The catalyst for the joint Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt was the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egyptian leader General Gamal Abdel Nasser in July 1956. The situation had been brewing for some time. Two years earlier, the Egyptian military had begun pressuring the British to end its military presence (which had been granted in the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty) in the canal zone. Nasser’s armed forces also engaged in sporadic battles with Israeli soldiers along the border between the two nations, and the Egyptian leader did nothing to conceal his antipathy toward the Zionist nation.
Supported by Soviet arms and money, and furious with the United States for reneging on a promise to provide funds for construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River, Nasser ordered the Suez Canal seized and nationalized. The British were angry with the move and sought the support of France (which believed that Nasser was supporting rebels in the French colony of Algeria), and Israel, in an armed assault to retake the canal. The Israelis struck first, but were shocked to find that British and French forces did not immediately follow behind them. Instead of a lightning strike by overwhelming force, the attack bogged down. The United Nations quickly passed a resolution calling for a cease-fire.
The Soviet Union began to issue ominous threats about coming to Egypt’s aid. A dangerous situation developed quickly, one that the Eisenhower administration hoped to defuse before it turned into a Soviet-U.S. confrontation. Though the United States sternly warned the Soviet Union to stay out of the situation, Eisenhower also pressured the British, French, and Israeli governments to withdraw their troops. They eventually did so in late 1956 and early 1957.