The Suez Crisis
On October 29, 1956, the Israeli military entered Egyptian territory in response to President Nasser nationalizing the Suez Canal three months before. It wasn’t long before the Israelis were joined by forces from Britain and France, all of whom wanted to regain territorial control of the canal, a vital trade route which connected Europe to Asia.
But the invasion was a diplomatic nightmare – threatening Egypt meant that the USSR was close to entering the conflict, potentially lighting the fuse on World War Three.This was an inconceivable outcome, especially for those who were barely a decade away from the end of the Second World War. The United States entered the fray and told France and Britain to back off. Eventually, they did.
So why does this minor military skirmish rank as being so important? It was a signaling point in history. It was the point in time where the influence of the old empires – France and Britain – were demonstrably overshadowed by the two world superpowers: the USA and the USSR. The old order’s power was, for the first time, shown to be hollow.
It also set the stage for violent conflicts in the Middle East over the course of the next half century. As such, the Suez Crisis was a changing of the guard, bringing us out of the old colonial age and into the Cold War.