The parallels between the Suez Crisis and the evacuation of Kabul

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heyn Bonfire Night 1956, Signalman Keith O’Hare waits to be sent into action at the end of his bunk at Catrick Army Camp in North Yorkshire. Israeli troops invaded Egypt seven days before what became known as the Suez Crisis. British and French divisions were being mobilized, apparently as peacekeepers, but secretly to support Israel in capturing the canal of the same name.

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As summer has passed, commentators and politicians have lined up to draw parallels between the evacuation of Kabul and historical precedents. For America, the overtones of the 1975 flight from Saigon were never far from the spotlight. But for Britain, one word appeared more often than any other. And that word was “suez”.

“Shameful”, “incompetent”, “outrageous” – accusations were repeated in both the leader columns of the press and Hansard. Both sides of the Commons lined up to take potshots at the handling of the government of Boris Johnson and the evacuation of former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Tom Tugendhat, the conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had this to say: “The situation in Afghanistan was the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez.” Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Patterson said it was “the greatest disgrace to Britain since Suez”. It seems that what happened to the nation 65 years ago in the Middle East permanently shook the British political psyche, with the consequences still resonating over the years.


Not that Signalman O’Hare would be concerned about insults or foreign policy disasters. In the end he was simply pleased that the whole thing was called off at the last minute, because under pressure from the United States, Britain and France abandoned their futile attempt at neo-colonialism. His surname is not a coincidence—the hero and writer was father and son, and he had much to say about Suez in later years, much of which I recorded. I hear his words again as Suez’s 65th anniversary draws to a close.

But why was Suez so outrageous? It is said that this marked the end of two empires, the British and the French, and it was the moment both realized that they were no longer a world superpower. Mantle went to the United States and the Soviet Union. But does this explain why Europeans faltered so catastrophically on the world stage? Was it a relentless attempt to turn back the clock to the empire-building days of the last century, or did unwittingly patriarchal imperialists still believe their path was right? and whether this was really the point in 20th century history that the old guard was removed; Sent back to their fading royal capitals with your tail between your legs?

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In July 1956, the President of the newly established Republic of Egypt, Jamal Abdel Nasser, created after the 1952 coup that toppled King Farouk, nationalized the Suez Canal that ran directly through Egyptian territory connecting the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. Was. Mediterranean. The canal, as it is today, was strategic both commercially and militarily. It was built between 1859 and 1869 by Ferdinand de Lesseps, a Frenchman and, before nationalisation, was mainly owned by British and French shareholders.

Unsurprisingly the canal was an important strategic asset during the First and Second World Wars. After the end of that latter conflict, it became a conduit for shipments of oil, the great commercial driver of the late 20th century, from the newly prosperous Gulf states. It effectively provided a commercial lifeline from Western Europe through the Indian Ocean to Australia, New Zealand and beyond. But Britain and France no longer had any control over who or what could use it. Nasser negotiated the withdrawal of the last British garrison. Egypt, once a British protectorate, was suddenly not thrilled to have London. And the French had another beef with Nasser – they believed he was supporting Algerian rebels in opposition to French colonial rule.

The British prime minister was Tory Anthony Eden, who was once Winston Churchill’s foreign secretary. Patrician and a believer in British exceptionalism, he would become the last British PM to believe that imperialism had not run its infamous course. More than anything, he seemed unaware that the world around him had changed. When the last of Britain’s troops left Egypt and Nasser nationalized the canal, his reaction was straight out of the colonists’ playbook. His hatred for Nasser was uncontrollable, bordering on the irrational. He declared that Nasser “should not put his foot on our trachea”. When the Foreign Office refused to consider killing Nasser he sent in infantry.

When Nasser declined the offer of British and French ‘help’ he invaded anyway and secured the canal, although ironically it was effectively blocked anyway.

And Aden was also a deceiver. The British and French devised a plan with Israel, a nation that was also in conflict with Egypt, which, since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, had denied Israeli ships pass through the canal. Israel invaded Egypt on 29 October with the stated objective of securing the canal. They quickly captured the entire Sinai Peninsula and took control of the waterway. Britain and France offered to intervene, reportedly to isolate the warring Israeli and Egyptian forces and secure the canal for international shipping. It was a smokescreen. And it was one of the rest of the world, despite the denial of the tripartite invaders.

Suez, of course, was played through the prism of the Cold War. In the overthrow of European colonialism, African nations came in and out of the territory of the capitalist West and the Soviet Union. Egypt had since received funding for the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile in 1956 and was receiving arms shipments from the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact ally, Czechoslovakia, which was closely related to the Israeli government. Meanwhile, there were concurrent Arab–Israeli conflicts arising from the creation of the State of Israel from the lands of the Palestinian Arabs – with the support of Egypt – claimed as their own, a conflict that continues today.

When Nasser refused the offer of British and French “help”, he invaded and secured the canal anyway, although ironically it was effectively blocked anyway as 47 ships were crushed. was given or otherwise sank after the invasion, rendering the waterway unusable. The Soviet Union, already embroiled in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, threatened to defend its new Egyptian ally; Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev also called for missile attacks on London and Paris to defend “free nations against Western imperialism”.

Eden had foolishly and slyly failed to inform US President Dwight D. Eisenhower of his invasion plans. The Americans were outraged and immediately saw the British and French action for what it was. The detentes that had maintained the world’s unstable peace since the rise of the Iron Curtain could now be settled, they instinctively understood that conflict in the Middle East was contrary to American interests, and feared Soviet occupation of the region. . Eisenhower threatened financial sanctions on the British and French governments, as well as demanded through the United Nations Security Council that London and Paris withdraw their troops. It had the desired effect. There was a run on the pound, resumption of petrol rationing as oil supplies dwindled – the ironic coincidence of this year’s anniversary would have been lost on those who queued at petrol stations last month – and, right-wing press Despite support for the invasion, public support in Britain and France fell. “Law not war” was shouting in the streets.

Labor Party leader Hugh Gatschel raised his voice against the intervention and, importantly, there was discontent among the Tory ranks as well. An armistice was struck, hostilities ended on 8 November and by the end of December the troops were gone, as had Eden. On 19 November he left London to recuperate in Jamaica, the home of James Bond author Ian Fleming, from trauma and surgery earlier that year, eventually resigning and being replaced by Harold Macmillan in January 1957. Sixteen British soldiers and 10 French were killed, dwarfed by 172 Israelis and possibly 4,000 Egyptians. Yet the influence on the British and French psyche was enormous. Britain would increasingly rely on the US when it comes to foreign policy, while the French abandoned NATO and turned to forging partnerships with Germany and continental Europe, which would eventually lead to the creation of the European Union. .

Nirav had told him that when a Gurkha draws his knife or kukri, tradition dictates that he cannot open it again until the blood is drawn out.

Listening to the recordings of my father talking about Swayze, it is clear that his version was somewhat different from the generally accepted one. And while his part was a mere cameo and somewhat clouded by his political world view, hearing him talk about it with sensibility and passion might have attracted a wider audience than his immediate family so many years after the incident. was entitled.

“Eden was rash and out of his depth and his time,” said my father. “and Eisenhower was terrified. Afraid of nuclear war, of which it is wise to be afraid. He knew that a peaceful world, no matter what, Be more prosperous. Practical politics has overcome the politics of the past.”

Signalman O’Hare had a complicated relationship with politics. As a person he was depressive and moody, then comical and ironic. It was hard to ever figure out what he was in for, but the family sure as hell knew what he was up against. The callousness of politicians and politics in general was never far from his cynical wrath. However, he believed that the franchise was a…


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