Suez Canal Crisis: 11 Things You Need To Know About The Suez Canal Crisis

Suez Canal Crisis
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The Suez Canal Crisis is known as the Tripartite Aggression in the Arab world and the Sinai War in Israel. In late 1956, it was an invasion of Egypt by Israel, later followed by the United Kingdom and France. It is an artificial sea-level waterway running from north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt on the African continent and separates the African continent from Asia.

The canal connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Erythraean Sea. The length of this canal is twice the length of the Panama Canal. Panama Canal is a lock type canal, and it is owned and administered by the Republic of Panama. The Panama Canal connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic ocean through the Isthmus of Panama.

Presently, the Suez Canal is under the control of Egypt. Construction of the Suez Canal has made a straight and easy route from Europe to Asia, and East Africa has been obtained, covering the distance of 6000 km between Asia and Europe in just 300 km. Due to this reduction of distance, the journey has also been reduced by seven days. This canal provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the places lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans.

Suez canal happens to be the world’s most extensively used shipping lane, carrying over 12 per cent of world trade volume. It is a crucial link for natural gas, oil, and cargo being shipped from East to West.

Suez Canal Crisis
By daves_archive_1/ Flickr Copyright 2022

In 2015, Egypt announced its plans to expand the Suez Canal further, aiming to reduce the time and doubling the number of ships passing through the canal daily by 2023. According to the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) data, in 2020, nearly 19,000 ships, or an average of 51.5 ships per day, with a net tonnage of 1.17 Billion Tonnes, passed through the canal. It is worth noting that the Suez canal is a major source of income for Egypt’s economy, with the African country earning USD 5.61 Billion in revenues from it last year.

1. Significance Of The Suez Canal

  • The importance of the Suez Canal is majorly due to its location. It is the only place that connects the sea of ​​Europe (Mediterranean Sea) with the Arabian Sea (Indian Ocean) and the countries of Asia to the Pacific. If there were no Suez Canal, ships would have to travel across the African continent to reach the Arabian Sea (Indian Ocean) and the countries of the Asia-Pacific. It will increase the cost of transportation as well as increase the travel time.
  • About 30 per cent of the world’s shipping containers pass through the Suez Canal, and 12 per cent of the world’s goods trade through the Suez Canal.
  • Through the Suez Canal route to Western European countries and countries of North America, mineral oil from Persian Gulf countries, asbestos, iron ore, manganese, tea, coffee, jute, rubber, cotton, wool from India and Spices, sugar, leather, skins, teak wood, cotton clothes, handicrafts, etc. from other Asian countries are sent.
  • Chemical materials, steel, machines, drugs, motor vehicles, scientific instruments, etc., are imported from Western European countries and North America to the Persian Gulf countries.
  • Suez Canal has made the distance between Europe and the countries of the Far East very short. It has facilitated trade with many countries, like East Africa, Iran, Arabia, India, Pakistan, countries of Far East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, etc., which ultimately has increased trade among these countries.

Importance of the Suez Canal for India

This canal is also very important for India. Because of this canal, the trade relations between India and European countries have been strengthened in past years and still improving. India’s annual trade with Europe, North America, and South America through the Suez Canal are worth billions dollars. India uses the Suez Canal to export and import goods from North America, South America, and Europe. These import items include furniture, leather goods, petroleum products, vehicle parts, machinery, textiles and many more.

Suez Canal Crisis
By daves_archive_1/ Flickr Copyright 2022

2. The Idea Of The Suez Canal

The idea behind the ‘Suez Canal’ was to link the Mediterranean Sea to the Erythraean Sea, now known as the Red Sea, which excited Egypt’s rulers and colonisers.

Pharaoh’s role

Pharaoh Senausret III built the first canal that linked the Red Sea in the south to the Nile River in the north, therefore opening a new waterway to the Mediterranean Sea. Pharaoh Necho II started building another canal from the Nile to the south, but he died early in the year 595 BC; hence he couldn’t complete his dream canal.

Role of Persian Empire

Persian Emperor Darius I was the one who completed the construction of the Suez Canal. For many centuries, the Suez Canal was ignored by the leaders, particularly as navigation became impossible due to silt, and was reopened by some leaders, including Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 2nd Century BC.

