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David Ben-Gurion: Exchange with Soviet Premier Bulganin Regarding Threat to Israel

(November 8, 1956)

On November 5, 1956, Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin addressed notes to the Prime Ministers of Britain, France and Israel. In his note to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, he warned Israel that its recent actions had placed its very existence in jeopardy. The Soviet Union recalled its ambassador from Israel. On November 8, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion replied to Premier Bulganin and ended by expressing his surprise and sorrow at “the threat against Israel's existence.”

Mr. Bulganin to Mr. Ben-Gurion:

Mr. Premier:

The Soviet Government has already expressed its definite condemnation of the armed aggression by Israel as well as by Britain and France against Egypt which was a direct and open violation of the Charter and principles of the United Nations.

The overwhelming majority of the States of the world have also condemned the act of aggression committed with regard to the Egyptian State at a special and extraordinary session of the General Assembly and has called on the Governments of Israel, Britain, and France to cease military operations forthwith and withdraw the invading troops from the Egyptian territory.

All peace-loving mankind indignantly brands the criminal actions of the aggressors who have attacked the territorial entity, sovereignty, and independence of the Egyptian State. Disregarding this, the Government of Israel, acting as a tool of foreign imperialist Powers, continues the foolhardy adventure, challenging all the peoples of the East who are waging a struggle against colonialism for their freedom and independence, all the peace-loving people of the world.

Such actions by the Government of Israel plainly show what all the false assurances of Israel's love of peace and its desire to co-exist peacefully with the neighbouring Arab States were worth. By these assurances the Government of Israel was in fact striving merely to lull the vigilance of other nations, preparing a treacherous attack against its neighbours.

Carrying out the will of other people, acting according to instructions from abroad, the Government of Israel is playing with the fate of peace, with the fate of its own people, in a criminal and irresponsible manner; it is sowing hatred for the State of Israel among the peoples of the East which cannot but affect the future of Israel and which will place a question [mark] upon the very existence of Israel as a State.

Being vitally interested in the preservation of peace and in safeguarding calm in the Middle and Near East, the Soviet Government is at this moment taking measures with the aim of stopping the war and curbing the aggressors. We expect that the Government of Israel will come to its senses before it is too late and will halt its military operations against Egypt.

We appeal [to] you, the Parliament, the working people of the State of Israel, to the entire people of Israel: stop aggression, halt the bloodshed, withdraw your troops from Egyptian territory.

Taking into consideration the situation which has arisen, the Soviet Government has passed a decision to advise its Ambassador in Tel Aviv to leave Israel and immediately go to Moscow.

We hope that the Government of Israel will duly understand and appreciate our warning.


Mr. Ben-Gurion to Mr. Bulganin:

Mr. President of the Council of Ministers:

I have received your note of 5 November 1956. I have read it carefully and I am sorry that I must point out that some arguments are based on incomplete and incorrect information you received.

More than two years ago Egypt's ruler organized a special force called fidayun whose purpose is to penetrate surreptitiously within the boundaries of our country and to murder citizens working in the fields, travelling along the roads, and dwelling in their homes. At the beginning these groups operated only from areas occupied by Egypt such as the Gaza Strip. Lately he has organized such groups of murderers in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and the lives of our farmers along the borders are subject daily to their murderous onslaughts. During the time of the Suez crisis the activity of these groups ceased. Three weeks ago, however, their activity was intensified.

In an Order dated 25 February 1956, by the Commander of the 3rd Egyptian Division in Sinai, Major General Ahmed Salem, (according to a photostatic copy attached hereto) it is said, inter alia: "Every commander is to prepare himself and his subordinates for the inevitable campaign with Israel, for the purpose of fulfilling our exalted aim, namely, the annihilation of Israel and its extermination in the shortest possible time, in most brutal and cruel battles."

Egypt's ruler organized, in contravention of the Charter of the United Nations, an economic boycott against Israel. He established a blockade against our freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal and the Straits of Eilat, and for five years he had violated a decision of the Security Council concerning the freedom of passage of Israel's ships in the Suez Canal. After the Security Council, on 13 October [of] this year, again forbade all overt or covert discrimination with regard to freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal, Egypt's ruler announced that the discrimination against Israel would continue.

About two weeks ago the Egyptian ruler concluded a military pact with Jordan and Syria against Israel.

Therefore, the action we carried out at the end of October was necessitated by self-defence and was not dictated by foreign wishes as you have been told. In response to the appeal of the General Assembly of the United Nations we ceased fire and for several days past there has been no armed conflict between us and Egypt.

Yesterday I stated in the Knesset in the name of the Government of Israel that we are able to enter immediately into direct negotiations with Egypt, without prior conditions and without any compulsion, to achieve a stable peace. We hope that all peace-loving States and especially those that maintain friendly relations with Egypt will use all their influence in Egypt to bring about peace talks without further delay.

I am constrained, in conclusion, to express my surprise and sorrow at the threat against Israel's existence and well-being contained in your Note. Our foreign policy is dictated by our essential needs and by our yearning for peace. It is not and will not be decided by any foreign factor. As a sovereign State we decide our path by ourselves and we join with all other peace-loving peoples of the world in striving for relations of peace and justice in our area and the entire world.

David Ben-Gurion

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs