Thursday, July 7, 2016

34 - Sharett Reply, Knesset Debate, November 15, 1954

The free use of the Suez Canal is a primary right and an absolute practical necessity for Israel, and Israel’s struggle to this end will continue until her rights are both recognized and upheld in practice. Israel’s restraint in the face of repeated raids from the Gaza Strip has been intended to test Egypt’s will and ability to restore order on her side of the border, but there was no evidence of good intentions on the part of the Cairo government. The binding construction put upon the 1950 Tripartite Declaration, guaranteeing Israel’s frontiers by Sir Anthony Eden in the House of Commons, was a valuable and welcome step forward. An agreement was concluded with France for cooperation in atomic research for peaceful purposes.
When the 20-month process of evacuation of the British forces from the Canal Zone and its transfer to Egyptian control is completed, Egypt would acquire a bastion of geopolitical and strategic power of enormous value which would greatly increase its potential capacity for aggression against Israel. Although there is no official mention of any transfer of armaments, Egypt would acquire important installations and airfields.
Despite Egypt’s obstinate refusal to make any progress in the direction of peace with Israel, her unceasing acts of hostility against Israel and the constant warlike declarations of her rulers, the Treaty contains no obligation on the part of Egypt to refrain from aggression against Israel.
Israel is appreciative of the British government’s public declaration, in a note sent by Sir Anthony Eden to the Israel Ambassador in London, that it attaches great importance to friendly relations with Israel and is prepared to do all in its power to help bring about a peaceful settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Arab states. At the same time the Government of Israel cannot accept this note as satisfactorily disposing of all the questions put to the British Foreign Office by the Israel Ambassador and arising out of the conclusion of the new treaty between Britain and Egypt.
There was much interest in Israel in the debate on the [Anglo-Egyptian] Treaty held in the House of Commons on November 2, when speakers of all parties expressed appreciation of the constructive work in Israel as well as concern for Israel’s security. There were demands for more binding commitments for Israel’s security than those of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950, that the Arab States should not be rearmed as long as they remained aggressive, and that concrete engagements should entered into with Israel for mutual defense.
When Sir Anthony Eden was asked whether Britain was bound to go to the aid of Israel if she were attacked by an Arab state, he had replied: “The answer is yes, Sir, most certainly.”
Sir Anthony had added that the Declaration also bound the United  States and France in exactly the same way, and that it applied to any case of aggression, whether on the part of an Arab state or of Israel. Later Sir Anthony had said that deliveries of arms would be made only on the basis of the 1950 Declaration, that is to say, they “would continue to maintain a balance as between Israel and the Arab states collectively.” Sir Anthony had emphasized that Britain would take this course in conjunction with her allies, for otherwise there would be little purpose to her efforts in this direction.
The Government of Israel has sufficient reason to assume that the British government does not intend to send military assistance to Israel unless this was expressly requested. Yet the text of the 1950 Declaration implies that the three Powers propose to determine for themselves whether aggression has been or is about to be committed, and who is the actual or potential aggressor, just as they consider it to be within their own discretion to decide whether and in what manner they should react. We are still up against obscure terms which call for elucidation and are faced with difficulties which can only be solved by a clear prior understanding.
A close-knit web of treaties has been developing in the Middle East, in which only Israel has no part. Israel looked with amazement at this haste to recruit states in the defense of democracy, states which had neither interest in nor ability to defend it, and could not ignore the fact that this system of treaties from which she was excluded increased the threat to her security and was damaging to her political status. The Tripartite Declaration, no matter how interpreted – and there is no doubt that the clear and binding construction put upon it by Sir Anthony Eden is a valuable and welcome step forward – is directed equally to Israel and to the Arab states, and therefore did not in itself balance the inequality of Israel’s status.
No international guarantee, however satisfactory in form, could ever take the place of a state’s ability to defend itself. A guarantee could be harmful rather than helpful if it contained an opportunity for the evasion of obligations and lip service for the defenders, and at the same time served as a cover for the strengthening of the potential aggressor. There have been many examples of security guarantees never implemented, or implemented unsuccessfully. The changes in the balance of forces in the Middle East oblige Israel to reinforce her own efforts and resources with regard to security. They also entitle her to expect military assistance and facilities to buy arms from friendly states professing a desire to promote stability and peace in the region.
As to Sir Anthony's undertaking to balance the supply of arms to Israel and the Arabs, it would be more appropriate to make the supply at all of any arms to any state whatsoever dependent on its readiness to make peace with its neighbors. Sir Anthony was right in saying that that the success of the balance principle depended on the method adopted by the other two western powers as to the supply of arms, particularly the USA.
Public opinion in the US has recently been awakening to the problems of Israel's security, as have the British Parliament and press. Many members of the American Congress had declared their opposition to arming of the Arab states as long as these maintained a state of war with Israel.
Those who shape American policy have themselves intimated that they are alive to the needs of Israel’s security and that they have no intention of doing anything to endanger it, but we still look forward to an indication of their readiness to transform these declarations into action
For the present Israel has no knowledge of any substantial changes in US policy in the Middle East. The treaty providing for the grant of arms to Iraq is about to come into force, and the trend towards speeding up the arms grant to Egypt continues. Unceasing upheavals in Egypt, daily threats the stability of a regime which is devoid of any democratic basis, while the man who defeated and banished the king and become the symbol of the renewal movement [General Naguib] has now himself been deposed and imprisoned as a traitor to the nation. Nor was this likely to be the last of the surprises. Arms for such a regime are likely to further not consolidation but internal conflicts that might spark the whole area.
Only a few days ago economic aid was also granted to Egypt by the US without any demand for the lifting of Egypt's economic blockade against Israel, maintained in defiance of the Security Council’s express decision.
The new Anglo-Egyptian Treaty reaffirms freedom of navigation in the Canal. Only three weeks earlier Egypt had detained the small Israeli vessel, the “Bat-Galim,” arrested its crew and brought false charges against them, and has to this day refused to release either the men or the ship. Speaking in the Commons, the British Minister of State, Mr. Nutting, had argued that the blockade applied only to cargoes of military value, irrespective of the nationality of the ship, and to Israeli ships irrespective of the cargo. In his note to Mr. Elath, Sir Anthony Eden had also made reference to Egypt's claim that she was acting in defense of her sovereignty as provided under the original 1888 [Constantinople] Convention. In the Commons at the same time, Sir Anthony Eden reaffirmed the British stand that Egypt was not entitled to stop even strategic cargoes for Israel.
Military cargoes were interpreted by Egypt to include fuel for agricultural purposes. This form of defense sounded like that of a criminal who argued that he only committed his crime one day a week, and behaved himself the rest of the time.
The fate of the “Bat-Galim” incident when it comes before the Security Council for the third time depends on the attitude adopted by the Powers, and particularly on their tone in their direct contacts with Egypt.
In any case, let it be clear to Egypt and to all other parties concerned that the undisturbed use of the Canal is for us a matter of both elementary right and of absolute practical necessity. The struggle for Israel's right to freedom of passage through the Suez Canal will continue until this right is recognized and upheld.
Egypt's uncontrolled action in the Suez Canal gives no evidence that the attainment of her historic objective – full sovereign control of the Canal zone – has brought about in her rulers a sense of international responsibility or moderation. How far Egypt is from such a spirit may be judged by the plot that is being hatched in Alexandria, the show-trial of a group of Jews who have fallen victim to false libels of espionage and from whom confessions to imaginary crimes are being extorted by threats and torture.
Egyptian murder, sabotage and raids from the area bordering the Gaza Strip during September and October gave no evidence of good intentions on the part of the Cairo government. These had been encouraged by the concessions made to Egypt without a guarantee of peace in return.
The Egyptian government will be in great error of it fails to realize that Israel's restraint in the face of this constant provocation is due solely to a desire to test Egypt's will and ability to curb aggression and restore order on its side of the border. It will be well advised to enjoin all its functionaries and all those under its rule the strictest observance of the terms of the Armistice Agreement with Israel
Israel will continue to abide by the Armistice Agreements as the lesser evil in the absence of permanent peace and will insist on their strict observance by the Arab states and the Truce Supervision Organization. Israel will not agree to any changes in the Agreements unless these were freely arrived at between the parties. Any other form of modification could lead only to a return of chaos in the relations between Israel and her neighbors. The Powers cannot simultaneously urge adherence to the Agreements and propose modifications inconsistent with their terms.
Israel has proclaimed its readiness to conclude non-aggression pacts with the Arab states and, even if the latter choose to remain intransigent, Israel’s policy is likely to win the support of the enlightened world and, in time, to have an effect on Arab public opinion as well.

