The Middle East has both rich and violent history that as of today is a cause for conflict and speculation considering the effects of these events to the present situation of the region. Conflicts caused by several leaders and the foreign powers had made the divide in the rich land severely disconnected, fostering the century old Arab-Israeli conflict up to new heights. While the conflict in the Middle East continues to ravage the land, several notable events in the beginning of 1950s that created an influence on both Middle Eastern regional and international affairs. One of these notable events is the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis that caused rifts between the Egyptians with the Western powers and the Arab Nations that did not see eye to eye with then President Gamal Abdel Nasser. However, despite Nasser’s Pan-Arabism in the region, the United States saw an opportunity make their ties with the Egyptian nation normalize to retain the status quo in the Middle East and remove any possibility of Soviet mobilization in the otherwise strategic location in the Middle East.
The Isthmus of Suez where the Suez Canal was built is a strip of land around 161 km wide creates a boundary between the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. A canal was already built in the boundary between the Nile River and the Red Sea almost 4,000 years ago in the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Through the course of time, the canal was then filled with silt and was redug by passing traders such as the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and some of the locals. Many have been interested to retain the Canal due to its capability to allow ships to pass freely between the three known waterways of the World, as well as a means to attack Egypt or retaliate against Egyptian enemies in the East. Some have even noted that Suez Canal created the fine division between Asia and Africa. While the Canal itself was maintained by the people, the entrance of the European nations in the 1700s to the 1800s slowly caused a disturbance in the peaceful Canal. Eventually, in 1854, the right to build the actual Canal across the Suez Isthmus was given by Muhammad Said, khedive of Egypt, to a French company with a 99-year charter that would enable the company to run the Canal. Once the lease and stock was sold, Said owned the remaining stocks. Eventually, several small conflicts began to happen around the Canal, especially due to its capability to connect Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. However, the tides in the 1950s reorganized the Egyptian front over the Canal when Gamal Abdel Nasser assumed office .
When Gamal Abdel Nasser came into power in the 1950s, he utilized his position to ensure that the Arab region would be secured from any foreign interest and influence. He believed that Arabs must have their own opinion as to how their nations must be run and not be influenced by any Western powers. Nasser ordered the revision of the 1956 Constitution and even included the 1962 Charter, putting Islam as the basis of the Egyptian government. With Nasser pushing for Pan-Arabism, Egypt became the frontrunner of the Arab nations. While this allowed Egypt to be removed from the Western influence, Nasser took his time in settling domestic conflicts and issues before establishing its non-aligned position to anything Western supported. For the United States, Nasser’s movements in Egypt were a welcoming change as Cairo now had a somewhat stable government and economy. They also welcomed the 1952 rebellion that overturned the monarchy, considering that they were oppressing the Egyptian people. Washington also welcomed the changes imposed by Nasser as he is reintroducing democracy back to the Middle East. However, with Nasser’s strict adherence to his Pan-Arabism ideology, it created a rift between the United States and Egypt. Nasser then placed another move to deteriorate the US-Egyptian relations when he purchased weaponry from Czechoslovakia, a known territory of the Soviet Union in 1955. The Western powers did not allow Nasser to have such weaponry for his military training camps and wanted Nasser to support their position in the Algerian-French conflict. All of the requests were denied by Nasser, eventually denying the pro-Western Baghdad Pact, which would have enabled the Western powers to influence the Iraqi region. The US, in the period, was already seeing Egypt as a critical region that can counter the growth of the Soviet Union in the Middle East and believe that getting Egypt to sway to the Western Powers can stop the growing Soviet influence.
In the dawn of the Suez Conflict, the Arab-Israeli Conflict was heightened due to the inter-Arab tensions caused by various militant groups. In 1955, several attacks have been launched in the 1949 armistice lines led by the Fedayeen (partisans) hailing from Gaza, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The Fedayeen mobilized tensions in the Israeli settlements, attacking commandos in the process. In response, the Israeli forces mobilized Operation Black Arrow in 1955, wherein Israeli troops raided the neutral Gaza region. Egypt then moved to block the Tiran Straits, disabling trading routes to Israel towards the Red Sea. Nasser ‘s Czech deal also made Israel weary of Egypt in November 1955, With Nasser pushing towards the Soviet partnership, the US and British governments began the Omega Plan to revise the government of Egypt. On July 14, 1956, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles informed Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Hussein that the US would not support the Aswan Dam Project Nasser were planning. Little did they would have expected, Nasser then announced in the anniversary of the 1952 coup, that he was nationalizing the Suez Canal, removing the French company which had a lease in the Canal’s operations .
The implication of Nasser’s announcement to nationalize the Suez Canal was immediate as France and Britain were stockholders of the French-based Suez Canal Company, which controlled the Canal. Nasser, on July 26, 1956, noted that the nationalization of the canal would generate funds for the Aswan High Dam in the Nile River through the canal tolls that would be imposed. For Britain, the nationalization of the Canal would be a threat to their economic and security interest in the region despite moving out its troop in 1955 as part of the earlier armistice agreements in the region. For France, they lost their economic leverage in the region, as well as a means to pass by the region easily as they originally controlled the Suez Canal Company. Both nations agreed that Nasser could use the Suez Canal to close off the canal to international traffic, making it impossible for any international company or trade to pass towards the Middle East and to the nearby Asian regions. Great Britain and France came up with several plans to take over the Suez Canal and remove Nasser from office. Israel joined the Alliance as they have yet to settle the score with the Egyptians. There is also the fact that several Palestinian militias were passing by the Egyptian territories to reach their borders for attack .
