Thursday, July 7, 2016

31 - General Burns' Account of the Ein Hashofet Sheep Affair

On a Sunday afternoon, six days after the sheep had strayed [as the Jordanians claimed], I received an urgent summons to see Mr Moshe Sharett, then Prime Minister and holding also the portfolio of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mr Sharett said he wanted to speak to me about the Ein Hashofet sheep. Probably I would think it strange that the Prime Minister of the country should call me in to confer on such a relatively trivial affair, but a question of principle was involved. There were some people of great influence in the Government and elsewhere (by implication in the military forces) who advocated that Israelis should always retaliate by force against acts of Arab violence, or breaches of the armistice. He, himself, supported by the majority in the present Government, believed in following the procedures laid down in the GAA [General Armistice Agreements] through the MAC, and, where appropriate, using the UNTSO.
If the sheep question could be settled satisfactorily through the MAC and UNTSO machinery, this would support his policy which would then stand a better chance of being adhered to in more important incidents. But if I couldn’t succeed in getting the sheep back, the advocates of retorting to violence by greater violence would have another argument, and in more serious situations which could arise in the future it would be more difficult to maintain the policy of settlement of disputes by discussion in the MACs rather than by retaliation and intimidation.
This was the first and only time which Sharett spoke to me of the two trends in Israel’s defence and foreign policy. However, many others who were of his view, mainly people in the foreign affairs ministry, propounded the same thesis. Unfortunately, their urgings that I should do what I could to support the efforts of the “negotiation” party as opposed to the “retaliation” party were usually coupled with the suggestion that I should see that the Israel viewpoint in respect of incidents under deliberation by the Mixed Armistice Commission should be upheld by the Chairman. In other words, it was represented that it was up to me to see that the “pacific” party would have a diplomatic success so that they could hold their own against the adherents to the “activist” or militarist theory.
Unhappily, during the two years from September 1954 to September 1956, the pacifists fought a losing battle and the militarists more and more imposed their point of view and policies.

E.L.M. Burns, Between Arab and Israeli, New York: Ivan Obolensky, 1963. [Toronto: Clark, Irwin, 1962], 43-44.