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The Six-Day War: Exchange of Letters Between Kosygin & Eshkol

(May 26 & June 1, 1967)

Ever since the beginning of the crisis, the Soviet Union had publicly supported the actions of Syria and Egypt. Soviet press reports put the responsibility for the crisis on Israel. Official statements blamed Israel for the tension. On 26 May, Premier Kosygin addressed a Note to Prime Minister Eshkol. He ignored the concentration of Egyptian troops in Sinai and the reimposition of the blockade on the Straits of Tiran, and called on Israel to prevent military confrontation. In his reply, Mr Eshkol called on the Soviet Union to use its influence to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East based on principles espoused by the Soviet Union over the years.

Soviet Premier's Note

Mr. Prime Minister,

According to the latest information reaching the Government of the USSR, the tension on the borders of Israel, the UAR and Syria is mounting more and more, with the two sides increasing their forces and in Israel the situation is sharpening as though there was no alternative to acts of war. It would be a tremendous error if circles eager for battle, unrestrained by serious political thought, had the upper hand in such a situation, and arms were to begin talking.

Guided by the interests of peace and the desire to prevent bloodshed, the Government of the USSR decided to send you this Note.

We would like to appeal to you to resort to all measures to prevent a military conflict, since such a conflict would have a major effect on the interests of international peace and security. We turn to you so that no new threat of war may be created in the world, which would bring to nations immeasurable suffering.

We are convinced that, however complicated the situation in the area of the borders of Israel, Syria and the UAR may be, it is necessary to find means to resolve the conflict by non-military means, as it is easy to ignite a fire but putting out its flame may not be nearly as simple as those pushing Israel to the brink of war imagine.

We hope that following a serious consideration of the evolving situation and of the responsibility lying on the shoulders of that side which will initiate the aggression, the Government of Israel will do everything in its power to prevent a military conflict in the Middle East.


A. Kosygin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR


Prime Minister Eshkol's Reply

Mr. Prime Minister,

I beg to acknowledge receipt of your Note of 26 May 1967, delivered to me by the USSR Ambassador in Israel.

We appreciate the desire of the Government of the USSR to make known to us the Soviet evaluations concerning the present crisis in the region.

We are very glad that, as expected, the USSR is desirous of peace. As is known the present situation has developed since Syria began her overt hostile activities against Israel's territory and citizens. These activities have been denounced by the majority of members of the Security Council in the meetings which it held last October and also in the Report submitted by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Security Council on 19 May 1967.

A fortnight ago Egypt, which is associated with Syria in a mutual aid agreement, began concentrating its forces in the Sinai peninsula, near the Israeli border. At the same time Egypt removed the UN Emergency Force. The decisive point is not the removal of that force, but the Egyptain explanation accompanying it, namely that Egypt's intention was to "go to war" against Israel.

These aggressive steps reached their climax when a war-like blockade was imposed on the free passage through the Straits of Tiran. This, of course, is a classical war-like act, and there is no need to emphasize that it also is in absolute contradiction to the rules of international law and the rights of nations. This situation cannot be tolerated.

These activities on the part of Egypt forced the Government of Israel to take security measures, to mobilize its forces and to station them to protect the security of its frontiers. The Egyptian military preparations, accompanied by unrestrained incitement to war by all Egyptian and Syrian propaganda organs, are continuing. Large-scale Egyptian units, composed of infantry divisions and armoured divisions, are stationed along our frontiers. In a speech delivered on 26 May the President of Egypt, Colonel Nasser, declared:

"The blockade of Sharm el-Sheikh means our waging an all-out war against Israel. This is going to be a total war. Our fundamental aim is the annihilation of Israel."

I beg you, Mr. Prime Minister, to express to the Governments of Egypt and the world the opinion of the USSR Government regarding such declarations.

When Egypt declares that it is not prepared to co-exist with Israel, and that it means to wage a war of annihilation against it, only a considered and objective approach can contribute to the interests of peace. We much regret that on various occasions, such as for instance the participation of the USSR delegates in the discussions now going on in the Security Council and in publications in the Soviet Press, the USSR has adopted the false claims and accusations of Israel's enemies.

When the organs of Arab propaganda raised the contention that Israel is concentrating forces in order to attack Syria, I invited your Ambassador in Israel to visit the frontier and to find out for himself that there was no truth in this allegation. To my regret, the Ambassador did not respond to our invitation. The Chief of Staff of the UNTSO checked these claims and informed the Secretary-General of the UN and the capitals of the region that there were no Israeli concentrations at the Syrian border. The Secretary-General even included a statement to this effect in the Report which he submitted on 19 May to the Security Council.

Nevertheless, the representatives and the press of the USSR continued to make the false accusation current. They also voiced the claim that the leaders of Israel, in their speeches, threatened Syria. All those who peruse the declarations made by Israeli statesmen will see that they only constitute a reaction to the threats which the Arab States have poured upon us during the last 19 years, and that even in very grave situations our declarations have always included an appeal to peace and the expression of the hope that it will be established.

L. Eshkol


Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry