Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Eshkol, (May 18, 1966)

The opening of the Knesset debate on the budget of his Office enabled the Prime Minister to deal at length with problems of Israel's defence and foreign affairs. The statement came at a time when incidents on the Syrian border were multiplying, and threats were being made by President Nasser. Israel had submitted a number of complaints to the Security Council. The defence and foreign affairs sections of the Prime Minister's speech..

At the beginning of my term of office as Prime Minister, and repeatedly since then, I have expressed Israel's emphatic desire for an improvement in relations with the Soviet Union and the development of commercial and cultural ties with that Great Power. The relationships are very complex, and I have no intention of going into detail on this question today. We continue to hope for a return to the friendly relations that existed between the two States at the beginning of our independence, when the Soviet Union supported the establishment of the State of Israel. The very fact that it stood by us at that momentous hour makes the unfavourable references to Israel, which reach us at intervals from Moscow, all the more regrettable.

For example, Zionism was recently mentioned in one breath with imperialism in the regrettable joint statement that was issued in Moscow during the visit of the Syrian Prime Minister. The truth, of course, is just the opposite: Zionism is a movement of freedom, a movement of national and social liberation, which has brought about a political, economic and social renascence in the lives of the Jewish people. It has transformed denizens of ghettoes and mellahs, and survivors of the Holocaust, into a nation cultivating its soil and productive in all spheres. Anyone who takes an interest in the history of fights for liberation is well aware that since ancient days Israel has always clung to freedom and its efforts to emerge from servitude have been an example to all mankind. Zionism is only one link in this chain of struggles of the Jewish people, which in our own generation has also achieved independence through resistance to foreign rule. By liberating itself, the nation in its Land has opened the way for the liberation efforts of other nations in our area, which have drawn encouragement from our aspirations for freedom and our strength to achieve it. Can this be called imperialism?

The Arab rulers who identify the State of Israel with Zionism are liable to interpret a joint statement such as I have mentioned as acquiescence in their hostile and aggressive policy. The Soviet Union, whose policy is the solution to disputes by peaceful means, could also contribute to the relaxation of tension and the improvement of the atmosphere in the Middle East by abstaining from such expressions and definitions.

The authoritative text of the official statements by the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union and the President of Egypt are not yet in our possession, and I shall not refer at this time to the results of the Soviet Prime Minister's visit to Egypt. In this case, I must emphasize that the Government of Israel has never objected to the improvement of mutual relations between the Great Powers and the various Arab countries - so long as they do not constitute encouragement for aggressive tendencies in the area but are dedicated to the strengthening of peace and stability in our region.

By this criterion we shall judge the results of this visit as well. It is not impossible that I shall return to this subject on another occasion.

Al-Fatah Operations

The sabotage operations of the al-Fatah organization have recently been renewed. We do not delight in the use of force; but everyone will understand that the primary obligation of a Government is to protect its territory, ensure the safety of its citizens and frustrate terrorist activity by all possible means. We have restrained ourselves time after time, despite a series of sabotage acts, but when it has become clear that not enough is being done across the border to prevent them we have been compelled to take action to stop the terrorism. We cannot acquiesce in the neighbouring Governments' seeking to cast off responsibility for the movement of infiltrators from their territory into ours. It should be remembered that the armistice agreements also included a clear obligation on this point.

We keep an eye on the nests of saboteurs and know more about them than I can permit myself to say here. One of the things we know is that the source and principal initiative for the al-Fatah operations are on Syrian territory. Sometimes the saboteurs leave directly from Syrian soil, and sometimes they act indirectly, assisting saboteurs in other countries.

The Syrian Defence Ministry claimed on 12 May, according to Damascus Radio, that its Government knows nothing of al-Fatah activities. The Syrian Foreign Minister also tried yesterday to disclaim Syria's responsibility for the preparation of the operations against Israel by irrelevant arguments. Izvestya of 7 May states that Israel is disseminating false rumours about the Syrians' connection with al-Fatah. I want to ask: Is it only by accident that the so-called "free" radio and press of Syria support al-Fatah and give enthusiastic publicity to its operation? How do the official announcements reach the Syrian State press and radio for publication? Is it not in Damascus that the al-Fatah organ Hasaar is published? How do the al-Fatah detachments succeed in passing the Syrian border guards? How do the al-Fatah detachments in Syria obtain assistance from the Syrian Deuxième Bureau in crossing through Lebanon and Jordan?

