Egyptian–Czechoslovak arms deal
The Egyptian-Czechoslovak arms deal was an agreement between the USSR and Egypt led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, announced in September 1955, to supply Egypt with more than $250 million worth of modern Soviet weaponry, through Czechoslovakia. The deal was a major turning point in the Cold War and greatly impacted the Arab–Israeli conflict.
Instead of siding with either super-power, Nasser took the role of the spoiler and tried to play off the super-powers in order to have them compete with each other in attempts to buy his friendship. Nasser's first choice for buying weapons was the United States, but his frequent anti-Israeli speeches and his sponsorship for the fedayeen who were making raids into Israel had made it difficult for the Eisenhower administration to get the approval of Congress to sell weapons to Egypt. American public opinion was deeply hostile towards selling arms to Egypt that might be used against Israel, and moreover Eisenhower feared starting a Middle Eastern arms race. Eisenhower very much valued the Tripartite Declaration as a way of keeping peace in the Near East. In 1950, in order to limit the extent that the Arabs and the Israelis could engage in an arms race, the three nations which dominated the arms trade in the non-Communist world, namely the United States, the United Kingdom and France had signed the Tripartite Declaration, where they had committed themselves to limiting how many arms they could sell in the Near East, and also to ensuring that any arms sales to one side was matched by arms sales of equal quantity and quality to the other. Eisenhower viewed the Tripartite Declaration, which sharply restricted how many arms Egypt could buy in the West, as one of the key elements in keeping the peace between Israel and the Arabs, and believed that settling off an arms race would inevitably lead to a new war.
The Egyptians made continuous attempts to purchase heavy arms from Czechoslovakia years before the 1955 deal.
Nasser had let it be known in 1954–55 that he was considering buying weapons from the Soviet Union as a way of pressuring the Americans into selling him arms he desired. Nasser's hope was that faced with the prospect of Egypt buying Soviet weapons, and thus coming under Soviet influence, the Eisenhower administration would be forced to sell Egypt the weapons he wanted. Khrushchev who very much wanted to win the Soviet Union influence in the Middle East, was more than ready to arm Egypt if the Americans proved unwilling. During secret talks with the Soviets in 1955, Nasser's demands for weapons were more than amply satisfied as the Soviet Union had not signed the Tripartite Declaration. The news in September 1955 of the Egyptian purchase of a huge quantity of Soviet arms via Czechoslovakia was greeted with shock and rage in the West, where this was seen as major increase in Soviet influence in the Near East. In Britain, the increase of Soviet influence in the Near East was seen as an ominous development that threatened to put an end to British influence in the oil-rich region.
The deal included the following weapon systems:
- 150 MiG 15 jet fighters
- 50 Ilyushin Il-28 long-range bombers
- 70 Ilyushin Il-14 military transport planes
- 230 T-34 main battle tanks
- 200 BTR-152 armored personnel carriers
- Hundreds of artillery pieces, various types
There is near universal agreement among historians that the deal was what led Israel to start planning a war against Egypt, to be fought at Israel's convenience rather than waiting for an Egyptian attack—which culminated in the Suez Crisis.
- Gaddis, John Lewis (1998) pp. 170–172.
- Burns, William Economic Aid and American Policy towards Egypt, pp. 16–17
- Neff, Donald Warriors at Suez, p. 73.
- Guy Laron (February 2007). "Cutting the Gordian Knot: The Post-WWII Egyptian Quest for Arms and the 1955 Czechoslovak Arms Deal". wilsoncenter.org. p. 16.
Egyptian representatives were able to sign a new commercial agreement with Czechoslovakia on 24 October 1951, which included a secret clause stating that "the government of Czechoslovakia will provide the Egyptian government with arms and ammunition - to be selected by Egyptian experts - worth about 600 million Egyptian pounds, to be paid in Egyptian cotton." The Egyptian experts requested 200 tanks, 200 armored vehicles, 60 to 100 MIG-15 planes, 2,000 trucks, 1,000 jeeps, and other items…. Czechoslovakia would not be able to supply weapons to Egypt in 1952. And each year, from then until 1955, Prague kept finding new reasons to delay the shipments
- Gaddis, John Lewis (1998) p. 171.
- Neff, Donald Warriors at Suez, pp. 93–94.
- Goldman, Marshal Soviet Foreign Aid, New York: Frederick Praeger, 1968, p. 60.
- Adamthwaite, Anthony "Suez Revisited" pages 449–464 from International Affairs, Volume 64, Issue # 3, Summer 1988 page 450.
- "The Historical Place of the Czech-Egyptian Arms Deal", Fall 1955, Motti Golani, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 31, No. 4, Israel (Oct., 1995), pp. 803–827