In a detailed account to the Knesset, Prime Minister Eshkol expressed the hope that the maritime nations would undertake a joint action to restore the freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran. He also made reference to the massing of Egyptian troops in Sinai and warned that, as long as they were massed on Israel's borders, there would be a danger of conflagration. Please find below, the full text of Eshkol's statement to the Knesset on May 29, 1967.
Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset:
Following upon my statement to the Knesset last week about the security situation, I shall survey the main developments that have taken place in the area:
Two weeks ago, the Egyptian army began to move its concentrations towards eastern Sinai, opposite Israel's frontier. Today the main part of the Egyptian army is concentrated, in battle order, in this area. On our northern frontier, Syria, Egypt's ally, is concentrating its army.
Parallel with this concentration, the United Nations Emergency Force has been hastily evacuated from Sinai, the Gaza Strip, and Sharm el-Sheikh. This force, which was established by the UN, entered Sinai and the Gaza Strip at the time as part of an arrangement with Israel for the evacuation of her forces from Sinai and the Gaza Strip. This evacuation was carried out on the basis of clear international undertakings for free passage in the Gulf of Aqaba and the cessation of infiltration from the Gaza Strip. The withdrawal of the UN force marks the removal of the symbol of the relative quiet that has reigned on the southern border for the past ten years.
The UN force constituted an expression of the will of the international community to ensure quiet on the border and free passage in the Strait. Nasser's agreement to the force's remaining in Sinai and the Strip expressed for ten years Egypt's readiness to undertake to preserve quiet on her border with Israel and to refrain from interference with free passage in the Strait.
A week ago, the ruler of Egypt, Colonel Nasser, announced the closing of the Strait to Israeli shipping and ships carrying cargo to Israel. Since then, he has several times repeated this statement and threats against anyone who should try to break this illegal blockade.
The Egyptian President has further proclaimed his intention and readiness to attack Israel for the purpose of destroying her. Yesterday he went further, and threatened to begin at once with extensive sabotage operations against Israel, her towns and villages, and her citizens. This very day, attacks have been carried out against us from the Gaza Strip.
These acts and declarations have altered the security and political situation in the area. The Government of Israel has, therefore, adopted a number of security and political initiatives with the aim of safeguarding Israel's vital interests.
A pre-condition for safeguarding peace and our interests is our military strength. I therefore ordered, with the Government's agreement, the mobilization of the reserves of the Israel Defense Forces, and they are ready and prepared today to frustrate the enemy's designs in all sectors and on all our borders.
Members of the Knesset:
The Government of Israel has repeatedly stated its determination to exercise its freedom of passage in the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba, and to defend it in case of need. This is a supreme national interest on which no concession is possible and no compromise is admissible. It is clear to us - and I feel that it is now clear to the nations of the world - that so long as the blockade exists, peace is in danger.
It is this grave situation that obligates us particularly to find out first of all and with great urgency whether those governments that have undertaken to support and implement freedom of passage are prepared to translate their undertakings into the language of action in accordance with international law, which the Egyptian ruler so criminally violates.
The Foreign Minister's brief visits to Paris, London, and Washington were designed to clarify this question. He explained to the Presidents of the United States and France and to the British Prime Minister that it was a matter of a vital national interest, which our country will unflinchingly protect. From the Foreign Minister's conversations we learned that all the governments with which he came in contact desired that the status quo, which has recently been violated, should be respected. The President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Britain have made strong public statements on the subject.
There is special interest in the attitude of the United States, for its government was the first to convey undertakings to Israel in 1957, in diplomatic exchanges, in letters from the President and the Secretary of State, and in public statements in the UN and other places.
After hearing President Johnson's statement of 23 May and the Foreign Minister's report of his talks in Washington, the Government was deeply impressed by the unambiguous stand of the United States in favor of the safeguarding of freedom of passage in these international waters. A similar attitude is expressed by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, in his public statement and his talks with our Foreign Minister. Other maritime states have already informed us of their readiness effectively to support freedom of passage, and we have been told that practical consultations on the subject are already taking place.
Under these conditions, it is reasonable to expect that the states which support the principle of free passage should carry out and coordinate effective action in order to ensure that the Strait and the Gulf shall be open to the passage of the ships of all nations without discrimination within a short time.