Other Border Attacks

In addition to this terrorist activity, there have been a number of attacks by regular enemy forces on the Jordanian and Syrian borders. A number of our people have been killed and injured in these grave provocations. A few days ago Syria sent a Note to the Security Council baselessly accusing Israel of concentrating forces on its border with the intention to attack. But those who pretend that they are in danger of attack plant land-mines in the way of peaceful Israeli farmers. Only this week, on Monday morning, two Israeli citizens, travelling in their jeep, were killed by the explosion of a mine planted by Syrian saboteurs. As usual, Damascus boasts that its forces will sow panic in every Israeli house. Let not him that girdeth on his armour boast as him that putteth it off. I want to make it clear from this rostrum that this state of affairs cannot continue. We are sovereign over every foot of our soil and neither the blood of Israel's people nor the soil of Israel shall be defenceless.

Israel-Arab Relations

Coming to the general problem of Israel-Arab relations, I want to emphasize that we take no pleasure in the prospect of strife and battle. We regard the Israel Defence Forces as a power for defence and deterrence, for the preservation of quiet on the borders and peace in the area. We shall not give up our hope that our endurance and creative activity, our efforts for peace, may lead to a change in the approach of the Arab leaders. When it becomes clear to them that the aggressor has no advantage to hope for, perhaps they will begin to examine the efficacy and advantage of the alternative road: namely, to give up aggression and provocation on the borders, to refrain from barren incitement and recognize the principle of co-existence and, in the course of time, consider the possibility of establishing a network of cooperation for the benefit of all the nations of the region.

The Arab leaders must understand that our roots in this country are implanted in thousands of years of history, and Israel's right to this Land is no less valid than the right of the Arab nations to theirs. Just as we have not come here as the instrument of any foreign body, just as our coming to this Land is a return and not a conquest, just as our ties with this Land are not accidental but deep and continuous over the centuries, arising out of an eternal spiritual consciousness, so our dwelling here does not depend on any foreign factor, and the course of history cannot be changed.

We want the Arab leaders to know that, just as we shall face force without flinching, so we shall meet understanding with understanding. We have shown that whenever we enter into any obligations, we keep our word. For example, we are complying and will continue to comply with our obligations to draw water in accordance with the framework laid out in the "Unified Plan," so long as our neighbours do not try to rob us of the water which is our due. Similarly, we shall honour in the future any agreement that may be accepted and any understanding that may be reached.

The prospects for the beginning of a dialogue do not depend only on the bilateral relations between Israel and the Arab countries. They are considerably influenced by the developments in the area as a whole. The Middle East is not in a state of stagnation. There have been changes in it, to which we are sensitive - although, against the background of the general instability, any estimate can only be tentative.

At the time of the two Arab Summit conferences in Cairo in 1964, commentators from all over the world thought that there were growing prospects of the Egyptian President imposing his authority on the Arab countries in the area. Only two years have passed since then and it transpires that the Egyptian President's influence over the area has declined instead of increasing. Apparently, the Arab countries are not prepared to accept the yoke of his leadership. This is shown by the situation in Yemen, where fighting has been proceeding for over three and a half years: in this war for domination the Egyptian President is squandering economic, human and social resources that are vital for the development of his country. It is also shown by Egypt's relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the area. It seems that Egyptian public opinion is not entirely aware of this situation.

Anyone with a sensitive ear will note that not everyone in the Middle East speaks about, Israel in the same style. Although we do not give way to optimistic and premature speculations about a change of approach towards us in certain sections of the Arab world, I believe that I may say, while meticulously distinguishing between reality and illusion, that the position in our area today is not the same as the position that reigned here several years ago. As a substantial factor in the Middle East today, Israel can feel the pulse of events perhaps more than was possible in the past. It is also conceivable that it is not entirely without influence on what is happening.

In saying all this, I must emphasize again that the road to peace is still long, and that the danger of war has not disappeared. The President of Egypt continues to threaten us with a preventive war, and his threats must be treated seriously and with continuous alertness.

