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The Yom Kippur War: Prime Minister Meir on Cease-Fire

(October 23, 1973)

Israel and Egypt accepted the cease-fire which was to take effect at 1850 Israel time on 22 October, but fighting continued past that deadline, when Egyptian artillery launched a massive bombardment of Israeli positions. Fighting continued on 23 October, Israeli forces repulsing ground and air attacks in Egypt and Syria, downing 10 Egyptian and 10 Syrian planes. Prime Minister Golda Meir addressed the Knesset and explained the reasons for Israel's acceptance of the cease-fire.

On 22 October, the Government of Israel unanimously decided to respond to the approach of the US Government and President Nixon and announce its readiness to agree to a cease-fire according to the Resolution of the Security Council which reflected the joint American-Soviet proposal: the military forces would remain in the positions that they held at the time when the cease-fire went into effect, and implementation of the cease-fire would be conditional on reciprocity.

The Security Council Resolution reads as follows:

The Council,

Calls upon all parties to the present fighting to cease firing and terminate all military activity immediately, not later than twelve hours after the moment of the adoption of this decision, in the positions which they now occupy;

Calls upon the parties concerned to start, immediately after the cease-fire, the implementation of Security Resolution 242 (1967) in all of its parts;

Decides that, immediately, and concurrently with the cease-fire, negotiations start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices, aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

Respecting the second paragraph of the Resolution, the Government decided to instruct our Representative at the United Nations to include, in his address to the Council, a passage making it clear that our agreement is given in the sense in which Israel defined it when it decided, in August 1970, to accept the United States Government's move for a cease-fire, as announced in the United Nations on 4 August 1970 and by myself in the Knesset on the same day. This was also made clear to the United States Government.

Israel's acceptance of a cease-fire with Egypt is conditional upon Egypt's agreement, but not upon Syria's agreement to one, and conversely.

The Government also decided to clarify with the United States Government a series of provisions closely connected with the content of the Security Council Resolution and the procedures required by it. It is our intention to ensure, inter alia, that:

The cease-fire shall be binding upon all the regular forces stationed in the territory of a State accepting it, including the forces of foreign States, such as the armies of Iraq and Jordan in Syria, and also forces sent by other Arab States which took part in the hostilities.

It shall also be binding upon irregular forces acting against Israel from the Areas of the States accepting it.

It shall also be binding upon irregular forces acting against Israel from the areas of including oil tankers in the Bab el-Mandeb Straits on their way to Eilat.

It shall ensure that the interpretation of the term referring to "negotiations between the parties" is direct negotiations and, naturally, that the procedures, the charting of maps and the subject of cease-fire supervision shall be determined by agreement.

A subject of great importance, one very close to our hearts, is the release of prisoners. The Government has decided to demand an immediate exchange of prisoners. We have discussed this with the Government of the United States, and I spoke about it with the Secretary of State, Dr. Kissinger. When his plane arrived at Andrews Air Base, the State Department spokesman, Mr. Robert McCloskey, told newsmen:

"We believe one of the early priorities should be a release of prisoners on both sides, and we and the Soviet Union have pledged our efforts to obtain assurances that this will be done as a priority matter. "

I stress again that this matter is a main test of the cease-fire: that there will be no relaxation of our demand that the obligations undertaken by the initiators of the cease-fire shall be carried out in fact.

As to our military situation on the Syrian and Egyptian fronts before the cease-fire, let me say this.

The lines that we ate holding today on the Syrian front are better than those that we held on 6 October. Not only do we now occupy all the territory which was under our control before, but our situation has been considerably improved by the holding of positions on the Hermon ridge and also on the front line in the east, changes that have shifted the previous cease-fire line to a better line supported by a strong flank in the north, on the Hermon ridge.

The Egyptians did, indeed, secure a military achievement in crossing the Canal, but, in a daring counter-offensive, the Israel Defense Forces succeeded in recovering control of part of the eastern Canal line, and in gaining control of a large area west of the Canal, an area which opens up defensive and offensive possibilities to us:

(a) The deployment deprives the Egyptian army of its capacity to signify an offensive threat in the direction of Sinai and Israel, and prevents it from being able to attack essential installations or areas in our territory.

(b) The formations of the IDF west of the Suez Canal constitute a strong military base for the development of operations which we would launch, if required.

The United States Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, and his aides called here on their way from Moscow to Washington. It was a suitable opportunity for a comprehensive discussion of questions arising out of the cease-fire, as well as for a friendly exchange of views on what was about to happen, and what was called for, as a result of Israel's agreement to a cease-fire. Moreover, the contacts which preceded the Security Council Resolution could be pursued and strengthened.

In all these contacts, I have come to learn that not only has the United States no plan for the borders and other components of peace, but that, in its view, those who offer their "good offices" should see to it that the parties themselves - and they alone - make proposals and plans for the future.

I must also emphasize, from authoritative information to hand, that there was nothing in the Moscow talks beyond what is in the Security Council Resolution.

The Syrian Government has so far not responded to the Resolution: the fighting on that front goes on, and the IDF will operate there according to plan.

On the Egyptian front, firing upon our troops has not yet stopped, and the IDF must operate as required as long as it continues. We are watching the conduct of the Egyptians with careful military and political vigilance. Should Egypt persist in belligerent activity, we shall deem ourselves free to take any action and make any move which the situation demands.

I shall not go into any elaborate appraisal of the political activity antecedent to the cease-fire. In any event, it was not we who made the approaches. As far as the situation on the front went, there was no reason for any such approach on our part. It was not we who conceived the timing and clauses of the Security Council Resolution. On the fronts, we were not in an inferior battle position. But we deemed it right to respond to the call of the United States and its President, since:

(a) The State of Israel, by its nature, has no wish for war, desires no loss of life. All its Governments have been convinced that wars do not promote peace.

(b) The cease-fire proposal came when our position is firm on both fronts, when our successes are of great value and justify agreement to a cease-fire, despite the enemy's success east of the Suez Canal.

(c) We appreciate and esteem the positive policy of the United States and its President in the Middle East at the present time.

Our agreement takes on great importance for the continued strengthening of Israel, especially in the context of ongoing military and political aid in a war that was forced upon us. Let me quote what President Nixon said on 19 October, in presenting to Congress his generous proposal for financing military supplies:

"Our actions there have reflected my belief that we must take steps which are necessary for maintaining a balance of military capabilities and achieving stability in the area. The request I am submitting today would give us the essential flexibility to continue meeting those responsibilities. To maintain a balance of forces and thus achieve stability, the United States Government is currently providing military material to Israel to replace combat losses. This is necessary to prevent the emergence of a substantial imbalance resulting from a large-scale re-supply of Syria and Egypt by the Soviet Union. The costs of replacing consumables and lost equipment for the Israeli armed forces have been extremely high. During the first twelve days of the conflict, the United States has authorized shipments to Israel of material costing $825 million, including transportation. Major items now being furnished by the United States to the Israeli forces include conventional munitions of many types, air-to-air and. air-to-ground missiles, artillery, crew-served and individual weapons and a standard range of fighter aircraft ordnance. Additionally the United States is providing replacements for tanks, aircraft, radios and other military equipment which have been lost in action."

The attitude of the Egyptian rulers to war and to loss of life is different from ours. We recall what the Egyptian President said of his readiness to sacrifice millions of his people. On 16 October, after the IDF had succeeded in establishing a bridgehead west of the Canal, he delivered a vainglorious address, ridiculed a cease-fire and said, inter alia:

"We are prepared to agree to a cease-fire on the basis of withdrawal of the Israeli forces from all the occupied territories forthwith - under international supervision - to the pre-5 June 1967 lines. "

Within a few days, Egypt had agreed to a cease-fire. Not one of Sadat's stipulations was inserted in the Security Council Resolution.

The third paragraph of the Resolution says:

"The Security Council decides that, immediately, and concurrently with the cease-fire, negotiations start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices, aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East."

According to the agreed version of the United States representatives, the meaning of negotiations between the parties is direct negotiations between Israel and its neighbours. No such explicit pronouncement appears in Resolution 242. Furthermore, the present Resolution specifies the timing of the beginning of these negotiations immediately and concurrently with the cease-fire. I do not have to stress that we attach great importance to paragraph 3 of the present Resolution, if only our neighbours will carry it out.

Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Resolution cannot be separated. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. John Scali, elucidated the position of the United States on the point in these words:

"The second paragraph calls for the implementation of the Security Council Resolution in all of its parts after the cease-fire. The members of this Council as well as the parties concerned are fully familiar with Security Council Resolution 242 and it needs no elaboration here. The paragraph is linked to paragraph 3 which calls for the immediate beginning of negotiations between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices, aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East."

