Friday, April 29, 2016

10 - Excerpts from Sharett's Speech to Mapai Political Committee, April 15, 1954

Inasmuch as American planning is going on, the appeal of the US to the Arab world is being strengthened. This planning doesn’t involve inviting all the Arab states to join the defense pact. They cannot involve Egypt as long as the problem of her relations with Britain is not resolved. It is also doubtful whether Egypt is prepared to join in view of her neutralist tendencies. However the US has not despaired; it would like to do something in order to engage the Egyptians, perhaps by bribing them with arms with no conditions attached. And this would lessen opposition to this step by other Arab states. However at this juncture another opposition [force] appears: Israel is enlisting Jewish and non-Jewish public opinion in America, and thus ensues a confrontation between Israeli and American Jewish public opinion and the policy of the State Department. There was a time during the Truman-Acheson administration when, as a result of State Department influence over Acheson, the President almost approved bribing Egypt with arms worth of several millions, and only the Israeli Embassy’s intervention, with the help of Jewish circles and non-Jewish circles in Congress, [persuaded] Truman to withhold the necessary approval. Acheson then agreed that he had been mistaken, but the State Department almost won the day.
Then there was a time when the State Department suggested $100 million be allotted for military aid to the Middle East. We, who had constantly demanded military aid from America, assessed that we would benefit more if no military aid at all were given than if it were allotted according to the State Department plan, since they meant arming the Arabs only. Our intervention did not succeed 100%, but it did by exactly 70%. Our advance-party – our friends in Congress – opposed pouring money for naught and the grant was lowered from $100 to $30 million. This matter deeply angered the State Department, who knew who had pulled the strings. The $30 million served as a basis for the Turkey-Pakistan pact, and half the sum went to Pakistan.
But it is one thing to enlist Jewish public opinion against arming Egypt, and another to raise the question of posing a direct danger to Israel, and to enter into the sphere of global defense of the American civilization against the danger of Soviet aggression. And obviously American Jews are very sensitive to avoid being accused of damaging their government’s defense plans.
But again, insofar as Iraq is concerned, intensive action has been taken. There is a confrontation here, and they [the State Department] are full of anger and intensively trying to convince us to drop our opposition. True, it may well be that Iraq will receive several millions in spite of our opposition, but it would be much more convenient on their part if they reach a compromise with us on this matter. For it’s one thing if Israeli diplomacy and Israeli dailies oppose American move, but something totally different if this becomes a political issue inside America, when intensive efforts by newspaper articles, radio propaganda, pressure by Congressional delegations are all nourished by Jewish public opinion, and the lever activating Jewish public opinion is Israeli influence. The State Department is opening an operation against this influence. Its efforts are aimed at deterring American Jews from serving Israeli propaganda. It claims it [i.e., arming the Arabs] is necessary for the defense of the West; that it is a paramount American interest and whoever opposes it is not a patriotic American. Jews are asked: Who are you? Are you American citizens, or Israel’s supporters within American society? Do you favor America’s interests or Israel’s, if ever the latter contradicts the former?
This confrontation has taken on other forms, quite concrete and alarming as well.  Our financial machinery in the United States is highly complicated. You all know that the UJA [United Jewish Appeal] functions mainly thanks to the fact that contributions to it are tax deductible. This means that a high proportion of the UJA’s income are indeed contributions by the American Treasury, and this is allowed on condition that the money is spent on charitable matters. But one can prove that part of this money is serving propaganda that is used against the official policy of the United States. Thus there is a background here of far-reaching complications.
If this process has, as is reported, been stopped, then it is precisely because of the general awakening of American Jewry for the defense of Israel and against the arming of the Arab countries by American money – a stand supported by liberal public opinion in America. Moreover, the State Department has counter-productively stopped the grant to Israel. This move caused a real explosion in public opinion and Jews and non-Jews alike mustered great courage on this issue. One could discern here an interesting psychological-social dialectical process, for it came after the terrible impact of the Qibya affair on American Jewry.
I said at the time some sharp words on that affair at the Knesset. There were some haverim who were angered by that sharpness. Not only did I not exaggerate, but I refrained from saying all that had to be said on the matter. That was a blow to American Jewry, for it was the first time that this Jewry lost its confidence in the rightfulness of Israel’s action. The slogan “my country, right or wrong” does not generally pertain to American Jews. They love to support Israel out of confidence the they are supporting a just case; that not only is the cause of Israel right in principle, but that what she is doing is right. When they are protesting against the arming of Iraq or Syria, they are convinced they are supporting a just position. Here [in the case of Qibya operation] they lost this confidence, and it became a sore, a terrible burden. For the first time they found themselves unable to feel psychological identification with Israel.
