Thursday, July 7, 2016

40 - Excerpts of PM Sharett’s Remarks, Cabinet Meeting, January 2, 1955

We have not yet reached the appropriate moment for evaluating and summing up the affair [of the “Bat-Galim”]. That moment will come after discussion on this subject in the Security Council is completed, whatever its results might be. We would then have to deal also with our future steps in this battle. At present I would like to say succinctly that we have obviously not achieved victory. Far from it. The crew was released separately and, as for the ship, it can be assumed that it will be directed to go back southward.
Still, I believe we are allowed to point to two achievements: the first is the exposure of the Egyptian position. They tried to camouflage their position by all kinds of falsehoods, but were coerced them to admit, plain and simple, that they are against allowing an Israeli ship to sail through the Canal. The other achievement is the EIMAC, a UN organ’s decision that the passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal is legal.
If you will remember the past, our road started when the Egyptians confiscated every cargo sailing to Israel. The first time was when they confiscated clothes belonging to an immigrant from India. In [September] 1951 we achieved a Security Council resolution [WebDoc #2] on this issue, which opened a new era; since then the number of confiscations of regular cargoes has gone down. I have reason to believe that, as a result of the recent campaign, interference with regular cargoes would stop completely.
I spoke with the “Bat-Galim” skipper by the phone. I congratulated him and his colleagues in the name of the government. I expressed our empathy to their trials and said their effort was not I vain; it was an important link in our battle. Now, as to the Security Council, you will remember that I reported to you that America asked us orally not to bring pressure to bear for the convening of a meeting of the Security Council, for they still saw a chance [to solve the problem outside it]. But this weekend they informed us that there was no way except to convene it. At the meeting strong words would be expressed against Egypt and it would be censured for its illegal behavior, but they believe that we should be satisfied with eight members taking this line without tabling a resolution, the reason being their fear of a Soviet veto which would demonstrate Soviet dictatorship in the international arena. They are against granting the Soviets such a victory. We have heard the same words from the British. They too seem to be full of fear of a Soviet veto.
I then summoned the Soviet Ambassador, and had a very straightforward conversation with him – that is, as far as I was concerned, because he kept silent. I described the exact situation of the Western Powers’ opposition to tabling a draft resolution lest the Soviets respond with a veto. I said I was not going to dispute the Soviet Union’s right of veto when it sees fit, but if it uses it in the present case we would of course have a certain valuation of it which he must be aware of, because at the time I conversed with him regarding his government’s first veto. As we see it, they are acting contrary to their professed interests. They are now fighting for free passage in international straits. We supported them on the issue of the Strait of Formosa. It is a vital, historic interest of theirs to keep the freedom of passage in the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. 
      While I recognize their veto right – we do not challenge this right – if it is not their intention to use it in the present case, then [they should announce this. Because] by not announcing this beforehand, they are creating exactly the same result as by declaring a veto, that is, preventing the SC from adopting a resolution encouraging Egypt not to interfere with the free passage in the Suez Canal.
      Perhaps you are not prepared to oppose Egypt in this matter – that is your business – but if you intend to guarantee freedom of maritime passage, which is a matter of direct interest to you, it would be better if you announced this beforehand openly or to the Western powers, or to us so that we can inform the Western powers. Such a step would be of much help to us and we shall see it as a friendly act towards us.
The Ambassador listened very attentively and wrote down my words. He said he would immediately contact his government, but had no idea of the response. I then said that I would like to receive an answer before the SC is convened. I don't have much hope in this whole matter, but I thought that I had to do what I did.