Israel views the present Resolution (338) with all the gravity that is its due. The cease-fire, and the inception of direct negotiations between Israel and those States that have accepted and are observing the cease-fire can be an historic turning-point in the development of the Middle East, a turning-point from war to peace. Direct and earnest negotiations can change the bloody course forced upon us in the past to the path that guides to peace.

We have accepted a cease-fire not out of weakness but at the very peak of our initiative and momentum. We considered it our duty to help in bringing about the change whereof I speak, one that this area so badly needs, one to which the people and the Government of Israel have been looking forward for so many years. The change is possible, necessary and stimulating - and nothing is lacking for its realization but a sincere readiness on the part of our neighbours.

But to my sorrow, I cannot inform the House that there are already indications that the Government of Egypt is prepared to fulfil the obligations which it undertook in accepting the cease-fire. The Government of Israel will, therefore, conduct itself and act as the situation may demand.

The Arab rulers ostensibly accepted Resolution 242 - but they have been baulking every attempt to advance towards its main objective, the objective of peace, by stubbornly refusing to negotiate with us without prior conditions, and placing a false interpretation upon the original content and meaning of the Resolution.

On various occasions, the Government of Israel has officially defined its attitude towards the Resolution - from international platforms and at diplomatic meetings, in the Knesset, in its Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, and to the public at large. I will refer to the statement made on 4 August 1970 to the United States Government, to the United Nations and to the Knesset. It was made on the eve of possible talks with the Arab States, and is still entirely valid.

"Israel has publicly declared that, by virtue of its right to secure borders, defensible borders, it will not return to the frontiers of 4 June 1967, which make the country a temptation to aggression and which, on various fronts, give decisive advantages to an aggressor. Our position was and still remains that, in the absence of peace, we will continue to maintain the situation as determined at the cease-fire. The cease-fire lines can be replaced only by secure, recognized and agreed boundaries demarcated in a peace treaty.

"In accepting the American Government's peace initiative Israel was not asked to, and did not, undertake any territorial commitments. On the contrary, the Government of Israel received support for its position that not a single Israeli soldier will be withdrawn from the cease-fire lines until a binding contractual peace agreement is reached. "

This terrible war, that was thrust upon us, reinforces our awareness of the vital need for defensible borders, and we shall struggle for them with all our might.

Since the outbreak of the war on Yom Kippur, the terrorists have resumed their operations from Lebanese territory. During this period of seventeen days, 116 acts of aggression have been committed, 44 villages on the northern border attacked and shelled, twenty civilians and six soldiers killed or wounded.

Our people living in the border settlements may be confident that Israel's Defense Forces are fully alert to their situation: the defensive dispositions exist on this front, but it has been proved once again that defensive action alone is not enough to put an end to acts of terror.

The war began with a concerted Arab attack on two fronts. Their aggressive initiative gave our enemies initial successes, but, thanks to the spirit and strength of our Defense Army, backed by the whole nation, the attack was broken. The aggressors were thrown back. A great deal of their forces was destroyed. The IDF smashed through and crossed the cease-fire lines. From holding battles, they went over to the offensive and made brilliant gains. On both fronts, they are now occupying strong positions beyond the cease-fire lines. Their spirit is indomitably high. The people is at one in their support.

Israel wants a cease-fire. Israel will observe it on a reciprocal basis, and on no other basis. With all its heart, Israel wants peace negotiations to start immediately and concurrently with the cease-fire. It can display the inner strength necessary to bring about an honorable peace within secure borders.

We shall be happy if the same readiness is shown by the people and Government of Egypt. But, if the rulers of Egypt propose to renew the war, they will find Israel prepared, armed and steadfast in spirit.

On the way from Tel Aviv, I was informed that the Egyptian Government had asked for a meeting of the Security Council. It seems that it intends to cast its own guilt upon Israel. The move shows that Egyptian violation of the cease-fire was deliberate. Egypt, again, reminds us that we are at war. Not only peace, but also the observation of cease-fire agreements, depends on the readiness of both sides.

We still hope that Egypt will honor the obligations which it undertook only yesterday. If, however, it continues hostilities, Israel cannot be mute.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs