The Protocol of Sèvres,1956: Anatomy of a War Plot

Avi Shlaim

International Affairs, 73:3 (1997), 509-530.

Reprinted in David Tal, ed., The 1956 War: Collusion and Rivalry in the Middle East (London: Frank Cass, 2001), 119-43.

The tripartite aggression against Egypt in 1956 involved an extraordinary reversal of Britain’s position in the Middle East.  The French were the matchmakers in bringing Britain and Israel into a military pact whose principal aim was the overthrow of Gamal Abdel Nasser.  The war plot against Egypt was hatched towards the end of October 1956 in a secret meeting in Sèvres, near Paris. The discussions lasted three days and culminated in the signature of the Protocol of Sèvres.  British, French and Israeli sources are used here to reconstruct the sequence of events that produced the most famous war plot in modern history.

Secrecy and the sources on Sèvres

On 24 October 1956, in a private villa in Sèvres on the outskirts of Paris, representatives of the British, French, and Israeli governments, at the end of a three-day meeting which was concealed behind a thick veil of secrecy, signed a most curious document which later came to be known as the Protocol of Sèvres.  The document set out in precise detail the plan of the three governments to attack Egypt.  The plan, in a nutshell, was that Israel would attack the Egyptian army near the Suez Canal, and that this attack would serve as the pretext for an Anglo-French military intervention.  Written in French and typed in three copies, this Protocole was signed by Patrick Dean, an Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office for Britain, by foreign minister Christian Pineau for France, and by prime minister David Ben-Gurion for Israel.  To the end of his days Sir Anthony Eden, the driving force on the British side on the road to war, denied that there had been any collusion with Israel or even foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt.  The Protocol of Sèvres tells a different story.  The British copy was in fact destroyed on Eden’s orders, the French copy was lost, and the Israeli copy was kept under lock and key in the Ben-Gurion Archives in Sede-Boker.  In 1996 permission was given to photocopy the protocol for a BBC documentary shown on the fortieth anniversary of the Suez War.[1]   With the release of the protocol, the tripartite meeting at Sèvres became not only the most famous but also the best-documented war plot in modern history.

Rumours and accusations of collusion started flying around as soon as the Suez War broke out but no hard evidence was produced at the time, let alone a smoking gun.  Over the years, however, a great deal of information has come to light about the meeting at Sèvres at which the war plot was hatched.  A number of participants have written about the meeting in their memoirs.  Sir Anthony Nutting was not a participant at this particular meeting, but he was the first insider to publish the story of the collusion.[2]   Christian Pineau spilled the beans on the twentieth anniversary of Suez, and even gave an annotated version of the Protocol of Sèvres.[3]  Moshe Dayan gave a much more accurate and more detailed acount of this meeting in his autobiography.[4]   Selwyn Lloyd wrote a whole book on Suez which includes a vivid description of his embarrassment at the encounter with the Israelis at Sèvres.[5]   Abel Thomas wrote an account which is not always accurate on the details and wholly unconvincing in its central claim that France got involved in the Suez affair out of concern for the security of Israel.[6]   Shimon Peres was the principal source for a book on Suez published in Hebrew in 1965.[7]   More recently, Peres shed interesting new light in his memoirs on the background of the conference of Sèvres, and particularly on his own private discussions with the French.[8]   Ben-Gurion’s diary is governed by Israel’s thirty-year-rule and the main entries on Suez have been translated and published in English.[9] 

But the principal, most prolific, and most reliable chronicler of the proceedings of the Sèvres conference is Colonel Mordechai Bar-On, chief of bureau of the IDF chief of staff, who served as the secretary of the Israeli delegation and took copious notes throughout.  In 1957, at Dayan’s request, Bar-On, who had a degree in History, wrote a detailed account of the events that led to the Suez War with access to all the official documents, and in 1991 this study was published as a book.[10]   Bar-On also published a book, which started life as a doctoral thesis, and numerous articles on various aspects of Suez.[11]   Sir Donald Logan, who attended the Sèvres conference as Lloyd’s private secretary, was allowed to see a copy of the Protocol of Sèvres in the Israeli Embassy in London before its release and he in turn guided Keith Kyle in publishing an English translation of the protocol as an appendix to his book on Suez.[12]   Logan also wrote a personal account of the meetings at Sèvres.[13]  With the benefit of all these first-hand sources, it is now possible to reconstruct the discussions and decisions that immediately preceded the tripartite attack on Egypt in late October 1956.

Invitation to a Conspiracy

The French were the matchmakers in the Anglo-French-Israeli military pact whose undeclared aim was the overthrow of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.  Ever since his nationalization of the Suez Canal Company on 26 July 1956, the French and the British had been making plans for military action against Egypt if negotiations failed to achieve their aims.  By early October it looked as if these plans may have to be abandoned because no suitable excuse could be found to justify the attack.  The French, whose relations with the Israeli defence establishment were increasingly intimate, came up with the idea of using an attack by Israel as a pretext for Anglo-French intervention.  On 14 October, General Maurice Challe, the deputy chief of staff of the French armed forces, accompanied by Albert Gazier, the acting foreign minister, visited the British prime minister in his country home at Chequers.  At this meeting the French General presented a plan of action which quickly became known as ‘the Challe scenario’:  Israel would be invited to attack the Egyptian army in Sinai and pose a threat to the Suez Canal and this would provide Britain and France with the pretext to activate their military plans and occupy the Suez Canal Zone, ostensibly in order to separate the combatants and protect the canal.

Eden liked the idea.  According to Anthony Nutting, the minster of state for  foreign affairs who was present at the meeting, ‘he could scarcely contain his glee.’  The question whether Israeli aggression might not require Britain and France to come to Egypt’s aid under the terms of the Tripartite Declaration of May 1950 was disposed of when Gazier reminded Eden that the Egyptians themselves had recently said that this declaration did not apply to Egypt. Nutting records Eden as saying excitedly: ‘So that lets us off the hook.  We have no obligation, it seems, to stop the Israelis attacking the Egyptians.’[14]   The only aspect of the Challe scenario that Eden did not like was the idea of Britain inviting Israel to move against Egypt.  He preferred Israel to move of her own accord; he did not want Britain to be implicated in anything that might be construed as collusion in an alliance with Israel against an Arab country.  In short, he hoped for an immaculate intervention.

For Eden the Chequers meeting was the turning point.  The ‘Suez Group’ within the Conservative party had been intensifying the pressure on him to get tough with Nasser.  Selwyn Lloyd, the foreign secretary, was at the United Nations in New York, working towards a peaceful settlement of the dispute with Mahmoud Fawzi, his Egyptian opposite number.  Up to this point, Eden had been thrashing around.  He did not think that the United Nations could produce a solution and he was not pleased with Lloyd’s diplomatic efforts but no alternative policy was available.  Now the Frenchmen landed at Chequers like two angels from heaven and offered an alternative. Eden seized this alternative with great alacrity and made a sudden jump from the diplomatic track to the military track.  He called Lloyd in New York and ordered him to drop everything and return home immediately.[15] 

Lloyd arrived on 16 October in the middle of a meeting to which Eden had invited several ministers to discuss the French proposal.  The meeting was held in the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street and Anthony Nutting was also there.  Nutting took Lloyd to an ante-chamber and gave him a very brief report on the Chequers meeting.  Lloyd did not like the French proposal.  He said to Nutting: ‘You were quite right to reject it.  We must have nothing to do with the French plan.’  After the meeting a tug-of-war developed between the two Anthony’s, with the hapless foreign secretary in the middle.  Eden won.  He took Lloyd to lunch and brain-washed him to go along with the French plan.  Originally, Eden had told Challe and Gazier that he would send Nutting to Paris with a reply to their proposal.  But given Nutting’s strong opposition to this proposal, Eden decided to keep the matter in his own hands and more or less ordered Lloyd to accompany him to a meeting in Paris that very day.  Lloyd was very reluctant to embark on this venture but he felt that he had no real choice.[16]

On the evening of 16 October, Eden and Lloyd had the follow up to the Chequers meeting at the Palais Matignon, the official residence of the French prime minister, with Guy Mollet and his foreign minister, Christian Pineau. No officials were present at this meeting.  The first matter to be discussed were the recent efforts to settle the canal dispute by negotiation.  Attention then turned to the possibility that Israel would launch an attack against Egypt.  Pineau enquired about the British reaction to such an attack.  Eden replied that if Israel attacked Jordan, they were bound to go to Jordan’s help but if Israel attacked Egypt, they would not regard themselves as bound to intervene under the Tripartite Declaration.  Mollet then asked whether the United Kingdom would intervene in the event of hostilities in the vicinity of the canal and Eden said that he thought the answer to that question would be ‘yes’.  On the following day, 17 October, Eden confirmed in writing to Mollet the answers he had given to the two questions at the meeting, again making a distinction between an Israeli attack on Jordan and an attack on Egypt.[17]    The French wasted no time in conveying to the Israelis these indirect assurances and in encouraging them to launch an independent attack near the canal in accordance with the Challe scenario.[18]

Ben-Gurion was greatly excited by the prospect of a military partnership with the great powers against Egypt but extremely suspicious of the British in general and of Sir Anthony Eden in particular.  Only a week earlier, following an IDF attack on the police station in Kalkilya, the British had reminded the Israelis of their obligation to come to Jordan’s aid under the terms of the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty of 1946.  A private source warned Ben-Gurion that the British were preparing to take military action against Israel.[19]    Although he knew that the plan to attack Egypt originated with General Challe, he repeatedly referred to it as ‘the English plan’.  He had no faith in vague and indirect British assurances and he feared that Britain may turn her back on Israel or even turn against her.  Moreover, he greatly resented the suggestion that Israel should be used as a prostitute in providing services for the great powers. What he deeply longed for a was partnership between equals and an explicit co-ordination of military plans, preferably at a face-to-face meeting with Eden.[20]   When news reached Ben-Gurion of the planned Anglo-French summit meeting, he urgently cabled the Israeli defence ministry’s representative in Paris: ‘In connection with the arrival of the British representatives in Paris, you should contact the French immediately and ask them whether the meeting can be made tripartite.  The Israeli representatives are ready to come immediately, in utmost secrecy.  Their rank will equal the ranks of the British and French representatives.’[21]

The French understood that only a face-to-face meeting might allay Ben-Gurion’s suspicions.  The following day Guy Mollet cabled Ben-Gurion to suggest that he come to Paris and, if the need arises, a member of the British government would also be invited.  Ben-Gurion replied that the English proposal was out of the question but that he was still willing to come if Mollet considered that his visit would serve a useful purpose in spite of the disqualification of the English idea.  In his diary Ben-Gurion recorded: ‘It seems to me that the English plot is to embroil us with Nasser, and in the meantime bring about the conquest of Jordan by Iraq.’[22]   Whether the British would be represented at the talks in Paris would not become clear until after Ben-Gurion’s arrival.

Ben-Gurion’s grand design

The senior members of the Israeli delegation to the talks in Paris were David Ben-Gurion, who was defence minister as well as prime minister, Moshe Dayan, the IDF chief of staff, and Shimon Peres, the director-general of the ministry of defence.  France was represented by Guy Mollet, Christian Pineau, and Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury, the minister of defence.  Also present were General Challe, Louis Mangin, Bourgès-Maunoury’s friend and adviser, and Abel Thomas, the director-general of the ministry of defence.  Although it was essentially a political meeting, with the politicians bearing the ultimate responsibility for decision, it was the military men who had pressed for the meeting and who provided most of the ideas that were finally agreed upon.[23]

Most of the Frenchmen had been active in the Resistance against Nazi Germany during the Second World War.  All of them saw Nasser as a dangerous new dictator, not least because of his support for the Algerian rebels, and all of them were united by the conviction that military action was urgently required in order to seize the canal and knock Nasser off his perch.  The French military had three priorities at that time: Algeria, Algeria, and Algeria.  And they proceeded on the assumption, for which there was no solid basis, that if only Nasser could be toppled, the Algerian rebellion would collapse.  The French politicians were haunted by the spectre of another Munich. The spacious villa, in Rue Emanuel Girot in the leafy suburb of Sèvres, belonged to a family that had supported General de Gaulle against the Vichy regime.  It had been used by Bourgès-Maunoury as a Resistance base during the war. The collective determination of the Frenchmen that this time there must be no appeasement was conveyed by Abel Thomas to the Israeli leader soon after his arrival at the villa.  ‘One day the Sèvres conference will no doubt be publicized’, said Thomas.  ‘It therefore depends on us whether it is remembered as the Yalta conference or as the Munich conference of the Middle East.’[24]

The first session started at 4 p.m. on Monday, 22 October, in the conservatory of the villa and it was intended to enable the leaders of the two countries to get to know each other and to have a preliminary discussion.  Ben-Gurion opened the discussion by listing his military, political and moral considerations against ‘the English plan’. His main objection was that Israel would be branded as the aggressor while Britain and France would pose as peace-makers but he was also exceedingly apprehensive about exposing Israeli cities to attack by the Egyptian Air Force.  Instead he presented a comprehensive plan, which he himself called ‘fantastic’, for the reorganization of the Middle East.  Jordan, he observed,  was not viable as an independent state and should therefore be divided.  Iraq would get the East Bank in return for a promise to settle the Palestinian refugees there and to make peace with Israel while the West Bank would be attached to Israel as a semi-autonomous region.  Lebanon suffered from having a large Muslim population which was concentrated in the south.  The problem could be solved by Israel’s expansion up to the Litani River, thereby helping to turn Lebanon into a more compact Christian state.  The Suez Canal area should be given an international status while the Straits of Tiran in the Gulf of Aqaba should come under Israeli control to ensure freedom of navigation.  A prior condition for realizing this plan was the elimination of Nasser and the replacement of his regime with a pro-Western government which would also be prepared to make peace with Israel.

Ben-Gurion argued that his plan would serve the interests of all the Western powers as well as those of Israel by destroying Nasser and the forces of Arab nationalism that he had unleashed.  The Suez Canal would revert to being an international waterway.  Britain would restore her hegemony in Iraq and Jordan and secure her access to the oil of the Middle East.  France would consolidate her influence in the Middle East through Lebanon and Israel while her problems in Algeria would come to an end with the fall of Nasser.  Even America might be persuaded to support the plan for it would promote stable, pro-Western regimes and help to check Soviet advances in the Middle East.  Before rushing into a military campaign against Egypt, Ben-Gurion urged that they take time to consider the wider political possibilities.  His plan might appear fantastic at first sight, he remarked, but it was not beyond the realm of possibility given time, British goodwill and good faith.

The French leaders listened patiently to Ben-Gurion’s presentation but they showed no disposition to be diverted from the immediate task of launching a military campaign against Egypt with British involvement.  They told Ben-Gurion politely that his plan was not fantastic but added that they had a unique opportunity to strike at their common enemy and that any delay might be fatal.  They also considered that while Eden himself was determined to fight, he faced growing opposition in the country and the Cabinet, with Selwyn Lloyd showing a preference for a diplomatic solution.  The Americans usually trailed behind events, as their record in the two world wars had shown, and they were therefore unlikely to support military action to get rid of Nasser.  Technical considerations, such as the onset of winter, were also cited by the French in support of immediate action.  In the end Ben-Gurion was persuaded that priority had to be given to the campaign against Egypt but he continued to insist on full co-ordination of their military plans with those of Britain.

The reluctant conspirator

Ben-Gurion hoped to meet Eden but the British prime minister did not want to be seen to be allied to him in any way.  The French had in fact suggested to Eden that he himself should come to the meeting but Eden decided to send Selwyn Lloyd instead, travelling incognito. Selwyn Lloyd, accompanied by his private secretary, Donald Logan, arrived at the villa and, after being briefed by the French, joined in the discussions.  As the French had feared, their allies did not take to one another.  Moshe Dayan gives a vivid description of the encounter in his memoirs: ‘Britain’s foreign minister may well have been a friendly man, pleasant, charming, amiable.  If so, he showed near-genius in concealing these virtues.  His manner could not have been more antagonistic.  His whole demeanour expressed distaste - for the place, the company and the topic.’[25]   To Selwyn Lloyd, however, ‘Ben-Gurion himself seemed to be in a rather aggressive mood, indicating or implying that the Israelis had no reason to believe in anything that a British minister might say.’[26]

It was immediately apparent that Selwyn Lloyd was still hoping for success in the negotiations and that he was reluctant to get involved in any collusion with the Israelis.  It was not difficult to guess that he was only attending the meeting on his master’s orders.  Whereas the purpose of the meeting was to discuss military action, Lloyd began by saying that, on the basis of his recent discussions with Egyptian foreign minister Mahmoud Fawzi, he estimated that a diplomatic solution to the dispute over the canal could be reached within a week.[27]  On the possibility of tripartite military action, Lloyd explained that his government could not go beyond the statement which Eden had made in the Palais Matignon on 16 October and subsequently confirmed in writing.  In practical terms this meant that Israel would have to initiate a full-scale war and remain alone in the war for about 72 hours, while Britain and France issued an ultimatum to Israel which implied that she was the aggressor.  It was, of course,  precisely the role of the aggressor that Ben-Gurion did not want to play.  He bristled with hostility at the very idea of Israel incurring all the opprobrium for the attack on the common enemy while Britain posed as the peace-maker and basked in self-righteousness.  The only encouraging element in what Lloyd had to say was the admission that his government wanted to destroy Nasser’s regime.  The one important drawback of a compromise with Egypt, he remarked, was that Nasser would remain in power.  Lloyd defined the aim of any allied military operations as ‘the conquest of the Canal Zone and the destruction of Nasser.’

When they got down to brass tacks, Ben-Gurion demanded an agreement between Britain, France and Israel that all three should attack Egypt.  He also wanted an undertaking that the Royal Air Force would eliminate the Egyptian Air Force before Israeli ground troops moved forward because otherwise Israeli cities like Tel Aviv could be wiped out.  Lloyd understood Ben-Gurion’s anxiety but declined to have any direct co-operation with Israel.  In his memoirs he claimed that throughout the meeting he tried to make it clear that an Israeli-French-British agreement to attack Egypt was impossible.  All he agreed to was the French proposal that if Israel attacked Egypt, Britain and France would intervene to protect the canal.[28]   As Ben-Gurion categorically rejected this proposal, the discussion came to a dead end.

At this juncture Ben-Gurion presented a new proposal which lowered the price demanded by Israel for providing the pretext for allied intervention.  The proposal came from General Dayan who had been pressing very persistently for a ‘preventive war’ against Egypt ever since the Czech arms deal was announced by Nasser in September 1955.  The proposal envisaged an Israeli retaliatory raid near the canal, an Anglo-French ultimatum  to Egypt to evacuate its military forces from the Canal Zone, an appeal to Israel not to approach the canal, and aerial bombardment of Egypt’s airfields following the expected rejection of the ultimatum.  Lloyd responded by pointing out that only a real act of war on Israel’s part would justify Britain’s  intervention in the dispute.  On re-examining the time-table, however,  Lloyd concluded that the gap between the Israeli attack and the allied intervention might be reduced to 36 or 24 hours but he emphasised that he only had authority to conduct negotiations based on serving an ultimatum to the two sides two days after D-Day.  To bridge the remaining gap, Bourgès-Maunoury offered to use the French air force from bases in Israel and Cyprus to protect Israeli cities in the first two days of fighting.  Lloyd hastily ruled out the use of Cyprus because that would provide proof of collusion, but he was less categorical in rejecting the idea of stationing  French aircraft in Israel as a defensive precaution.

At no point did the French and the Israelis threaten to go it alone.  They knew that only the RAF had the heavy bombers, the Canberras, near enough the theatre of operations and they needed the RAF to launch an attack on Egypt’s airfields from its bases in Cyprus.  The main question at issue, at the end of the day, was the time at which the RAF would intervene by an attack on the Egyptian air force.  The meeting concluded, as far as Lloyd was concerned, with an undertaking to go back to London and ask the Cabinet whether the RAF intervention could be advanced and bring back the answer the following day.[29]
Fearing that Lloyd would present the Israeli conditions in a manner calculated to bring about their rejection, Pineau decided to go to London the following evening to speak to Eden directly.  Ever the pessimist, Ben-Gurion feared that Pineau’s trip would be in vain because Lloyd would secure a decision which would go against the wishes of the French and Israeli delegations.[30]

The second day at Sèvres

On the second day of the conference, Tuesday, 23 October, in the absence of the British,  the atmosphere was markedly more relaxed and friendly and there was more time for informal discussions.  The French continued to search for the magic formula which would satisfy all the parties concerned.  In the late morning there was a meeting of the military men in the house of Louis Mangin. General Challe suggested that Israel might simulate an ‘Egyptian’ air raid on Beersheba and that this would serve as the trigger for Franco-British intervention.  Although Dayan saw no merit in this proposal, Challe decided to present it to Ben-Gurion in the afternoon at the meeting with the French ministers.  When he heard this proposal, Ben-Gurion’s face looked grim and he said sternly that the one thing he could not do was to lie to the world.  The atmosphere in the room became very tense and the French General mumbled an apology.  To defuse the tension, Pineau revealed that, after consultations with the President of the Republic, René Coty, it was decided to offer Israel a formal guarantee to carry out whatever was finally agreed between the three countries.  Bourgès-Maunoury followed up with the offer of a military guarantee in the form of air squadrons to be stationed in Israeli bases and naval forces to protect Israel’s coast.  France, he said, would continue to do her best for Israel whatever happened but there would never be a better opportunity for joint action.  Under the impression of this dramatic statement, the two delegations adjourned for private consultations.