While keeping our eyes open, discerning every danger and every development, whatever they may be, we are increasing our deterrent strength, which is the precondition for our survival, the consolidation of our independence and the strengthening of peace. We are continuing to improve the country's means of defence and deterrence in every possible way. We are devoting considerable attention to modern developments in equipment and technology, know-how and research. I will not go into a detailed survey of our acquisitions of arms and equipment. We usually do so in detail in the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee. The Government is making every possible effort to maintain the balance which is necessary for our security. These efforts have recently been crowned with some success - in armour and in the air. I hope that I shall be able to return to this subject at greater length in the near future.

I have mentioned the influence of inter-Arab relations on Israel-Arab relations. The tension in the Middle East is also influenced by the general international tension, as it has found expression in our area over the years. I shall not attempt today to analyze the effect of international tension on the Middle East. I will only mention that, after a dangerous increase in tension in the years 1954 to 1959, it has weakened somewhat but has not disappeared. Will this relaxation continue and grow deeper or do we, perhaps, face renewed tension? We hope with all our hearts that inter-bloc relations will not grow more acute - either in the world as a whole or here - and that the Powers' main efforts in the Middle East will be devoted to economic and social development.

The arms race in the Middle East has been stimulated to a large extent, over the past twelve years, by the aggravation of the Cold War's influence on the region. Against the background of this aggravation, the Arab countries, particularly Egypt, have found opportunities to equip themselves on a large scale with arms and military material.

From a regional point of view, the central factor which has spurred, and is spurring, the armaments race in the Middle East is Egypt. The more Egypt has equipped itself and is continuing to equip itself with large quantities of arms; the more it has introduced modern types of arms into the region; the more it has threatened to impose its authority on other countries in the region by means of these arms; the more it has taken advantage of tension between West and East to fortify its positions and influence - the more has a non-stop arms race been created in the area.

Space will not suffice to detail Egypt's aggressive policy over the years: the penetration of Israel by fidayun units preceding the Sinai campaign; constant subversion against Jordan and Saudi Arabia; domination of Syria until the break-up of the United Arab Republic; incitement in Lebanon and the fomenting of warfare there in 1xxxxx subversion against Iran; since 1961 - the war in the Yemen; attempts at domination at the Arab summit conferences in 1964. And the list is still long - subversion in Libya, the Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria, Morocco - and, recently, threats of war against Saudi Arabia. Throughout this entire period Egypt has never stopped insisting on maintaining a state of war with Israel; its military preparations for aggression have never ceased and its threats of preventive war have continued. In explaining over the years his policy of military preparations against Israel, the President of Egypt has told two different stories: at times he admits that his preparations are intended for war against Israel, and at times he represents his military preparedness as being forced upon him by us. I believe that world public opinion is beginning to perceive this strange and glaring contradiction. Anyone who studies the history of the armaments race in the Middle East will be convinced that it was Egypt which first introduced the modern types of arms - in the air, on land and at sea.

It was Egypt which, in 1951, first introduced Vampire and Meteor jet fighter planes and in 1952, upon Nasser's accession to power, brought into service modern Centurion tanks and new destroyers of British manufacture. The Israel Defence Forces were obliged to seek a balance, and thus, in 1954, Israel acquired light French AMX-1 3 tanks, Meteor jets, and, only in 1956, British destroyers.

The next tide was the Egyptian deal with the Eastern Bloc, in 1955, as a result of which Egypt received, in 1956, T-36 tanks, S.U. 100 mobile guns and the heavy Stalin-3 tanks, MIG-15 and MIG-17 jet fighter planes and Ilyushin-28 bombers, carrying a load of three-and-a-half tons of bombs; and, at sea - the Skouri destroyers and the M and W submarines.

The Egyptians were not content with all this. In spite of the tranquillity which prevailed along the border and in the area after the Sinai campaign, the Egyptians in 1960 began developing ground-to-ground missiles, aimed against Israel. In 1961 they introduced MIG-19 fighter planes.

1962 marks a new tide in the arms race - the Egyptians obtained MIG-21 jet fighters, Topolev-16 heavy bombers, carrying 10-ton bombs, and giant Antonov-12 transport planes for 120 soldiers. This deal also included batteries of SA-2 ground-to-air missiles, which arrived a year later. In the sphere of armour, T-53 tanks began arriving in Egypt, and at sea Komor missile-carrying craft.

And again the Israel Defence Forces were compelled to ensure a balance - in the air. This was done at first by Mystère and Vautour planes, and later, in 1959, SuperMystères and Mirages. Centurion tanks reached us only in 1960, and in that year we also received the first submarines.

