Why did Great Britain and France halt their attack on Egypt in 1956?
They did not stop the attack on their own will, they did it because of the immense pressure imposed by the USA.
It´s not a secret that the European Community was created by Great Britain, although it was not aspiring to show its leading role. Moreover, Britain did not hurry to enter the European Economic Community it created and agreed to become its member only in 1973, but with multiple and special terms and conditions. And until now Britain has not entered the Schengen Area and has not introduced Euro. Moreover, it does not plan to do this even in distant future. And Britain is right; the agreement to join the international organization imposes serious limitations on the country´s sovereignty, and it´s always better to limit the sovereignty of others. A shepherd does not become one of the cows, a shepherd drives them in the necessary direction.
In the 50s and 60s, the leading international currency was the US Dollar whose share in the International Payments exceeded 25%. British Pound was very close. 20%- 25%. And the German Mark and the French Franc had each about 5%-7% share in the International Payments. So, the main rival to Dollar was the British Pound, and the gap was so close that the Pound had good chances to compete with Dollar, while Franc and Mark did not have any such chances at all. Why should Great Britain in these circumstances join the EEC and introduce the European currency ? The European Common Market was created by France, Belgium, Germany and so on to defend the interests of Britain.
But the USA was not going to sit and watch, how Great Britain creates in Europe the strong rivalling to America structure under the American nose. Britain and France needed a lesson; besides, their weak point was evident and very well-known : Oil, or more exact, its transportation route.
Two/thirds of Europe's oil passed through the Suez Canal! And this was what the President of Egypt G.A.Nasser decided to nationalize in 1956.
But why did the brave President risk such a dangerous venture? He could not but understand that the reaction of Britain and France would be very harsh, and that Egypt was not in the conditions to fight against any of them, let alone against two. Why, then?
Nasser had three main goals : to make Egypt independent by ending British occupation; to build up Egyptian forces for a successful attack on Israel; to improve Egypt's economy by constructing a high dam at Aswan to irrigate the Nile valley.
The first problem was more or less satisfactory solved. On 19 October 1954 a treaty was signed by Nasser and by Anthony Nutting, British minister of state for foreign affairs. The agreement was to last for seven years. British troops were to be withdrawn from Egypt by June 1956, and the British bases were to be run jointly by British and Egyptian civilian technicians. Egypt agreed to respect the freedom of navigation through the canal, and it was agreed that British troops would be permitted to return if the Suez Canal was threatened by an outside power.
The second part of Naseer´s program was also relatively successfully going on: Egypt was getting weapons from Great Britain. But in February of 1955 Anthony Eden, who succeeded Churchill as the British Prime-Minister, refused to sell to Egypt the modern arms Nasser wanted to be able to solve the task of destroying Israel. In response, Nasser started to buy arms in Czechoslovakia and to make approaches to seek the friendship of the Soviet Union. The USSR was more than willing to respond to these approaches and supplied Egypt with enormous quantity of the high- quality weapons . Among the items Egypt got there were 120 jets MIG15bis, 50 bombers IL-28, 230 Т-34 tanks , 200 armoured vehicles , over 300 cannons, 6 submarines and a few ships and torpedo boats.
(Моше Даян Жить с Библией. - Иерусалим: Библиотека Алия, 1986. - 240 с. - ISBN 965-320-005-4)
As a result, by the beginning of 1956, the Armed Forces of Egypt were in quantity four times superior to the Armed Forces of Israel.
And here the USA made a brilliant political move!
America offered to British to promise Nasser the money for the Aswan dam and in this way to beat Egypt back from Russian influence and to restore the shattered relations between Egypt and Britain. Great Britain had no money, but the USA promised to settle this hindrance by depositing the money to the World Bank that had afterwards to credit Britain - and to give money to Egypt. Britain readily agreed , the British diplomats informed Nasser that Great Britain was ready to help Egypt with Aswan dam project, Nasser was happy and was impatiently waiting for money.
But on July 19 of 1956 Secretary of State John Foster Dulles informed Britain that the Senate refused to ratify the project of the financial help to Egypt through the World Bank and that the USA would not give a cent. But for Nasser, those who lied to him were British; Nasser was enraged, felt humiliated and wanted vengeance.
On July, 26 of 1956 Egypt took the decision about the nationalization of the Suez Canal to raise funds necessary for the Aswan dam. The Egyptian Army took the Canal under its total control .
What happened was that the USA in July of 1956 with Nasser´s hands cut the Europe off the oil transportation artery which supplied Europe with 2/3 of oil.
The reaction of Great Britain was unbelievingly fierce. All the talks about "the rights of nations" , "democracy" and so on were put aside and the British ruling elite spoke the language of the Chicago Mafia of the 30s. "That night(July, 26) in Downing Street, [British Prime Minister] Eden's bitterness at the decision was not concealed from his guests... Eden summoned a council of war, which continued until 4 a.m. An emotional Prime Minister told his colleagues that Nasser could not be allowed, in Eden's phrase, 'to have his hand on our windpipe.' The 'Muslim Mussolini' must be 'destroyed.' Eden added: 'I want him removed and I don't give a damn if there's anarchy and chaos in Egypt.'"
(MI6 - Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, Stephen Dorril, 2000,p.623 )
Former Prime Minister Churchill had fueled Eden's fire by counseling him about the Egyptians, saying, "Tell them if we have any more of their cheek we will set the Jews on them and drive them into the gutter, from which they should have never emerged."
Sir Anthony Nutting, a member of the Foreign Office at the time, recalls an irate phone call from Eden who was upset at the slow pace of the campaign against Nasser. Eden raged, "What's all this poppycock you've sent me? ... What's all this nonsense about isolating Nasser or "neutralizing" him, as you call it? I want him destroyed, can't you understand? I want him murdered.."
(MI6 - Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, Stephen Dorril, 2000,p.613 )
However, Nasser was not going to stand idle and watch how British gentlemen were going to depose him, and he struck back. In late August the offices of the Arab News Agency were raided and a number of employees were arrested and confessed to being British agents. Two British diplomats were expelled, one of them, J. B. Flux, had "been in contact with 'students of a religious inclination' with the idea of 'encouraging fundamentalist riots that could provide an excuse for military intervention to protect European lives.'" Other British "businessmen" and "diplomats" were arrested or expelled as well, and because of Nasser's effective offensive Dorril writes that immediately prior to the Suez War British Intelligence found that it was left "With no assets in the country," and that "MI6 had to use outside agents for its assassination plans."
(Ibid, p. 632-633)
Alter that only the military solution stayed on the table, and Britain and France started to prepare for war to get the Suez Canal back.
Of course, Britain tried to cover its intentions using some country that had to play the role of the "perfidious aggressor" while Britain would play the role of the peacemaker. Who had to be the "perfidious aggressor" ? Israel of course, who else!
Israel at that time was in a difficult situation. In 1948-1956 Israelis did not have a single peaceful day: thousands of incursions of the Egyptian commandos who killed civilians and attacked infrastructure are well documented.
During the six years during which this belligerency has operated in violation of the Armistice Agreement there have occurred 1,843 cases of armed robbery and theft, 1,339 cases of armed clashes with Egyptian armed forces, 435 cases of incursion from Egyptian controlled territory, 172 cases of sabotage perpetrated by Egyptian military units and fedayeen in Israel.
Egypt did not hide that it was preparing for the war against Israel and that the final goal of such a war will be the total destruction of the Jewish State. On August 31 of 1955 G.A. Nasser, for example, informed the world that "Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine. . . . There will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death."
(Middle Eastern Affairs, (December 1956), p. 461)
To demonstrate that it was not joking, on 26 July of 1956 Egypt closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. In contravention of the Constantinople Convention of 1888 and of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, Egypt also began to block traffic through the Straits of Tiran, a narrow passage of water linking the Israeli port of Eilat to the Red Sea. This action effectively cut off the port of Eilat -- Israel's sole outlet to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Closure of the Suez Canal and the Tiran Straits damaged Israel's trade with Asia, for it meant that foreign ships carrying goods bound for Israel and Israeli ships carrying goods bound for the Far East had to travel a long and costly circuitous route to the Atlantic and Israel's Mediterranean ports.
Actually, it was an Act of War.
Israeli leaders also knew about the massive Soviet sales of weapons and ammunitions to Egypt and did not have illusions about the outcome of the war between Israel on one side and armed to its teeth with the most modern weapons Egypt supported by Syria and very probable by Jordan on the other. In these circumstances, the proposal by France and Great Britain about the joint strike on Egypt was met in Israel with a quiet delight. And Israel was ready to accept the role of the "perfidious aggressor" who would be later judged and condemned by the International Community; it´s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.
The matchmakers of the Tripartite Treaty were French.
On October 22 of 1956 at the secret meeting in Sévres outside Paris , Britain, France and Israel signed a protocol typed in French in the villa's kitchen - in which Israel undertook to attack Egypt, and Britain and France to invade on the pretext of "separating the combatants" Alter the war it was supposed that Israel would annex all the Sinai or at least its Eastern part by the line El Arish - Sharm el Sheikh. Israel agreed not to attack Jordan and Great Britain agreed not to help Jordan if it attacked Israel first.
Israelis did not trust British and insisted that the document was made in written and a copy passed to each side. Ben-Gurion then ordered General Moshe Dayan, his chief of staff to plan an attack on Egypt. On 29 October 1956, the Israeli attack was spearheaded by an airborne drop to seize control of the Mitla Pass. Heavy fighting followed.
The USA presented for the UN Security Council approval the resolution that demanded of Israel to stop the aggression against Egypt, but to the total surprise of America, Great Britain and France vetoed it and moved forward their demand to the sides to withdraw troops 16 miles from both sides of the Suez Canal. Egypt refused to comply and Britain and France attacked. On October 31 the British and French troops began the operation "Musketeer". The French and British ship aviation destroyed on the ground most of the Egyptian planes and practically expelled the Egyptian aviation out of play. That same day the British cruiser "Newfoundland" and the destroyer "Diana" sank the Egyptian battle ship "Damietta" and the joint strike by the Israeli aviation and Israeli/French ships led to the capture of the Egyptian destroyer " Ibrahim el Aval" near Haifa. The Suez war was analyzed in details in many books and articles, so I shall just establish the well-known fact: Within days, Israelis French and British ended with any organized resistance of the Egyptian army and by the 6 of November the Anglo-French troops took under control Port Said and a big part of the Suez Canal capturing men, vehicles and many of the newly purchased Czech-manufactured weapons.
Israelí troops captured Sharm el Sheik and almost all of the Sinai, as well as Gaza.
Militarily the operation was well on its way to being a great success.
But the USA for some reason was not happy over the fact that its NATO allies: Britain and France restored the control over the vitally important for them oil route. America went on pressuring Britain, France and Israel to withdraw from the Suez area and to pass the control over the Canal back to Egypt. USA was left unperturbed neither by the
fact of the nationalization of the Canal by Egypt nor by the fact that Egypt closed Suez for all ships under the Israeli´s flag violating the norms of the International Maritime Law or the closure of the Straits of Tiran. Neutralizing British and French veto power in the Security Council, USA presented the resolution demanding the immediate ceasefire to the General Assembly of the United Nations and on November 2 this resolution was approved. After that, the U.S. began to twist arms to Britain and France eventually forcing them out of Egypt. As The Bank of England had lost $45 million between 30 October and 2 November, and the UK's oil supply had been damaged by the closing of the Suez Canal, the British sought immediate assistance from the IMF, but it was denied by the United States. Eisenhower in fact ordered his Secretary of the Treasury, George M. Humphrey, to prepare to sell part of the US Government's Sterling Bond holdings. The US Government held these bonds in part to aid post war Britain's economy and in part as partial payment of Britain's enormous World War II debt to the US Government, American corporations, and individuals. It also hinted to Britain that oil sanctions could be imposed if Britain refuses to comply with the U.S. demands to withdraw the troops.
Williams, Charles Harold Macmillan (2009) p. 259-261
In concert with U.S. actions Saudi Arabia started an oil embargo against Britain and France. The U.S. refused to fill the gap until Britain and France agreed to a rapid withdrawal. The other NATO members refused to sell oil they received from Arab nations to Britain or France.
And Americans got what they wanted; by 22 December 1956, the Anglo-French Task Force finished withdrawal and was replaced by Danish and Colombian units of the UNEF.
Israel who also got under the U.S. pressure, resisted longer; Israeli troops withdrew only in March, 1957.
The imposed by the USA end to the crisis signaled the definitive
weakening of the United Kingdom and France as global powers. Europe
was tamed: for the moment.