Thursday, July 7, 2016

32 - Reports by Ambassador Nicholls on his Conversation with PM Sharett, November 3, 1954

According to Nicholls’ official report to Eden, the main points raised by Sharett at this meeting were:
2. Your [Eden’s] statement in the House of Commons yesterday was of great importance to Israel. For the first time one at least of the Tripartite Declaration Powers had undertaken publicly to assist Israel if she were attacked. But he would certainly be asked in Knesset next week whether, in such a case, Her Majesty’s Government would intervene even if no request for intervention were received from the Israel Government.
4. Mr Sharett then turned to the frontier situation. The Jordan frontier might ... be quieter, but there had been a grave deterioration along the Egyptian border. The Israel Government had considerable evidence that the operations were centrally directed by an Egyptian military intelligence organization, and they concluded that the Egyptian object was to provoke a major act of retaliation which could be exploited to efface Egypt’s own transgressions. He hoped the signature of the Canal Zone treaty would enable us to put effective pressure on the Egyptian Government, which could certainly stop these incidents if it wished.
5. Finally, Mr Sharett spoke very earnestly about Israel’s present policy of restraint. He hoped that we had noticed that for two months there had been no act of retaliation whatever. But this policy had failed. Incidents were accruing daily, many of them obviously organized, and the Arab States seemed less rather than more disposed to make peace. It was politically impossible for the Israel Government to remain passive indefinitely when they could not guarantee to their citizens the elementary rights to security of life and property. I replied on the obvious lines, and am satisfied that Mr Sharett was seeking encouragement and support, not announcing an impending change of policy. But his difficulties are very real and it is important that the policy of restraint should be seen to pay some dividend, however small.

SOURCE: Nicholls to Foreign Office, tgm.313, November 4, 1954, TNA FO371/111106 VR1091/245.

In a personal letter addressed the next day to Paul Falla at the Foreign Office, Nicholls amplified the above report with the following remarks:
2.  I found Sharett easy to talk to and equipped with rather more sense of humour than I have discovered in Israelis so far. He greeted me with great cordiality, and referred to the fact that we had travelled to Israel in an Israeli ship.
4.  Then came the remark about the “failure” of his policy of restraint .... I told him very firmly that I could not accept his use of the word failure, and said that he could surely not have expected sensational results from it in a short period of two months. ... Sharett professed to agree that patience was needed all round, but said that supplies of patience in Israel, particularly in certain quarters, were not inexhaustible. ... My impression is that his hand would be considerably strengthened if I could be authorised to tell him that we had spoken pretty sharply to the Egyptians about the latest crop of incidents in the South; he said he knew that we frequently counselled moderation on the Jordanians, but thought that, for reasons which he had understood but which were no longer valid, we had in the past been too gentle with the Egyptians.
6.  Afterwards I lunched with Lourie, the Director of the British Commonwealth Division, who said rather apologetically that my call was scheduled to take only twenty minutes and that he hoped I did not feel aggrieved that the Prime Minister had plunged me straight into an hour of politics. I told him, which was true, that I was very glad he had done so.

SOURCE: Nicholls to Falla, desp.1031/328/54, November 5, 1954, TNA FO371/111107 VR1091/251.