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The Six-Day War: Egypt Reimposes a Blockade on the Straits of Tiran

(May 23, 1967)

On May 18, 1967, UN Secretary-General U Thant agreed to Egyptian President Gamal Nasser’s demand for the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) from Sinai and the Gaza Strip. On May 23, as he was flying to Cairo, he heard that Egypt had re-imposed the naval blockade on the Straits of Tiran (see Section XI). President Nasser announced the blockade to his troops in Sinai on May 23, 1967.

The entire country looks up to you today. The entire Arab nation supports you. It is evident that the entire people supports you completely in these circumstances and considers the armed forces as its hope today. It is also certain that the entire Arab nation supports our armed forces in these circumstances through which it is passing.

What I want to say is this: We are now in 1967, not in 1956. A great deal was said after the tripartite aggression while many things were still a dark secret. Israel, her commanders and rulers, boasted a great deal after 1956. I have read every word that was written about 1956, but I also know what happened in 1956.

On the night of 29 October 1956, the Israeli aggression against us began, and fighting began on 30 October. We received the Anglo-French ultimatum which called on us to withdraw several miles to the west of the Suez Canal. On 31 October the Anglo-French attack on us began. The air raids began at sunset. At the same time all our forces were withdrawn completely from Sinai to inside Egypt.

Thus in 1956 we had absolutely no opportunity to fight Israel. We decided to withdraw before the real fighting with Israel began. But in spite of our decision to withdraw, Israel was not able to occupy any of our positions except after we had withdrawn from them. But they made a great uproar after that, talking and boasting, and said a great deal about the "Sinai campaign" and the "Sinai battle." Every one of you knows what was said. It may be that they themselves believed it.

But today, more than ten years later, all the secrets have been disclosed, the most important thing being how they brought Ben-Gurion to France, to employ him as imperialism's dog, to begin the operation. Ben-Gurion refused to do anything unless he was given a written guarantee that they would protect him from Egyptian bombers and the Egyptian air force. All this is no longer a secret today; all the world knows it. It was on this basis that France sent him fighter planes, and it was on this basis that Britain undertook to Ben-Gurion to bomb Egyptian airfields within 24 hours of the beginning of the aggression. This shows how seriously they took the Egyptian air force.

Ben-Gurion himself said that he had to think about the Haifa-Jerusalem-Tel Aviv triangle, which contains one third of Israel's population. He did not dare to attack Egypt for fear of Egypt's air force and bombers. At that time we had Ilyushin bombers, but only a few; we had only a few; we had only just acquired them to arm ourselves. But today we have many; there is a big difference between yesterday and today, between 1956 and 1967. Why do I say all this? I say it because we are in confrontation with Israel. Israel today does not have the support of Britain and France, as she did in 1956. She has the United States supporting her and supplying her with arms, but what happened in 1956, the conspiracy that took place in 1956, the world will not accept that it should be repeated.

Israel has been boasting since 1956. They speak of Israel's efficiency and excellent training. The West and the western press are always on about this, talking about the "Sinai campaign" - which was not a battle at all, because we withdrew at the time to confront Britain and France. Today we have a chance to bring the truth to light. We really have a chance to make the world see things as they really are. We are face to face with Israel, which has recently been threatening aggression and boasting.

On 12 May the first statement was made, a very impertinent one. Anyone who reads this statement must agree that these people are so boastful and arrogant that it is impossible to remain silent. The statement said that the Israeli leaders had announced that they would undertake military operations against Syria to occupy Damascus and bring down the Syrian regime. And on the same day, 12 May, the Prime Minister of Israel, Eshkol, made a very threatening statement against Syria. At the same time the commentators said that Israel thought that Egypt could not make a move because she was tied up in the Yemen.

Of course they say that we are tied up in the Yemen and have problems there. We are in the Yemen, but it seems that the Israelis have believed all the nonsense and lies they have been telling about our situation in the Yemen for years. We are capable of performing our duty in the Yemen and at the same time performing our national duty here in Egypt, both in defending our frontiers and attacking, if Israel attacks any Arab country.

On 13 May we received definite information to the effect that Israel was concentrating huge armed forces of about 11 to 13 brigades on the Syrian frontier, and that these forces were divided into two fronts, one to the south and one to the north of Lake Tiberias. We also learned that the Israeli decision taken at this time was to carry out an attack on Syria starting on 17 May. On 14 May we took action, and discussed the matter and contacted our Syrian brothers. The Syrians also had this information. In the light of this, General Fawzi went to Syria to coordinate things. We told them that we had decided that if Syria was attacked we should enter the battle immediately. This was the situation on 14 May; forces started to move towards Sinai to take up their natural positions.

News agencies reported yesterday that these movements must have been the result of a previously well thought-out plan. I say that it was the course of events that determined the plan. We had no plan before 13 May, because we did not believe that Israel would dare to make such an impertinent statement, or to take action against any Arab country.

Then on 16 May we requested the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force, in a letter from General Fawzi. We then requested the complete withdrawal of the Emergency Force. This was the signal for the launching of a major world-wide campaign, led by America, Britain and Canada, opposing the withdrawal of the Emergency Force from Egypt. We understood that attempts were being made to turn the United Nations Emergency Force into a force serving neo-imperialism. It is perfectly clear that when these forces entered Egypt it was with our approval, and that therefore they could only stay in Egypt with our continued approval.

Until yesterday there was a great deal of talk about the Emergency Force. There is also a campaign against the Secretary-General of the United Nations because he made an honest and sincere decision and did not submit to the pressure exerted on him by America, Britain and Canada to make the Emergency Force an instrument for the implementation of the plans of imperialism.

Quite naturally, and I say this today quite frankly, if the Emergency Force had been turned aside from its proper task and worked for the aims of imperialism, we should have regarded it as a hostile force and forcibly disarmed it. We are certainly capable of doing that. I say this now not to disparage the Emergency Force, but to let those that have neo-imperialist ideas and who want the United Nations to achieve their imperialist aims know that there is not a single self-respecting country, or one that enjoys full independence, that could possibly accept these methods. At the same time I say that the Emergency Force has performed its duties honourably and faithfully, and that the Secretary-General has refused to submit to pressure, issuing immediate orders for the Emergency Force to withdraw. We therefore praise the Emergency Force, which has stayed for ten years in our country in the service of peace. When it found that the forces of neo-imperialism wanted to divert it from its proper task it refused to do so. We salute it as it leaves our country and bid it an honourable farewell.

Our forces are now in Sinai, and we are fully mobilized both in the Gaza Strip and in Sinai. We notice that there is a great deal of talk about peace these days. Peace, peace, international peace, international security, United Nations intervention, and so on, is appearing daily in the press. But why did no one talk about peace, the United Nations or security when, on 12 May, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli leaders made their statements that they would occupy Damascus, overthrow the Syrian regime, strike vigorously at Syria and occupy part of Syrian territory? It is clear that they approved of what was said by the Israeli Prime Minister and leaders.

There is talk about peace now. What sort of peace? They talk about peace, but of course we say that we too are working for peace. But does peace mean that we should ignore the rights of the people of Palestine because a long time has passed? Does peace mean that we should relinquish our own rights because a long time has passed? Nowadays they talk about a United Nations presence in the area for the sake of peace, but does a United Nations presence in the area for the sake of peace mean that it closes its eyes to everything? The United Nations has adopted many resolutions in favour of the people of Palestine. Israel has not implemented a single one of these resolutions. Of course, that did not give rise to a hue and cry in the United States; in fact, no one ever talked about that.

But today American Senators, members of Congress, the press, and every last man there, are speaking in favour of Israel, of the Jews. But nobody is concerned over what happens to the Arabs. The United Nations resolutions in favour of the Arabs have not been implemented. What does this mean? No one talks at all. Where is the United Nations, that the people of Palestine might turn to it? Just how concerned is it with respect to the rights of the people of Palestine, to the tragedies that have befallen them since 1948? There is always talk of peace when Israel is in danger. But when the rights of the Arabs and of the people of Palestine are lost, no one talks about peace, rights, or anything of the kind.

So it is clear that there is an alliance between the major Western Powers, represented by America and Britain, and Israel, a political alliance which prompts the Western Powers to provide Israel with military equipment.

Yesterday and the day before yesterday the whole world was talking about Sharm el-Sheikh, navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba and the Port of Eilat. This morning 1 heard the BBC saying that Abd an-Nasir had undertaken to open the Gulf of Aqaba in 1956. Of course, this is not true; it was taken from a newspaper called the Daily Mail;

such a thing never happened. Abd an-Nasir could never give away a grain of sand of the soil of our country.

You have now taken a responsibility upon yourselves. Yesterday the armed forces occupied Sharin ash-Shaykh. What does this mean? It is an affirmation of our rights, of our sovereignty over the Gulf of Aqaba, which constitutes Egyptian territorial waters. Under no circumstances can we permit the Israeli flag to pass through the Gulf of Aqaba. The Jews threaten war. We say they are welcome to war, we are ready for war, our armed forces, our people, all of us are ready for war, but under no circumstances shall we abandon any of our rights. These are our waters. Perhaps war will be an opportunity for the Jews, for Israel, for Rabin, to try out their forces against ours, and find out that all they wrote about the battle of 1956 and the occupation of Sinai was a lot of nonsense.

Of course, there is imperialism, Israel and reaction. Reaction in our countries casts doubt on everything, and so does the Islamic alliance. We all know that the Islamic alliance is now mainly represented by three states: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iran. They say that the object of the Islamic alliance is to unite the Muslims against Israel. But I should like the Islamic alliance to serve the cause of Palestine in one way only - by preventing Israel being supplied with oil. The oil that now reaches Israel, that reaches Eilat, comes from one of the Islamic alliance countries. It comes from Iran to Eilat. Who, then, is supplying Israel with oil today? It is the Islamic alliance, one of the members of the Islamic alliance, Iran. This is what the Islamic alliance really is, an imperialist alliance, and it is therefore on the side of Zionism, because Zionism is the main ally of imperialism.

The Arab world, which is now mobilized to the highest degree, knows all this. It knows how to deal with the agents of imperialism, with the allies of Zionism, with the fifth column.

They say they want to coordinate their plans with ours. We can never coordinate our plans with members of the Islamic alliance, because if we did we should be giving our plans to the Jews, to Israel. Today we are engaged in a vitally important battle. When we said that we were ready to enter the battle, we meant that we should really do so if Syria, or any other Arab country, was attacked.

Today the armed forces are everywhere. The army is mobilized; so are all the armed forces and the people. The people are all behind you, praying for you day and night, and feeling that you, their sons, are the pride of their nation, of the Arab nation. This is what the Arab people in Egypt and outside Egypt feel about you. We are confident that you will honour the trust. Every one of us is ready to die rather than allow a grain of his country's soil to be surrendered. This is the greatest honour for us; it is the greatest honour for us to defend our country. So we shall not be frightened by imperialist, Zionist or reactionary campaigns. We have won our independence and tasted freedom. We have built a strong national army and achieved our aims, and we are building our country. There is at present a propaganda campaign against us, a psychological campaign, a campaign to implant doubts, but we can leave all that behind and follow the course of duty, the course of victory. God be with you.

Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry