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Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Eshkol, (October 17, 1966)

At the opening meeting of the Winter session of the Knesset, the Prime Minister made it his special purpose to call upon Syria to halt its anti-Israel actions and upon the Arab States to come to terms with Israel. He charged Syria with arming, financing and training members of al-Fatah and al-Saiqa. He offered Syria a non-aggression pact and dismissed the allegations of Damascus that Israel was massing troops along the border. Text:


Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

In my speech in the Knesset in June, I spoke at some length on the political and security situation in the Middle East, but at the opening of the present session I have to return to the subject.

There is nothing new in the aggressive aims of our neighbours, their efforts to obstruct Israel's development and their attacks on our borders. Since their armies tried to throttle the State in its infancy in 1948, there have been various stages in Arab aggressive activities. There have been periods of growing tension and intervals of relative tranquillity.

After the twice repeated partition of the Promised Land, Israel sought to dwell in peace and quiet in its small territory. At the end of the fighting in the War of Independence Israel and the Arab countries signed armistice agreements. While we looked on these agreements as a transition to peace - as is stated in the agreements themselves - it became clear in the course of time that the Arab leaders regarded them as a truce which would enable them to accumulate strength for renewed aggression.

The Arabs have thus made a mockery of their signature to these agreements and continue to do so; they violate the most fundamental provision of the United Nations Charter, which lays it down that disputes must be settled by peaceful means; they have made the Middle East a focus of continual tension and brought about an unending arms race which robs the area's peoples of valuable resources for economic and social development - but their attitude defies the historical character of our area, which has always been inhabited by various peoples, of different faiths and cultures, side by side.

In their policy of hostility and aggression against Israel, they seek to distort international thinking by declaring that the Arab-Israel dispute is something unique. Where this dispute is concerned, they claim, such ideas as direct negotiations, disarmament, peace and cooperation, and the UN Charter do not apply. This policy has not succeeded in frustrating Israel's development and progress. On the contrary, despite the surrounding hostility the unity of the nation has been tempered and exiles ingathered, security has been strengthened, the economy has developed and the population increased.

Israel-Arab relations are now at a stage which began after the Arab summit conferences in 1964 in Cairo and Alexandria. The declared purposes of these conferences, which were convened by the President of Egypt, was to solve inter-Arab problems in order to create an Arab unity whose spearhead should be directed against Israel. On the inter-Arab level, the Egyptian President tried to achieve a settlement of the Yemen question as a first stage in the establishment of his domination over the Arab world. The aim against Israel was to frustrate the plans for its water project, which was then on the eve of starting operations. It was decided to set up the Joint Arab Command; it was also decided to establish Shukairy's organization.

Today, over two years later, it transpires that various tendencies wrestle with each other in the Arab world. There are vociferous disputes, accompanied by reciprocal imputations of blame for the deterioration of inter-Arab relations. On one side, calling themselves "Progressive" or "Socialist," are Egypt, Syria and Algeria. Iraq, whose declared policy is friendly to Nasser, is consumed with internecine dissension and harassed by the sons of the oppressed Kurdish people, who are fighting valiantly in its mountain areas. On the other side are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco. And there is a further group of countries whose sympathies appear to be on the side of the second group, although they are restrained by tactical considerations from identifying themselves with it. This group comprises Lebanon, Libya, Kuwait and others.

In the centre of the controversy stands the problem of the Yemen, which symbolizes Nasser's expansionist ambitions. After four years of fighting there is no solution. A large Egyptian army, which has been trying, in vain, for a long time to crush the tribes that support the Imam, has remained immobilized in the south of the country. Even in the area under Egyptian rule, there is constant unrest and opposition to the foreign Egyptian presence. The failure of the Egyptian army in the Yemen, its serious losses and the enormous expenses involved *in maintaining tens of thousands of troops far away from their bases - all these have caused disquiet in Egypt and undermined Nasser's prestige.

Internal economic difficulties have intensified the instability. The Egyptian people is sunk in want and hunger, and its rulers have had to appeal for food to generous benefactors, while exhausting the resources of their people for the sake of barren and divisive rearmament. Ever since his rise to power, Nasser has striven for expansion in the Middle East, seeking to realize his dream by aggression and attempts at interference and subversion. All has ended in failure; his dreams and ambitions have suffered heavy blows during the past two years.

Not only are his prospects of dominating the Arab world growing steadily dimmer. During my visit to Africa I found that in the second circle in his aspirations - namely, hegemony over Africa - he has also lost his power of attraction and his prospects are diminishing. According to some commentators, the ruler of Egypt still toys with the hope that, even if he has failed in Yemen, he may meet with success in Aden and Southern Arabia, when Britain evacuates Aden in 1968. According to this view, he is keeping his troops in Yemen in preparation for such an eventuality. This possibility is not ignored by other Arab leaders and the leaders of other countries in our area and its neighbourhood although it is not widely discussed in public, and it is an important factor responsible for the widening gap in the Arab world.

