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Dwight Eisenhower Administration: Exchange of Letters with Israeli PM Ben-Gurion

(April 10, 1956)

By April 1956, regular Egyptian forces were taking part in border raids against Israel. President Eisenhower sought to deter Israel from retaliation, even in the face of extreme provocation. Excerpts from the President's letter and Mr. Ben-Gurion's reply follow:

I realise that this is a very tense time, and additional provocative acts are possible from irregular forces. I sincerely hope that in view of the terrible tragedy that general hostile actions will undoubtedly bring to this region you will abstain, even under the pressure of extreme provocation, from any retaliatory acts which may result in very dangerous consequences.

In his reply to the President, Ben-Gurion wrote in part:

During the past three nights, the Egyptian authorities sent gangs of murderers from Gaza to murder innocent citizens, to destroy installations and to spread fear among peaceful villagers. United Nations observers recognised the responsibility of the Egyptian authorities. I am certain that if the entire situation were detailed for you, you would not have restricted yourself merely to expressing hope that we would abstain from military acts. I cannot imagine that in case of continual Egyptian attacks you would assume that we would abandon our country and people to the dangers and bloody consequences of a perpetual campaign of terror by the terrorist gangs of the Egyptian government.

I am certain that no other country would surrender to such a situation without appropriate action. The Government of Israel and I are fully aware of your sincere White House declaration that the United States will oppose any attack in the region. However, I would not be candid with you nor would I be fulfilling my obligation to my people were I not to say in all friendliness that such a declaration does not relieve our grave anxiety for Israel's security.

Sources: Public Papers of the President