LONDON: The Suez crisis, which began 50 years ago this week, made clear for the first time that Britain and France were no longer world powers and marked the start of a close cooperation between London and Washington still very much in evidence in today s Middle East. Never again were Britain or France really able to take the kind of independent military action that they would have wanted to, according to Robert McGeehan from Chatham House, the London-based think tank for international affairs. And this was a great turning point for NATO, because it was the most serious crisis ever since the alliance was created in 1949, and it showed that interests between America and its European allies were not always the same as had been assumed until then, McGeehan believes. On July 26, 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company, owner and operator of the main route for Middle Eastern oil bound for Europe and a vital Franco-British asset. Britain and France, who considered Nasser as a kind of Arab Hitler, McGeehan says, held a secret meeting with Israel at which it was agreed that Israel would invade the Sinai and that after a short while, Britain and France would intervene and re-take the canal. But once Operation Musketeer got under way and Washington found out, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower was incensed that his NATO allies had hatched such an audacious plan behind his back. Washington threatened to sell the U.S. s sterling reserves and spark a sharp fall in the pound and together with the Soviet Union, in an unlikely Cold War alliance, pressured London and Paris into a humiliating withdrawal. The disastrous episode from the point of view of France and Britain prompted very different reactions on either side of the Channel, Chatham House s McGeehan said. Britain vowed never to find itself in such a situation ever again and decided that having a good relationship with the new superpower must come first, even if this meant losing autonomy of action, McGeehan said. This special relationship has lasted down the 50 years that followed, and has perhaps never been stronger than it is today between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush, as evidenced in Afghanistan, Iraq and most recently in the U.S.-British response to events in Lebanon. The French decided more or less the reverse, McGeehan believes. [France] is a very proud nation, and they do not particularly enjoy the feeling of being pushed around by les Anglo-Saxons . Charles de Gaulle, the war hero who became French president in 1959, protested against the dominant role of the United States in NATO and against cozy Anglo-U.S. relations, and in 1966 removed French troops from the organization s military command. They were not to return for 33 years. Many people believe that even though there was a French nuclear program before 1956, that the Force de frappe really was the child of Suez, McGeehan argues.