The Suez Canal 1956

The Suez Crisis of 1956: Fighting the Egyptian-Soviet Bloc

Throughout its 70-year modern history as a state, Israel has had to fight several wars with its hostile neighbors. One of those, wars, the Sinai Campaign of 1956, or Operation Kadesh, to give it its official Israeli name, was a brief but bloody affair that proved to the world that Israel’s defense forces were a professional army capable of waging large-scale, successful operations.

The Sinai Campaign was fought to put an end to terrorist incursions into Israel and to remove the Egyptian blockade of Eilat, Israel’s Red Sea port. A battle plan for the operation was adopted in early October 1956, but was revised following Israel’s secret agreement with Britain and France, who wanted to punish Egypt for the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser took control of the canal in July 1956 from the private British-French company which ran it.

The Suez Canal 1956

At 5 p.m. on October 29, 1956, Israeli units parachuted into the eastern approaches of the Mitla Pass near the Suez Canal. Israeli forces also pushed forward on southern and central axes. Heavy fighting between Egyptian and Israeli units developed, but in a swift, sweeping, rolling operation of 100 hours, the entire Sinai Peninsula fell into Israeli hands at a cost of 231 Israeli soldiers killed.

Originally, forces from the three countries were set to strike at once, but the British and French troops were delayed. Behind schedule, but ultimately successful, the British and French troops took control of the area around the Suez Canal. However, their hesitation had given the Soviet Union – eager to exploit Arab nationalism and gain a foothold in the Middle East – an opportunity to intervene. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev  railed against the invasion and threatened to rain down nuclear missiles on Western Europe if the Israeli-French-British force did not withdraw.

The response of US President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration was swift. It warned the Soviets that reckless talk of nuclear conflict would only make matters worse, and cautioned Khrushchev to refrain from direct intervention in the conflict. However, Eisenhower also issued stern warnings to the French, British and Israelis to give up their campaign and withdraw from Egyptian soil. The United States threatened all three nations with economic sanctions if they persisted in their attack.

The threats did their work. The British and French forces withdrew by December; Israel finally bowed to US pressure and withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in March 1957. In the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, Britain and France found their influence as world powers weakened.

As a result of the conflict, the United Nations created the UNEF Peacekeepers to police the Egyptian–Israeli border, a step which ultimately proved ineffective in preventing the 1967 and 1973 wars between Egypt and Israel.