To sum up, the Arab unity which was vociferously proclaimed two and a half years ago has been shattered by the conflict between the variegated separate interests of the Arab States and their refusal to submit to Egyptian domination wrapped up in the cloak of Arab unity.

Let me now turn to Arab-Israel relations during the past two years. Despite the summit resolutions, a start was made in summer 1964 with the drawing of water from Lake Kinnereth. The Israel water project is working properly according to plan, in keeping with the arrangement for the allocation of the water under the agreed Unified Plan. We have taken action to frustrate Arab diversion attempts which are a violation of every law, as well as of the Unified Plan. We have made it clear, in deed as well as in word, that we shall not submit to Israel being robbed of water.

The Joint Arab Command was, indeed, set up in accordance with the summit decision, but the countries concerned very soon began to be suspicious of an Egyptian design to dominate the other Arab countries through a Command centred in Cairo. The Arab Command has not yet won confidence and operative authority.

We are familiar with the activities of the organizations for murder and sabotage. The real character of Shukairy's organization has been made clear. It has transpired that it was meant to be an instrument in the hands of its Egyptian masters, and not only for the execution of its declared anti-Israel purposes. Very soon it became clear that this organization is a further instrument of subversion, designed to arouse unrest in the entire area.

Parallel with Shukairy's organization, a gang called al-Fatah was established with the principal aim of disturbing the peace in Israel. It is also designed to strike at certain Arab countries. This gang has recruited and trained sabotage squads which call themselves al-Asifa, mainly composed of hardened criminals and hired murderers. It became clear that both Shukairy's organization and the sabotage gangs enjoy only a limited support in the Arab world.

Shukairy's relations with the Arab countries are for the present disturbed and unstable. Anyone interested has only to listen to Arab broadcasts and read the press of the neighbouring countries in order to realize the standing of this body. Were it not for Shtikairy's cunning in exploiting the sufferings of the refugees in their camps for political purposes, he, his organization and his antics would be merely comic.

The sabotage gangs are impatient; they need aid, shelter, money, training and cooperation from the Arab countries. As a result of our alertness and our activities, several Arab countries have disclaimed them. They have found support mainly in one Arab country - Syria, though it appears that certain circles cooperate with them in a number of other Arab countries.

It is no accident that Syria has become a home and a focus for the al-Fatah gangs. Syria holds pride of place among the countries of the Middle East for internal instability and irresponsible policies. Anyone who follows the situation in Syria finds it difficult to remember the number of revolts, counter-revolts and attempted revolts which that country has experienced.

In inter-Arab relations, Syria frequently changes its policy. Careful research would be required to follow the vicissitudes in the relations between Damascus and Cairo, Damascus and Amman, Damascus and Baghdad. The "sick man" of the Middle East has become a malignant focus of tension in the Middle East.

Mr. Speaker,

I have touched on inter-Arab and Israel-Arab relations so that we may see the picture in the broad outline when we consider the security position that has been created recently on Israel's borders. During the past two years the Arab States' military strength has been growing, but while during this period we were free from the immediate possibility of a large-scale attack by the regular armies of the neighbouring countries, there has been a resurgence of infiltration into our territory for sabotage purposes. Since January 1965 some sixty acts of sabotage have been carried out in Israel.

Let me describe the attacks of the past two weeks:

On the night of 7 October, three charges of explosives were set off in the Upper Romema quarter of Jerusalem; a fourth charge, which was discovered, was dismantled. As a result of the explosions four citizens were injured and two houses damaged.

On the next night, a Border Police jeep was blown up by a land mine in the Sha'ar Hagolan area near the Israel-Syrian frontier. Four members of the Border Police were killed and two wounded.

On 11 October, a jeep was mined north-east of Ma'ayan Baruch, some 150 metres from the Syrian frontier.

A fourth incident occurred on 13 October, when fire was opened on a military tender, travelling southward from Nehusha, in which three of our men were wounded.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

We have reliable information that it is the Syrian Government which maintains and trains saboteurs for work in Israeli territory. Sometimes these saboteurs come directly from Syria, and sometimes they are brought from Syria to Israel through other countries. Besides training saboteurs, the Syrian authorities help al-Fatah with arms, equipment, finance and propaganda. The Syrian Government permits the publication of the organization's organ in Damascus. It assists in the planning of the saboteurs' operations and gives them active support in the various Arab countries.

In addition to al-Fatah, the Syrian authorities also train units within the framework of the Syrian army for the purpose of carrying out operations in Israel and other Arab countries. In Syria and the Middle East, the Damascus authorities make no attempt to conceal their ties with al-Fatah. Syria's responsibility for its activities and the work of its saboteurs, who are known as al-Asifa, is clearly reflected in various statements by its leaders on Damascus Radio and in the Syrian press.

