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The Suez Crisis

The Suez Canal is a waterway in Egypt that links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It was opened in 1869, after its construction had been financed by the Egyptian government and France. After its opening, the Egyptian share was purchased by Great Britain, and the Canal was administered by a joint British-French company. The Suez Canal was especially significant to Great Britain, because it provided British access to India and oil from the Persian Gulf.

In 1956, Egyptian President Nasser put the Suez Canal under Egyptian control and seized the assets of the French-British company that had been running it. It also clamped down further on the movement of shipments bound for Israel. The move put British and French economic and military interests in danger deepening the conflict between Israel and the Arab countries. Israel, France, and Great Britain formulated an alliance in an attempt to secure their economic interests, and hopefully cause the downfall of Nasser in the process.

Israel attacked Egypt in Sinai and the Gaza Strip on October 29. Britain and France then perpetrated a ruse disguised as an offer to enforce a ceasefire. The terms of the proposed truce were purposely designed to be unacceptable to Egypt, and Britain and France joined in the attack on Egypt in an attempt to regain control of the Suez Canal.

As a military operation, the British and French fight for control of the Suez Canal was a success. Politically, however, it was a disaster. The Soviet Union professed support for Egypt and hinted that a nuclear strike on France and Great Britain was a possibility if the crisis continued. In a major humiliation for Britain, the United States refused to support the takeover of the Canal, and joined the USSR in calling for the withdrawal of the European countries from the area. Great Britain, France, and Israel pulled out of the war zone, and in their place the United Nations sent a peacekeeping force, the first of its kind.

Beyond its place in history as another round in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Suez Crisis was significant in that it signalled the end of the significant influence that European powers had in the Middle East. Great Britain and France withdrew in humiliation. In their places, the two superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union began to exert their policies. The Middle East had shed much of its old colonial past, only to become a battleground of the Cold War.

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