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9-08-2015, 22:26

CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST – SUEZ

The victory of Israel in 1949 marked a watershed in the history of the Middle East. It laid cruelly bare the comparative weakness of the Arab nations and the growing strength of the new State of Israel. In the Arab nations the upheavals that followed brought new forces to prominence. They had been developing, however, long before the outbreak of the war. The foundation of Israel in the heat of war was not alone responsible. But, within a decade of those Arab defeats, Britain’s bases of power in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq had been eliminated by a renewed wave of Arab nationalism. Western influence declined during the Cold War for the paradoxical reason that the Arab nations knew that the Western powers would defend them from Soviet attack. The Middle East, with its vast resources of oil in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, was vital for Western industry and for Japan, leaving aside the strategic importance of the region. As the West became more dependent upon Arab goodwill, so Western influence over internal developments in the Middle Eastern states diminished. The monarchial Arab states did not become more Westernised, constitutional and liberal; indeed, there was a decisive turn to authoritarian rule by new elites, to internal suppression, police states and torture. There was also a new urgency to build up military and economic strength against the twin threat of Israel and Western interference. Israel alone remained Westernised and democratic, heavily dependent upon Western, especially American, financial and military support. As the US’s only reliable anti-Soviet ally in the region, Israel was able to follow an independent Middle Eastern policy, frequently to the discomfiture of its Western allies. The Palestine war in 1949 weakened the undisputed hold of the Arab ruling classes of landowners and politicians over the nations created under Western tutelage after the First World War. The old ruling elites were not overthrown simultaneously, but were steadily supplanted in a process that saw radical change in the ten years after 1949 and that still has not come to an end. A new, much more violent Arab nationalism now swept through the Middle East. The Cold War provided added tensions as well as opportunities for the new Arab leadership to play off West against East to extract supplies of arms and development aid. The appeal of the new leadership lay in its calls for a renewal of Arab national pride and for complete independence from the Western powers, whether Britain, France or, later, the US, even while the Arabs benefited from the Western shield of security against the threat of Soviet territorial expansion. The new leaders promised an acceleration of social change and a concern for the welfare of the poor masses, with the state playing a planning role. A new radicalism and impatience with the corruption of the past and with the Western imperialist connection stirred Arab society. There was a search for fresh solutions and frequent con- flict about the best course to adopt. Communists sought revolutionary change, but the new rulers feared that such a pace would sweep them away as well. Some groups, such as the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, insisted that the only road to Arab salvation was to reject Western secularism altogether and to return to an Islamic past that would allow religion to embrace the whole way of life and guide all aspects of social policy and statecraft. Others insisted that outside help, whether Western or Soviet, was essential for rapid progress and that Islamic fundamentalism was an obstacle to modernisation. The emerging leadership derived its authority not from the ballot box or from constitutional procedures, but from violent coups. In this way the military replaced the landowners as the backbone of the new regimes. When they came to power the officers frequently had no central strategy nor any detailed policies; the coherence of their programme depended on the quality of the leadership. In Syria the repercussions of the lost war contributed to a military coup in March 1949. Three further military coups occurred during the next three years, but it was not until 1966 that the secular socialist Ba’athist Party, strong in the army, seized undisputed power, by staging yet another coup. Neighbouring Lebanon, with its delicate compromises, began to fall apart when, in 1958, the Christian president attempted to forestall pro-Nasser and anti-Western Arab nationalist movements (for Nasser, see p. 440). The struggle between Christian and Muslim groups plunged the country into confusion, and the presence of Palestinian refugees had added a further destabilising element to the kaleidoscope of the Lebanese polity. The US threw its weight behind the Christian president, landed marines and for a time an uneasy peace was maintained between the various armed factions loyal to their own leaders, Druze, Sunni, Shia and Christian Maronite Falangist. The threat of civil war was not banished, only postponed. In Jordan too the rise of Arab nationalism made itself felt. The astute King Abdullah, who had wanted to live peacefully with the Jews provided they would accept his rule over Palestine, and who had then gone on to capture the West Bank and half of Jerusalem during the Palestinian war, was assassinated by a Palestinian Arab in July 1951. His successor in 1952, after a brief interlude, was the young King Hussein, who managed to retain his throne by preserving the loyalty of the army and – despite Jordan’s continued financial and military dependence on Britain – severing treaty ties with the British, so asserting Jordanian independence. Saudi Arabia, still feudal, still disciplined by a fundamentalist Islamic tradition remains the only major Arab nation apart from Jordan where the monarchy has survived into the last quarter of the twentieth century. In Iraq, King Faisal II and the most powerful politician in the country, Nuri-es-Said, seemed to guarantee a firmly pro-Western conservative government, but Arab nationalism in Iraq in 1948 already limited the conservatives’ freedom of action. There was no open break with Britain, but even Nuri-es-Said could not afford to identify himself too closely with the West. The Arab League, of which Iraq was a leading member, also contained Egypt, which disputed with Iraq the leadership of the Arab peoples. Policies of reform and development were too slow in Iraq; the landowners and conservative politicians had no wish to promote radical change, so Nasser’s Egyptian revolution proved a serious threat to the ‘old gang’ in Iraq. In 1958 the Iraqi army led a bloody revolution. It came as a shock to the West, not least because of the brutal murders of Faisal and Nuri-es-Said. The alliance with the West was discarded. In neighbouring Iran, after the Second World War, a groundswell of discontent threatened to oust the Shah and the conservative politicians from power. The withdrawal of the Russians and the provision of US advice and aid had not solved the inherent problems of Iranian society. A widespread rejection of foreign influence, both American and British, was just one indication of the growth of nationalism. The technologically advanced Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was the most visible sign of foreign exploitation, and though it provided much of the state’s revenue it employed only a very small proportion of the Iranian working population. Despite the development of the oil industry, Iran was still one of the most backward Middle Eastern nations and the peasant masses were sunk in poverty. Urban development, especially the growth of Teheran, expanded the number of artisans and shopkeepers at the bottom of the social scale, who formed, with a burgeoning bureaucracy, a disparate lowermiddle class. But it was students who became the spearhead of revolutionary and nationalist sentiment, aided by a backlash of Islamic fundamentalism against modern Western ways and