Ben-Gurion was inclined to show flexibility.  One of his motives in coming to Paris was to consolidate the alliance with France.  Dayan now came up with a revised proposal: an IDF paratroop drop on the strategic Mitla Pass, deep in Sinai and about thirty miles from the Suez Canal, and the westward thrust of a mechanized brigade which would together constitute ‘a real act of war’ and thus provide the pretext for intervention by Britain and France 36 hours later.  Ben-Gurion instructed Dayan to present this scheme as an informal idea that Pineau could take with him to London.

To underline the informal nature of the proposal, Ben-Gurion left it to Dayan and Peres to meet alone with Pineau.  But this was simply a tactical ploy.  Ben-Gurion was only too well aware that if Pineau were to go to London empty-handed, the whole conference would end in failure.  Pineau, who by now knew how the Israeli delegation worked, was delighted to learn of the unofficial shift in Israel’s position and he took down in writing a series of eight points made by Dayan which constituted Israel’s minimum conditions.  Particularly noteworthy is the last point for it was included at Ben-Gurion’s specific request and it defined Israel’s territorial aims which were only tenuously related to the Suez Canal crisis:

Israel declares its intention to keep her forces for the purpose of permanent annexation of the entire area east of the El Arish-Abu Ageila, Nakhl-Sharm el-Sheikh, in order to maintain for the long term the freedom of navigation in the Straits of Eilat and in order to free herself from the scourge of the infiltrators and from the danger posed by the Egyptian army bases in Sinai.  Britain and France are required to support or at least to commit themselves not to show opposition to these plans.  This is what Israel demands as her share in the fruits of victory.

After Pineau’s departure, many of the other members of the French and Israeli delegations gathered in the large sitting-room and chatted about various subjects in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere.  Guy Mollet talked about France’s difficulties in North Africa. Ben-Gurion gave a lecture on the history of the Sinai peninsula, on the oil deposits that had been discovered there, and on the problems of atomic energy.

Pineau arrived in London in the evening and went to dinner with Selwyn Lloyd after which they were joined by Eden for discussions that lasted a couple of hours.  Once again no officials were present and there is no official record of the meeting.[31]   Nutting relates that, from talking to Lloyd the following day, he got the impression that Eden’s enthusiasm for the French plan waxed stronger than ever and that he assured Pineau that Israel need have no fear of being left in the lurch and, if she led the way with an attack in Sinai, Britain would lend her fullest support.[32]    Lloyd, on the other hand, gives no details of the meeting but merely states that it was decided that it was worthwhile having another meeting at Sèvres and since he himself could not go, it was agreed to send Patrick Dean, an Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, and that Donald Logan should go with him.  Lloyd feared that Pineau might make more of their talk than was warranted so he wrote him a letter that evening for his officials to deliver by hand.  In the letter he said that he wished to make it clear that they had not asked Israel to take any action.  They had merely stated what would be the British reaction if certain things happened.[33]

The third day at Sèvres

Very early next morning, 24 October, Dean was summoned to 10 Downing Street and given a fifteen minute briefing by the prime minister before breakfast.  Eden impressed on Dean his anxiety that Nasser intended to inflict great damage on British interests in the Middle East.  Eden also told Dean, without going into details, that the French and the Israelis shared his opinion and that it might be necessary for the three countries to take action if the canal itself was threatened as a result of hostilities between Israel and Egypt.  Dean’s brief was to make it absolutely clear to the other parties that there would be no British military action unless the Israelis had advanced beyond their frontiers and a threat to the canal had definitely emerged.  If the other parties did not accept this position, Britain would not participate in any contingency military plan.  Eden stressed that it was very important to keep the visit secret because it involved possible military operations and he told Dean that a private military aeroplane would take him to Paris and fly him back to report the same evening.[34] 

October 24 was the third and last day of the conference. Ben-Gurion finally made up his mind to commit the IDF to the battle.  In his diary he summarized the main considerations that led to this fateful decision.  He thought that the operation had to be undertaken if Israel’s skies could be effectively defended in the day or two that would elapse until the French and the British started bombing Egypt’s airfields.  The aim of destroying Nasser had pervaded the entire conference and it was uppermost in Ben-Gurion’s mind.  ‘This is a unique opportunity’, he wrote, ‘that two not so small powers will try to topple Nasser, and we shall not stand alone against him while he becomes stronger and conquers all the Arab countries.... and maybe the whole situation in the Middle East will change according to my plan.’[35]

In the late morning Ben-Gurion summoned his young lieutenants to the villa in Sèvres where he had been staying.  They found him in the garden, enjoying  the sunshine and the autumn colours on the trees.  He did not announce his decision but from the expression on his face they could tell, to their great relief and satisfaction, that ‘the old man’ had made up his mind.  He began by asking Dayan to go over the main moves in the operational plan he had proposed.  This was best done with the help of a map but as they had no paper, Peres tore open a packet of cigarettes and Dayan drew the outline of the Sinai peninsula on it, showing in bold arrows the proposed lines of advance.  Dayan was rather glad that he did not have a proper map at the time because on the smooth cigarette packet, with no sign of mountain, sand dunes, or wadi, the plan looked deceptively easy to carry out.  Ben-Gurion then pulled out a sheet of paper on which he had jotted down a long list of questions, some of them military, some political, and some simply unanswerable.  All the questions, however, were of the ‘how’, ‘what’, and ‘when’ variety and this confirmed the impression that a positive decision on joining the campaign had already been reached.[36]

At 3 p.m. Pineau returned from London and they were immediately called to the conference room.  Pineau reported that he had found Eden’s approach much warmer than that of Lloyd and that once he had conveyed Israel’s agreement to a time-table that met Britain’s needs, Eden was inclined to accept most of Israel’s remaining conditions.  Pineau claimed that Eden had agreed to a six-point plan which was based on Dayan’s latest proposal.  The first point of the plan was that Israel would decide how precisely to initiate hostilities in Sinai but the governments of France and Britain recommended action connected with the Suez Canal.  Second, Israel had to carry out an operation that would look like a real act of war so that the French and British governments could argue that the canal was in danger.  Third, the air forces of France and Britain would go into action not more than 36 hours after Israel launched her attack.  Fourth, on the day after D-Day, the French and British governments would send two somewhat differently worded messages, to be called an appeal rather than an ultimatum in order to preserve Israel’s good name.  Fifth, to reinforce the air defence of Israeli cities in the period between the opening of hostilities and the allied intervention, France undertook to station fighter bombers in Israel but these planes were to be given Israeli Air Force marking to conceal their true identity.  Finally, D-Day was to be Monday, 29 October 1956, at 1900 Israeli time.

This six-point plan represented a rough draft of the final agreement.  The Israelis were satisfied with Pineau’s achievements.  At 4.30 p.m. the British representatives, Patrick Dean and Donald Logan, arrived.  The bilateral talks became trilateral and they assumed a more official air.  The French and the Israelis spoke from Pineau’s six points of which Dean and Logan were ignorant.  Ben-Gurion, however, raised two new points.  First, he demanded that the agreement should explicitly commit Britain to refrain from activating the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty if either Jordan or Iraq attacked Israel in return for an Israeli pledge not to attack Jordan.  Second, he wanted the British and French governments to note Israel’s territorial demands, even if they could not officially support them.  ‘France and Britain have a vital interest in the Suez Canal’, he said forcefully.  ‘The Straits of Tiran are the State of Israel’s Suez Canal....   We intend to capture the Straits of Tiran and we intend to stay there and thus ensure freedom of navigation to Eilat.’