After quoting threats to destroy Israel by Arab leaders in Egypt, Jordan and Syria, PM and FM Sharett said:

The importance of such outbursts should not be overrated but it should be remembered that they reach the ears of the masses. Those who encourage the present regimes in the Arab states should realize what it is they are encouraging.
Our country will have to entrench itself for the sake of its security and independence and to be ready, as the occasion arises, to take the initiative for peace or to repel evil designs. Peace is for us no mere slogan, but a supreme policy objective.
Cooperation with France on atomic research for peaceful purposes is a tribute to Israeli science. Relations with Turkey are firm, and there has been progress in relations with Canada and several Latin American states.
Israel continues to press for immigration from the Soviet Union and her allies, but so far there has only been a slight relaxation in the issuing of permits for old people to join their children here.
Israel has welcomed the release from a Czech prison of Shimon Orenstein, originally sentenced to life imprisonment, and has continued to seek the release of Mordechai Oren.
Trade with China is about to be explored by a special trade delegation which will visit Peking. There has been further development of our particularly friendly ties with Burma, Ceylon, India, Australia, Haiti and African countries within the framework of the UN Technical Assistance program. Relations with the Chief of Staff and the personnel of UNTSO have improved, although they are still not free of problems.
The questions of security and the whole future of the State will continue to be pressing and to form the background for recurring differences with the Great Powers. Let us hope that by perseverance, wisdom, and growing inner cohesion – also with a little more sympathy and understanding for our needs and our unique destiny on the part of the major world forces – and above all with the loyal and united help of the Jewish people all over the world, we shall succeed in holding fast, growing in assurance and stability, escaping dangers and bequeathing to the coming generation greater strength, safety and well-being.

SOURCE: With minor wording changes from the Jerusalem Post, November 16, 1954; Divrei ha-Knesset, XVII: 102-07. The full English text (9 pp. mimeo) of the speech is in CZA A245/76.