Sunday, May 1, 2016

15 - Excerpts from Sharett’s remarks at the Cabinet meeting, July 2, 1954

  Last night I ignored some rules of protocol and personally phoned the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv. I said I wanted to enlist him not only to our side but to the side of his government, because if the incidents continued, we would not be able to sit still while the population of Jerusalem are endangered, and this might very much complicate matters for his government. Our patience has its limits. Jerusalem is our Capital. [- - -] He later told me he had made contact with Amman and had strongly demanded that it become aware of the seriousness of the situation. [- - -] Immediately after the start of the shooting I concluded that it was a retaliation by the [Arab] Legion for the incident at the village of ‘Azzun, and that the Legion decided to take revenge in this most sensitive spot of ours. This must prompt us to thinking about the future and arriving at conclusions. We must take into consideration that the other side is capable of retaliating to our retaliation, and this arouses a serious question of the balance of profit against loss[see diary entry for June 28 and note there].
[- - -]
I would like, first of all, to consider how I see the development of recent incidents and relate to some suggestions and remarks heard at our discussion. I don’t think that generally speaking the picture is one of an initiated, planned action by the Jordanians. I am convinced, on the basis of my information and impressions, that what happened was caused by a chain of different circumstances. As to Mevo Betar, it is clear to me, in view of reports I have received, that the settlers have crossed the border and hiked on the other side more than once. On one occasion they posted an Israeli flag on the other side of the line. Clearly, they operate according to a set method, which is to say that they are capable of acting as they they see fit. According to one piece of information, they once opened fire on an Arab they saw on their way. The ambush the other side arranged was a natural response. What we would have done if the other side had behaved with such chutzpah [daring; cheek]? [- - -]
Now to the Ra’anana incident. This was clearly an act of a small gang which happened not on the border but well inside the country. When the Defense Minister suggested to me a retaliation, I approved it. He then told me this would be a limited operation, to be executed by three people [soldiers] who would target one or two [Jordanian soldiers]. I understand it was executed by seven people and four [Jordanians] were killed. It was almost twice as big. If such a plan had been forwarded to me, I doubt that I would have agreed. After I gave my approval I was informed that on that very night the Ra’anana gang was ambushed by our Border Guards and one of its members was killed. [- - -] Had I known that an Arab was killed by our ambush, I would have said that here is a quid pro quo – they killed one of our people, we killed one of theirs. Had we been restrained a bit, for a night or two, I might have not seen the ‘Azzun operation as necessary.
Let me add: I think that had the ‘Azzun act not taken place, what happened in Jerusalem would not have happened. It is clear to me that this was a response to ‘Azzun. [- - -] There we proved that a small unit of [IDF] people is capable of penetrating deeply [13 km.] across the border and attacking directly a Legion camp and killing four, perhaps wounding a few, there. [- - -] This was a blow to the self-respect of the [Jordanian] army. They felt they must retaliate and chose Jerusalem, because here we are more vulnerable than they are, because we have no wall, because we care more than they about our population being hit, and because here we are more vulnerable politically. We are interested in the identification of Jerusalem with the State of Israel. They are somehow less sensitive to the idea of Jerusalem’s internationalization; they got used to the hundreds of years of foreign [Turkish] domination. But now a new situation has been established and the Christian world has not accepted it, and thus it would be beneficial if they could demonstrate that Jerusalem is a serious problem, that there is no peace there, that the holy places are in danger. Moreover, if they shoot, they don’t hit any holy places, because there are no churches in Jewish Jerusalem, while any response by us may or must hit some holy place. Jerusalem is thus a preferred place for a reprisal.
I wish to say one more thing about ‘Azzun. After the operation [in which one wounded Israeli soldier, Yitzhak Jibly, was left behind and taken prisoner] we published a formal communique and I approved it. It said that our men crossed the border deeply [13 km] by mistake, at night, suddenly met with Legion men and opened fire on their camp. Let me say this: by such a communique we admitted, for the first time, that such operations are executed by our army, thus negating former communiques of ours. In this communique we also said that there was a prisoner [in Jordanian hands], and [according to IJMAC reports] he admitted he was an IDF soldier and that his commander was with him [on the mission]. Nobody believes it was a mistake. Our communiques are not being believed. Yesterday I published a communique, well worded and guarded, but clearly accusing the other side, but it is heard by people in the outside world who have learned not to have faith in what we say. This is a fact which we should be aware of, and when Cabinet members suggest that we must disseminate information and arouse public opinion, I want you to know that we must not only overcome indifference, lack of interest and ignorance, but also overcome lack of credibility, especially justified  in view of untrue communiques of ours. As to the future, I shall not say a word, because I don’t want to prophecy whether the shootings, which have stopped as of 11:30, are renewed. It is not easy to say what we should do. It is also not practical at this moment. I think that if we are faced with a choice not to act or to execute a very serious act, we shall at least have to convene the ministerial committee for foreign and defense matters, for it has been suggested that we hit the Legion hard, and this would probably enlarge the dimensions of the conflict and might prod the Legion to execute even a bigger response. This is a very serious issue and we shall have to weigh it well. [Our next action] can deter the Legion, but it can be otherwise.