Friday, August 12, 2016

105 - Ambassador Lawson Report of his Meeting with FM Sharett, April 6, 1956

At my request Foreign Minister Sharett received me in Tel Aviv afternoon April 6. I opened conversation by explaining that I was calling on my own initiative because of the recent outbreak, in order to stress the critical importance of strict cease-fire observance and to emphasize US interest in cooperation with General Burns of both sides. I added that I also wished to obtain information, and particularly his appraisal of events.
            Sharett thanked me for this interest, and proceeded to review episodes of April 5 and GOI latest contacts with General Burns re cease-fire.
            His rationale followed outline Foreign Ministry statement included Embtel 1039. He examined bona fides of explanations and proposals of Nasser on subject of firing on patrols as follows:
            1. Nasser’s earlier explanation he could not order no firing across border by his troops and that firing performed only on IDF vehicle patrols because of natural fear his forces these patrols were in act of launching attack was “rabid nonsense.” No soldiers in right mind would initiate attack across open country openly exposed in vehicles. Furthermore most IDF patrols were on foot, and Egyptians have now crystallized standard practice of firing on them. Such fire also not limited to patrols but directed at fixed observation points from which attack could not be expected. Thus Nasser’s explanation completely nullified.
            2. Nasser’s conclusion this context that forces should be withdrawn 500 meters from line was based on present disposition Egyptian forces, since their outposts are situated about 500 meters from border. Nasser therefore could “implement plan” with no change his system, whereas Israelis would have make substantial alterations.
            After dwelling at some length on lone experience of almost daily firing on Israeli patrols which fortunately produced no casualties, and then underscoring April 4 incident which 3 young soldiers killed by Egyptian mortar and machine gun fire, he gave detailed timetable of separate incidents April 5. Sharett said Egyptians opened fire on Israel settlements for first time with mortars at 1500 hours. IDF returned artillery fire to silence outposts issuing mortar fire. Meantime Egyptians extended front by firing on other Kibbutzim. Since IDF artillery bombardment Egyptian outposts failed stop their fire, “at 5 pm, we directed fire at their villages”.
            Commenting on April 4 meeting with Burns, Sharett repeated substantially same account as in Jerusalem 398 to Department but made several amplifications. He felt it would not break confidence to reveal that in response to Sharett’s questions concerning large number Israeli complaints submitted on firing across line, General Burns replied that he felt in general GOI complaints were justified, although he might have differences on details. When in past General Burns had proposed “palliative measures” to calm border he did so with assumption both sides wanted to cooperate. He now no longer assumed other side was interested.
            The Burns-Sharett chat was interrupted by phone call [from] Chairman Egyptian MAC demanding GOI stop fire. General Burns proposed midnight as cease-fire deadline, Sharett communicated this to Ben Gurion, and “Ben Gurion had already given orders to stop fire, purpose testing Egyptian reaction.” Sharett added this was at dusk.
            April 6 General Burns made special request to Israelis temporarily to suspend patrolling, with understanding this would only be extraordinary temporary measure not to be considered precedential. Ben Gurion agreed to this as measure cooperative action and in view of Hammarskj√∂ld’s visit to area and as quid pro quo for the Secretary-General to endeavor obtain Egyptian consent to issue orders no firing across borders. Sharett commented this was not easy decision for Ben-Gurion since “it prejudices our position and gives appearance of yielding under pressure criminal violence”. In reply my question as to time limitation this agreement he indicated no specific time but in nature few days trial. Sharett said he had recommended as agenda for Secretary General in order decreasing importance:
            1. He endeavor secure complete cease-fire covering ail surrounding countries )Sharett especially feared Jordan this respect and cited March 30 Wadi Ara ambush(.
            2. Obtain reduction forces in defensive zones to conformity with GAA provisions.
            3. Obtain complete observance ail details GAA. Sharett commented Arab States are now expressing negative view they do not wish anything added to area guarantees beyond GAA. GOI desires that GAA at least be rigidly observed, whether or not supplemented by additional arrangements.
            I expressed gratification at GOI agreement to General Burns proposal to withdraw patrols and cease-fire, and disposition to work closely with General Burns these critical times. Sharett said he was grateful for my call and pleased to discuss situation.
            Comment:  Sharett appeared relatively relaxed at interview, and although he mentioned resumption of firing this morning he did not magnify it into portending further deterioration. He seemed anxious to underline basic and continuous provocations which took form of Egyptian firing on foot patrols ultimately resulting Israeli mortalities and especially to point up fact Egypt first shelled Israeli villages before IDF turned artillery fire from Egyptian gun positions to Egyptian villages. Although not specifically gained at interview my impression is that GOI regards reported heavy loss Arab life as retaliation enough and are not planning any further specific moves. Attitude now is probably “wait and see” to judge nature and magnitude Egyptian response, which Israelis believe may be in form Fedayeen. There also some speculation as to ability or desire Egypt to control highly excited Gaza refugees.
            Although slight mobilization civilian trucks observed today, there has been no large scale action discernible. Foreign Office informs me “all quiet” Gaza front as of 1800 hours tonight.

SOURCE: FRUS 1955-1957 XV, doc.253.