Geologists believe that over the centuries, the Red Sea receded, and its coastline moved somehow southward, i.e. away from the lakes in Suez. This shift of the coastline towards the south was accompanied by persistent accumulations of silt in the canal, making it difficult for various governments or Emperors to keep this waterway open.

3. Suez Canal Company

The construction plan of the Suez Canal was started by the French diplomat De Lesseps in 1854. In 1858 a company was established to build the Suez Canal, named Universal Suez Ship Canal Company. The Universal Suez Ship Canal Company was entrusted with the construction and operation of the canal for the next 99 years.

This Canal was built between 1859 and 1869. The construction of this canal was completed in 1869. And the canal was officially opened for international traffic on 17 November 1869. According to reports, a whopping amount of approximately $100 million was spent to build this canal.

Earlier, this canal was managed by Universal Suez Ship Canal Company, its parent company. The company has 50 per cent of its shares from France, and 50 per cent of its shares were from Turkey, Egypt, and other Arab countries. Later the British bought the shares of Egypt and Turkey, and in 1875, Great Britain became the largest shareholder of the company.

Suez Canal Crisis
By daves_archive_1/ Flickr Copyright 2022

Britain annexed Egypt in 1882. But according to an international treaty that was signed in 1888 AD, the Suez Canal was opened for the ships of all countries equally without any restrictions in both war and peace. So, ultimately declining the control of any individual country. It was also made clear to everyone that no preferential treatment would be given to any country on the basis of the share that it holds in the company.

In this agreement, it was agreed by all the member countries that the army of any one nation would not be stationed on this canal. But the British being the British, broke this agreement in 1904 and stationed their armies on the canal and the movement of ships of only those nations which were not at war with Britain was allowed.

4. Transfer of Powers to Egyptian Government

Egypt gained independence in 1936, but the rights to the Suez Canal remained with Britain. In 1947, an agreement was reached between the Suez Canal Company and the Egyptian government. It was decided that the Egyptian government would get its ownership over the canal if the 99-year lease with the company were cancelled.

In 1951 AD, the movement against the atrocities of Great Britain started in whole Egypt. Finally, in 1954, an agreement was reached, according to which Britain agreed to withdraw its army from the Suez Canal with certain conditions.

After World War II, Egypt began demanding independence from British troops in the Suez Canal area, and in July 1956, Egyptian President Jamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal.

Suez Canal Crisis
By daves_archive_1/ Flickr Copyright 2022

Role of Napoleon

For centuries, the Suez canal was abandoned by the rulers of Egypt until the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt. He invaded Egypt to weaken the British Empire and achieve his goal of ruling the world.

Napoleon wanted to build a canal under the control of the French across Suez. He wanted to build this canal because he thought it would leave a twin blow to the British. The two shocks to the British were:

  • One, this canal would provide the French an easier access to the Indian Ocean.
  • And the second one, by opening a new trade route from Europe to Asia, France could hurt the British, who own a monopoly on the existing route around the Cape of Good Hope to Asia.

But due to some miscalculation in the geological study of this region, Napoleon had to abandon this proposed project for the canal. Napoleon gave up this project, but his idea of the Suez canal outlived the emperor

Role of Ottoman Empire

  • In the mid-19th century, a French diplomat who was also an engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, won permission from Ottoman appointed ruler “Pasha” for starting the canal construction.
  • The Universal Suez Ship Canal Company was formed in 1858 to implement the project of the canal, and construction work of the canal began a year later. Britain, which had a monopoly over the route around the African continent, continued to oppose this project as a new waterway could have hurt its interests.
  • And in 1869, the canal was officially opened for ship traffic.
Suez Canal Crisis
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5. The Suez Canal Crisis

Impact of First Arab Israel War Suez Canal Crisis

When World War I ended, the mandate of Palestine came under the control of Britain, and Britain announced its favour for the creation of a separate state for Jews, which was resented by the Arabs. During World War II, the Nazi persecution resulted in a high influx of Jews into Palestine, and by 1940 half of the population of Palestine became Jewish, and this resulted in demand for a separate state for Jews. The US pressurised Britain to allow the entry of Jews in Palestine from Europe. Under this pressure, Britain proposed 2 state solutions though it was rejected by Arabs.

UN too voted in favour of 2 state solution, thus on 14 May 1948, Jewish Palestine came into existence. Just after its creation, Israel was attacked by the Arab world(Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon) and hence began the First Arab Israel War in 1948.

The result of the war was that Israel captured 3/4th of Palestine, more than it was given by the US. Israel also acquired west Jerusalem, while Jordan captured West Bank and East Jerusalem. And this led to conflict within the Arab world as Jordan captured West Bank & East Jerusalem. After Jordan & Egypt and now Palestine found themselves living as refugees in Israel & Jordan.

After the war of 1948, Gamal Abdel Nasser became President of Egypt in 1954 as he de-throne King Farrukh. Nasser nationalised Suez Canal in 1956 as he wanted to reduce the influence of the British from this region.

Nationalization of Canal:

The Suez Canal was nationalised on 26 July 1956 by the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Therefore, in the year 1956, Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt to protect their commercial/trade interests dependent on the Suez Canal. This war is known as the Suez Canal Crisis.

Suez Canal Crisis
By daves_archive_1/ Flickr Copyright 2022

In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and ordered the evacuation of Egypt from the British and French forces. Most of the share capital in the Suez Canal Company belonged to the British and French governments. Naseer’s move caused a stir in both countries. power

Therefore, Israel and later Britain and France attacked Egypt to protect their commercial/trade interests dependent on the Suez Canal. The aim of this attack was to re-establish control of the West and remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser from his dominion.

After the war broke out, the Soviet Union, the United States, and the League of Nations intervened politically, and the invading countries Israel, Britain, and France were forced to retreat. The United Nations was in favour of sending a peacekeeping force to Egypt to establish peace there, and the Suez Canal was opened to the movement of ships from all countries in 1957.

How Nationalization of Canal Caused The Suez Canal Crisis

The main reason for the Suez Canal Crisis was the nationalisation of the canal by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in July 1965. The canal was controlled by the French and the British governments. The main reason for the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was mainly economic. He emphasised gaining additional funding for the construction of the Aswan High Dam as the funds turned out to be inadequate for the construction of the Aswan Dam.

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to declare martial law in the Suez canal zone as America and British decided not to fund the construction of the dam. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser took this decision of imposing sanctions because America and the British had promised to fund the dam construction in response to Egypt’s growing ties with communist Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

Suez Canal Crisis
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Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser further seized the control of the Suez Canal Company, thus giving a pump to the Suez canal crisis. He also announced that the tolls collected from ships passing through the canal would pay for Aswan High dam’s construction within five years.

It feared France and the British that Naseer might close the canal and cut off the petroleum shipments flowing from the Persian Gulf.

The move to nationalise the canal antagonised the French and the British and increased the Suez canal crisis. Instead of Nasser promising all the fair compensation to the canal’s actual owners, the British and the French planned with the Israelis to take back the control of the canal from Egyptians. Apart from the economic value, the countries had a personal score to settle with Egypt, specifically Nasser.

France was furious at Egypt for supporting Algerian rebels who were fighting against the French. Britain was outraged as it was losing its influence because of Nasser’s pan-Arab policy. Israel had border clashes with the Egyptian army from time to time.

Acceptance of Egypt’s Control Over The Suez Canal

By March 1957, the troops were completely withdrawn, and Egypt’s control over the Suez canal was accepted. The Suez Canal crisis also marked Great Britain’s increasing influence in West Asia. Great Britain controlled it since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the arrival of the US as the new power.

The canal was closed once again during the 1967 war. It was reopened again in 1975 after the Egyptian-Israeli relations started warming following the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Suez Canal Crisis
By daves_archive_1/ Flickr Copyright 2022

6. The Outbreak Of The Suez Canal Crisis

The Israeli forces attacked first on 29 October 1956, with the British and French troops joining them later. The original plan was to attack at once, but transportation issues of the French and British forces had caused a delay in their plan.

Nevertheless, the attack was successful on Port Said and Port Fuad that fell to the British and French troops while the Sinai peninsula was under Israeli control. The joint attack saw the Egyptian forces lose complete control of the canal area. It seemed that the canal would be lost to them, but Nasser rallied on his country’s army and fought on.

The delay in the attack gave time to the Soviet Union, allies of the Egyptians, to respond. The Soviet Union (USSR) supplied arms and ammunition to the Egyptian forces to influence the middle east. Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev convened a United Nations Security Council meeting to mitigate the Suez Canal crisis. He even threatened to rain nuclear missiles on Western Europe if the Israeli-French and British forces did not withdraw in time.

President Dwight Eisenhower censured the Soviet Union for their reckless talk of nuclear conflict. And he warned to impose economic sanctions on the British, French, and the Israelis if they do not withdraw their forces from the Canal.

Must say this technique of Dwight Eisenhower worked, and the British and French withdrew their forces from the canal by December 1956. While the side of the canal towards the Sinai was held by the Israelis until March 1957.

It is worth noting that the Suez Canal Crisis marked the first use of a United Nations peacekeeping force. The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) is an armed group dispatched to the area to supervise the end of hostilities and ensure the three forces’ withdrawal.

7. Casualties That Happened During The Suez Canal crisis

If we talk about the casualties that took place in the Suez Canal crisis, then it is worth noting that there was a huge loss of army men in this war of the Suez crisis. While the British casualties stood at 16 dead and 96 people were wounded, the French casualties stood as 10 killed and 33 wounded.

About the Israeli losses, there were 172 dead, and 817 were wounded. However, the number of Egyptians killed was never reliably established. Egyptian casualties because of the Israeli invasion were estimated at 1,000–3,000 dead, and 4,000 were wounded, while losses to the Anglo-French operation were estimated to be 650 dead and 900 wounded. And 1,000 Egyptian civilians were estimated to have died due to the Suez Canal crisis.

8. When Has The Suez Canal Been Closed?

For the first time on 26 July 1956, this canal was closed due to the controversy arising after the announcement of the nationalisation of the canal. Britain and France were furious at this announcement of nationalisation and hence attacked Egypt. Later a settlement was reached, and the waterway was reopened again.

In June 1967, Israel’s war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan started. This war lasted for 6 days. During this war, 15 ships got stuck in the Suez Canal route. The canal was closed for the second time in June 1967.

One of these ships sank, and the remaining 14 were stuck in the Suez Canal route for the next 8 years. Due to this, the trade through this canal was closed for 8 years. Traffic in the Suez Canal was resumed on 5 June 1975.

9. Ships Of These Countries Were Stranded

  1. Bulgaria,
  2. Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia),
  3. France,
  4. Poland,
  5. Sweden,
  6. West Germany,
  7. The United Kingdom,
  8. America

Apart from this, traffic has been disrupted in the years 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2021 due to the capsizing of ships.

10. The Aftermath Of The Suez Canal Crisis

For this world, the Suez Canal crisis and its aftermath signalled the end of Britain and France as superpowers. Their influence weakened when the United States and the Soviet Union started taking a more active role. Britain agreed to the withdrawal of its army by a mere threat of an economic sanction by one of its former colonies.

Suez Canal Crisis
By daves_archive_1/ Flickr Copyright 2022

British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, resigned two months after the withdrawal of the British troops from the Suez Canal region. French relations with the United States would be strained through the next few decades. It would make them find even less support when maintaining their colonies in Africa and Asia.

11. Recent Issues In Suez Canal

The Suez Canal crisis came to the notice once again when a cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal. On 25 March 2021, A large cargo ship named ‘Ever Given’ got stuck near the southern end of the Suez Canal due to bad weather blocking traffic in the canal. This container ship was freed from the Suez Canal on 29 March 2021, a week after it ran aground and blocked other vessels from transiting from the world’s most important waterways. To read more about the Suez canal blockage, you can visit Egypt’s Suez Canal blocked by huge container ship.

According to some historians, the ending of the Suez Canal Crisis led to over-hasty decolonisation in Africa, which further increased the chance of civil wars and military dictatorships in newly independent countries.

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