ABSTRACT

The Suez Crisis of 1956, which culminated in an abortive Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, was a decisive moment in the contraction of the British Empire. ‘Suez’ still resonates as a personal confrontation between Anthony Eden, the British Prime Minister, and Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Egyptian president. The episode demonstrated the new vitality of postcolonial nationalism and brutally exposed Britain’s ‘great power’ self- deception. 1 What is often forgotten is that within two years of Suez, British troops once again intervened in the Middle East following the violent overthrow of the monarchy in Iraq. The Jordan operation in 1958 is generally portrayed as an isolated and anomalous incident within a gradual contraction of power and influence. In his seminal study of the Suez Crisis, Keith Kyle dismissed the Jordan incident as a ‘brief Indian summer’. 2 For Kyle, the Anglo-American interventions in the Levant in 1958 were merely belated attempts to shore up the remnants of a pro-Western elite already compromised by its association with British imperial pretensions. William Roger Louis has argued that the fall of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 spelt the ultimate demise of the old social and landed order in the Arab world. The subsequent crisis thus constituted Britain’s last confrontation with Nasser. 3 Nigel Ashton portrays the Jordan intervention as a ‘loss of nerve’ set in the context of a ‘declinist’ interpretation of Britain’s withdrawal from the Middle East. 4