Dean confined himself to the narrow brief Eden had given him: make plain to the Israelis and the French that British forces would not move unless the Israelis had advanced beyond their frontiers against Egypt and presented a clear threat to the canal.  The British officials then asked a number of questions about Israel’s operational plans, evidently inspired by the fear that the Israeli operation would not amount to a real act of war and that, consequently, Britain would not have a credible casus belli for military intervention.  Will Israel issue a formal declaration of war?  Ben-Gurion replied that Egypt’s repeated violations of the armistice agreement made a declaration of war superfluous.  Dayan retorted more bluntly: ‘We will not declare - we will simply strike!’  He declined to give any details about their operational plans beyond demonstrating on the same cigarette packet that there would be significant military activity at the Mitla Pass.  Being a wise man, he did not give away military secrets easily but he did assure the British representatives that Israel would stand by her commitments on time, place, and size of forces, and provide an adequate pretext.

Ben-Gurion took the initiative in suggesting to the French that a protocol be drawn up to summarize the decisions that had been reached and that this document should be signed by the three parties and be binding on them.[37]    The fact that the idea for drawing up a formal document came form Ben-Gurion is worth underlining because it is glossed over in  the first-hand Israeli accounts of the meeting, presumably with the intention of minimizing his part in the collusion.  A drafting committee, consisting of French and Israeli officials, was set to work in the neighbouring kitchen. It was heavy going and an attempt to compose a preamble had to be abandoned.  The protocol was drafted in French, the language of the hosts and the language of international diplomacy. As soon as they had finished, a secretary was rushed into the kitchen and she typed the draft in a great hurry on a portable typewriter, in three copies.  By 7 p.m. the document was ready.

The British representatives were taken aback when they were presented with a copy of the protocol and asked to sign it.  The protocol simply summarized the actions and reactions of the three states as they had been discussed during the week.  But this was the first indication they had that anybody intended to make a record of the conversation.  When confronted with the text, Dean and Logan had a word together because there had been no earlier mention of committing anything to paper.  Logan said that the document seemed accurate and that is might be useful to take back to the prime minister to show that they had got the Israelis to agree to a significant military move against the canal.  As a good civil servant, he believed that there was some merit in having an agreed record of what was a rather elaborate scenario.  To refuse to sign a summary to which they could take no exception would have only increased suspicion of their intentions in an exploit to which the prime minister was wedded.  Dean agreed.  He initialled each page and signed the document at the end.  He made it clear that he was signing ad referendum, subject to the approval of his government.[38]   Pineau signed the document for France and Ben-Gurion signed it for Israel.  Although the document had to be ratified by all three governments, Ben-Gurion made no effort to conceal his excitement.  He studied his copy of the document, folded it carefully, and thrust it deep into the pocket of his waistcoat.

While the drafting  was in progress, two other private conversations took place in another part of the villa.  Ben-Gurion had a conversation with his French opposite number at which no one else was present.  In his diary Ben-Gurion recorded the next day: ‘I told him about the discovery of oil in southern and western Sinai, and that it would be good to tear this peninsula from Egypt because it did not belong to her, rather it was the English who stole it from the Turks when they believed that Egypt was in their pocket.  I suggested laying down a pipeline from Sinai to Haifa to refine the oil and Mollet showed interest in this suggestion.’[39]   In the absence of any other record of this conversation, one is left with the impression that the French prime minister played the part of the polite host to the very end even when his Israeli guest was making plans to share the territorial spoils of war.  The conversation also exposes Ben-Gurion for what he really was - a born land-grabber.

An even more intriguing conversation took place at the end of this one.  It concerned French assistance to Israel in developing nuclear technology.  Details of this second conversation only emerged in 1995 when Shimon Peres published his memoirs.  The relevant passage reads as follows:

Before the final signing, I asked Ben-Gurion for a brief adjournment, during which I met Mollet and Bourgés-Maunoury alone.  It was here that I finalized with these two leaders an agreement for the building of a nuclear reactor at Dimona, in southern Israel... and the supply of natural uranium to fuel it.  I put forward a series of detailed proposals and, after discussion, they accepted them.[40]

The development of nuclear power was a subject dear to Ben Gurion’s heart.  He saw in it a technological challenge which would help to transform Israel into an advanced industrial state.  The negotiations with the French were about a small nuclear reactor for civilian purposes.  Nothing was said at this stage about possible military applications of this nuclear technology.  But that was Ben-Gurion’s ultimate aim: to produce nuclear weapons.  He believed that nuclear weapons would strengthen Israel immeasurably, secure her survival and eliminate any danger of another holocaust.

Shimon Peres was the moving force behind the Israeli attempt to get French help in building a nuclear reactor.  Pineau opposed this request, Bourgès-Maunoury strongly supported it, and Mollet was undecided.  On 21 September 1956, a month before Sèvres, Peres reached an agreement with the French on the supply of a small nuclear reactor. He used the occasion of Sèvres to try to commit France at the political level.  Against this background, the broaching of the nuclear issue by Peres at Sèvres could not have come as a complete surprise.  A year later, in September 1957, when  Bourgès-Maunoury was prime minister, France delivered to Israel a nuclear reactor which was twice the capacity previously promised.[41]  

Israel did not join in the Franco-British war plot in order to get a French nuclear reactor.  The sensitive question of nuclear power was only raised towards the end of the conference and after the basic decision to go to war had been taken.  Nevertheless, the nuclear deal concluded at the private meeting at Sèvres is interesting for at least three reasons.  In the first place, it shows that the French were determined to go to war at almost any price and for their own reasons, not, as Abel Thomas later claimed, in order to save Israel.  Secondly, it reveals the full extent of the incentives that the French were prepared to give Israel in order to induce her to play the part assigned to her in the war plot against Egypt.  Thirdly, it confirms the impression that Israel did not face any serious threat of Egyptian attack at that time but colluded with the European powers to attack Egypt for other reasons.  Taken together, the two private conversations at Sèvres thus drive a coach and horses through the official version which says that Israel only went to war because if faced an imminent danger of attack from Egypt.

For Ben-Gurion the high-level French political commitment to assist Israel in the nuclear field was one of the greatest achievements of the gathering at Sèvres.  It would be wrong to suggest that participation in the war against Egypt was the price he paid for this assistance because by this stage he had decided to go to war for his own reasons.  The reactor was an added bonus.  His overall aim at this time was to consolidate the alliance with France.  He already had an intimate political partnership with France, French military hardware, and French air cover in the coming war.  The nuclear reactor reinforced the value of the alliance with France in his eyes.[42]

The Protocol of Sèvres

An English translation of the Protocol of Sèvres is reproduced in the Appendix.[43]    The original protocol shows some signs of having been prepared in a hurry: there are some minor typing errors and the layout is erratic.  There is no preamble as in most international treaties because there was no time to compose one. Instead of a preamble, the first line simply says: ‘The results of the conversations which took place at Sèvres from 22 to 24 October 1956 between the representatives of the governments of the United Kingdom, the State of Israel and France are the following.’  There are seven articles.