their accompanying corruption and secularism. In the spring of 1951 the Shah’s political control was loosened when opposition pressure forced him to appoint as prime minister a veteran, radical politician called Mohammed Mossadeq. With the struggle focusing on foreign influence – of which the most potent symbol was the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – Mossadeq put himself at the head of the nationalist movement. Control of oil supplies had become the vital new factor in the region’s politics. In the five years following the war the production of crude oil was doubled from 250 million tons to 500 million; by 1960 production reached 1,000 million tons. The West’s demand for oil seemed insatiable, output reaching 2,000 million tons in 1968. By far the largest producer was Saudi Arabia, which also had the largest reserves. Britain’s position in the Middle East seemed seriously threatened when in May 1951 the largest oil refinery in the world, at Abadan, and all other installations of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company were peremptorily expropriated and nationalised by Mossadeq. Anti-British rioting heightened the tension. The British Labour government considered using force to protect the valuable British investment, but the prime minister, Clement Attlee, wisely chose to work with the Americans and the United Nations to achieve a peaceful settlement. A nation could not be prevented from taking charge of its resources; the oil companies, moreover, had not paid a fair price for the oil that they had been extracting. Pressure to settle was put on the Iranians by Britain and the US, with British technicians withdrawing from Abadan and bringing the refinery to a halt. But the most important lesson learnt by the oilproducing countries was that possession of the resources and installations did not give them complete control. Since the oil-producers had to export the bulk of the oil to the West, the international companies continued, through their marketing facilities and outlets, to exert great influence. Thus in 1951 the Americans cooperated with Britain to block the sale of oil produced by the national Iranian oil company. Mossadeq’s moves, at first applauded, plunged Iran into economic difficulties and his political supporters began to fight each other. In August 1953, the Shah staged a coup to recover the powers he had lost, with strong support from America’s Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s intelligence services. In the following year, the oil dispute was settled. For the next twenty-five years, until 1979, the Shah’s authoritarian rule, with American support, appeared to provide the West with a secure ally. Far-reaching in its consequences for the whole of the Middle East was the Egyptian revolution of 1952, which produced the dominant Arab leader of the 1950s and 1960s, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Defeat in Palestine had not immediately brought about the fall of King Farouk: there were plenty of other fuses besides Palestine that led to revolution. The inequitable distribution of land, made worse by a rapidly increasing peasant population, meant that living standards for the mass of underprivileged Egyptians were falling, not rising. The luxury and corruption of the Palace came to be symbolised by the figure of the gross King Farouk. Worse, the politicians and the king had failed to remove the British troops from the Suez Canal Zone. The last Palestine war was seen as the latest indication of the inability of Egyptian rulers to stand up to foreign, imperialist influence. The Wafd Party had also, by this time, become identified with weakness and corruption. A Wafd government in 1951 tried to deprive the British of any right to remain in the Suez bases by unilaterally abrogating the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. All that this gesture demonstrated was the continued helplessness of the Egyptians. Guerrilla attacks were launched on the British in their bases and were answered by British counter-attacks that culminated in a British assault on the Egyptian police headquarters in Ismailia. Forty-one policemen were killed in the battle that followed, martyrs of the Egyptian nationalist cause. With nationalist feeling aroused to a frenzy, Cairo was burnt and looted by mobs of angry Egyptians. Within Egypt, the only force, other than the British, able to restore order was the Egyptian army. The politicians had lost control and the army leadership now held the key to the future of Egypt. Farouk had long since become a spent force. Inside the army a nationalist group of middleranking and younger officers conspired to seize power to provide Egypt with new leadership. Calling themselves the Free Officers, they were led by Lieutenant-Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. To provide a figurehead among the generals, General Neguib was won over to the conspiracy, but most of the senior military commanders remained loyal to the king. Farouk believed he could rely on the army and underestimated the conspirators. They seized power in a bloodless coup in July 1952. The old order had collapsed without a fight. Farouk was allowed to depart on his luxury yacht into exile. It was a revolution from above without any really popular participation. But there was no lament over Farouk and the departed politicians either. They had made too many enemies among influential groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, to be able to offer any effective resistance. Nor did the British see any reason for defending Farouk, who had so recently turned violently on the British presence in Egypt. They adopted a wait-and-see approach. There was no rioting in Cairo and the people evidently accepted the transfer of power. The revolutionary colonels purged the army of the senior officers who had remained loyal to Farouk. Beyond this the Free Officers had no constructive plans for a new society or state. They knew, however, what they wished to end: the monarchy and corruption, British imperialism and Egypt’s military weakness. When General Neguib sought real power, Nasser ousted him in the spring of 1954 and became Egypt’s sole authoritarian leader. The Muslim Brotherhood, however, and the Wafd, both of which could still command popular mass support, stood in his way. They had taken the side of Neguib, so Nasser now marked them down for suppression. His own support, he noted, had come from the army and from the poor. Socialism, with its promises, appealed to the masses, and Nasser realised that by espousing it he would strengthen his popular base. He had come to power with no ready-made ideology; the two characteristic features of his regime, socialism and pan-Arabism, were only gradually developed and adopted. Fundamentally, however, it remained a military dictatorship which won mass support from the Egyptian people. It relied heavily on his personal charisma. Was there a clear division in the mid-twentieth century between those countries that used force to get their way and those that accepted international standards and took their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations seriously? The Suez Crisis and the Hungarian rising occurring at the same time in November 1956, should have demonstrated to the world that contrast in the international behaviour of the powerful when confronting the weak. But it did not, at least to begin with. Yet it was British scruples, the wish to appear to be acting with right on its side, which ensured the failure of the Anglo-French attack on Egypt. The figleaf of rectitude with which the ingenious French had attempted to cover the aggression proved too transparent. There was an outcry in Britain and the government lost the necessary backing of a deeply divided electorate at home. Without that backing a democratic country could not for long wage a distant war. In the end the free world did not behave as the Soviets were doing in Hungary, and for one reason: the most powerful democracy, the US, compelled Britain and France to withdraw and to accept the will of the United Nations, whereas Soviet