The strategic importance of the Suez Canal

The strategic importance of the Suez Canal

Logistics are the life blood of any military. When great military forces are spread throughout the world globally, it is imperative for the success of any military force to have a stable and sound logistical support system. During the late 1950’s, the United Kingdom found itself staring down a dangerous logistical pitfall with the Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal. The canal serves, and remains one of the most important transportation hubs in the world, connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. With an Egyptian nationalization, the ability to traverse this transportation route, especially by the nations of Western Europe, was at risk. As a result, the British formulated a plan to seize the Suez Canal with military support from France and Israel. The resulting plan was Operation Musketeer.

suez_ww1The construction of Suez Canal commenced 25 April 1859. Stemming from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, the canal would unite east and west and greatly cut down the travel time for seafarers, who previously had to sail around the African continent to reach Asia/Europe. With the construction, which took 10 years of hard labor to construct, European powers found that they could project their power even greater into Asia. While the British had already a long and established presence in India, the construction of the canal allowed for an even greater control over the colony. Control over the canal would be imperative for any global power, and in 1888 during the Conventional of Constantinople it was declared that the United Kingdom would provide the physical control over the canal.

Suez_BritainDuring the First World War the British found themselves defending against a German-Ottoman assault to seize control over the canal. The British held against the German-Ottoman onslaught and remained in full control of the canal throughout the war. Following the end of the First World War the British signed a treaty with Egypt in 1936, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which further maintain British control over the Suez. During the Second World War the British once again found themselves defending Egypt, this time first from the Italians, and then followed on by Germany’s Afrika Korps. Had the Axis forces been able to triumph over the British, control of the Suez could have altered the Axis campaign in Asia.

Following the Second World War, Egypt and the United Kingdom once again came to an agreement regarding control over the Suez Canal. The Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 1954 called for the British to withdrawal all military forces from Egypt, with the final British withdrawal occurring in 1956. Following both the British and American refusal to fund the construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River, the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, began to pull Egypt under the Soviet sphere of influence and pressed for the nationalization of the Suez Canal. The stage was set for conflict, and with the commencement of the Suez Crisis, the joint Anglo-French-Israeli coalition launched Operation Musketeer.

Look for more information regarding the history of the Suez Canal in the upcoming Modern War issue #18 with the article “Operation Musketeer: A Clash of Personalities” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Managing Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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