Thursday, July 14, 2016

76 - Aryeh Dissenchik, “On the Shores of the Kinneret and the Banks of the Potomac,” Ma’ariv, December 23, 1955.


Should our actions be weighed and decided upon according to what is happening on the shores of the Kinneret, or should we plan them according to the wind blowing over the Potomac?
            It seems that it is not always clear to our policy makers that the decisive preference is to be given to what is happening in the Kinneret. Worse, sometimes our ship is moved along by both winds, until it is difficult to ascertain its course; for the hands holding its wheel are not always directed by the same compass.
            For otherwise the IDF’s raid on the shores of the Kinneret would have taken by surprise neither the Syrians, the UN staff and General Burns, and certainly not “certain quarters” in the Israeli public, including a few honorable ministers, members of Ben-Gurion’s cabinet.
            For the Kinneret events were but a clear-cut and understandable corollary of what was declared on a solemn occasion from a high podium some six weeks ago, when D. Ben-Gurion presented his government before the Knesset.
            Both in the guidelines and in the speech which D. Ben-Gurion made whem presenting his government he made it very clear that, while Israel would adhere strictly to the Armistice Agreements, this would not be a one-sided action. Israel would not tolerate a situation in which her borders are penetrable to any incursion or infiltration; and if it were – it would be penetrable from both sides. Israel does not covet any piece of her neighbors’ land, but she will not give up any part of her territory. And if the UN machinery cannot manage to prevent strikes against our sovereignty and borders, we will see to it with our own forces. This speech was widely publicized and the Prime Minister summoned the head of the UN observers, General Burns, and read aloud these passages of his speech before him. It was no secret.
            This promise regarding the strict honoring of Israel’s borders was put into practice less than 24 hours after that speech was  made, when the IDF expelled the Egyptian invader from the Nitzana area.
            Is only Nitzana our land, while the Kinneret and its shores along with a ten-meter strip are no-man’s land? Is what was necessary to do in Nitzana – expelling the enemy from our land – not necessary along the northern border? Is what is not permitted to the Egyptians – to establish military posts and station military units inside Israeli territory – permissible to the Syrians?
            Wherefrom does this lack of understanding arise?
            There were many issues which were not agreed upon by members of the present government when it was presented by Ben-Gurion in the beginning of November, but all were unanimous on the necessity of strictly defending the integrity of the borders. Why then were a few of the ministers surprised upon learning that this government was going to implement the government’s guidelines on the basis of which  they became its members?
            Of course, the Kinneret incident was not caused only by the winter fishing season along its shores, when the fish concentrate on the north-eastern shores of the lake, close to Syria. The issue also does not stem from the fact that, according to development plans – ours as well as those of the American water ambassador, Johnston – the lake is to serve as the main storage [basin] for the Jordan’s waters. The raid was carried out in order to cleanse our land and our lake’s waters of enemy forces and to prevent a constant Syrian threat to our position in the northern part of our country. It is unacceptable that a deadly enemy of ours, sitting on our land, should declare time and again that the Kinneret waters to a distance of 250 meters, are his territorial waters. And not only that, but he would also direct gunfire against any Israeli boat – be it a civilian or police boat – situated in Israeli waters and crossing the 250-meter line.
            It may be that the raid came as a surprise because we have been passive for a long time and because we did not expel the Syrians from their positions immediately when they started to entrench themselves there. However, the surprise came first and foremost because of the wind blowing from the Potomac River, which seeks to control the direction of our sails over the Kinneret as well. And the argument forwarded is this: We are now in the midst of negotiations with Washington regarding obtaining arms and a raid on the Kinneret shores could certainly undermine all our chances of receiving the arms we have requested from the United States. Accordingly – those who argue thus are saying – it was necessary to wait and avoid hitting the Syrians precisely now. And they go on and ask whether it was necessary to carry out such a heavy strike against the Syrians in response to a “small-size” attack carried out against our fishermen and policemen two days ago, when the only damage done was a police boat being hit?
            This argumentation is not only illusionary but also endangers our political efforts in Washington and our struggle for arms. We are in need of arms for defending our sovereignty and borders [- - -]. But if the chances for receiving arms are conditioned by our sitting still in view of provocations – seizing our lands and murdering our citizens – then such arms undermine us more than they help us. [- - -] Even if we receive arms, they will be supplied over a long time-frame. Are we to sit still all the while and meanwhile accept any Arab strike just in order to guarantee supply of the arms? Arms supplied for the purpose of binding us are enslaving arms, not liberating arms. Given the choice of losing part of the Kinneret or favoring the dim chance of receiving American arms, the decision is clear: the Kinneret comes before the arms.
            The lack of coordination between the different branches of our state further undermines our political struggle which is in any case difficult. And precisely at the time when a cleansing operation is mounted on the shores of the Kinneret by enemy soldiers, a peace plan is publicized in Washington at the inspiration of our mission there, containing all kinds of concessions which we were prepared to make in the past [- - -]. And incidentally, this was not really a new plan but a summary of remarks made by Mr. Sharett or Mr. Eban in their talks with the American foreign secretary. Less than 48 hours after the “planned leak” in Washington, a booklet containing 64 pages was published in Jerusalem by the Foreign Ministry, containing quotations, possibly pronounced appropriately in their time, of sayings by Israeli leaders from Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and Sharett to Abba Eban, Eliahu Elath and Gideon Rafael about Israel’s desire for peace and its readiness to make concessions here and there. It is doubtful whether this booklet is serving its purpose.(1)
            In view of the Western pressure on Israel for territorial concessions, the Kinneret raid also had a political side effect by proving that Israel is staunchly decided against  any territorial concession in return for peace. It was thus doubly strange that a peace plan was publicized in Washington, for it was understood as a first line of retreat for Israel. This was corroborated by an New York Times  report of a conversation between Mr. Dulles and Mr. Sharett. The Israeli Foreign Minister told correspondents at the end of that conversation that he had expressed to the American Foreign Secretary Israel’s strong opposition to any territorial concessions. “However,” continued the NYT report, “Mr. Sharett added that Israel is prepared to negotiate minor border changes.” [- - -]
            Our policy should be one [directed] both on the shores of the Kinneret and on the banks of the Potomac. Let us not waver between our needs in Washington and our needs in Jerusalem.
            One of our important representatives in America [a thinly-veiled reference to Abba Eban], after having read about the Kinneret raid in his newspaper, cabled Jerusalem even before receiving explanations about it from his superiors: “Are you still interested in arms from the United States?”(2) We have no idea about the answer cabled back to him, but it can be one and only one: We are interested in arms, but before anything else we are interested in an Israeli Kinneret and also the arms necessary to keep the Kinneret Israeli. We are in need of such arms only – no other kind!

(1) The MFA booklet mentioned is entitled Peace in the Middle East - A Record of Israel's Peace Offers to the Arab States. 
(2) Eban's secret cable of December 12, 1955 is reproduced in DFPI 10, doc.512.