle
East, to safeguard oil supplies, to provide bases to bomb the Soviet
Union, to prevent Soviet influence from extending to Africa, to
preserve trade links and to maintain an imperial role.
In Egypt, the British presence was increasingly resented, especially since
many people accused the British of betraying the Arabs in Palestine and
for creating the state of Israel.
In 1952 several Egyptian army officers toppled King Farouk, who had
been reasonably friendly towards Britain. One of these officers, Colonel
Gamal Abdel Nasser, became Prime Minister in Egypt in 1954.
Why did the Suez War occur?
With the creation of Israel hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the
country. Many ended up in refugee camps outside Palestine. Palestinian
fighters known as fedayeen were recruited in the refugee camps. These
fighters were encouraged by Nasser.
Moshe Sharett briefly served as Prime Minister. Sharett and Ben-Gurion
disagreed on defensive policy. Sharett believed that a purely aggressive
attitude towards the arab states would ultimately weaken Israeli
security and set up secret talks with Egypt in Paris. However, Sharett's
period in office was clouded by repeated border incidents (eg. In
February 1955 Israeli troops attacked an Egyptian military camp in
Gaza). Also the uncovering of a group of Israeli spies operating in Egypt
did not exactly fill Nasser with confidence in the Israelis.
Both Britain and the US had been alarmed when Nasser completed an
arms deal with Czechoslovakia in September 1955. Czechoslovakia was a
soviet satellite state and the US was especially concerned about the
soviet influence in the Middle East. Soviet experts were also invited to
Egypt to train Nasser's forces. Nasser was surprised that Britain and the
US thought he was inviting the soviets to move into the area.
In reaction to Nasser's dealings with the USSR, the Eisenhower
administration withdrew American funding for the Aswan Dam.
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Arab-Israeli Conflict RBCS
In retaliation, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal on 26th July 1956 and
said that he would use toll revenue from ships using the canal to fund the
rest of the building- This was a potentially huge threat to Britain. The
canal carried two thirds of Western Europe's oil from the Persian Gulf.…read more