In substance the protocol corresponds closely to the draft used by Pineau for his discussion with Eden on the previous day, with one amendment and two additions.  The amendment concerns the ‘appeals’ to the Egyptian and Israeli governments (article 2), the additions concern Israel’s territorial aims (article 4) and Jordan (article 5).  The first article simply states that Israel will launch a large scale attack in the evening of 29 October with the aim of reaching the Canal Zone the following day.  This wording was designed to underline, as Selwyn Lloyd had insisted in his letter of 23 October to Pineau, that the British and French governments had not invited or incited the Israeli government to attack Egypt but only intimated what their reaction would be to such an attack.

Article 2 describes the Anglo-French appeals to the belligerents to stop fighting and to withdraw their forces to a distance of ten miles from the canal.  Egypt alone is asked to accept the temporary occupation of key positions on the canal by the Anglo-French forces.  This demand was inserted in order to ensure that Egypt could not possibly accept the appeal.  The last ‘Temporary Occuption’ of Egypt by Britain had lasted seventy four years, from 1852 until June 1956.  If the appeals were not accepted within 12 hours, Anglo-French forces would intervene to enforce compliance but Israel would not be required to comply in the event of an Egyptian refusal.  This article reflects a compromise between the British desire to maintain an appearance of even-handedness towards Egypt and Israel and Israel’s refusal to be placed on exactly the same footing as Egypt.

Article 3 says that if Egypt failed to comply, the Anglo-French attack on the Egyptian forces would be launched in the early hours in the morning on 31 October.  This article differs from the previous one in that no military actions against Israel is envisaged.  As signatory to the agreement, Israel could not agree to be subject to its sanctions.  Article 4 notes the intention of the Israeli government to occupy the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba and the islands of Tiran and Sanafir in order to ensure freedom of navigation.  The British and French governments did not undertake to support this plan but nor did they express any opposition to it. 

In article 5 Israel promises not to attack Jordan during the period of  hostilities against Egypt and Britain promises not to help Jordan if she attacks Israel.  The purpose of this provision was to minimize the risk of a military clash between Israel and Britain on the Jordanian front.  It did not directly concern France, except as a signatory to the Tripartite Declaration, but it underlined the complexity of Britain’s relationships in the Middle East.  For both Britain and Israel Jordan was a rather sensitive issue and a major source of mutual distrust.  Article 5 embodied Britain’s agreement to Israel’s request that in the event of a Jordanian attack on Israel, the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty would not come into force.  In effect, it meant that Britain and Israel were guilty of collusion against Jordan as well as against Egypt.  

Article 6 requires all three governments to keep the provisions of the accord strictly secret.  Finally, article 7 says that the provisions of the protocol will enter into force as soon as they have been confirmed by the three governments.

Once the protocol had been signed, champagne was produced but there was little sparkle in the atmosphere and no comradely backslapping.  The first to leave the Rue Emanuel Girot were the British.  They left, writes Dayan, ‘mumbling as they went words of politeness tinged with humour and not quite comprehensible.’[44]   After the departure of the British, another bottle of champagne was produced and drank en famille,  with much sparkle in the atmosphere.  Peres whispered something in Ben-Gurion’s ear and the latter nodded in approval.  Peres then asked Mollet loudly whether they could also celebrate the nuclear deal and Mollet said ‘yes’.  So they all drank a toast to the nuclear reactor about which some of the more junior members of the two delegations heard for the first time.[45]

The secret meeting at Sèvres had a farcical sequel.  Dean reported to Eden at 10 Downing Street late on Wednesday night. When Eden learnt that the war plot had been recorded in a formal document, he was clearly surprised and very put out.  He made it clear to Dean that he had not expected anything would be written down, but he did not suggest that Dean and Logan ought to have known that this was his intention.  At no time did Eden say or imply that Dean and Logan had acted improperly or exceeded their authority but he was seriously worried about the possible consequences.[46]

So worried was Eden, that he ordered Dean and Logan to return to Paris the next day to persuade the other parties to destroy the protocol.  Pineau was not sympathetic but said he would consult his colleagues, adding that Ben-Gurion was already airborne with his copy.  The British pair were shown into one of the grand reception rooms in the Quai D’Orsay.  At lunchtime they tried to get out but the door was locked.  Since the entire Quai D’Orsay had been kept in the dark about the meeting at Sèvres, their presence there would have been acutely embarrassing if discovered.  The unfortunate envoys were kept under lock and key until 4 p.m. when Pineau returned to inform them that Ben-Gurion would not accede to their request, nor would the French government. Dean and Logan returned to 10 Downing Street to report the failure of their mission.  Eden then ordered all the copies of the protocol and the English translation made in the Foreign Office to be rounded up and delivered to No. 10 for destruction.  He knew, however, that two smoking guns remained.[47]   In the event neither gun was discovered until much later.  But within days, rumours of the meeting at Sèvres were circulating in Paris.  The discipline of the Resistance had not held.

Eden’s reluctance to leave additional traces of the collusion accounts for the peculiar manner in which he ratified the Protocol of Sèvres.  Ben-Gurion was under the impression that each government would send two letters, one to each partner, ratifying the protocol.  But he was far from confident that a British letter would arrive.  Ben-Gurion’s suspicion was justified: he received no letter from Eden.  Eden only wrote to Mollet to ratify the agreement reached at the tripartite meeting.  The most charitable explanation of Eden’s behaviour is that he followed the usual diplomatic practice of addressing ratification to the depository power, in this case France. On 25 October Ben-Gurion received a batch of letters from Paris.  The first letter confirmed the pledge of an air umbrella and a naval belt.  The pledge came in the form of an ‘Annex to the Protocol of Sèvres’  and it was signed by Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury.  In English it would read:

The French government undertakes to station on the territory of Israel to ensure the air defence of Israeli territory during the period from 29 to 31 October a reinforced squadron of Mystères IV A, and a squadron of fighter bombers.  In addition two ships of the Marine Nationale will during the same period put into Israeli ports.[48]  

This document discharged France’s promise of a guarantee of military support to Israel during the war against Egypt.  Pineau observed in his memoirs that this annex, unlike the protocol, at least it had the merits of honesty and clarity.[49]

The second letter was from Guy Mollet,  confirming the agreement of the French government to ‘the results of the conversations of Sèvres and the terms of the final protocol to which they gave rise.’[50]   Mollet also enclosed, for Ben-Gurion’s personal information, a copy of a letter he had just received from the British prime minister.  The letter said that ‘Her Majesty’s Government have been informed of the course of the conversations held at Sèvres on October 23-24 and confirm that in the situation there envisaged they will take the action described.’[51]   Ben-Gurion immediately noticed that the letter did not refer specifically to the protocol.  In his diary he wrote: ‘This letter is typical of the British Foreign Office for it can be interpreted in various ways, while the French state clearly to what they have committed themselves, as was discussed with them without adding or subtracting.’[52]    The Foreign Office had not even seen the letter which was written in No. 10, signed by Eden, and probably drafted by him.  In any case, Ben-Gurion wrote to Mollet on 26 October to thank him for the two letters and to confirm the agreement of the government of Israel to the results of the conversations held at Sèvres and to the terms of the protocol.[53]


The documentary evidence does not leave any room for doubt that at Sèvres, during the three days in late October 1956, an elaborate war plot was hatched against Egypt by the representatives of France, Britain and Israel.  The Protocol of Sèvres is the most conclusive piece of evidence for it lays out in precise detail and with a precise time-table how the joint war against Egypt was intended to proceed and shows foreknowledge of each other’s intentions.  The central aim of the plot was the overthrow of  Gamal Abdel Nasser.  This aim is not explicitly stated in the protocol but it emerges clearly and unambiguously from all the records of the discussions surrounding it.  Yet each of the three partners had a very different perspective on this war plot, and it was not at all clear how even the agreed aim was to be achieved.

The French were the most straight-forward, unwavering and unabashed advocates of military force.  As far as they were concerned, Colonel Nasser supported the Algerian rebels and that, along with his nationalization of the Suez Canal Company,  was enough to justify a war to overthrow him.  For their part, the French did not need any further pretext for taking military action.  It was the British, unwilling to incur Arab hostility by appearing as ally of Israel,  who needed a pretext and Israel was able and willing to provide it but only at a price.  Israel also required the elimination of Nasser’s air force, for which task Britain alone had the heavy bomber bases sufficiently near at hand.  Thus, willy-nilly, the French became the matchmakers between the stand-offish Brits and the suspicious Israelis.  It was the French who issued the invitation to the conspiracy and it was they who wooed, cajoled, and applied subtle pressure on their partners to participate in what was bound to be a risky joint venture.  And it was only the French who could have brought about this improbable ménage à trois.

On the British side, Anthony Eden bore the ultimate responsibility and received most of the opprobrium for the collusion with France and Israel.  Eden was desperate for a pretext to go to war in order to get rid of Nasser and the alliance with Israel was the price he reluctantly paid to procure such a pretext.  The elaborate plot embodied in the protocol was so transparent that it is still difficult to understand how Eden could have believed that it would not be seen as such.  What is clear is that having got embroiled in the war plot, Eden became desperate to hide the traces.  His attempt to round up and destroy all the copies of the Protocol of Sèvres has to be seen in this light.  He wanted to expunge the war plot, in which Britain had been a reluctant but a full and formal participant, from the historical record.  What he embarked on was a massive attempt to deceive.  This attempt ended in miserable failure, like all the expedients that Eden resorted to in his vendetta against the Egyptian leader whom he perceived, for no good reason, as another Hitler.

On the Israeli side the most senior figure was David Ben-Gurion and all the important decisions connected with the war plot were made by him. The idea of a secret, high-level tripartite meeting came from him.  The Suez Canal was not his prime concern and ideally he would not have wished the attack to take place then, or there, or in that way.  He badly wanted to join the great powers club and he found that  subscribing to the Suez campaign at the end of October was the only way of doing it. Although he was pompous and prolix about the moral issues involved, his abrupt change of position regarding Israel’s participation in the campaign against Nasser was dictated exclusively by practical considerations.  Initially, he opposed the Challe scenario because it did not treat Israel as an equal member of the club but he ended up by joining the club essentially on the basis of this scenario.  Three days of bargaining at Sèvres improved the conditions offered to Israel but her role in enacting the Challe scenario remained fundamentally unchanged.  At the end of the day, Israel was not going to be an equal partner but, to use Ben-Gurion’s own term, a prostitute performing services for the two senior members of the Suez campaign club.

Having settled for this unglorious role, Ben-Gurion took the lead in proposing that a record of the decisions be drawn up and signed by the representatives of the three countries concerned.  The Protocol of Sèvres was the result.  For him the protocol was not something to be ashamed of but a major achievement.  It represented a military pact with two great powers against a common enemy, albeit a secret and awkward pact.  Britain’s persistent cold-shouldering of Israel was disappointing and disconcerting.  But  Ben-Gurion felt that the protocol at least gave him a guarantee against betrayal by Perfidious Albion.

The three partners in the war plot against Nasser thus differed markedly in their attitude to the Protocol of Sèvres.  The French were largely indifferent to the protocol but they agreed to it in order to get Israel on board in their bid to topple Nasser.  Eden was shocked and dismayed when he discovered that the war plot had been committed to paper but hard as he tried, he could not destroy the incriminating evidence.  Ben-Gurion was the only leader who was proud of the protocol which was really his brain-child.  His mistrust of Britain verged on paranoia and he saw the protocol as a means of keeping Britain to the decisions that had been reached at Sèvres.  In the final analysis, the Protocol of Sèvres was thus a monument to French opportunism, Eden’s duplicity, and Ben-Gurion’s paranoia.


The results of the conversations which took place at Sèvres from 22-24 October 1956 between the representatives of the Governments of the United Kingdom, the State of Israel and of France are the following:
  1. The Israeli forces launch in the evening of 29 October 1956 a large scale attack on the Egyptian forces with the aim of reaching the Canal Zone the following day.
  2. On being apprised of these events, the British and French Governments during the day of 30 October 1956 respectively and simultaneously make two appeals to the Egyptian Government and the Israeli Government on the following lines:
                A.    To the Egyptian Government
           a) halt all acts of war.
                               b) withdraw all its troops ten miles from the Canal.
                                c) accept temporary occupation of key positions on the Canal by the Anglo-French forces to guarantee
                                    freedom of passage through the Canal by vessels of all nations until a final settlement.
                B.     To the Israeli Government
                                a) halt all acts of war.
                                b) withdraw all its troops ten miles to the east of the Canal.

In addition, the Israeli Government will be notified that the French and British Governments have demanded of the Egyptian Government to accept temporary occupation of key positions along the Canal by Anglo-French forces.
It is agreed that if one of the Governments refused, or did not give its consent, within twelve hours the Anglo-French forces would intervene with the means necessary to ensure that their demands are accepted.
              C.    The representatives of the three Governments agree that the Israeli Government will not be required to meet the
                      conditions in the appeal addressed to it, in the event that the Egyptian Government does not accept those in the                         appeal addressed to it for their part.
    3.    In the event that the Egyptian Government should fail to agree within the stipulated time to the conditions of the appeal
           addressed to it, the Anglo-French forces will launch military operations against the Egyptian forces in the early hours of
           the morning of 31 October.
    4.    The Israeli Government will send forces to occupy the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba and the group of islands
            Tirane and Sanafir to ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba.
    5.    Israel undertakes not to attack Jordan during the period of operations against Egypt.
            But in the event that during the same period Jordan should attack Israel, the British
            Government undertakes not to come to the aid of Jordan.
    6.    The arrangements of the present protocol must remain strictly secret.
    7.    They will enter into force after the agreement of the three Governments.   



