David Ben-Gurion: Speech to Knesset Reviewing the Sinai Campaign
(November 7, 1956)
The glorious military operation which lasted a week and conquered the entire Sinai Peninsula of 60,000 square kilometres is an unprecedented feat in Jewish history and is rare in the world's history. The Army did not make an effort to occupy enemy territory in Egypt proper and limited its operations to free the area from northern Sinai to the tip of the Red Sea.
This heroic advance is a focal point not only for the consolidation of the State's security and internal tranquillity but also for our external relations on the world scene. Our forces did not attack Egypt proper and I hope the Egyptian dictator will not compel Israelis to violate the biblical injunction never to return to that country.
Three weeks ago, I told the Knesset of the increased gravity of the Czech arms deal which had supplied Egypt with a tremendous flow of heavy armaments it is only a week ago that our forces discovered the astonishing quantity and first-rate quality of this copious supply of Soviet arms, only part of which had been dispatched to the Sinai peninsula.
Neither the Egyptian dictator nor his peace-loving friends in Czechoslovakia had the least doubt about the purpose of these enormous quantities of heavy arms. Certainly neither the supplier nor the recipient meant them to fall into Israeli hands. On the contrary, they meant them to bring about the downfall of Israel.
The Suez crisis has aroused the whole world but it has not disturbed Israel to the same extent, not because Israel does not have [an] interest in freedom of navigation of this international waterway but because our right of free navigation was brutally and arbitrarily violated by Egypt's ruler several years ago, and this continued after the Security Council's decision in 1951 which was arrogantly defied.
The United States, Britain and, especially, the Soviet Union appeased Fascist, dictatorial Egypt at the expense of international law and the maintenance of the prestige of the Security Council and the United Nations Charter as long as Israel only was affected.
Israel has confined itself to safeguarding its rights in the international waterway, and world public opinion has supported this demand.
The injury inflicted upon and the danger posed to Israel by Egypt were not limited to the denial of our rights in the Suez Canal. For Israel's economy, both the present and the future freedom of navigation of the Red Sea from Eilat is no less vital than Suez.
For centuries this island [Tiran] has been desolate, and only a few years ago the Egyptians occupied and garrisoned it for the purpose of interfering with Israeli shipping in the Gulf.
The Egyptian dictator, however, did not content himself with the maritime blockade of Israel and the organization of an economic blockade against Israel throughout the world.
He organized and built up in all the Arab countries special units of murderers who crossed the borders to sow terror among workers in the fields and civilians in their homes.
Nasser proclaimed time and again that Egypt was in a state of war with Israel, nor did he conceal that his central purpose was to attack Israel at the first suitable opportunity and wipe it off the earth.
It is no accident that among the large quantities of supplies captured by our forces in the Sinai desert we also found copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf
Since my review to the Knesset three weeks ago, something happened which intensified the danger and compelled us immediately to adopt special vigorous precautionary measures. After the Jordanian elections, in which Egyptian bribery played a decisive role, a pro-Egyptian majority was elected, and immediately a tripartite military alliance was concluded among Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, tinder the terms of which tile armed forces of these three countries were placed under Egyptian command, with one clear goal in view: War to the death against [Israel].
The Egyptian fidayun who, during the Suez crisis, were ordered by the Egyptian dictator to suspend their murderous activities in Israel, were brought back into action as soon as it seemed to Abdel Nasser that the crisis had passed, resulting in the wounding of 28 Israeli soldiers.
There was no room left to doubt that the noose which had been prepared for us was tightening and would neglect no means serving to destroy us, and it was our duty to take urgent and effective measures for self-defence. We mobilized a number of reserve battalions to the Syrian border, and we mobilized a larger force of reserves, consisting especially of armour, on the southern border.
At the beginning of our mobilization, I received two messages from the President of the United States expressing concern over the mobilization of reserves.
In my reply of 29 October to the President, I reminded him of his constant efforts for peace in the region for the past year, which I supported wholeheartedly, as well as the fact that it was the Egyptian dictator who sabotaged these efforts. I also informed the President of the increasing gravity of the situation arising from the dictator's expansionist aims, the extent of his rearmament and attempts to undermine the independence of the Arab countries, and above all his overt intention to destroy Israel, his establishing a military alliance with Jordan and Syria under Egyptian command, and the renewal of fidayun activities.
I ended my reply with: "With Iraqi troops poised in great numbers on the Iraq-Jordanian border; with the creation of a joint command of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan; with the renewal of incursions into Israel by Egyptian gangs, my Government would be failing in its essential duty if it does not take all the necessary measures to ensure that the declared Arab aim to eliminate Israel by force should not come about.
"My Government appealed to the people of Israel to combine alertness with calm, and I feel confident that with your vast military experience you appreciate to the full the crucial danger in which we find ourselves."
That same evening a number of our units set out to put an end to the nests of murderers which were part of the Egyptian Army and to those bases from which they were planned and organized, and the root forces whence the murderous gangs came. Into these engagements the Egyptians brought their air force and fierce battles developed at the end of seven days the entire Egyptian force in Sinai was eliminated.