control over Hungary after the brutal repression was allowed to endure. None of the countries involved, Egypt, Israel, Britain, the US, France and the other Arab nations, followed clear and consistent policies from the beginnings of negotiations in 1954 to the invasion in November 1956. That makes it hard sometimes to distinguish the wood from the trees and from the tangle of undergrowth. For Nasser and the Egyptians the desire to end a semi-colonial status and subservience to Britain took first place. British troops stationed in the Suez Canal Zone were an army of occupation on Egyptian soil. The Canal Company, with its headquarters in Paris, was alien too. It managed and organised the passage of ships through the Canal thousands of miles distant. No wonder that in the mid-twentieth century Egyptians saw the Company and its protectors as the successors of the imperialists who had first occupied Egypt in the 1880s. The Egyptians were regarded as backward by Westerners, incapable of running the Canal effectively by themselves. All this was deeply humiliating to nationalists in Egypt. Moreover, Egypt was still smarting from its defeat by Israel. As most Israelis had come from Europe in recent times they too were regarded as Westerners and Zionism as another facet of imperialism. They had displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs during the war for Israeli independence. Now these Arabs were refugees in their own part of the world. Not that Colonel Nasser or any of the Arab leaders were much bothered about Palestinian Arabs. But Nasser’s credentials as a pan-Arab leader depended on espousing the Arab cause and proclaiming his enmity to the Zionist intruders. Nasser knew that Egypt was militarily weak but he did have some cards to play. The Suez Canal had been constructed by Ferdinand, Vicomte de Lesseps in the typical imperialist manner of the nineteenth century. Ruthless and brilliant, de Lesseps had set up the Suez Canal Company and had plundered the Egyptian treasury, while the Egyptians had supplied 20,000 forced labourers. Construction began in 1859 and was completed in 1869. When the khedive went bankrupt he sold the Egyptian shareholding in the Canal to Britain for a mere £4 million in the famous financial coup masterminded by the Rothschilds for Disraeli. The Canal Company, with its British and French shareholders, did not actually own the Canal; the territory through which the canal was constructed remained under Ottoman sovereignty. The Company had merely acquired a concession to operate the Canal for ninety-nine years after its opening. Thus it would end in November 1968. That gave Nasser a legal claim. Was he prepared to wait? For France and Britain time was running out. The Zone through which the Canal ran was effectively controlled by British troops. Under the Constantinople Convention of 1888 the Canal was to be ‘free and open in time of war as in peace’. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 was supposed to give Egypt real independence and was indeed a step towards it. But Britain extracted as the price the right to continue to occupy the Canal Zone for twenty years and even to reoccupy the rest of Egypt if necessary in the event of war. Britain made use of this right during the Second World War. The time for renegotiating the alliance, then, was rapidly approaching in the 1950s. And here was the quandary for the West: in the era of Cold War antagonism, to concede completely equal rights in the Suez Canal to all countries, as required by the Convention of 1888, could allow the Soviet Union to secure a foothold. That was unthinkable as far as London and Washington were concerned. There was a way out, the solution the West had found for that other crucial international ‘canal’, the Straits of Constantinople. There was one exception to the requirement for free passage of international canals. The sovereign power through which the canal ran could take any measures it felt necessary for its defence. By tying Turkey into the NATO alliance the Soviets could be kept out. So, if Egypt could be induced to continue the Western alliance, the Soviet Union would be denied any influence. The situation would of course be catastrophically reversed if Egypt concluded an alliance with the Soviet Union! The Cold War and the fear of Soviet penetration of the Middle East provide the key to an understanding of Washington’s and London’s policies in the early negotiations with Nasser. Anthony Eden, foreign secretary in Churchill’s government, worked hard to secure a friendly agreement with Nasser over the issues outstanding between Britain and Egypt, and he was backed by the US secretary of state John Foster Dulles. There was an additional issue of the future of the Sudan, hitherto under dual Anglo- Egyptian authority. In February 1953 agreement was reached that the Sudanese should decide their own future. To Nasser’s surprise they opted not for union with Egypt but for independence. The following year Nasser was more successful. In October 1954 a new Anglo-Egyptian treaty was concluded which provided for the complete evacuation of all British troops from the Suez bases within twenty months. The bases were to be mothballed. This compromise formula would allow Britain to reactivate the bases should war break out in the region. The treaty was to run for seven years until 1961. The British chiefs of staff calculated they would not need a Suez base after 1961 anyway. Nonetheless, with the Suez Canal still foreign-owned and foreign-run, it was less than immediate complete freedom for Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood denounced Nasser’s agreement with Britain as treachery, while in London Eden was accused by right-wing Conservatives of ‘scuttling from the Canal Zone’. Eden had made considerable concessions on Britain’s behalf and had taken a risk with his popularity at home, which made him later all the more sensitive to the charge of appeasing the Egyptian dictatorship. Britain, together with France and the US, claimed the right to exercise a major role in ensuring that stability should be preserved throughout the Middle East. During the years immediately following the signature of the armistice between Egypt, Israel and the other Arab states in 1949 an uneasy peace prevailed. But the Arabs refused to accept that Palestine had disappeared, its territory partitioned between the new sovereign State of Israel and an enlarged Jordan. The armistice could not be turned into a permanent peace. To stop the outbreak of another war the US, Britain and France, by their Tripartite Declaration on 25 May 1950, sought to regulate the arms supplied to Israel and its Arab neighbours; and they appointed themselves policemen in the Arab–Israeli conflict, stating that: should they find that any of these States was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines, [the three powers] would, consistently with their obligations as members of the United Nations, immediately take action, both within and outside the United Nations, to prevent such violation. The Arab states and Israel were not a party to this treaty nor was the Soviet Union invited to join it. By leaving out the Russians, the unregulated supply of arms from the Eastern bloc led to the very arms race the West had tried to prevent. The Declaration, with its assumption of great power overlordship, was more impressive on paper than in actuality. Britain, France and the US were uneasy partners. The US believed, not unjustly, that Britain had still not abandoned its old colonial attitudes, which would alienate the Arab nations. The British, for their part, resented the growth of American influence and the way in which the US was diminishing Britain’s commercial stake. Although France was to cooperate with Britain in the mid-1950s at the time of the Suez Crisis, cooperation was based on considerations of Realpolitik. Had not the British ruthlessly destroyed France’s empire in the Lebanon and Syria at the end of the Second World War? The purpose of France’s continued involvement in the Middle East was at least to retain, and if possible to expand, its