Friday, August 12, 2016

106 - Excerpts from FM Sharett Report to Cabinet, April 8, 1956

During the last weeks of December there was much activity in the State Department regarding the supply of arms. Not only had hints reached us, but we were told openly that they are deliberating, creating plans with the intention of supplying us with arms, indeed not on a large scale, but something concrete. I thought that we should not ask for a meeting with Dulles. If he had something to tell us, he should summon us. Then there was a meeting with [Assistant Secretary George] Allen. He said: “When the Secretary of State returns to Washington I’ll suggest to him that he call you in. Indeed, when he came back on the 29th, a meeting took place in the afternoon between Hoover, Allen and Russell and Eban and Shiloah. At a certain stage Ben-Gurion sent a personal message to the President through the Ambassador with the aim of bringing matters to a decision. Eban informed the State Department that he had a message to deliver and asked for a meeting with President. After that Eban had another meeting with Allen and then with the Canadian ambassador in Washington.
            [- - -] I informed Eban that I wanted to see Lawson. There is a difference between a meeting between the [Israel] Ambassador and the Secretary of State [in Washington] and a meeting between me here with the American Ambassador. When Eban goes to see Dulles he cannot talk from above, because he is at his home. Not so when we summon Lawson. When he comes to us we are the government. We can say whatever we want to say and he must write down our words and relate them to Dulles, who then reads things the tone of which he cannot hear from Eban. This is not something particular to us. This is customary everywhere.
            There was also a meeting between Comay and Pearson [in Ottawa]. Pearson told him that he would bring the matter before his Cabinet. We still do not know what happened at that meeting, but Comay did not believe that we would receive F-86 jets without a more concrete understanding between Canada the United States.
            Regarding Italy all I can say is that we approached them and were informed that they had contacted the United States but had not received an answer, positive or negative. A certain improvement occurred in our relations with this country. First, they are much interested in the financial aspect of selling us arms. For them it is much more important than to the Canadians. Canada has an annual surplus of $800 million and they do not know what to do with their money; Italy feels that owing to the Czech-Egyptian arms deal it has lost its Egyptian arms market. The result is that they are angry with Nasser and our importance in their arms market grows. Second, they are critical of Nasser’s ties with the communists. They regard him as pro-Soviet. Third, in the course of time several pro-Israeli [people] were placed in important governmental positions. One of them is the DG of the foreign ministry. He and a few of his colleagues have approved the sale to us of various arms. However, since their jet motors are manufactured in the United States and mounted at the Torino Fiat plant, these jets are considered NATO property and cannot be sold.
            A word on Pineau. From the beginning I was doubtful whether he would visit us, given the cancellation of his visits to Damascus and Beirut. However, at a certain phase it became clear that, in spite of not visiting Damascus and Beirut, he would visit us. This was decided against the negative advice of Quai D’Orsay. He was supposed to arrive tomorrow at 23:00. Last Friday I met with Ambassador Gilbert and discussed with him the plan for the visit. Yesterday morning I sat with the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry people to finalize the plan, and then a cable arrived announcing the cancellation.
            As to the Mystères, six are already at our disposal and are to be flown to Israel on April 11th by our pilots. Thanks to an effort that was not easy we have guaranteed their landing in Athens. In his meeting with the Greek FM our representative was given a straight negative answer. He suggested that our PM approach the Greek PM on this matter. Greece has not recognized us de jure, thus we do not have a diplomatic mission there. However we have there a very able representative with diplomatic acumen. Indeed, while waiting for our PM’s message to arrive, the Foreign Ministry summoned our representative and informed him that they agreed to the landing in Athens of 12 jets only, without it being a precedent. Now it is assumed that the Mystères can fly directly to Israel from Rome.
            As for the next twelve Mystères, we have a clear French promise, but their delivery is scheduled for June-July. Possibly this transfer does not need American approval; these jets are outside the NATO pool.
            [- - -]
            I would now like to discuss the latest developments along the Gaza Strip. [- - -] After the Egyptian shelling of the settlements of Ein Ha-Shlosha and Kissufim, and then also of Nahal Oz, we returned fire against the Egyptian positions, but we also shelled the city of Gaza by guns. [- - -] Later on I was informed that 59 or 61 were killed in the shelling of Gaza: four soldiers and all the rest civilians, among them 15 women and 12 children. The injured numbered 104. A question could be raised whether our shelling retaliation was not exaggerated. It is indeed difficult to answer such a question while the shooting at our settlements continues. [- - -] I now regret the shelling of Gaza, even though I cannot say that I would not have issued such an order had I been the authoritative commander, but ex post facto I regret this action because the area shelled was densely populated.

At this point Ben-Gurion took the floor and following his report a long debate ensued. 

Several ministers were critical of the intensive shelling of Gaza. Not Minister Golda Meir, however, who declared: 
            “I would like the say that I do not regret the Gaza matter. I know this may sound cruel, because children were killed; but the Ein Ha-Shlosha children are children too. I truly admit that when a Chicago Jew tells me that, if fifty Jewish soldiers and only six Syrian soldiers had been killed [in the Kinneret operation], it would have been better public-relations-wise, I do not share such a feeling. I am not saying this because in Gaza it was Arab children who were killed and we are worried about Jewish children. I am saying this because it was not we who started it all. They must know that they must pay, and pay dearly. I cannot restrain Nasser. I don’t know whether the bereaved Gaza mothers can restrain him, but there should be a general awareness there that any strike against us will cost them dearly. Generally speaking, sensitivity to human life, even the enemy’s life, is a commendable quality. That’s very fine. But not where the human life of our people is endangered. I am saying this in view of all the cruelty involved. I can’t stop thinking what would have happened if not for the agility of the responsible settler [in Kissufim, where the children’s house was hit] who ordered everybody to enter the shelters immediately. Blessed be the fellow who was responsible for the life of the civilians there.

MS:  One remark to Golda regarding regret for the women and children. You may be surprised to hear that my consideration doesn’t emanate from regret about children and women. This doesn’t mean that I do not feel such regret, but in the case before us I am prepared to avoid triggering this regret. My consideration is political. We are perhaps standing now on the verge of a great battle, perhaps not. But we have a starting point: we are not seeking a great battle. We are not seeking victory, because we do not wish for the destruction involved in a great battle.
            Then there is the question of how our actions are perceived. We are, so to speak, constantly being accused of two things: first, that whenever we find a justified excuse we are eager to strike, and strike hard. A series of incidents occurred; there were forty, fifty and sixty people killed. It is perceived as a certain disproportion; that the scale of our retaliations is always somewhat exaggerated; that this is overdone. The impression is that our boys, whenever a possibility occurs, strike very hard. In my opinion this is not desirable. Second, we are suspected of striving for a war. Nobody would suspect us of provoking Nasser to shoot at our patrols, but we are suspected of being prepared to utilize every incident for retaliating in such a manner which is bound to make war inevitable.
            These two things are undesirable. I am not saying even one critical word regarding the order [to shell Gaza] as it was issued. I myself would have been prepared to issue such an order. But every step, including this one, depends on certain calculations. And, permit me to say, I think that these considerations – even if the commander issuing orders is not [legally] bound to consider political aspects – must, most certainly in a country like ours, [- - -] be based not only on military aspects, but also be accompanied by political awareness.