I remember these events: I was in Kirrawee at the time…

26 Sep

Dear me, I must be old. Yes, there was our heroic Robert Menzies scuttled by that bastard Eisenhower over Suez in 1956…

Well, there was more to it than that, as this week’s Background Briefing demonstrates: The Suez Crisis 1956. Do download it or read the transcript. I must say this sounds more than a bit embarrassing fifty years on:

…Stan Correy: Menzies’ patronising attitude to Nasser infuriated the Egyptian President. The most authoritative biography of Menzies was written by Alan Martin. In that book, Martin quotes a diary note from 1956. Here’s a reading of what Menzies wrote.

Reader: These Gyppos are a dangerous lot of backward adolescents, mouthing the slogans of democracy, full of self-importance and basic ignorance.

Stan Correy: Six years later, during the mission to negotiate a Suez settlement, Menzies was publicly a little more sensitive, but still didn’t take Nasser really seriously. This is from a letter to Anthony Eden. Here’s a reading.

Reader: He will occasionally use rather blustering expressions, but drops them very quickly if he finds them challenged, in a good-humoured way. Like many of these people in the Middle East (or even in India) whom I have met, his logic doesn’t travel very far; that is to say he will produce a perfectly accurate major premise and sometimes an accurate minor premise, but his deduction will be astonishing.

Stan Correy: President Nasser didn’t think much of Menzies either. Nasser labelled Menzies ‘that Australian mule’. The two leaders couldn’t find any middle ground. Historian David Lowe says Menzies saw himself as a barrister dealing with a troublesome witness…

One thing that fascinated me is something the program mentions, but does not elaborate on — Operation Cordage. See The ghosts of Suez by Keith Kyle, who does have quite a bit to say on that Background Briefing nonetheless.

…Serious military planning was being devoted in Whitehall to war with Israel. The chiefs of staff endorsed an elaborate scheme called Operation Cordage on January 26 1956. The Israeli airforce was to be caught on its airfields and smashed by a substantial air contingent based on Cyprus, a naval blockade was to be imposed, and carrier-based planes would harass the Israeli forces from the air while commando raids would be undertaken along the coast. A scheme to seize Eilat, Israel’s window on to the Red Sea, was added later. Under Operation Cordage, substantial British naval and air forces were kept at the ready. Once the Suez crisis was under way very much the same forces – though with a different command structure – were also assigned to Operation Musketeer, which was to be directed against Nasser.

Ariel Sharon’s reprisals against Jordan were getting more severe as the Suez crisis moved on. On October 10, General Templer, the chief of the imperial general staff, felt that it that it should be brought home “very forcibly” to ministers that “we can either go to the aid of Jordan against Israel, or we can launch Musketeer; we cannot do both”. Eden’s relief was unfeigned at the paragraph in the protocol of Sèvres that Israel would not attack Jordan…

Fascinating history. Oh, and Kirrawee? The bit of the Shire — Avery Avenue to be precise — where I lived from 1956 to 1958.

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One response to “I remember these events: I was in Kirrawee at the time…

  1. Jim Belshaw

    September 27, 2006 at 9:10 am

    This was very interesting, Neil, and deserves a longer response. I, too, remember Suez, standing in the kitchen as a 11 year old washing up with my father. He opposed military intervention, I was in favour.

    I did not know about Operation Cordage, but I am not surprised because of the history of the mandated territories. Relations with Jordan were close, and events such as 1946 King David Hotel bombing by Jewish terrorists were still fresh in people’s minds.

    Because the background briefing is written from a current mind set, it refers to but to my mind does not fully bring out the totality of the disaster. In retrospect the invasion should not have begun and indeed might not have been necessary but for the American president’s unwise public remarks. The program does draw this out. But once begun, the forced decision to withdraw changed world history and not, to my mind, for the better.

    You may have triggered another post!

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