The Suez Crisis of 1956: The War From Differing Viewpoints

Carleton University
Research Paper #1:
Submitted to Prof. J. Sigler
In Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for 47.323
Student: Neil Patrick Tubb (#226591)

Among the most important foundations in the continuing Arab-Israeli
conflict was the seeds that were sown in the aftermath of the 1956 Sinai
Campaign, or the Suez Crisis. Whatever the operation is referred to as, its
consequences involving both relations internal to the Middle East and with the
world are impossible to ignore. Looked at simply as an objective event in
history, one could note several key outcomes of the war. It marked the
beginning of the end of British and French colonial leadership in the region,
and the start of an increasingly high American and Soviet involvement. The war
also proved to the Arab nations of the area that the Israeli military machine
was not one to be taken lightly, a lesson which would be forgotten and retaught
in the 1967 "Six Day War". The positive impact that the United Nations would
have on ending the conflict, through Canada's idea of creating a UN peacekeeping
force to help enforce the ceasefire, was another important outcome.
This paper, however, will not have the goal of examining these specific
events in relation to the war, nor will it try to determine which factors were
most significant. My aim will be to gain a more complete understanding of the
effect of the crisis by reviewing key events of the war from two different
perspectives: the Israeli and the Arab points of view, plus the experiences of
the European powers as well. Through a brief comparison of both the coverage of
the War by the differing authors and the varying interpretations seen throughout
my study, I will be best able to make an informed evaluation on how the event
was, and is today, seen in the political and historical forum.

Comparison of Coverage
The war, which was begun on October 29, 1956 when the Israelis moved
their units into the Sinai peninsula, has had its origins traced back to many
historical events. Which is the most important of these is a point of contention
for the authors I have studied. There does seem to be for all parties involved
a consensus that the ascent to power of Gamal Abdel Nasser to President of Eqypt
in 1956 , and his move to nationalize the Suez Canal as the main precipitating
factor in setting off the conflict. Why Nasser did this, however, is where
my various sources diverge.
Quite predictably, sources used from the Egyptian or Arab viewpoint
usually pointed to the fact that Nasser was finally freeing a Third World
country from the clinging grip of colonial Europe, where Britain and France
continued to control much of the Egyptian economy. There is most likely no
doubt that Nasser did nationalize the Suez Canal for partly political motives,
and as the already crowned leader of "Pan-Arabism", it seemed that he was
showing the world that he was ready to let his deeds match his words. Political
decisions are rarely one dimensional, and my Arab sources also indicated other
reasons for the move- more of which later.
It was with this backdrop that all the parties involved began to examine
their options. Of their motivations and aims, I will refer to in the next
section, and on the point of basic facts of the conflict my sources are quite
complementary. It is a matter of history that Israel began the conflict by
their phased invasion across into the Sinai on October 29, 1956, and agreed to a
withdrawal on November 6. None of my readings from either side of this
particularly high political fence try to dispute this. Even that the war was
incredibly lopsided and anti-climatic- like it seems so many of these wars were-
is not contended by my Arab authors. This surprised me somewhat- as I read from
some of the top Egyptian political men of the time and their interpretation of
events. One such former diplomat dispelled any historical illusions which may
have been created over time by saying in his memoirs, "(The fact was), Egypt had
not won a military victory in 1956" Two days after the Israeli invasion, the
Anglo-French troops entered the Suez Canal zone and started operation MUSKATEER
in order to re-secure control of the area under their joint command. These
invasions were followed by a barrage of international criticism, the most
telling of which came from the two superpowers, the United States and the USSR.
The weight of this pressure soon became too much to bear for the tripatriate
alliance, and Israel withdrew on November 6, followed on November 14 by the
British and French.
Comparison of Interpretations