Last updated on: 2/22/2012 5:51:26 PM PST

What Was the 1956 Suez War?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con) map, based upon information from the CIA World Factbook

Albert Hourani, the late Oxford historian, wrote in his 1991 book A History of the Arab Peoples:

"In 1956, the United States, which had held out hopes that it would give Egypt financial aid for a very large irrigation project (the High Dam at Aswan), suddenly withdrew its offer. In response to this, the Egyptian government no less suddenly nationalized the Suez Canal Company [July 26, 1956] and took over the administration of the canal. This caused alarm to users of the canal, who feared that the freedom to use it might be subject to political considerations. To the British and French governments is seemed like an act of hostility, both because of the British and French stake in the company which had built and owned the canal, and because it increased 'Abd al-Nasir's [Abdul Nasser's] standing in the Arab countries. The Israelis saw it as an opportunity to weaken an over-powerful and hostile neighboring state, the frontier with which had been disturbed for some time. The result was a secret agreement between France, Britain and Israel to attack Egypt and overturn the rule of 'Abd al-Nasir...

In October Israeli forces invaded Egypt and moved towards the Suez Canal. In accordance with their previous agreement, Britain and France sent an ultimatum to both Israel and Egypt to withdraw from the Canal Zone, and 'Abd al-Nasir's [Egyptian President Abdul Nasser's] refusal gave a pretext for British and French forces to attack and occupy part of the zone. This action, however, was a threat not only to Egypt and those Arab states which supported it, but to the United States and Soviet Union, which as great powers could not accept that such decisive steps should be taken in an area in which they had interests without those interests being taken into account. Under American and Soviet pressure, and faced with worldwide hostility and the danger of financial collapse, the three forces [Britain, France and Israel] withdrew...

The results of this crisis [1956] were to increase the standing of 'Abd al-Nasir in the surrounding Arab countries, since he was generally thought to have emerged from the crisis as the political victor."

1991 - Albert Hourani 

The Guardian's Mar. 14, 2001 article titled "Suez and the End of Empire" contained the following description:

"British and French troops, spearheaded by airborne forces, invaded the canal zone on October 31 [1956]. Their governments said that they had to invade, to separate Egyptian and Israeli forces, and thus protect the freedom of navigation on the canal. The reality was that the British and French, in top secret negotiations with Israel had forged an agreement for joint military operations. Israel, in fact, had the most legitimate grievance of the three invaders, for since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, Egypt had denied passage through the canal to any Israeli-flagged or Israel-bound ships.

Israeli forces swept into the Sinai desert on September 29, two days before the Anglo-French invasion, and raced towards the canal. (One column was headed by a young brigade commander who would go on to become prime minister: Ariel Sharon). In less than seven days, the entire Sinai peninsula was in Israeli hands.

The Anglo-French invasion was a good deal more ignominious. Just eight days after the first airborne lands, the operation was halted under a ceasefire ostensibly ordered by the United Nations, but in fact dictated by the Americans. The Egyptian air force had been destroyed and its army mauled - though it put up spirited resistance both in the canal zone and in Sinai."

Mar. 14, 2001 - Guardian Unlimited 

Dilip Hiro, MA, author and journalist, wrote in his 2003 book The Essential Middle East / A Comprehensive Guide:

"On 19 July 1956 the United States informed Egypt that it was withdrawing its offer of aid to the Aswan High Dam, thus undermining the loan from the World Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was predicated on the U.S. assistance. A week later Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which was jointly owned by Britain and France. Following the debate on the matter by the United Nations Security Council, Egypt agreed on 11 October [1956] to the principles regarding running the Canal, including maintaining its status as an international waterway. On 24 October a secret Anglo-French-Israeli agreement on an invasion of Egypt was finalized...

On 29-30 October 1956 Israel invaded the Sinai. At 1800 hours [6:00 p.m.] on 30 October Britain and France gave a twenty-four-hour ultimatum to Egypt and Israel to cease hostilities and withdraw their troops 10 miles/16 km from the Suez Canal so as not to jeopardize freedom of shipping. As Israel's forces were some 30 miles/48 km from the canal, it accepted the ultimatum, but Egypt rejected it. Fighting between the two sides continued. When the deadline ended at 1800 hours [6:00 p.m.] on 31 October [1956], Britain and France bombed Egypt's airfields, virtually destroying its air force, and continued attacking Egyptian military facilities for the next thirty-six hours. Cairo ordered its forces, sent earlier across the Canal into the Sinai, to retreat and thus avoid being encircled by the enemy. They had done so by 2 November. On that day the U.S. cooperated with the Soviet Union at the U.N. Security Council to sponsor the 'Uniting for Peace' resolution, which condemned aggression against Egypt. The next day, while continuing to consolidate its position in the Sinai, Israel completed its occupation of the Gaza Strip...

Yielding to the U.S.-Soviet pressure, the invading governments accepted a ceasefire from midnight on 6-7 November. By then Israel had occupied Gaza and most of the Sinai, including its southeastern tip, Sharm al Shaikh, at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba...

The U.N. Emergency Force (UNEF), which was to supervise the truce, began arriving on 4 December [1956]. Britain and France completed their withdrawal by 23 December, handing over their positions to UNEF. Though Israel agreed to withdraw on 8 November it did not actually do so until 8 March 1957 -- and then only after the United States committed itself to standing by Israel's right of passage through the Gulf of Aqaba, ensuring that Gaza was not used again for launching guerrilla attacks against it. On Israel's insistence UNEF troops were posted exclusively in Gaza and the Gulf of Aqaba region to safeguard Israeli shipping. Egypt was allowed to return to Gaza to administer it."

2003 - Dilip Hiro, MA