Guardian letter calls ’56 Suez War an ‘unprovoked’ Israeli attack and a ‘war crime’

Though much attention has been paid to the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, another anniversary was on the mind of Professor Colin Pritchard: the Suez Campaign of late Oct. to early Nov. 1956.


Here’s the letter in full:

Sixty years ago, along with 50,000 troops, I was in Cyprus for our airborne and land invasion of Egypt on 5 November. We had been told that we needed to help little Israel against the bullying tactics of “big” Egypt, and of course we were a generation of young men for whom the Holocaust had real meaning and parallels were drawn between the Egyptian leader, Nasser, and Hitler. Furthermore, we were told we were protecting “our” Suez canal for the world. Hence we all went willingly and, as young men do, with some macho. We believed what we were told and, as there was a censorship from Britain to us, we heard nothing about the political controversy raging in the UK. Hence my surprise on returning to Blighty proud with kitbag and mementos of conflict to be told: “You’re no better than the Nazis.”

It took me 10 years before I learned that the British, French and Israeli governments had arranged for a joint attack on Egypt. Maturity brings reflection and I now appreciate that I was part of a war crime, an unprovoked planned attack. I wonder will today’s servicemen and women have the similar reasons to regret their unquestioning patriotism as active service will have taught them that war brutalises in a week?

Professor Colin Pritchard 
(Former corporal, RAF) Southampton

Leaving aside Pritchard’s bizarre charge that the conflict represented an Israeli, British and French “war crime”, here’s the background he left out:

  • On August 9, 1949, the UN upheld Israel’s complaint that Egypt was illegally blocking the Suez Canal. 
  • In 1951, the UN Security Council ordered Egypt to open the Canal to Israeli shipping. Egypt refused.
  • In 1955, Egypt started importing arms from the Soviets in anticipation of an upcoming confrontation with Israel.
  • In 1956, Egypt blockaded Israel’s shipping lane in the Straits of Tiran and nationalized the Suez Canal.
  • The blockade of the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, combined with increased terrorist attacks and bellicose Arab statements [see Nasser’s threats to annihilate Israel] prompted Israel, with the backing of Britain and France, to attack Egypt on October 29, 1956.

The IDF routed the Soviet-backed Egyptian forces and, by the end of the war a week later, had taken control of Gaza and advanced as far as Sharm al-Sheikh. Though Prime Minister Ben-Gurion eventually gave in President Eisenhower’s demands to withdraw their forces, they did achieve part of their objectives with a promise that the US would ensure freedom of navigation in the waterway.

There are many reasonable criticisms of British and French involvement in the war, but to characterize the military action to end an illegal blockade of Israeli ships as an “unprovoked” attack is just absurd. 

30 replies »

  1. I think it is high time that Corporal Pritchard does the decent thing and surrenders himself to the International Criminal Court to plead guilty to a war crime.

  2. This is a link to a short, 18 minutes, Central Office of Information film made for the British Foreign Office in 1960.
    It is a propaganda film.
    But that said, after watching it I was struck by several issues raised in it.
    1) Threats by Nasser to wipe Israel off the map.
    2) Egyptian troops dressed as civilians.
    3) Egyptian claims of damage that are clearly not true.
    4) Egyptian actions in blocking the Suez Canal AFTER the cease fire.

  3. Interesting – two great European powers declare war in order to retain ownership of a canal in a foreign country, roping in a tiny country – Israel in 1956, Jewish population about 1,500,000 and Professor aka Corporal Prtichard apparently accuses Israel of orchestrating this attack.

    Is it possible that he just just a tiny bit anti-Semitic?

    • Herr Professor is pushing the meme that The Jews control Britain and Frawnce.

      He’s some professor – of conspiracy theories.

  4. Of course, given that the Guardian could choose not to publish such a disgusting bit of anti-Semitism, it makes one wonder whether, perhaps, they share his views?

    • The Guardian has a long and disreputable history of publishing the most absurd slights against Israel. This is par for the course.

  5. And of course it was the failure of the US and its European allies to live up to their pledge to keep the shipping lanes open to Israel when Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran in 1967 that, as a recognized cases belli, led to the Six Day War. It is a useful reminder of the value of international pledges – and not only where Israel is concerned. Ukraine has also learned the hard way of the value of guarantee of its territorial integrity signed off on by the US, the EU and Russia.

  6. A sneering little professor rampages against “big” Israel. And a former corporal. I seem to remember another former corporal who had it in for Jews.
    Just another usual day of rewriting history at the Guardian.

    • You’re not allowed to block international shipping channels. That has been an act of war since countries built ships.

      Let’s get caught up to date, Stevie Shitstain.

    • ISIS, Al Qada, Taliban, Boko Haram, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Shabab, Al Nusra, Boko Haram and more make a bit of a mockery of the claim that Islam is “The Religion of Peace”.

    • No Bellend as usual you are wrong.
      What your ‘poet’s does is to make a mockery of whichever education system was supposed to have educated you.
      So you do not understand the meaning of “defensive war”, and on another thread you have demonstrated that you do not understand the meaning of “intimidation”, or “violent”, either.

      Tell me Bellend is there a limit to your appalling ignorance, or are you brain damaged beyond redemption by being an anti-Semitic arsehole?

  7. The invasion was prompted by Nasser’s nationalisation of the Canal, which was owned and operated by the Suez Canal Company. The Company was owned by French shareholders and Britain pro se; they were looking out for their commercial interests, as well as their strategic need to convey products from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean without the risk of Nasser cutting them off. They didn’t care about Israel; why would they have? That was merely a figleaf for their rather grubby colonialism.

    • He is a professor of “psychiatric social work” and so obviously qualified to comment on history, international law and criminal law. Yet another Arab apologist pretending to knowledge he doesn’t have.