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Suez: The Double War

Suez: The Double War

Fullick Roy Powell Geoffrey


A history of a war without a purpose.

The Suez invasion by Britain and France ostensibly took place to separate two warring armies: the Egyptians defending Sinai, and the Israelis who had invaded it. In this is succeeded, in the sense that it stopped the fighting and led to a UN resolution that introduced a more international force to keep the peace.

Except that's not what happened at all. In reality the British, who allegedly took the initiative, followed the French, who had persuaded the Israelis (or been persuaded by them, it's not entirely clear) to provide a pretext to take over the Canal Zone and oust Egyptian President Nasser. The whole enterprise unwound as a result of the USA not supporting, and indeed actively frustrating, its two former allies – much to their surprise. Neither country was strong enough to go it alone.

Reading this book it's clear that there never was a clear war aim, or at least not one that was remotely plausible. The intiial plan called for taking Cairo, although no-one was sure that this would accomplish the aim of destroying Nasser's popularity. The revised plan called for occupying the Canal Zone only, which of course had the effect of strengthening Nasser's hand. Neither the military nor the political leaders seemed to think this through at the time, although many did in the aftermath.

Fullick and Powell were semi-eyewitnesses on the ground, and are scathing of everything to do with the operation, going so far as to say that it both destroyed British trust in their own government and contributed directly to the fall of the French Fourth Republic. They point out how far the world of Eden and Suez seems to be from the late 1980s when the Suez papers were largely declassified: a world where the solemn work of a Minister was simply accepted, as was the notion that invading Egypt (because it had nationalised the canal) constituted a "just" war.

3/5. Finished 19 November 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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