THE BLOG

The Middle East and How We Got There, Part One

06/26/2014 06:14 pm ET | Updated Aug 26, 2014

For me, it began in June of 1956, when I began working for United Press and its news film company, Unite Press/Movietone News. Early in 1956, President Eisenhower had sent out the Secretary of the Navy, Robert B. Anderson, to talk with General Nasser about a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Nasser said no. At the same time, Nasser was attempting to decrease British aims in the Middle East and French Premier Guy Mollet declared, "Nasser has the ambition to recreate the conquests of Islam."

On July 30, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, and for the rest of that year I was watching our newsreel film recording the British/French/Israeli attack on Egypt while the United States and Russia were doing their best to impede the British/French attempt to seize the canal.

According to Wikipedia, the English Prime Minister Anthony Eden, "decided in favor of military intervention against Egypt to avoid the complete collapse of British prestige in the region." Mollet was equally hostile and compared the seizure of the Suez with Hitler's Mein Kampf. The Israelis were also eager for war, hoping to drive the Egyptians out of the Sinai Peninsula. The US refused to join the trio.

The Brits and French spent most of the summer preparing for a fall invasion, while the Israelis were drawing up their own war plan. By the end of October, all three nations were ready to act. The Israelis moving first crossed into the Sinai, fighting various Egyptian defenders all along the borderline. Their Air Force caused great damage to Egyptian forces in both airplanes and manpower. By the 5th of November, the Israelis had taken control of Sharm el-Sheikh, the Gaza Strip, and most of the Sinai desert.

The Brits and the French began their war with an attack on Port Said on the 5th of November. By the next day they had taken control of the city. They seemed on the brink of victory.

Such was not to be the case. Neither the United States nor Russia wanted to be seen as enemies in the Arab world. Neither side was ready to send troops to defend Nasser, but France, England and even Israel were financially vulnerable. US Secretary of State Dulles and his brother, Allen, made it known that they were prepared to dump pounds and francs into the markets until both currencies lost their value. Nikita Khrushchev made similar threats from Moscow and threatened nuclear attacks on both France and England.

Faced with those threats, the British and the French agreed to withdraw from Egypt before the end of the year while the Israelis remained in Sinai until March of 1957.

The United States had effectively castrated its two firmest allies, Great Britain and France, and let them know that they no longer had the power to take military actions without authorization from Washington.

(Just to prove the truth of an old axiom, when we invaded Iraq in 2003, the British joined with us in the venture proving that the English "forgive but never forget" while the French, who didn't join us, showed once again that they "forget but never forgive.")

The Israelis got their revenge in The Six Day War of 1967, when they destroyed the Egyptian Air Force and then rolled all the way through the Sinai to the Suez Canal. They also took the Golan Heights from Syria. This time no one from the US or the USSR got involved, but both countries' reputations were damaged throughout the Arab world.

President Jimmy Carter soothed some of the Egyptian concerns by arranging the Sadat-Begin Treaty, which restored the Sinai to Egyptian control. But then he failed to interfere with the return of the Ayatollah to Iran, an error by which we are still victimized. Carter's lapse was the third step in the loss of US influence in the Middle East, and I hope next week to be able to write what we've done wrong in parts 2 and 3. This will include additional mention of Robert B. Anderson.