As I said previously, our forces were given strict orders not to cross the Suez Canal or to attack Egyptian territory proper, and remain entirely within the limits of the Sinai Peninsula. I am confident military histories will make a thorough study of this remarkable operation carried out by the Israeli Army in a few days in a vast desert area against an enemy armed and equipped down to the smallest detail with the finest, most modern weapons of the Soviet Bloc and elsewhere.
It is only now, after the occupation of the Gaza Strip, Abu Ageila, El-Arish, Nekhal, Mitla, and the Filat Gulf, that we have fully realized how great in quantity, how modern and excellent in quality were the Egyptian arms and equipment. They had heavy weapons, tanks, guns, first-class communications equipment, motor transport, armoured cars, clothing supplies immeasurably superior to anything our forces possess.
In spite of all our previous information about the flow of heavy arms of all types which the Egyptian dictator received during the year, we had no real notion of the enormous quantities and superior quality of the arms and equipment he had received. The vast booty which fell into our hands proves that beyond all doubt Egypt's dictator squeezed Egypt's hungry masses to provide his army with everything they had, but all this was of no avail because there was no spirit in them.
About three divisions faced Israel's army, in addition to a number of units, copiously armed and equipped, scattered the length and breadth of Sinai. The Egyptian troops numbered over 30,000 men and heavy reinforcements arrived during the fighting, over two brigades. And this huge army was equipped with hundreds of Czech and British tanks and other armour, supported by an air force equipped with Vampire, Meteor, MIG jet planes, and the Egyptian Navy also came into action.
The first night of operations we took Kuntilla after 20 minutes of resistance, Ras el Naqeb near Eilat after a brief engagement, and Kusseima after 45 minutes of resistance.
I know this dry description is not adequate for this extraordinary and truly heroic action which few would believe possible, but it did not come out of the blue; in the preliminary planning we kept two principal objectives in view: to ensure speed of operation and to minimize the number of casualties.
I can say with deep satisfaction that both purposes were achieved more successfully than expected and our losses were about 150 killed. Let us stand silent in glorious memory of our heroes. In deep grief and profound pride we send our love and respect to their parents.
I know that I express the feeling of the entire nation and the Jewish people throughout the world when I say that our love and admiration go out to the Israeli army on land, sea, and air. The whole nation is proud of you. You enhanced the prestige of our people in the world and powerfully reinforced Israel's security.
During the fighting I was profoundly concerned with the fate of the cities which might be bombed by Egyptian bombers, and we took special precautions to decrease the danger.
Referring to the international situation, I will not ask the United Nations why it did not take equally prompt action when the Arab countries in 1948 invaded our country, which we revived in accordance with the General Assembly's own recommendations.
There is not a people in the world so deeply concerned for the principles of peace and justice contained in the United Nations Charter as is the Jewish people, not only because these principles are part of our ancient spiritual heritage and were passed on by us to the civilized world, but because the entire future of our people depends largely on the rule of peace and justice in the world.
Israel will not consent, under any circumstances, that a foreign force called whatever it may take up positions whether on Israeli soil or in any area held by Israel. The armistice with Egypt is dead, as are the armistice lilies, and no wizards or magicians can resurrect these lines which cloaked Egyptian murders and sabotage.
Israel has no quarrel with the Egyptian people. Farouk and Nasser incited the Egyptians, but there is no underlying enmity between Israel and Egypt or vice versa. The latter point is proven by the wholesale desertion of Egyptian officers in the Sinai peninsula.
Israel wants peace and neighbourly relations with Egypt under conditions of direct negotiations. It is to be hoped that all peace-loving and freedom-loving people will support Israel in this demand. We are also ready for peace negotiations with the other Arab States on condition that they respect the armistice lines. Israel will not attack the Arab States, but if attacked will strike back.
Mr. Ben-Gurion, summarizing his speech, presented a seven-point declaration which he offered the world "with full moral force and unflinching determination." The seven points were as follows:
1. The armistice agreement with Egypt is dead and buried and cannot be restored to life.
2. In consequence, the armistice lines between Israel and Egypt have no more validity.
3. There is no dispute whatever between the people of Israel and the Egyptian people.
4. We do not wish our relations with Egypt to continue in the present anarchic state and we are ready to enter into negotiations for a stable peace, cooperation and good neighbourly relations with Egypt on condition that they are direct negotiations without prior conditions on either side and are not under duress from any quarter whatever.
5. We hope that all peace-loving nations will support our desire for such negotiations with each of the Arab States, but even if they are unprepared for a permanent peace, so long as they observe the armistice agreements, Israel, on its part, will do so, too.
6. On no account will Israel agree to the stationing of a foreign force, no matter how it is called, in its territory or in any of the area occupied by it.
7. Israel will not fight against any Arab country or against Egypt unless it is attacked by them.