shrunken influence in North Africa after the military debacle in Indo-China. The most critical struggle of all was being waged in Algeria, which the French declared to be an indivisible part of France. Nasser’s propaganda supported the Algerian rebels, and the tension was raised still further because the French were overestimating the quantity of weapons Nasser was able to send to the Algerian nationalists. The US too faced a dilemma. Britain and France were its most important Western allies but America also wished to be regarded as the friend of independent Arab nations; it saw itself as being free from the colonialist taint and condemned the old British and French attitudes. How to side with Arab nationalism as well as with Britain and France? There was no reconciling such a contradiction six years later during the Suez Crisis of 1956. In strengthening US economic power in the region through the oil giants, its disinterested friendship had in any case carried little conviction. America’s opposition to social revolution – any form of socialism being regarded as little different from communism – meant that US support was given to kings, princes and feudal minorities, the ‘old gang’, thus making anti-Americanism an appealing slogan with which the political opposition in the Middle Eastern states could arouse the masses. British governments, whether Labour or Conservative, took a similar line to the Americans and had done so for much longer, allying themselves with the feudal leaders of the Arab peoples and failing to change course after the Second World War. For these Arab monarchs and their ministers the West became an essential pillar of support against their own peoples in opposition. But it exposed them to accusations of betraying Arab independence for the sake of maintaining their corrupt regimes. That their accusers could be just as corrupt did not lessen the power of their propaganda. Still, in 1954 it seemed that Anglo-Egyptian relations, and so Western influence, had been reasonably secured. But the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab–Israeli War was an unstable region. Regional conflicts and hostilities might yet undermine the West. To promote a general peace in the Middle East was therefore the other side of the coin to the Cold War objective of keeping the Russians out. The Arab refusal to accept Israel meant that no peace treaties were concluded between it and its Arab neighbours. The Arab states continued publicly to declare that they would attack and destroy Israel. In reality Nasser was seeking a peaceful solution from 1952 until February 1955, and secret, high-level Israeli–Egyptian negotiations were held but they led to no settlement. Britain, France and the US had meanwhile stepped in as guarantors of the frontiers. Making friends with Nasser, though, was not going to be easy. There was another bone of contention. Nasser’s bid for revolutionary pan-Arab leadership was opposed by the feudal, oil-rich rulers of Saudi Arabia and the sheikhs of the Gulf states. They in turn had the backing of the US and Britain. Nasser’s ambitions were also opposed by the kingdom of Iraq, whose pro-Western government had just concluded the military Baghdad Pact as a Turkish–Arab–Western-backed barrier against Soviet penetration. The Arab world in the mid-1950s was thus rent by the bitter rivalry and antagonism between Egypt and Iraq. In trying to be friends with both sides, Britain was attempting to ride two horses at once. The Anglo-American Middle Eastern peace project was a secret effort known by the codename Alpha. In the very month that the Baghdad Pact was signed between Iraq and Turkey, in February 1955, Eden flew to Cairo to meet Nasser. The Egyptian leader left him in no doubt about his hostility towards the Pact but appeared more moderate on the Palestine issue, even discussing the possibility of peace with Israel. This gave some hope for Alpha, had it not been for the militant Palestinians. The Palestinian guerrillas, known as the fedayeen, had in 1953 begun conducting raids into Israel from Egyptian-held Gaza and the Jordanian West Bank. The Israelis responded with massive reprisal raids which they hoped would deter the countries hosting Palestinian fighters from allowing incursions into Israel. One such Israeli reprisal in October 1953 had destroyed much of the Jordanian village of Qibya; more than fifty men, women and children lost their lives in the attack. There were further, though less savage, reprisals against Jordan in 1954. Why then did the Palestinians continue their attacks? Their leader, Yasser Arafat, calculated that provoking Israeli strikes inside Jordan and Egypt would prove counter-productive for the Israelis: Jordan might not be able to strike back but Egypt could. The Israelis fell into the trap. A Palestinian raid from the Gaza Strip led to an Israeli counter-blow on 28 February 1955 in which sixty-nine mainly Egyptian soldiers and Palestinians were killed or wounded. This brought to an end the direct contacts between Israel and Egypt in pursuit of a peaceful solution of their differences. Nasser could not accept such a humiliation. Egypt’s priority now was to increase its military strength to enable it to confront Israel at least on equal terms in the future. Nasser wanted a huge quantity of arms. He would get them from the West if he could; if he could not, he would get them from the East. The prospects for Alpha had been reduced, if not extinguished. There was further desultory talk of a settlement with Israel, but Nasser insisted that Jordan should be given the Israeli Negev and that the new frontier should run across to Gaza. Then Jordan and Egypt would share a common frontier – and Egypt, as the stronger country, would have dominated Jordan. Such a proposal had no chance of acceptance. In April 1955 Churchill retired and Eden became prime minister. With a small inner Cabinet of ministers, Eden dominated the foreign policy of his administration. During the summer of 1955 he and Dulles were still hoping to woo Nasser. His request for arms, however, ran into difficulties in Washington. Khrushchev saw his chance to vault the Baghdad Pact barrier and trumped anything Nasser could hope to secure from the West with an offer of planes and tanks on terms the Egyptian would find hard to refuse. That October the arms deal with the Soviet Union was publicly confirmed. The dismay in London and Washington was nothing compared to the alarm felt in Israel. In November Prime Minister Ben Gurion started to plan for war. Israel’s geographical position made it extremely vulnerable; a mere fifteen-mile advance by an enemy would have cut the country in half. What is more, the combined populations of its Arab neighbours dwarfed Israel’s. Unlike those neighbours, Israel had to draw on all of its manpower to wage war, but it could not do so for long without facing ruin at home. This determined Israeli strategy. The war had to be carried deep into enemy territory and to maximise the chances of success the enemy had to be caught off-balance. In such a mortal combat the Israelis were not concerned with legalistic arguments over who had technically started the war. As Israel interpreted it, the huge build-up of Egyptian arms meant that an Arab attack was only a matter of time. But who could Israel rely on for help? Western supplies of arms were controlled by the Tripartite Declaration of May 1950, yet the Soviet Union and Nasser had driven a coach and horses through it. In the winter of 1955, the French began supplying arms to Israel, including their superb Mystère IV fighters. It was the start of a more intimate relationship between Israel and France, left in the cold by Britain and the US. Eden and Dulles had not, however, given up hope that autumn and winter of pulling Nasser back from the Soviet orbit. Nasser’s great ambition was to transform the economy of Egypt and he planned to do so by means of a huge new High Dam at Aswan that would supply electric power and irrigation for the Upper Nile. The finance needed was to be provided by the World Bank, on condition that the US and Britain contributed as