[1] ‘The Suez Crisis - BBC Version’ was shown on BBC 1 on 22 Oct. 1996.  Jeremy Bennett was the producer, Keith Kyle and I were the historical consultants.  Shimon Peres who was foreign minister at the time gave us permission to photocopy the Protocol of Sèvres after protracted negotiations and only after we produced letters from the British and French governments saying that they had no objection to our request. The Protocol is now available at the Ben-Gurion Archives in Sede-Boker and in the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem. S. Ilan Troen, ‘The Protocol of Sèvres: British/French/Israeli collusion against Egypt, 1956’, Israel Studies, 1:2, Fall 1996, pp. 122-39, reproduces the original French text of the protocol, a translation into English, the annex to the protocol, and the letters of ratification.
[2] Anthony Nutting, No end of a lesson: the story of Suez (London: Constable, 1957).
[3] Christian Pineau, Suez 1956 (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1976).
[4] Moshe Dayan, Story of my life (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976).
[5] Selwyn Lloyd, Suez 1956: a personal account (London: Jonathan Cape, 1978).
[6] Abel Thomas, Comment Israël fut sauvé: les secrets de l’expédition de Suez (Paris: Albin Michel, 1978).
Yosef Evron, Beyom sagrir: Su’etz me’ahorei hakla’im (In Stormy Days: Suez Behind the Scenes) (Tel Aviv: Ot Paz, 1965).
Shimon Peres, Battling for peace: memoirs (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1995).
‘Ben-Gurion’s Diary - the Suez-Sinai Campaign’, edited and introduced by Selwyn Ilan Troen in Selwyn Ilan Troen and Moshe Shemesh, eds., The Suez-Sinai Campaign: retrospective and reappraisal (London: Frank Cass, 1990), pp. 289-332.
Mordechai Bar-On, Etgar ve-tigra (Challenge and Quarrel) (Sede-Boker: The Ben-Gurion Research Center, 1991).
[11] Mordechai Bar-On, The Gates of Gaza: Israel’s road to Suez and back, 1955-1957 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1994).
[12] Keith Kyle, Suez (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991), Appendix A, pp. 565-7.
[13] Donald Logan, ‘Suez: Meetings at Sèvres, 22-25 Oct. 1956’.  I am grateful to Sir Donald Logan for giving me a copy.  An edited version of this account was published as ‘Collusion at Suez’, Financial Times, 2 Jan. 1986.
[14] Nutting, No end of a lesson, pp. 90-95. General Challe’s account of the Chequers meeting to the French chief of staff is reported in Paul Ély, Mémoires: Suez... le 13 Mai (Paris: Plon, 1969), pp. 136-40.
[15] Interview with Sir Anthony Nutting, London, 12 Mar. 1997.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Selwyn Lloyd wrote a six-page top secret minute of this meeting for his personal file.  Minute by Selwyn Lloyd, 18 Oct. 1956, FO 800/725, Public Record Office (PRO), London.
[18] Ben-Gurion’s diary, 17 and 18 Oct. 1956, the Ben-Gurion Archives, Sede-Boker; and Mordechai Bar-On, ‘In the Web of Lies: Anthony Eden and the Collusion with France and Israel in the Autumn of 1956’ (Hebrew), Iyunim Bitkumat Israel, vol. 2, 1992, pp. 169-96.
[19] Interview with Shimon Peres, Tel Aviv, 20 Aug. 1982.
[20] Interview with Colonel Mordechai Bar-On, Ditchley Park, 8 Dec. 1996.
[21] Quoted in Mordechai Bar-On ‘David Ben-Gurion and the Sèvres Collusion’, in Wm. Roger Louis and Roger Owen, eds., Suez 1956: the crisis and its consequences (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989),  pp. 149-51.
[22] Ben-Gurion’s diary, 17 Oct. 1956.
[23] Motti Golani, ‘The Sinai Campaign, 1956: Military and Political Aspects’ (Hebrew)  (Ph.D. thesis, University of Haifa, 1992), p. 235.  This thesis gives the most comprehensive account available of the military aspect of the talks at Sèvres, based on exhaustive research in the IDF Archive.
[24] Bar-On, Etgar ve-tigra, p. 251.  In the following account of the discussions at Sèvres, I have drawn very heavily and with gratitude on Bar-On’s account in pp. 250-79 of his book.  All the quotations are from this source unless otherwise stated.
[25] Dayan, Story of my life, p. 180.
[26] Lloyd, Suez 1956, p. 183.
[27] On the talks between Selwyn Lloyd and Mahmoud Fawzi in New York see Lloyd, Suez 1956, pp. 153-63; and Mahmoud Fawzi, Suez 1956: an Egyptian perspective (London: Shorouk International, n.d.), chapter 5.
[28] Lloyd,  Suez 1956, pp. 181-5.
[29] Interview with Sir Donald Logan, Suez Oral History Project, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College, London.
[30] Ben-Gurion’s diary, 22 Oct. 1956.
[31] Selwyn Lloyd did write a minute of this meeting and asked his private secretary to put it with his other top secret minutes.  But the minute only deals with the talks at the United Nations on the canal dispute; it does not make even an oblique reference to the talks at Sèvres.  Minute by Selwyn Lloyd, 24 Oct. 1956, FO 800/725, PRO.
[32] Nutting, No end of a lesson, p. 104.
[33] Lloyd, Suez 1956, p. 186.
[34] Memorandum by Sir Patrick Dean, 1986.  I am grateful to Sir Donald Logan for giving me a copy of this memorandum.
[35] Ben-Gurion’s diary, 24 Oct. 1956.  Emphasis on the original.
[36] Dayan, Story of my life, pp. 189-91.
[37] Ben-Gurion’s diary, 25 Oct. 1956.
[38] Lloyd, Suez 1956, p. 188; Logan, ‘Meetings at Sèvres’; and Dean, ‘Memorandum’.
[39] Ben-Gurion’s diary, 25 Oct. 1956.
[40] Peres, Battling  for peace, p. 130.
[41] Yossi Melman, ‘A royal present’, Ha’aretz, 11 Oct. 1992.
[42] Interview with Colonel Mordechai Bar-On.
[43] The English translation appears in Kyle, Suez, pp. 565-7.  I am grateful to Keith Kyle for giving me permission to reproduce this translation.
[44] Dayan, Story of my life, p. 193.
[45] Interview with Colonel Mordechai Bar-On
[46] Interview with Sir Donald Logan, Ditchley Park, 8 Dec. 1996; and Comments by Donald Logan on Richard Lamb, The Failure of the Eden Government, box 30, the Selwyn Lloyd Papers, Churchill College, Cambridge.
[47] Kyle, Suez, A 331; Robert Rhodes James, Anthony Eden (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986), pp. 530-2; Interview with Donald Logan, Suez Oral History Project, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College, London; and Sir Donald Logan, ‘Collusion at Suez’, Financial Times, 8 Jan. 1986.
[48] ‘Annexe au Protocole de Sèvres’, 24 Oct. 1956, the Ben-Gurion Archives.  The French text is also given in Pineau, Suez 1956, pp. 153-4.  Ben-Gurion writes that in addition to the two squadrons of Mystères, the French promised ‘volunteers’ to fly some of Israel’s Mystères: Ben-Gurion’s diary, 25 Oct. 1956.
[49] Pineau, Suez 1956, p. 153.
[50] Mollet to Ben-Gurion, 25 Oct. 1956, the Ben-Gurion Archives.
[51] Eden to Mollet, 25 Oct. 1956, the Ben-Gurion Archives.
[52] Ben-Gurion’s diary, 26 Oct. 1956.
[53] Ben-Gurion to Mollet, 26 Oct. 1956, the Ben-Gurion Archives.