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Falling Out Over Suez

60 years on from the Suez Crisis, Barry Turner reflects on an episode that tested Anglo–American relations.
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The special relationship between the United States and Britain has had an uneven history. Its high point was in the early months of the Second World War when President Roosevelt responded to Prime Minister Churchill’s appeal for aid by mobilizing the American economy as a life support for the British war effort. Less than 20 years on came the lowest point.

In 1956 Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt. The ostensible justification was to protect the international status of the Suez Canal, a waterway of world significance not least for connecting Middle East oil to its European markets. Oil accounted for half the Canal’s traffic and met two-thirds of Europe’s demand.

In reality, the crisis was more about the threat to Anglo–French interests and to the very existence of Israel posed by President Nasser of Egypt, the prime exponent of Arab nationalism. A populist of formidable talent, Nasser was intent on eradicating what he called ‘colonial’ influence in his country. In July 1956 he...

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