Volume 51, No. 2 (June 2007)

The Musketeer's Cloak: Strategic Deception During The Suez Crisis of 1956

By Ricky-Dale Calhoun

In order to perform illusions greater than a sleight of hand, the magician often uses a cloak. The creation of illusions is not magical, or mystical, but is a hint of suggestion, an understanding of human nature, relatively simple technical manipulations, and the fulfillment of carefully planted expectations. Despite this fundamental awareness, one is awed by the magician’s illusions of objects disappearing and appearing.1

Military operations on the scale of Operation Musketeer, the 1956 British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, require extensive advance planning and logistical preparation. When the large numbers, wide variety, and multi-national character of the forces involved in the Suez operation, the narrow geographical confines within which it took place, and the sheer amount of intelligence gathering and analysis capability available to the United States at the time are considered, the attack upon Egypt should have been impossible to conceal. Yet, President Eisenhower and other American leaders were caught by surprise— especially so by the role that the Israelis played.

The question must be asked— why? As is the case with all complex questions, there is no single, simple answer, but the best generalization is that the British, French, and Israelis hid their preparations in plain sight by allowing the Americans to see what they expected to see and thus led them to a false conclusion, then acted in an unexpected way. The strategic deception operation that enabled them to do so was multi-faceted and complex. The erroneous perceptions of the Arab-Israeli conflict that the deception planted in the American mindset in 1956 are still operative today.