The Foreign Minister opened by expressing Israel’s appreciation of the USSR’s support at the fateful time of the establishment of the State. He went on to describe the construction under way out in Israel, the population that had doubled, the advanced economic structure, state ownership of land, and the main industries.
The Minister stressed the huge sums of money needed for construction and development and the three main sources of our financing: )a( the assistance provided by diaspora Jewry, )b( the unconditional support provided by the US administration, and )c( reparations from West Germany.
The Minister then moved on to describe Israel’s security situation, the fact that she is surrounded by enemies on three sides who declare openly, and through their official representatives, that their intention is the destruction of Israel. He noted the attempt made by the Arab states to prevent the establishment of the State by force in 1948, our life-and-death struggle against the invaders, and our ultimate success.
As a result of the war, the Armistice Agreements were signed, the conditions of which were strictly adhered to by Israel, while the Arab states were preparing for war. Israel is prepared to negotiate peace at any time, while the Arabs not only refuse to do so, but declare that they will never make peace with Israel and do not recognize her existence.
The Arab states in general, and Egypt in particular, enjoy arms superiority over Israel. This was the situation even before the Czech arms deal with Egypt. This deal stunned the Israeli public and made Israel’s security problems even more acute. The Czech weapons had been supplied to an aggressive state and Egypt would use them against Israel. If Egypt declared war against us, Israel would fight a life-and-death struggle. This would not be a war for territory, but a war for the right to exist, one that will set the Middle East alight and whose sparks are likely to spread over the whole world. Supplying arms to Egypt would contribute directly to this conflagration.
Molotov interrupted the Minister, saying that no other country strove for peace like the USSR and that there was no room for doubt on that point. The USSR was striving for peace in our region too. The Minister’s description of the situation was not objective. The Arabs were afraid of Israel. There was no reason to fear that they might attack Israel and the possibility that they might do so was nonexistent. There were extremists in every country who made irresponsible statements. An American paper had reported that Dov Yosef, a Minister in the Government of Israel, had stated that Israel would initiate a preventive war. We do not view the situation as dangerous.
The Minister replied that it was not only the irresponsible extremists in the Arab states who were making statements about the destruction of Israel, but heads of state. It was common knowledge that the State of Israel wanted peace and had proposed peace negotiations, while the Arab states had rejected these offers and had stated that they would reject them forever. Egypt had closed the Suez Canal and the passage to Eilat to our shipping, and had openly declared that she was preparing for a war of annihilation against us. The supply of offensive weapons to a country such as that, and in such large amounts, meant war.
Molotov remarked that they would be unable to destroy you. The world will not allow it. Other avenues should be explored. Common ground with the Arabs must be found. Egypt does not enjoy military superiority. The British and Americans are taking care of you, and Egypt, who has no one to look after her interests, has the right to obtain the basic amount of weapons necessary for her defense. You enjoy the support of the entire world, and if we refuse to help a small nation fighting for her independence, that would be a mistake on our part. The British are still there. Your assessment of the amount of arms is exaggerated.
The Minister responded by saying that if Mr. Molotov was able to state that Czechoslovakia, an ally of the USSR, was supplying Egypt with defensive weapons only, such as pistols for the police force, or rifles, or machine guns for purposes of defense, it would lessen tension. But we have intelligence about large amounts of jet aircraft, several submarines, a large number of tanks, and other offensive weapons.
Molotov made no reply to this. The Minister went on to stress once again that additional weapons in Egyptian hands bring the danger of war closer. Molotov said that Egypt would not attack Israel. The Minister replied that she had indeed attacked Israel once in 1948, and then, too, there had been people who had tried to allay our fears and tell Israel that Egypt and the rest of the Arab states would not attack her. Those who do so now are shouldering the tremendous responsibility of deluding Israel.
Molotov said: A small country concerned about her security is reason enough for us to be forced to review the situation. He continued: The Middle East situation is not simple, military alliances have been formed. Britain has joined the Baghdad [Pact]. There is talk of America joining in the near future. Egypt is not yet an independent state.
The Minister pointed out that we had protested against the Baghdad [Pact].
Molotov replied: You protested but the alliance was formed. What did Macmillan and Dulles tell you when you met them?
The Minister said that Macmillan had not informed him of a cessation of arms supplies to Egypt and that Dulles had said that the USA was not supplying arms to her. He told Dulles that as far as Israel was concerned there was no difference between Soviet arms to Egypt and American arms to Iraq. Both endangered Israel.
Molotov said: Both the British and the Americans support you. Why would they not offer you the means of reducing your concern of an attack? Apparently, they too think that there is no imminent danger. If there is indeed a problem in the Middle East, we must all employ concerted means to solve it. The USSR is interested in good relations with Israel, Egypt, and the rest of the countries in the region.
Sharett: We are also interested in the best possible relations with you.
Molotov: If you truly desired good relations with us, you would have already achieved them.
When the Minister further emphasized that if the arms are supplied to an aggressive nation, and then the USSR was supporting that aggression, Molotov replied that not only were those remarks baseless, they were also insulting.
The argument continued on the steps and also while we were putting on our coats, without any lessening of the tension.
SOURCE: Notes by Yosef Avidar, kept with Sharett's diary pages.