The Lion’s Last Roar

On this day in 1956 Israeli forces, followed by French and British troops, invade Egypt, sparking the Suez Crisis, and bringing parts of Western Europe to the brink of potentially-nuclear Soviet “rocket attacks.” The aims were to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and to remove Soviet-friendly Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser from power. After the fighting had started, political pressure from the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations led to a withdrawal by the three invaders. The episode humiliated Great Britain and France and strengthened Nasser.

Going deeper, on the date in question Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai by land and air. Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to cease fire, which was ignored. On November 5th, Britain and France landed paratroopers along the Suez Canal. The Egyptian forces were defeated, but they did block the canal to all shipping. It later became clear that the Israeli invasion and the subsequent Anglo-French attack had been well-planned, if not cravenly conceived, beforehand by the three countries.

The three allies had attained a number of their military objectives, but the Canal was now useless. Heavy political pressure from the United States and the USSR led to a withdrawal. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had strongly warned Britain not to invade; he now threatened serious damage to the British financial system by selling the U.S. government’s pound sterling bonds in a currency dump. Historians conclude the crisis “signified the end of Great Britain’s role as one of the world’s major powers.”

The Suez Canal remained closed from October 1956 until March 1957. Israel attained some of its objectives, such as freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran, which Egypt had blocked to Israeli shipping since 1950. British casualties stood at 16 dead and 96 wounded, while French casualties were 10 dead and 33 wounded. The Israeli losses were 231 dead and 899 wounded. The number of Egyptians killed was “never reliably established.” Egyptian casualties to the Israeli invasion were estimated at 1,000–3,000 dead and 4,000 wounded, while additional estimates on the Anglo-French operation place the numbers at 650 dead and 900 wounded. 1,000 Egyptian civilians are believed to have perished.

As a result of the conflict, the United Nations created the UNEF Peacekeepers to police the Egyptian–Israeli border, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned, Canadian Minister of External Affairs Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the USSR may have been emboldened to invade Hungary.

And here endeth the lesson.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.