Note: This is not a syllabus topic, but it is included to complete the narrative and to provide part of the background to the 1967 war.


In 1949 Egypt closed the Suez Canal to Israeli ships and cargoes destined for Israel. In 1952 King Farouk of Egypt was deposed by an army revolt, and after a few months, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser replaced the leader of the revolt, General Mohammed Naguib, and became President. He developed a program of socialism, Arab nationalism and non-alignment, which had a wide appeal in the Arab world.

In September 1955 Egypt concluded an arms deal with the USSR. In the same month Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran. This meant that Israel had no access by sea to the East, including Australia. Egypt also equipped and trained the Fedayeen (“commando”) groups based in Gaza, which engaged in violent incursions against neighbouring Israeli settlements.

In October 1955 a federation was proclaimed between Egypt and Syria, adopting the name “United Arab Republic”.

In June 1956 Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, repudiating the treaties concluded with Britain and France when the Canal was constructed in 1869 by Anglo-French Suez Canal Company. As the crisis intensified Australia’s Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, personally visited President Nasser in Egypt and attempted to negotiate a solution.

Meanwhile, Fedayeen attacks against Israel were intensified, and were supported by Egyptian artillery bombardments. Britain, France and Israel now had a community of interest, and secret discussions took place in London and Paris between Defence Director Shimon Peres and the British and French Defence Ministers.

At the same time in negotiations conducted through the Americans, Nasser offered to open the Suez Canal to Israel in exchange for the transfer to Egypt of a large area of southern Israel up to Beersheba, an offer rejected by Ben-Gurion as clearly not serious.

The Events of 1956

Between 29th October and 5th November 1956 Israel gained control of Gaza and the whole of the Sinai in heavy battles, and advanced to the vicinity of the Canal.

On 31 October Britain and France delivered an ultimatum calling on Egypt to open the Canal and accept “temporary occupation by Anglo-French forces” of the Canal area. On 31 October they bombarded Egyptian targets, and British and French paratroopers and amphibious forces landed on 5 November.

On 6th November 1956 the United Nations called a cease-fire. Both the USA and the USSR demanded Israeli, British and French withdrawal. After lengthy negotiations and particularly as a result of American insistence, Israel agreed to withdraw on the following conditions:

– Establishment of a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in Sinai to protect Israel’s southern border.
– Guarantees by a group of maritime nations, including the USA, of freedom of passage in the Straits of Tiran.