For the United States, the canal was not a financial interest of the country, with only 5% of oil of the country passes by the canal. However, Eisenhower noted that the nationalization was a means to take over legally an “international public utility”. While Nasser assured the oil exporters and stockholders that he would compensate the shareholders and operate the canal with the same clause noted in the 1888 convention. The US State Department also noted that nationalization itself of the Suez Canal would not threaten American interests or any other international treaties. Nasser, to the State Department, would also be able to moderate the waterway without much issue. Until Nasser fails to deliver the same administration in the canal, the US cannot do anything about the nationalization as the use of force would not be prudent to the US image in the region. Eventually, Eisenhower decided that he would not allow the British-French groups to occupy Egypt and held that position throughout the crisis. He noted to his Secretary of State John Dulles that the US must maintain indifferent to the nationalization, but would not enter into war just because of the crisis. Dulles had contemplated over the order of the president; however, he accepted the decision of the President and supported the opposition to the use of force. The position of the US government enabled the country to create open channels between them and the Egyptian government as Nasser saw Eisenhower’s action as a welcoming gesture that it accepts Egypt’s action over the region .
The crisis in itself was divided into seven phases that showcased another implication of the entire crisis: the peace-making capacities of institutions such as the United Nations and the alliances of the nations involved in the conflict. The first phase covered the first two months of the crisis, from July 26th to August 3rd, which involved direct negotiations with Egypt. However, the Western nations, including Israel, had issues over what to request to Egypt or what to do with the country if it continues to finish the nationalization of the Suez Canal. The United States was against the Anglo-French military activities against the Egyptians and the imposition of economic sanctions the Egyptians cannot recover should it be imposed. The US also noted that a negotiated settlement would be enough to settle the conflict. However, the Anglo-French actions were mostly for military and economic action. Subsequently, they called for an international conference in August 16th that year. In the second phase of the crisis, covering the 6th to 23rd of August, the London conference took place from the 16th to the 23rd of August with Egypt not answering the summons to attend. US Secretary of State John Dulles, British Foreign Selwyn Lloyd and French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau continued the talks and eventually gotten the support against the collective vote of the Soviet Union, Ceylon, India, and Indonesia to provide the international community control over the Suez Canal.
In the third phase of the crisis, running from August 24th to the 9th of September, involved the mission done by Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies to Egypt, delivering to Nasser the decision of the London conference pertaining to the Suez Crisis. Nasser was presented with the 18-power proposals on how the international community and Egypt can have a say in the Suez Canal affairs. However, having Menzies as the representative of the international community was a wrong choice according to experts as Menzies told Nasser that there is a possibility of war, which Nasser took the wrong way. For the US, President Dwight Eisenhower publicly and privately made his position firm that the US would only support a peaceful solution to the Suez Crisis. Egypt, in its end, continued its plans for the Suez Canal, managing it efficiently contrary to the ideals of the opposing Western powers.
Throughout the fifth and sixth phases of the conflict, ranging from the 23rd of September to the 28th of October, the conflicting nations had placed the dispute formally before the United Nations Security Council and waited for the deliberations of the SC. The British and French governments announced that they would not support any other agreement except for the 18-power proposals to be imposed in the region. For the United States, they supported the Anglo-French request, however; they called for flexibility as the 18-proposals were mostly towards the two Western nations and did not consider the other countries benefiting from the Suez Canal. On the first few days of October 1956, discussions were done under the supervision of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold and created the Six Principles, which would then be voted upon by the council. On the 13th of October Security Council meeting, Britain and France voted for the Six Principles adoption, however, Egypt objected to vote and the USSR vetoed the Anglo-French resolution as the Six Principles resolution mirrored the original Eighteen Power proposals. The United States, on its end, saw that a compromise plan could work to settle the crisis. On October 21st, Dulles himself noted that a peaceful settlement was in motion. However, unknown to them, the French, British and Israeli officials were starting to create plans to invade Egypt. Israel was in the front lines, invading Egypt after the 16th of October agreement. The US was distracted from Egypt when the Soviet Union slowly moved up to Hungary on the 28th of October. Israel and Jordan also caused some slight delay as well because Israel also became active in breaking up Jordan. In the final phases of the crisis, from the 29th of October to the 7th of November, Israeli forces tried to overwhelm the Egyptian troops. However, Nasser positioned the country to look as if it would be the innocent victim in the onslaught of the Tripartite Alliance. Egypt sank 40 ships in the canal, rendering assistance futile for the Alliance. The plan of the Tripartite Alliance did not work as the public of Great Britain and France did not support the entire conflict. With Eisenhower pressuring the opposing powers in the Suez Canal with the help of the United Nations and its enemy, the USSR, Nasser was able to cling to his hold over the Suez Canal and subsequently finishing the Aswan Dam that could generate power for the entire country. The UN then ordered all conflicting nations to accept a truce in November and the Tripartite Alliance removed their troops on December 22, 1956..
The Suez Crisis of 1956 presented the beginning of both Nasser’s Pan-Arabism conquest throughout the Arab Nations and the end of the British and French dominance as two of the world’s global powers. It also presented the strength of each nation in conflict, with the inclusion of the United Nations as an international body. While Nasser managed to establish himself as the new face of the Pan-Arabic movement, the United States, in the crisis, was presented with small opportunities to influence the conflict. The US remained firm in its position that Nasser’s continuous control over Egypt by the start of the crisis would present problems for the international community, seeing the benefits the Suez Canal can present. Egypt under Nasser can also present some dangers to the West due to its acknowledgement of the Soviet influence, making it hard for the US and other Western nations to influence the region. However, it indeed believed that the Crisis could have ended without bloodshed in both parties.
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