Thursday, July 7, 2016

38 - Ambassador Nicholls Report on Egypt-Israel Frontier Tensions, December 19, 1954

We have reported [- - -] four recent incidents involving the blowing-up of pipelines in the Negev. These acts of destruction [- - -] are quite different from the usual run of frontier incidents, since they cannot by any stretch of the imagination be attributed to accident, carelessness, private vendetta or simple gangsterism. They represent organized attempts to interfere with the economic life of Israeli border settlements and of the Negev as a whole; and, since both water and the Negev have almost mystical connotation for the Israelis, these incidents touch them in a very tender spot.
It is therefore not surprising that the press in general is getting somewhat worked up, or that papers which are normally moderate are beginning to ask rather bitterly whether the present policy of restraint is not encouraging the Egyptians rather than the reverse. The press as a rule blames “the Egyptians” without particularizing; but the Prime Minister, who has discussed all this with me several times, seems disposed to believe that the attacks are engineered by certain elements in the Egyptian army (perhaps under Moslem Brotherhood influence), and that the Egyptian Government as such are not directly implicated. But he says (and I suppose our own experiences in the Canal Zone bear this out) that there is all the difference in the world between not being directly responsible for sabotage and not being able to stop it; and he is convinced that if Nasser would send an emissary to the Gaza area to tell all concerned, in no uncertain terms, that these forays had got to be stopped, they would in fact stop overnight.
I don’t know whether [Ambassador] Ralph Stevenson, to whom I am sending a copy of this letter, could usefully take this up with Nasser. If anything at all can be done about the Arab-Israel dispute, it must, I am sure, be done through Egypt; and it would be tragic if this one faint hope were to be destroyed by mounting resentment over these pipeline incidents. At the moment Sharett is ready to believe the best of Nasser, and I think I have made some progress since you were here in convincing him of the real difficulties with which Nasser is confronted. If the Lebanese Prime Minister is to be believed, Nasser also thinks well of Sharett: he told me in Beirut that Nasser had spoken of the latter as an honest and moderate man. These are small signs, but worth encouraging.

SOURCE: Nicholls to Shuckburgh, despatch 1031/362/54, December 14, 1954, TNA FO371/111107 VR1091/268.