well. Eden urged Dulles to support the deal in order to avoid a Soviet–Egyptian financial arrangement. An offer by Britain and the US to finance the first stage was actually made in December 1955. There was at this point no British alignment with France, let alone with Israel – support for Israel would have alienated the very friends Britain and the US wanted to make among the Arab states. Yet within a few months the situation had totally changed. Britain and the US increasingly suspected each other’s policies and their cooperation came to an end. Britain instead, with much hesitation, forged an alliance with France and Israel, and was drawn into a secret plan to defeat Egypt and topple Nasser. What had brought about such an extraordinary upheaval, above all in British aims? By March 1956, Nasser was seen by Eden as a danger to British interests in the Middle East, an unreliable leader deeply committed to the Soviet Union. Cairo’s propaganda against Britain’s Arab friends, especially against Britain’s influence in Jordan, and Egypt’s hostility to the inclusion of Jordan within the Baghdad Pact sparked off the breach. Jordan’s King Hussein was too weak to resist the pro-Nasser sentiment that swept through his country. Bowing to pressure, on 1 March 1956 he dismissed the British officer, known as Glubb Pasha, who commanded Jordan’s Arab Legion. Eden reacted angrily: it seemed to him that Nasser was intent upon undermining Britain in the Middle East. From then on Eden was determined by one means or another to rid the Middle East of Nasser. In April 1956 Dulles and Eden agreed to let the Aswan loan negotiations languish. Nasser was now no longer seen as a possible supporter of the West. Britain’s and America’s withdrawal was formally announced by Dulles on 19 July 1956. That Congress would vote the necessary money to part-finance Nasser’s dam with the World Bank was by now inconceivable. But the abrupt manner of the announcement unnecessarily and probably unintentionally increased the snub to Nasser, who could not meekly accept such a setback. His next move should not have come as such a surprise. On 26 July, in a dramatic speech in Alexandria, Nasser declared that Egypt had nationalised the Suez Canal Company, thus ending Western control twelve years ahead of the expiry date of the Suez concession. Overnight he became the hero of the Arab world. He was not acting unlawfully, however, as he offered to compensate the Company’s shareholders. Nasser had turned the tables on Britain and the US. At first this was not appreciated. With what was still a common Western arrogance, it was widely believed that the Egyptians would not be able to manage the Canal once the European pilots and technicians were withdrawn. It came as a shock therefore when the Egyptians, with help from Eastern communist friends, demonstrated that ships would continue to pass through the Canal without difficulty. For Eden, Nasser’s behaviour, little more than a month after the last British troops had left the Canal in compliance with the 1954 Treaty, was a personal humiliation that exposed him to a renewed attack from the Conservative right. Moreover, with two-thirds of Western Europe’s oil passing through the Canal, Eden believed that Nasser’s control of it would give him a stranglehold on the economies of Britain and Western Europe, or as Eden graphically put it, the Egyptian dictator ‘would have his hands on our windpipe’. If Nasser was allowed to get away with it, Eden concluded, there would be no stopping him from trampling over other British interests. Personal anguish, an exaggeration of the threat to Britain, and ill health all combined to drive Eden forward (albeit with Cabinet support) into an illconsidered international adventure. The decision in London to prepare a military option had been taken by the British Cabinet on 27 July, a day after Nasser’s speech nationalising the Suez Canal. There was agreement that, if all else failed, Egypt would be attacked and forced to accept an international agreement ensuring free passage of the Suez Canal not merely until the Suez Canal Company’s concession ran out in November 1968, but in perpetuity. The Egyptians, it was assumed, were not capable of managing and running the Canal by themselves or of assuring that international agreements would be observed. The Cabinet accordingly instructed the British chiefs of staff to prepare a war plan. As yet, no real thought was given to coordinating military and diplomatic moves with France. That came later in mid-August. As for Israel, Eden insisted that it be kept out of the conflict so that Britain’s Arab friends would not be antagonised. An inner Cabinet committee of six, including the chancellor of the exchequer Harold Macmillan, was set up to manage the crisis. The US at this stage in late July was kept in touch. Eden cabled to President Eisenhower that Britain could not afford to let Nasser win. There was, he stressed, a need for a firm stand by all maritime countries because, if Nasser were not stopped, ‘our influence throughout the Middle East will, we are convinced, be finally destroyed’. In the last resort Britain would use force, and he added, ‘I have this morning instructed our Chiefs of Staff to prepare a military plan accordingly.’ He asked for an American representative to come to London to help coordinate policy. While Eden expected to be working with the Americans, the French, who were even more determined to topple Nasser than the British, offered to place their forces under a British commander. Not only was the nationalisation of the predominantly French-owned Suez Canal Company an affront to France’s international standing, but Nasser as the champion and hero of the Arab world was undermining the French hold over Algeria. Nasser’s open support for the Front de Libération Nationale with propaganda and arms was rated so serious in its effect that it could swing the balance against France in the Algerian struggle. The French worked hard to forge a military alliance with Britain, but feared that Eden might in the end continue to work with Dulles and adopt the American policy of seeking a negotiated settlement. If Britain would not act with France to destroy Nasser, was there an alternative? The French chiefs thought so – a military alliance with Israel. But an alliance with Britain was preferable and they would have to be careful not to jeopardise that by premature discussions with Israel. So the French prime minister Guy Mollet and his foreign minister François Pineau had a difficult game to play. Discussions with the Israelis would have to be held secretly at arm’s length from the joint military planning with Britain. The Israeli prime minister was deeply suspicious of Eden’s pro-Arab policies and had little faith in British reliability. Thus Eden’s opposition to any Israeli involvement was reciprocated by Israeli doubts about the wisdom of acting with Britain. Before the French were ready to start military conversations with the Israelis, their priority was to coordinate Anglo-French military planning. This did not happen until mid-August 1956. Eden by then was following a two-track policy: military preparations would be pushed ahead at the same time as international negotiations between the maritime nations and Egypt. It was the US secretary of state John Foster Dulles who took the lead in the effort to diffuse the Canal Crisis by conference diplomacy. He and President Eisenhower also found themselves in a difficult position. Britain was America’s most important ally in the Cold War. But Eisenhower suspected Conservative-led Britain of lapsing into colonial attitudes. To make war on Egypt was legally and morally unjustified, would not be sanctioned by the UN and would, so Eisenhower believed, turn the whole Arab world against the West. The attempt to assure Britain of friendly support while also trying to restrain it produced much ambiguity in what the US would or would not sanction. A conference was convened in London from 16 to 23 August 1956, with India and the Soviet Union participating. Nasser rejected the two proposals that were the outcome of the London Conference as infringing Egypt’s sovereign rights. Nor did the proposals made by a second conference convened in London on 21 September find any more favour in Cairo. Britain and France then took their dispute to the Security Council of the United Nations early in October. Nasser seemed to be playing for time, in the mistaken belief that the longer it took the less likely was any military aggression by Britain and France. Dulles and Eisenhower, however, continued to urge restraint and patience and to seek new solutions. Military plans for Operation Musketeer, the assault on Egypt, were proceeding apace, but they had to be revised constantly for military and diplomatic reasons. It took time to marshal sufficient aircraft and paratroops in Cyprus and to assemble troops there and in Malta, who were to be ferried by the Mediterranean fleet to Port Said. During August and September the one clear development was that Eden learnt that the Americans would not actively support the use of force. So he switched to France. But, although Britain and France were in close partnership militarily, that did not extend to their diplomatic aims in the Middle East beyond Egypt. There they were almost on opposite sides: France was supporting Israel; Britain was supporting the Arab states, and it confirmed the full validity of its alliance with Jordan against Israel when Jordan became the victim of two Israeli reprisal raids in September 1956. One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Suez Crisis is how late British policy changed, only days before the attack on Egypt: Eden abruptly agreed to make use of Israel in a plan to legitimise the assault on Egypt. But until that change took place, the French had to keep the Israeli connection secret from their British ally. During the latter part of September the French, with diplomatic finesse, began involving the Israelis and the British in a secret game plan for war on Egypt. When Eden and his foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd visited Paris for talks with Mollet and Pineau on 26 September it is possible that the French revealed that they were having contacts with the Israelis. The French aim was for the Canal to be threatened with closure because Israel had attacked Egypt and was advancing towards Suez – would not Britain and France then be justified, in the interests of keeping the Suez Canal open to international traffic, in acting as policemen, demanding that both sides withdraw from the Suez Canal and occupying it if either the Israelis or the Egyptians rejected the demand? Given its fears of Egyptian rearmament, Israel might well make a pre-emptive attack on Egypt, and in that event the British and French could justify military intervention to keep the combatants apart and at a distance from the Canal. An Israeli delegation led by the redoubtable Golda Meir arrived in Paris and went into secret talks on 30 September and 1 October. Mollet and Pineau outlined their scheme. For the Israelis a war with Egypt might determine their country’s future existence, yet relations with Britain after the Israeli raids into Jordan had sunk to a new low. Indeed, since the days of the Mandate, Britain had not been held in high esteem in Israel nor regarded as trustworthy. What if Jordan joined in on the Egyptian–Israeli war? Golda Meir wanted to know on whose side Britain would then fight. Pineau did his best to persuade the Israelis that Britain’s priority would be the defeat of Egypt but he went on to explain that the British government needed a pretext to attack Egypt. The first two weeks of October were decisive. At the beginning of the month Eden was still undecided, the chancellor of the exchequer Harold Macmillan was a hawk and the foreign secretary Selwyn Lloyd a dove. Under the aegis of the United Nations, Selwyn Lloyd was in New York trying to negotiate a settlement of the Canal problem directly with Mahmoud Fawzi, the Egyptian foreign minister. Pineau, the French foreign minister, who was also involved, was far less keen on a peaceful outcome. On 12 October they finally reached an agreement based on ‘six principles’, and the UN Security Council endorsed them. Eden cabled Selwyn Lloyd at lunchtime on 14 October that he was ready to negotiate further with the Egyptians and those members of the Security Council anxious to see the issue peacefully resolved. The possibility of joint Anglo-French military action seemed to have receded, though to maintain pressure on Egypt Eden reserved Britain’s rights to use force if the Egyptians did not accept a satisfactory settlement. But later that afternoon Eden received two envoys from Paris. The French prime minister wanted to know what Britain would do if Israel attacked Egypt. The Tripartite Declaration of 1950 had promised US, British and French help to the victim of aggression, though the French pointed out that Nasser had recently repudiated its application to Egypt. The French then revealed the plan they had discussed with the Israelis on 30 September and 1 October: Israel would attack Egypt and, on the pretext of separating the combatants and safeguarding the Canal, a French and British force would invade Egypt and occupy the Canal Zone. Eden promised to reply by 16 October but was clearly attracted to the scheme. Eden saw the French proposal as a possible escape from mounting difficulties. War was drawing closer in the Middle East and Britain would not be able to keep out of it. Jordan was in crisis. On 10 October, that is four days before these crucial Anglo-French conversations in London, in a massive reprisal raid on Qalquilya, which marked the climax of Israeli–Jordanian clashes, over seventy Jordanians were killed. The Israelis were trying to foil an agreement between Iraq and Jordan, backed by Britain, to bring Iraqi troops to the help of the Jordanians. Where did Britain stand? Its credibility in the Arab Middle East and its strengthening of the Baghdad Pact now depended on it honouring the defensive alliance concluded with Jordan. Thus Britain looked like being dragged in against Israel and on the side of the Arab states if war broke out between Israel on the one hand and Jordan and Egypt on the other. This involvement in the general Arab enmity towards Israel now cut right across Britain’s own conflict with Egypt. France, moreover was backing Israel. No wonder Selwyn Lloyd thought that any outbreak of war would be a disaster for Britain. While French and Israeli military staffs worked on plans to attack Egypt, Eden now made up his mind that the best way out was to accept the French plan of Anglo-French military action in collusion with Israel. As part of this plan he could ensure that Israel would not attack Jordan, and so save Britain from the dilemma of defending it. Time was now running out: military plans could not be for ever revised and postponed without demoralising British forces being readied for the attack. On 16 October Eden and Lloyd returned to Paris to consult further with Mollet and Pineau. The ‘contingency’ of an Israeli attack towards the Canal was discussed, as was the proposed response of an Anglo-French ultimatum requiring both sides to withdraw from the Canal. This would then be followed by an Anglo-French invasion of the Canal Zone, as the Egyptians were bound to reject the ultimatum. Eden fell in with this deception and, after the return of the prime minister and the foreign secretary to London, the Cabinet endorsed it too. Events now moved swiftly to their climax. As the Israelis were assigned the role of starting the war, they would need to be certain of the support of the British and French. A general understanding was not enough – there had to be a precise timetable too. It was one thing for Eden and Lloyd to say what Britain would do if, supposedly regrettably, the Israelis attacked Egypt and threatened the Canal. It was quite another to encourage and pre-plan with Israel an attack on Egypt to be followed by Anglo-French intervention. Israel’s war objective was not the Suez Canal in any case, but the breaking of a naval blockade of the Tiran Straits dominated at its mouth by the Egyptian batteries at Sharm al-Sheikh. The military sideshow towards the Canal was intended only to provide Britain and France with the pretext they needed to join Israel in defeating Nasser. The Israelis would open hostilities as part of the general plan only if they secured watertight guarantees from the British. Prime Minister Ben Gurion, accompanied by General Dayan, flew to Paris at the invitation of the French to confer with them and the British. The crucial secret discussions were held in a villa in the suburb of Sèvres. Mollet and Pineau and the Israelis were joined on 22 October 1956 by the foreign secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, who was uneasy about the whole scheme. On Eden’s instructions the discussions were to be so secret that no official record was to be made of them. The Israelis nevertheless made notes. Selwyn Lloyd confirmed that if the Israelis decided to attack Egypt Britain and France would intervene to safeguard the Suez Canal. A timetable was discussed. The Israeli attack was to begin on 29 October. The Israelis had been promised the support of French pilots, planes and warships. At Sèvres there was discussion about how long after an Anglo-French ultimatum the bombing of Egyptian airfields would begin. Nothing had been definitely decided when Lloyd left to consult Eden and the Cabinet. In fact the meeting had not gone well. Ben Gurion’s mistrust of the British in general and Selwyn Lloyd and Eden in particular had not been lessened by the encounter. In London the following day, 23 October, the Cabinet received a report from Selwyn Lloyd about the secret Paris meeting which indicated that the Israelis would not launch a war on their own. One implication, therefore, was that Israel would start a war allowing Britain and France to intervene only if a prior agreement with Britain and France had been reached. The Cabinet met again on 24 October. From a confusing discussion it was not evident to them that an agreement with Israel actually to launch a war was being contemplated. That same day, Foreign Office official Sir Patrick Dean was sent back to Paris after being instructed by Eden. He was authorised to reach an agreement with the Israelis on the military timetable. The Paris discussions ended with a three-page typed statement in French embodying ‘the results of the conversations which took place at Sèvres from 22–24 October 1956 between the representatives of the governments of the United Kingdom, of the State of Israel and of France’. The much debated agreement, which still has not been officially published, provided, first, that the Israelis would launch a large-scale attack on Egyptian forces on 29 October and would thrust towards the Canal Zone on the 30th; second, that on the 30th Britain and France would ‘appeal’ to the Egyptian and Israeli governments to halt acts of war, withdraw troops ten miles from the Canal (this left the Israelis in Egyptian territory) and accept the temporary occupation of key positions on the Canal by Anglo-French forces until a final settlement guaranteeing free passage to all nations could be reached. If Egypt or Israel did not agree within twelve hours, Anglo-French forces would intervene. Third, if the Egyptians did not agree, Britain and France would launch military operations on 31 October; there was a provision that the Israeli forces would occupy the Egyptian western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. Fourth, Israel undertook not to attack Jordan unless Jordan attacked it; in that event the British would not come to the aid of Jordan. An article was added which stipulated that the agreement would be kept strictly secret. Finally, it was stated that the agreement would enter into force after the concurrence of the three governments. On 26 October the Israelis received France’s assurance in a letter from the prime minister. Britain’s agreement was circuitous; it took the form of a letter to Mollet from Eden noting the conversations at Sèvres and confirming ‘that in the situation there envisaged they [Britain] will take the action described’. Why such circumlocution? It was an attempt by Eden to lay the basis for a denial that there had been any secret treaty between the three countries to attack Egypt – Eden believed it could be presented merely as a contingency plan, setting down what Britain would do in certain circumstances. He would claim that he could not be certain the circumstances would arise. The difference unfortunately was rather less than paper-thin. Eden had all along wanted to avoid a treaty, any written and signed agreement. But the hapless Dean, not knowing this, had added his signature to Pineau’s and Ben Gurion’s copies and taken his copy back to London. Eden was upset when he learnt that there was now a written record. Of course, if it had all been entirely above board he would not have minded. Dean was sent back to Paris to retrieve all the copies so that they could be destroyed. He did not succeed. Ben Gurion, ever suspicious of the British, had carefully folded the document in his pocket and returned with it to Israel. Neither he nor Pineau would now give up their copies. The British request added a touch of humiliation to the subterfuges adopted to cover up the secret arrangements. The way was now clear for the military plans to go ahead. If the collusion with Israel was not to be obvious, the Anglo-French invasion of the Canal Zone could only take place for logistical reasons six days after the Israelis began the campaign. The troops that would have to be conveyed to Port Said were assembled in Malta and Cyprus; it was expected to take eight days from the start of Israel’s attack to ferry them to Egypt. Nor could the parachute brigade stationed in Cyprus be dropped immediately without land support, so they too would have to wait. But it was part of the secret tripartite agreement that Egyptian airfields would be bombed at dawn on 31 October, some thirty-six hours after the Israeli attack, so as to put the Soviet-supplied Egyptian bombers out of action. The French had also secretly agreed to station their fighters in Israel to protect its cities. The final preparations were made with the Americans still being kept in the dark. The Hungarian rising was occupying the headlines of the world press. The presidential elections too were rapidly approaching, with voting on 6 November. A few ships were authorised to leave Valletta Harbour in Malta on Sunday night, 28 October, and the aircraft-carriers on the morning of the 29th, that is before the Israeli attack that same afternoon. All that weekend preparations had been actively under way in Malta and Cyprus. The Anglo-French and Israeli troop movements alerted Dulles and Eisenhower in Washington. But from London to Washington there was a freeze on all communication about the impending Suez war. The majority of government ministers in London too were not fully briefed. The same was true of British ambassadors abroad, so great was the secrecy insisted upon by Eden. At 5 p.m. on 29 October the Israelis began their attack as arranged. Their prime object was to reach the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where the batteries at Sharm al-Sheikh were closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The batteries were taken on 5 November. A diversionary thrust towards the Canal also began on 29 October and was completed by 2 November, with Israeli parachutists, after suffering severe casualties, capturing the Mitla Pass some forty miles from the Canal. On 30 October Britain and France sent their ultimatum to Egypt and Israel to withdraw ten miles from the Canal, according to the Sèvres scheme. Egypt was given just twelve hours to reply. In Washington the response was anger, heightened by the fact that the British–French–Israeli defiance of international law was distracting attention from the brutal Soviet repression of Hungary. Eisenhower made it clear that the US would not back France and Britain. At home Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of the Labour Party, warned Eden on 31 October that his party would not support the government in warlike