But the race went on. In the air, the Egyptians received of late supersonic MIG-21 and Suchoy-7 planes. To these must be added the heavy MIG- 16 helicopters, carrying 80 soldiers each. In armour, Egypt has recently received modern T-55 tanks, and at sea - its submarines are being replaced by a more modern type.

Israel, in search of means of defence, acquired only in 1964 batteries of ground-to-air missiles and, recently, Patton tanks.

In addition, it must be stressed that Egypt, in its war in the Yemen, has employed poison gases of various kinds.

On 8 May, the President of Egypt revealed all of a sudden, in an interview with the press, that he now intends to begin developing nuclear arms. In the same interview, the Egyptian President mentioned international obligations in the atomic field. It is odd to hear him speak of international pledges and obligations. Egypt does not abstain from threats and acts of aggression, although it is a member of the UN, whose Charter outlaws threats and the use of force. Egypt continues to ignore the Security Council Resolution of 1951 in the matter of free passage for Israeli ships through the Suez Canal. Some three years ago the President of Egypt promised the US to evacuate his army from the Yemen; in August 1965, in the Jedda agreement, he made a similar pledge to an Arab country - and today the Egyptian President reveals that he has no intention at all of evacuating his troops from the Yemen. The policy of Egypt's President is strewn with broken promises of all kinds.

The President of Egypt attempts to deceive the world and divert attention from the peril of existing aggressive arms in the area by drawing attention to nuclear weapons which do not exist in our region, and in whose existence in the region we are not interested. I have said before, and I repeat, that Israel has no atomic arms and will not be the first to introduce them into our region. Anybody who really has the interests of the area's nations at heart, who truly wants to free the nations of the Middle East from the nightmare of an arms race with all the constant dangers it involves, including the diversion of vital resources for unconstructive ends, ought to work for general disarmament in the Middle East or, at least, for the limitation of armaments of all kinds establishing a reasonable balance - including the non-introduction of nuclear arms into our region. The Egyptian President alleges that we are forcing an arms race upon him but he himself systematically rejects every proposal for disarmament, arms limitation or a treaty of non-aggression.

In the face of the ever-growing arms race, we must give warning of the terrible dangers inherent in the present state of affairs. Let the nations of the region, including the people of Egypt, know - let the world know - who bears the responsibility for this perilous race.

To the Great Powers who supply arms, our demand is: Let a halt be put to the arms race! Before disarmament is attained and the arms race completely halted, a balance must be ensured by means of reciprocal supervision of agreed arrangements by the States of the region.

We note with appreciation that, at the Geneva Conference on disarmament, the idea of regional disarmament. or at least regional limitation of conventional armaments, has been raised recently as a first step towards general disarmament.

In foci of tension no less sensitive than that in our area, some points of understanding between the Powers have occasionally been revealed and the boundaries between the permissible and the impermissible have been indicated. This has created a basis for a continued endeavour for further relaxation and the safeguarding of stability.

The Middle East should not be excluded from the bounds of such a possibility. An important step in fostering relaxation and understanding in the area would be a joint call by the Powers for abstention from the use of force for the solution of disputes and a direct dialogue between the Arab States and Israel with a view to a settlement. The Great Powers would be making a signal contribution to the peace of the area if they adopted an express joint policy of absolute determination to respect the national independence and territorial integrity of every single State in the area in its present boundaries. We are convinced that the Great Powers would not find it impossible to work for the prevention of aggression and to help to prepare the conditions for a direct dialogue between the Arab States and Israel, from which a settlement might grow. International experience has shown that, as a result of the unwearying repetition of a just claim, or an effort to bring about some change - it sometimes penetrates to the international consciousness. Even though we meet with disappointments, Israel will never cease to strive for peace, while devoting itself to its own development and always remaining ready to repel any aggressor.

Today I have surveyed the position in the Middle East and Israel's position within it. When we survey developments over the years, we may note with satisfaction that, despite all the obstacles and perils, the threats and the acts of aggression, the State of Israel has made progress and consolidated its military and economic independence and its creative achievements in the social and cultural spheres. We have held our ground in the past and we shall continue to do so in future times of trial, by virtue of the energy that emanates from our people's profound faith in its historic mission.


Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs