A photograph of the entire length of Egypt's Suez Canal
In 1956, the Suez Canal became the focus of a major world conflict. The canal represents the only direct means of travel from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, making it vital to the flow of trade between Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. Normally, free passage was granted to all who used the canal, but Britain and France desired control of it, not only for commercial shipping, but also for colonial interests. The Egyptian government had just been taken over by Gamal Abdel Nasser, who felt the canal should be under Egyptian control. The United States and Britain had promised to give aid to Egypt in the construction of the Asw_n High Dam in the Nile. This aid was retracted however, and in retaliation Nasser nationalized the canal. He intended to use the funds raised from the operation of the canal to pay for the Dam.
Angery British and French politicians joined forces with Israel, a long time enemy of Egypt, in an attack against Nasser. The Israeli army marched toward the canal on October 29, 1956. Britain and France reinforced the Israelis, and the joint effort defeated the Egyptian army quickly. Within ten days, British and French forces had completely occupied the Suez region. Egypt responded by sinking 40 ships in the canal, blocking all passage. The United Nations sought to resolve the conflict and pressured the two European powers to back down. The rest of the world shunned Britain and France for their actions in the crisis, and soon the UN salvage team moved in to clear the canal. Britain and France backed down, and control of the canal was given back to Egypt in March 1957. The Egyptian government was allowed to maintain control of the canal as long as they permitted all vessels of all nations free passage through it.
The colonial tradition of Britain and France began to crumble after the Suez Crisis. The feeling of defeat by a former colony eventually led to the two nations giving up their African colonial empires. The long era of colonization was finally coming to a close. The conflicts between Israel and Egypt, however, were just beginning. Hostilities again flared on June 5, 1967, during the Six-Day War. The Yom Kippur War, the fourth of many armed conflicts between Israel, Egypt, and other Arab nations began on October 16 (Yom Kippur), 1973. Although the war lasted only two weeks, it marked the first time that oil played a major part in the outcome. From October 1973 to March 1974 Arab nations maintained an embargo on oil exports to Israels western allies. Israel and Egypt finally began resolving their differences in an UN peace treaty in 1979.
Site for further Information
"A History of the Suez Canal"
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