But the very fact that, immediately after this, there occurred the suspension of the grant, gave vent to a response against this move which would have been weaker if not for the Qibya distress. Now they felt free to pronounce fully their protest, fully convinced that the case of Israel was right. This response has brought about concrete results. The Republican Party took notice. Elections to the Congress are forthcoming. The leaders of the State Department too were not oblivious to Jewish public opinion. There is ground to believe that Dulles himself, perhaps Eisenhower too, realized the boys at the State Department went too far and should be restrained. Jewish influence was not correctly assessed. Some local observers believe that this has halted the strong impetus of moving the center of gravity from Israel to the Arab states.
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It should be clear that the United States increasingly views the Arab states as participating in its global defense plan. Clearly, then, the Soviet Union must try to disrupt these plans of the West. The Soviets believe that as the Arabs were neutral between Hitler and the democracies in World War II, they may now be neutral between democracy and communism, and thus every effort must be made to encourage them to oppose Western policy. Clearly, this increases American efforts to win the friendship of the Arab countries, and this of course does not improve our situation.
This is the background over which the deterioration of the security situation is taking place. To put it better, this is the background of the struggle between us and the Arab countries over the Armistice Agreements, over their implementation and violation.
To begin with it must be clear the Western states are not interested in this situation. I find it necessary to state this, since here is among us a tendency to always see some foreign power pulling strings and stirring up quarrels. Neither the United States nor Britain are interested in finding themselves pressed to support any side against the other. They have no interest in the conflict. Britain has no interest in activating its mutual defense pact with Jordan. Britain is interested in quiet reigning in our area. But when the situation is not calm, we shouldn’t expect her to be too honest and forthright, since this would mean supporting us against the Arabs and castigating them as aggressors. Given Britain’s general tendency, we shouldn’t expect such behavior and we should realize this in advance. I will not say this in the Knesset, nor in a public speech or in a press conference; but in order to understand our situation we should be aware of this. There are situations in which they find themselves unable not to be critical of the Arab states, such as in the case of free passage thorough the Suez Canal. But whenever they take a pro-Israel stance, they do so under duress.
It should then be clear in advance that, in order to square accounts, they will judge us mercilessly on any transgression of ours. And while the United States and Britain will do their utmost to prevent a conflagration, this is a two-edged sword, for their intervening can be against the Arabs, but also against us. And here it’s not considerations of honesty and justice that reign, but those of which side is easier to check.
This is part of the background, perhaps the main part, against which we should examine our security problem today, indeed during the last weeks and months, even years. Here, at every new phase, the question of our security pops up anew. And the crux of the matter is the question of retaliation.
I believe there can be no disagreement among us regarding whether we should or should not resort to political weapons. It seems that even Herut doesn’t demand that we cease talking with the Powers and engaging public opinion, avoid taking any notice of the UN, and solve all our problems by force alone.
Generally speaking, I accept it as a basic tenet that our struggle should be mixed and balanced, more or less, between the two factors of direct action and diplomacy and propaganda. However, on the question of direct action serious disagreement might certainly arise.
I take it for granted, not only theoretically, that we do not wish for war. This is a serious question. We must ask ourselves: do we want war? I believe in utter certainty that we do not want war, and I think it is not necessary to explain why. But this fact alone doesn’t solve the problem, because our not wanting war doesn’t mean we may not become entangled in war, that we cannot slide into war. Moreover, I am confident and convinced the Arab states do not want war. And this is the current assessment of our soldiers: that the Arab states, at least at present, do not want war. They are all full to the brim with anger and a passion for vengeance, but a passion for vengeance is not tantamount with a well thought-out desire to enter into war. First, they have not forgotten their defeat; second, they are not ready yet; third, Egypt and Syria especially have been enmeshed in internal conflicts for a long time now. And in both countries the army is involved more than any other factor, this resulting in the armies’ inability to rehabilitate themselves. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Arab states may not slide into war.
These two assumptions do not solve the problem. One could argue that since the possibility of being enmeshed in war exists and, since this eventuality would be unfavorable to us, we should not by any means take too extreme a step which would lead us into it.
After the [March 28 IDF] Nahhalin operation as well, Jordan strongly demanded that Britain consider it a casus belli and come to her support [under the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty]. Britain avoided such a step, but she took care to tell us – and tell us most clearly – that this doesn’t mean she would continue in this vein: “O.K., this time we did not move, but we may next time.” Indeed, one cannot know how much our military operations against Jordan have undermined Britain’s position there. Britain can continue her policy of not acting against us according to the defense pact she has with Jordan, but she can also act if we go too far. Between these two ends we must be swaying constantly.
These are the considerations involved in this problem, but these are not all. We must realize that each serious retaliation operation we mount – and the logic operating here dictates that most of them are serious – I am not talking about Qibya, that was a totally exceptional episode; we have not sat down to investigate the Qibya matter, but its psychological results all over the globe were evident. As far as the world is concerned, this was an indelible stain on Israel, I doubt whether it will ever be erased. It is something which has entered the annals of History. Not everything enters History; this did enter and shall remain there. This doesn’t means that we would not be able to overcome this – such things occur in the history of all nations, and now we have one in ours.
I am not talking about the Qibya incident, but rather about other operations. Generally, when the Arabs act, one or two men infiltrate, usually for the purpose of theft, not in order to kill people. Sometimes, when they are spotted by a watchman, they shoot and kill him. But we [i.e., the IDF] are not crossing the borders in order to steal. Our aim is to carry out some operation.
And when we are mounting an operation, it is not we who publicize it. The initiative for action and the initiative for publication do not go hand in hand. [- - -] The other side publicizes whatever he wishes, and we are not always able to deny or correct it. We can say: who cares, the main thing is the impact of the operation. But this is not so simple, for we are operating also in the sphere of diplomacy and public relations. From this point of view we can only lose.
Moreover, an action taken against us, being a small-scale event, doesn’t evoke much impression in world public opinion. When three people are killed, nobody is impressed. The news is printed somewhere inside the newspaper. It doesn’t make a headline across a page; some newspapers won’t mention it at all. Then, when we retaliate, our action appears not as a second link in a chain or process, but as an unprovoked initiative starting a new chain of violence.
Take the instance of the Nahhalin operation. In [Moshav] Kessalon one settler was killed [on the night of March 26-27]. As far as the world was concerned, this was not devastating news. But when the New York Times correspondent reported about the Nahhalin retaliation, he sent a long dispatch which impressed its readers that a military assault was mounted – according to [Sir John Bagot] Glubb [British Commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion] by 200 soldiers – against a village and that we were repelled; and had we not been repelled, a massacre, a second Qibya, would have taken place and only thanks to the Jordanians defending themselves were only 9 of their men killed.
And when this is the impression people receive, an impression which finds expression also in the Security Council’s deliberations and resolutions, and in communiqués of the big Powers, then all this encourages the other side to continue with infiltration. It doesn’t deter them; it encourages them. And, as far as the international echo is concerned, inasmuch as the aim of the retaliation is deterrence, it achieves the very opposite.
Moreover, retaliations unify the other side. Inasmuch as they hate us, they enhance that hate even more. I am not talking about a certain village which was hit or about its region which include many other panicked villages. I am talking about the whole nation, the whole [Middle East] area. Retaliations inflame the fire of hate, and the fire of hate nourishes, not always immediately, additional sabotage actions. And behind all this looms a risk of an entanglement in war.
Clearly, there are reasons, heavily-weighted reasons, for the mounting of retaliations. [- - -] I am not sure I shall encompass here all these reasons, but let me say this: One reason offered – and I personally don’t take it as proven – is that retaliation prevents further terrorist acts, perhaps immediately, perhaps later, perhaps on the spot, perhaps in other areas. It might well be that it is worthwhile, that an act on the spot [i.e., retaliation against the nearest Jordanian village to the Israeli target hit by infiltrators] affects a stoppage of acts of terror there; perhaps it deters. But this has not been proven to me. I could cite incidents of terrorism which were a direct and almost immediate response to our doing; there were also cases when supposedly there was a lull after our actions, maybe because of our action. Thus I say this remains an open question. I wonder whether it would ever be possible to prove one way or the other.
But there is another rather weighty reason which claims that retaliations awaken the other side’s authorities from their  lethargy, or at least  prompts them in this direction. Any government – I wonder if Israel is included – has an interest in avoiding trouble as much as possible. Suppose Jordan is doing something against infiltration into Israel, but in doing this she facing strong opposition. She does the minimum, not the maximum. How can Jordan be brought to do the maximum? By convincing? By appealing to her sense of justice or human considerations? Logically, it is only if she realizes that avoiding the prevention of infiltration costs her much harsher troubles than if she would chose to prevent it. This is serious reasoning. But, on the other hand, in the meantime people [in Jordan] are provoked to carry out more terrorist actions; in the meantime general hatred of Israel is inflamed; in the meantime Jordan’s government is under heavier duress. This creates an atmosphere in which it again see itself unfettered from the need to use preventive measures, since she can claim she is confronted with Jewish aggression and nothing more. Thus our accounting can fail on this level too.
There is a third reasoning, one which it seems no one can refute, and this is the settlers’ morale. We all know the situation on our borders. We know how the settlers there are burdened by the quota of night-duty each of them must spend guarding his village, by the stealing of his property, by the feeling his village is a target of attacks. If in view of this background the settlers are aware that they are left to their fate because no reprisals are being carried out, then this situation might enhance the deterioration of the settlers’ morale, which is already low. It may well be that we must mount reprisals only in order to buttress their spirits and demonstrate that the State stands behind them and is not indifferent. There is a battle going on; they are part of the front line; and they too must take part in it. This consideration is binding.
I must mention one more consideration, which is the general feeling reigning in the country. It is a consideration that a democracy cannot always ignore. There is no doubt that, after the Ma’aleh Akrabim incident which was not responded to by a reprisal, there was a heavy felling of distress in the country. And obviously this feeling has not vanished, when the papers report Ambassador Elath’s meeting with Eden and Ambassador Eban’s meeting with Dulles, or my speech in the Knesset or other speeches on this matter. All these gave a certain vent to the hard feelings, but the general distress passed away when the Nahhalin reprisal was publicized. But I must add here that I suspect whether any of those whose distress dissipated thanks to that reprisal had foreseen in advance its consequences.
Well, these are the considerations. But there something else too. It is the fact that the other side doesn’t suffer, or suffer less, from untruth. He is less sensitive, his society is less sensitive to untruth. But he is also less in need to say untruths, for were I the Jordanian Government, I could most calmly say that I did not send off all the bands into Israel – anyway, not in all cases. It is clear that inside Jordan’s government and inside the Jordanian Army there are elements who assist these acts, but obviously no one can say these acts are perpetrated by the Jordanian Army. One can count on less than five fingers the cases in which Arab soldiers of any the Arab state crossed our border and mounted military operations since the end of hostilities in 1949.
However, when we mounting any operation, it doesn’t matter what we say and what we don’t say – sometimes we say this, sometimes that, sometimes we say nothing – it is clear to any thinking and well-oriented person that this action was not initiated by some unknown private individual but by the State, pure and simple. They all know what kind of a country Israel is, what kind of an army we have. So when they approach Jordan they at best say: “Listen, you must do something and curb infiltration.” But when we are approached they say to our government: “You are responsible. We demand that you cease doing this.” And I must confess here, within these four walls, that an unpleasant feeling is born, because you cannot say all the truth that is in your heart. You cannot. I don’t know whether I should come to conclusions [and resign?].  But it should be clear that retaliation cannot be a panacea for every single incident. Consideration is needed in each individual case. In general, retaliation is something which is better to minimize than maximize, something which is better to do in intervals than constantly. And it is something which must be accompanied by an explanatory [hasbara] effort within the Israeli public.
For instance, if we castigate the deterioration of the armistice regime, it should not lead to a conclusion that we want to completely do away with this machinery, because its abolition means war. We should make it clear that we are interested in its continued functioning as long as we have no better alternative. We should always remember that, in spite of the situation being bad, that it might be worse. This must be explained to our public. And it is needed in the Army.
It must be clear that while the function of force and weapons on this front is important – without the Army and its ability to respond and make war we would have been lost – it is impossible to mount our campaign only by this single instrument. Our campaign must be mounted by political means as well, and thus the question always arises: how much is this instrument helping the political battle and how much is it damaging it? At times it is impossible to avoid damaging the political battle by concrete action [of the IDF], but ignoring it is something unthinkable. And this not-ignoring is necessary not only at the level of the decision-makers, but also at the levels of the public and the Army.
There is also here another factor which is certainly not decisive but it too cannot be ignored. And this is the relationship between us and diaspora Jews. We have witnessed a crafty scheme to insert a wedge between us and Jews abroad as was evident in a certain passage of Byroade’s speech, which was a continuation of State Department policy. This is a very grave matter, and we expect a response first and foremost from American Jews. It would be sad if the response is manifested only in the Israeli press and in pronunciations by the Embassy of Israel [in Washington]. We cannot, if we aim at the strengthening of the ties of diaspora Jews with us and instilling courage in their hearts to maintain these ties, to rightfully speak up on our behalf, we cannot ignore – take notice, haverim, I am not saying this is a decisive consideration; I am saying we cannot allow ourselves to ignore – their direct internal, psychological responses to our actions. We cannot demand their solidarity and rely on their assistance while at the same time behave as if they do not exist.
There are of course matters which depend on effective explaining; there are matters which are difficult to explain; and there are matters which are unexplainable. We can also take actions which cannot be explained. But we should be aware of this problem. We simply cannot allow ourselves to forget it. And this too must be a part of educating our public and the Army.
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SOURCE: Israel Labor Party Archives.