This expectation, which is founded on authorized and express statements, has had a strong influence on the attitude and decisions of the Government of Israel at this stage. There is no doubt that the readiness to protect freedom of passage which has been shown by great nations has been influenced both by their attitude in principle and by their knowledge that the State of Israel will protect its rights.
It was our duty first of all to put international undertakings to the test. In the near future it will transpire whether this prospect is being realized. Israel's attitude in regarding the blocking of the Strait as an act of aggression against her remains fully in force. The Government of Israel's statement at the United Nations Assembly on 1 March 1957 still expresses our policy with complete accuracy.
We are now engaged in extensive political activity for the restoration of freedom of passage. This activity would not have been possible, and its prospects would have been dim, had it not been for our own strength and the justice of our claim. On the other hand, the ties which we have forged with other nations have helped, and will continue to help, to enhance our strength and protect our rights.
Members of the Knesset:
The Egyptian ruler's statements about the closing of the Strait, about acts of violence, about his aggressive intentions and troop concentrations, have raised the tension in the area to a peak. Colonel Nasser has created a position in which there is a danger of war.
On several occasions I have informed the Knesset and the nation of the growth in the power of the Israel Defense Forces. Today our army is at the zenith of its strength in manpower, skill, fighting spirit, and military equipment.
We must devote our attention not only to ensuring the freedom of passage, but also to the danger of military aggression led by Egypt. No sensible person will find it difficult to understand that so long as there exists a massive concentration of the forces of Egypt and her allies in the neighborhood of our borders, a conflagration could break out. The Israel Defense Forces will therefore remain mobilized, at arms, ready for any test, and if the necessity arises they have the strength to defeat the aggressors.
Egypt's measures constitute a threat to peace in the whole of our area. The Egyptian President's inflammatory declarations and threats implant illusions in the hearts of his excitable devotees. The Egyptian ruler should remember that this is not the first time that he has been borne on the wings of his imagination, seeing himself a victor before he has gone out to war. He should remember that his disillusionment was not long delayed, as we ourselves have witnessed.
Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset:
The situation imposes on the country, on the whole nation and all the citizens, a heavy burden. We shall make every effort to ensure that the mobilization of the reserves shall not disturb the course of our economic life and the life of the individual more than is absolutely necessary.
In these days, we are witnessing wonderful and widespread manifestations of the voluntary spirit among all parts of the people. Out of the midst of our ordinary, everyday lives, powerful currents of devotion, responsibility, and loyalty break through to the surface. Israel is united in her understanding of the test that confronts her. Israel is faithful to herself, to her character, and to her ideals. These days will yet be remembered as a wonderful manifestation of national maturity.
I feel it my duty to say, from this rostrum, a few words to the Israel Defense Forces, to our soldiers, who stand ready at this hour in the expanses of the Negev, in Galilee, along all our borders, in the air and at sea. As in every one of the tests we have met since the rise of the State, so in these days the citizens of Israel and the world draw confidence and strength from that wonderful phenomenon, the Israel Defense Forces.
Planning, organization and execution, mass mobilization, the excellent armament, the determined deployment and the complete readiness for any mission - all these have been marked by superior skill, knowledge, and judgment, and accompanied by splendid manifestations of unbounded dedication.
You know, better than any, how much our strength has increased in recent years. The superiority of your forces to those of our enemies is today, more than ever, the guarantee of our security. By virtue of the power of your forces to defeat the enemy in any situation, the Government of Israel is capable of taking, with confidence and fortitude, the difficult decisions that confront it by virtue of our supreme responsibility for the fate of our country and the Jewish people.
We have complete confidence that, by maintaining your vigilant readiness, your strong morale, and your faith in the justice of our struggle, you will continue in the days to come to guarantee Israel's security and rights in the face of the challenges she confronts. In the name of the Government, the Knesset, and the entire nation, we thank you for all you have done so far and send you the greeting: Be strong and of good courage to meet the future.
I cannot, of course, go into any greater detail in describing the situation. The members of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee receive continual reports.
Members of the Knesset:
Confident in the Israel Defense Forces, encouraged by the growing support and sympathy that we have received from other nations, fortified by the enthusiastic identification of the Jewish people with our cause, we stand on guard, ready to repel any threat, any danger and any blow, until we attain security and peace.