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104 SHOFAR Winter 1994 Vol. 12, No.2 SUEZ: A CRISIS FOR ALL SEASONS A REVIEW ESSAY by Michael B. Oren Director, Israel Office The American Jewish Committee More than Agadir, more than Berlin or Cuba, Suez was the quintessential crisis of the twentieth century. No other event in world affairs involved so many nations, such fundamental principles, and the threat of nuclear war. No single incident pitted the older powers against the new and the developing world against the west. Suez served as the testing ground for the nonaligned movement, for the Security Council and the concept of UN peacekeeping. It introduced the Cold War into the Middle East and set the stage for nearly fony years of conflict between Israel and the Arabs. Subsequent crises-Panama and the Gulf War, in which local dictators threatened a global resource-would be adumbrated by Suez. Significant and consequential, Suez became an irresistible subject for historians. Indeed, no sooner had the Anglo-French forces withdrawn from Egypt in December 1956, a mere half-year after Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, than the first books appeared. These were popular works, based largely on public sources and speculation. Along with much disinformation, they were the first to reveal the collusion between Israel and France-Britain begrudgingly went along-which resulted in the October 31-November 6 invasion of Egypt. More publications would follow, including the memoirs ofthe drama's principal actors-Eden and Eisenhower, Dayan and Macmillan, Selwyn lloyd and Christian Pineau. It was not until 1969, however, that a comprehensive history was first attempted. In his Suez: The .Twice Fought War, journalist Kennett love combined newspaper clippings, interviews, and commentary into a rambling and openly biased book. Deeply enamored of Nasser, love missed no opportunity to castigate Israel, at one point asserting that the IDF used live cats as targets in bayonet training. Nevertheless, love's book would serve as a reference for an entire generation of scholars, especially those too politically correct for Herman Suez: A Crisis for All Seasons 105 Finer's Dulles Over Suez (Chicago, 1964), a conservative critique of America's role in the crisis. The state of Suez historiography was far from exemplary. But then, in 1977, a revolution occurred. While the rest of the world rejoiced over the start of the Arab-Israel peace process, historians revelled in the crisis of thirty years before. The reason was the opening of the Suez files-literally tens of thousands of top-secret documents-in the archives of Britain, Israel, and the United States. Formerly classified material from the UN and Canada (Lester B. Pearson, the Canadian Foreign Minister, was a key mediator at Suez) also became available, as did important secondary works from Egypt. The product was a veritable corpus of new books on the subject. Suez was examined from every aspect-British and American, Arab and Israeli, military and economic. The quality of this research, however, remained questionable. Did the new studies incorporate all of the accessible sources? Was their treatment of the topic comprehensive and balanced? And lastly-did any posit a theory which examined Suez in its historical context and assert its relevance to future crises? The answer in most cases was no. Donald Neffs Warriors at Suez: Eisenhower Takes America into the Middle East (New York, 1981) stands as the worst example of the new historiography. Like Love before him, Neff was a journalist with a penchant for sensationalism. Rushing for a scoop, he failed to wait for the declassification of the bulk of the files, but instead reconstructed complex events from the few which had been declassified. His book, consequently, is a compilation of fact and guesswork. The Egyptian and Israeli dimensions are extrapolated from American sources; French decisions are culled from British papers. The story is told from an American perspective to the neglect of the other actors. The most serious flaw, however, is Neffs determination to depict the crisis not as a clash of interests but as a fight between good and evil. Anthony Eden, Guy Mollet, David Ben-Gurion-these are Neffs bad guys, while Nasser is elevated to a modern-day Spartacus. Warriors at Suez might have proved an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 104-107
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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