Thursday, August 4, 2016

91 - PM David Ben-Gurion to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, February 14, 1956

            I thank you for your letter dated January 9th introducing Mr. Robert Anderson, which through inadvertence in Cairo reached me only a few days ago.
            I feel that you could not have chosen a more fitting emissary for the noble mission you have initiated with a view to bringing about a lasting peace in the Middle East.
            Mr. Anderson has doubtless reported to you on the conversations he conducted in Jerusalem and Cairo and I therefore will not trouble you with a restatement of our position in detail. We have declared our full and unqualified readiness to enter forthwith into contact with the head of the Egyptian Government or with such responsible representatives as he may designate, in order to explore possibilities of a settlement or of progress by stages towards an ultimate peace. We are prepared to engage in such negotiations without any prior conditions as to their scope or the terms on which a settlement might be sought.
            Peace holds a paramount place in the national and spiritual aims of our people. It is a supreme imperative of the People of the Bible. It is a national interest of the highest order for a young state which must apply its main resources to the absorption of immigration and the rebuilding of a desolate land. As citizens of the free world, dedicated to democratic values and the freedom of man, we fully realise the significance of peace in this area for the peace of mankind as a whole.
            Frankness impels me to say that the position taken thus far by the Prime Minister of Egypt, as conveyed to us by Mr. Anderson, has raised in my mind the following fateful questions:
            (a) Does Col. Nasser sincerely desire peace or is he merely seeking to gain time until Soviet arms have been properly absorbed into the Egyptian Army and he will be militarily capable of striking down Israel? My doubts are unhappily strengthened by the fact that Col. Nasser has not undertaken to observe the Armistice Agreement between Israel and Egypt or even to give a cease-fire order to his troops on the frontier—two requests made to him by General Burns and Mr. Hammarskjold. Egyptian soldiers continue to shoot daily at Israel settlements and at Israel soldiers.
            (b) Even if Col. Nasser’s intentions vis-à-vis Israel are peaceful, and although he himself is clearly not a communist, has he not succumbed to Soviet influence and has Egypt not become a base for Soviet penetration to the African continent to such a degree that he no longer enjoys freedom of action in his foreign policy?
            (c) Assuming that he does desire peace with Israel and is not a captive of Soviet policy, will he be able to withstand negative pressures from his own colleagues in the junta?
            Despite these doubts we shall continue to extend to Mr. Anderson our fullest co-operation for the success of his mission.
            Yet, Mr. President, I would not be true to my conscience and to my people were I not to use this opportunity to bring to your attention the grave peril in which Israel finds itself in face of the Soviet arms acquired by Egypt. In all Arab states—particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria—radio, press and official statements forecast Israel’s early destruction; the incessant flow of Soviet arms to Cairo lends these forecasts a grim and menacing significance. In the present circumstances our villages and towns are defenceless against air attack. The denial of defensive arms to Israel jeopardizes its very survival. In the absence of a positive response from the U.S. we find it well-nigh impossible to get arms from any other country in the free world.
            If attacked we shall fight desperately and with our backs to the wall, for Israel today is the last refuge of our people even as at the dawn of history it was our first homeland. I feel however bound to say to you in ail earnestness that the U.S. is assuming a very grave moral responsibility. Every day that passes without our receiving from your country or her allies planes and tanks, not inferior in quality to those supplied to Egypt from Soviet sourcesbrings the danger ever closer and deepens the feeling that we are being abandoned by our closest friends. Your declaration from Denver on November 9th regarding the legitimacy of defensive arms stirred in us the hope that the U.S. would not fail us.
            I repeat that my government and people will extend every possible co-operation to your invaluable initiative to bring about peace between Israel and Egypt. Should you succeed in your efforts, not only our people but the entire free peace-loving world will salute you. Yet even the great might of the U.S. cannot compel Col. Nasser to make peace. It is however within your power, perhaps within your power alone, to prevent a war in the Middle East by affording us adequate defensive means in proper time. It is highly probable that this will also contribute towards peace; no Arab country is ever likely to make peace with a defenceless Israel.
            I hope that you will excuse me for having set down frankly what is in our hearts here.
            My cabinet colleagues and the entire people of Israel join me in sending you heartfelt wishes for health and strength for many years to come.
                                    Yours sincerely,

SOURCE: FRUS 1955-1957 XV, doc.103. See also Ben-Gurion, My Talks with Arab Leaders, 309-11.