World War 3: How US risked nuclear war after supporting aggression in Middle East | World | News

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On October 29, 1956, Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt towards the Suez Canal, a key waterway between Europe and Asia which was controlled by European shareholders despite Egypt gaining independence in 1922. Britain and France soon backed the Israelis, who were both keen to oust Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser after he pressured Britain to end its military presence in the zone earlier that year. His decision was prompted by the cutoff of American funding for the massive Aswan Dam, after Nasser had signed a huge arms deal with the Soviet bloc.

The US and Britain would not subsidise the dam, so Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and planned to use the toll revenues to build the dam itself. 

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower had strongly warned Britain not to invade and threatened serious damage to the British financial system through cutting oil supplies and selling of British bonds.

However, the Soviets sent a stark warning of their own, as they attempted to solidify themselves as the true superpower.

Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin claimed the USSR was ready to rain nuclear-armed ballistic missiles on Western Europe and Israel should they not withdraw.

However, despite the US’s obligations to the situation, they were bound under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to collective defence in response to any attack by an external party

The USSR also threatened to send troops to Egypt to fight the Allies, which led Eisenhower to fear this might be the beginning of World War 3.

In private, Eisenhower told Undersecretary of State Herbert Hoover Jr at the time: “The Soviet Union might be ready to undertake any wild adventure. 

“They are as scared and furious as Adolf Hitler was in his last days. There’s nothing more dangerous than a dictatorship in that frame of mind.”

Eisenhower immediately ordered his Lockheed U-2 flights over Syria and Israel to search for any Soviet air forces on Syrian bases, so the British and French could destroy them. 

He told Hoover and CIA director Allan Dulles: “If the Soviets attack the French and British directly, we would be in a war and we would be justified in taking military action even if Congress were not in session.”

Off the back of World War 2, Britain was already struggling financially and the threat of US sanctions threatened to crumble the nation.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold Macmillan, advised Prime Minister Anthony Eden that Britain’s foreign exchange reserves simply could not sustain the devaluation of the pound that would come after the US actions.

He said that within weeks of such a move, the country would be unable to import the food and energy supplies needed to sustain the population on the islands.

Under political pressure, Britain, France and Israel all grudgingly withdrew and Nasser became the hero of the Arab world.

The damage to the West was immense: Anglo-American relations were at an all-time low, Prime Minister Eden resigned and the climax of the crisis is widely considered to be the symbolic end of the British Empire.

The Soviets saw it as a victory for communism.

Historians conclude the crisis “signified the end of Great Britain’s role as one of the world’s major powers” and it would mark the start of many more displays of dominance between the US and the Soviet Union before the Cold War ended in 1991.



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