actions against Egypt. Gaitskell received no answer when he demanded to know if Britain was at war. By the morning of the 31st, the ultimatum had expired but no shot had been fired by Britain or France. The Security Council was in session in New York that day. In Cairo, Nasser had not panicked, but was getting ready to defend Egypt from the threatened Anglo-French assault. The British ambassador was still unmolested, occupying the Embassy in Cairo; to preserve secrecy he had not been recalled; nor were the British and French civilian employees of the Suez Canal Company evacuated in time – this put many civilian lives at risk. Then during the evening of 31 October RAF Canberras and Valiants started bombing Egyptian airfields. The Egyptian air force was grounded throughout the Suez War, thus removing Israel’s principal concern. The attack on Egypt in breach of the UN Charter deeply divided the British people. In the House of Commons the Conservative majority ensured the defeat of a motion of censure tabled by the Labour Party, and much popular opinion welcomed Britain’s standing up to Nasser, though the more thoughtful condemned the aggression. But there was no doubt where the US stood. Dulles nevertheless attempted to help Britain by delaying United Nations action. France and Britain were able, by using their veto power, to stymie the Security Council, but they could not prevent the General Assembly from acting under the United for Peace Resolution invoked six years earlier when the Korean War broke out. Even so, the interval between the air attack on Egypt on 31 October and the actual main landings of troops brought by sea was too long. On 3 November, unhappily for Britain, Dulles – who was trying to limit the damage – entered hospital for a cancer operation that put him out of action. On 4 November the General Assembly called on the secretary-general to arrange a ceasefire. The pressure on the three belligerents was now considerable. The Israelis promised to comply if the Egyptians also agreed to a ceasefire. Nasser, though, was naturally not intimidated, given the worldwide condemnation of Britain and France. He was ready to carry on a guerrilla struggle if Britain and France occupied the Canal Zone. Meanwhile differences were also opening up between Britain and France on how best to carry on military operations. After the UN ceasefire resolution, Eden was determined that the invasion should take place even though he had accepted ‘in principle’ a UN peacekeeping force to take over from the British and French. The creation of a peacekeeping force was approved by the UN on 4 November; a day later French and British paratroops landed in the Canal Zone. The main landing from the sea followed on the 6th. The Anglo-French troops needed only three more days to advance south from Port Said and to complete the occupation of the Canal Zone. But politically time had run out. The Soviet Union issued nuclear threats while engaged in bloody repression of the Hungarian rising. But US pressure on Israel, plus the capture of Sharm al-Sheikh, decided the Israelis to stop fighting. How could Britain and France now credibly continue, given that they had claimed that the purpose of the military action was to keep Egypt and Israel apart? The French were ready to defy the UN for a little longer, but Eden saw no alternative to accepting the ceasefire on 6 November. Harold Macmillan, the chancellor of the exchequer, forecast a financial catastrophe as foreigners were depleting their sterling holdings and the US was refusing to help. There would anyway be the additional costs of bringing in oil now that the Egyptians had blocked the Canal by scuttling fifty ships. What had been achieved? Eden’s reputation for statesmanship had been tarnished just as ill health forced him to rest. He left for Jamaica on 23 November, but it was the prelude to his retirement in January 1957, a sad end to a long and distinguished career. UN troops began arriving in Port Said in late November 1956. Anglo- American relations reached their lowest ebb that autumn with the re-elected Eisenhower administration refusing either to ship oil from the Gulf of Mexico or to help stem the flight from the pound. Without dollar support Britain could not afford to pay for the oil from the Western hemisphere. But relations improved the moment the Anglo-French troops handed over to the UN peacekeeping force; the British and French finally left two days before Christmas. The French prime minister was then welcomed in Washington; ironically, it was Macmillan, originally a strong proponent of the Suez adventure, who succeeded Eden in January 1957 and was received by Eisenhower and Dulles the following March in Bermuda. The alliance was restored. On 24 April of that year the Egyptian Canal Authority opened the Canal to traffic again. Nasser had not fallen. The Zone and the Canal were the property of Egypt. The Americans, pronouncing the Eisenhower Doctrine in January 1957, attempted to fill the void left by the defeat of Britain and France in the Middle East. The conflicts of Suez were just a part of the continuing Middle Eastern crisis which the West failed to solve then or later. When it came to armed conflict, in 1947, neither Britain nor the US had been prepared to jeopardise its relations with the oil-rich Middle East to ensure an independent Israel in Palestine. The Israelis had to achieve this by their own fortitude. The Tripartite Declaration of 1950 might then have served as a basis for a great-power imposition of peace, but the Cold War, the rise of Nasser and his challenge eventually to Israel, France and Britain sowed divisions in the West and shifted Britain, France and the US away from the role of impartial peacekeepers. The Soviet Union took advantage of this to fuel Egyptian–Israeli tensions by its large arms deliveries to Nasser. The Anglo-French attack on Egypt in collusion with Israel appeared to serve the interests of all three nations threatened by Nasser’s ambitions. Eden only entered late, in mid-October 1956, into the plan. He knew that the US did not believe during the summer and early autumn that diplomacy had been exhausted. It seemed, according to Washington’s perceptions, that Egypt was showing readiness to compromise in order to reach a settlement over the Canal. The French from the start were far more ready to act independently; it was they who persuaded Eden to join in the Sèvres scenario and to work behind America’s back. Eden and Mollet mistakenly believed that Eisenhower, faced with presidential elections on 6 November 1956, would not be able to act against Israel, Britain and France if they attacked Egypt before then. Finally, the condition the Israelis made that they would launch an attack on the Egyptians, which was to provide the pretext of French and British intervention, only if the British and French neutralised the Egyptian air force by bombing their airbases within thirty-six hours of the Israeli attack was bound to reveal the collusion. In a vain attempt to preserve the fiction of the impartial policemen, the main combat forces were obviously not supposed to sail from their base in Malta until after the start of hostilities between Israel and Egypt. (They actually left a little earlier.) It was thought that they would need at least eight days, though they actually made it in six, reaching Port Said on 6 November. That had left a week for the international community at the UN to intervene. Had France and Britain been less concerned to maintain the fiction of not colluding with Israel they could have landed earlier and faced the US and the UN with a fait accompli and occupied the Canal Zone; they could even have dispensed with Israeli cooperation altogether. But even a successful occupation of the Canal Zone would not have been the end of the affair. In the last resort it was not really a question of timing. It was not the Americans who doomed Suez to disaster. The most powerful Western nations could no longer simply impose their will on the whole region without unacceptable costs to themselves.

 

 

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