October 31

This Day in History

Cold War

Oct 31, 1956:

British and French troops land in Suez Canal zone

Two days after Israeli sent forces into Egypt initiating the Suez Crisis, British and French military forces join them in the canal zone to try to retake the canal. Originally, forces from the three countries were set to strike at once, intent on foiling Egypt's plans to nationalize the canal, but the British and French troops were delayed. The entry of Britain and France into the struggle nearly brought the Soviet Union into the conflict, and seriously damaged their relationships with the United States.

Behind schedule, but ultimately successful, the British and French forces took control of the area around the Suez Canal. However, their hesitation had given the Soviet Union-also confronted with a growing crisis in Hungary--time to respond. The Soviets, eager to exploit Arab nationalism and gain a foothold in the Middle East, supplied arms from Czechoslovakia to the Egyptian government beginning in 1955, and eventually helped Egypt construct the Aswan Dam on the Nile River after the United States refused to support the project. Soviet leader Khrushchev railed against the invasion and threatened to rain down nuclear missiles on Western Europe if the Israeli-French-British force did not withdraw.

The Eisenhower administration's response was measured. It warned the Soviets that reckless talk of nuclear conflict would only make matters worse, and cautioned Khrushchev to refrain from direct intervention in the conflict. However, Eisenhower also gave stern warnings to the French, British, and Israelis to give up their campaign and withdraw from Egyptian soil. Eisenhower was personally furious with the British, in particular, for not keeping the United States informed about their intentions. The United States threatened all three nations with economic sanctions if they persisted in their attack. The threats did their work. The British and French forces withdrew by December; Israel finally bowed to U.S. pressure in March 1957. While the U.S. action helped to avoid an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East, the damage to relations with France, Britain, and Israel took years to repair.

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