Here are a few of the details.

On the 11 th of this month, the Syrian Prime Minister declared that it is not Syria's duty to watch over Israel's security and to block the "revolution of the Palestinian nation."

The Syrian Prime Minister continued to boast that his Government would never retreat from the "people's war of liberation for the restoration of Palestine."

On the 12th of this month, the Syrian Chief of Staff declared at the conclusion of the army manoeuvres, in the presence of an Egyptian delegation, that the activities which are being denounced are legal activities, "which it is not our duty to stop, but to encourage and support."

On the 13th, the Syrian Chief of Staff declared that "the battle for the liberation of Palestine has begun."

The announcements of al-Asifa are given prominence on Damascus Radio, which, on the 9th of this month, broadcast an announcement - not during a news bulletin surveying a series of acts of sabotage, the last of which was the explosion in Jerusalem.

On the 17th, the Syrian paper al-Thawra wrote that "the number offidaylin finding their way to Israel will grow to an extent beyond its expectations." Two days later, the same paper quoted an al-Asifa statement that "one night operation with explosives is worth more than all the summit conferences."

These statements - if anyone needs further proof - confirm beyond the shadow of a doubt the responsibility of Damascus for the acts of sabotage and murder. But the Damascus authorities use one kind of language when they speak to their army and people and to the peoples of the Middle East, and another - less courageous - when they appear on the international scene. This language is founded on three falsehoods.

In the UN Syria claims that it has no hand in the wrongdoing. In a Note of 13 October to the President of the Security Council, the Syrian Representative stigmatizes as baseless Israel's allegations of Syria's responsibility for the acts of sabotage. It is difficult to believe that Syrian communications have been so seriously disrupted that the Syrian Representative at the UN is unaware of the statements made by his Prime Minister and the Syrian Chief of Staff, the broadcasts of Damascus Radio and the contents of the Syrian press.

In statements abroad, Syria is not content with the foolish attempts to disclaim responsibility. It has the hardihood to proclaim continually that it is Israel which is planning to attack Syria, and that Israel's statements about sabotage operations on Israeli territory are only an excuse for the planned attack.

But this is not all. Syria tries to spread beyond its borders the instability from which it suffers itself. And thus we have the third falsehood, to the effect that Israel has joined with imperialist forces in a conspiracy to overthrow the "progressive" regime in Damascus.

The answer to these three gross falsehoods from Damascus is that the charge that Israel is planning to attack Syria and is concentrating forces on its borders is as baseless as the claim that Syria is innocent of the responsibility for the acts of sabotage on Israeli territory. The latter falsehood is refuted by the facts and by Damascus's own boasts which I have just cited. In order to refute the other falsehood, we have agreed with the Chief of the UN Observers that an investigation shall be carried out to make it plain that there are no Israeli troop concentrations on the border. We informed General Bull last Thursday of our readiness, for this investigation. Let the clear and obvious facts refute the falsehood of Syrian propaganda.

As for the third Syrian falsehood, we have repeatedly declared that Israel does not interfere with the regimes and the internal affairs of other countries. We have no intention of interfering with inter-Arab relations in the Middle East or with the character of the regime in any of its countries. Israel's policy is absolutely independent and is not dictated by any foreign factor.

It is not the regime in Syria, or its international relationships, or inter-Arab relations, that trouble Israel - only our security problems. Syria alone bears the responsibility for the tension on the border.

Mr. Speaker,

In our relations with the Arab countries in general and Syria in particular, we remain faithful to our fundamental aim, which is peace. At the beginning of my remarks I noted the anomaly, unparallelled in international relations, of the maintenance of a state of war by the Arab countries against Israel eighteen years after the signature of the armistice agreements. At the same time, I have repeatedly pointed to the absence of unity in the expression of Arab hostility to Israel. Here and there in the Arab world there are signs of progress towards the abandonment of the idea of war as a means for the solution of the inter-Arab dispute.

This development also finds expression in statements by high-ranking Arab leaders. Anyone who follows developments in the Middle East can sense the debate that is proceeding in the Arab world in connection with Israel. I shall make no prophecies as to the pace of this process, and we shall not rely on it, for there are constant changes in the relations between peoples and States. In view of the unremitting rearmament of the Arab countries, we must maintain military readiness and reinforce our deterrent power, which are the main guarantee for the prevention of all-out war in the area. But this does not exempt us from the duty of doing all in our power to foster the beginnings of a correct appreciation of the position in the Arab world - whatever the prospects may be that these beginnings may grow. In fact, the strengthening of our power helps to open the eyes of Arab rulers.

We shall continue to convince those who wish us ill that aggression will not pay. War will bring disaster to the area, and there are other ways to solve pending problems - by direct negotiations, which will lead to peace and cooperation for the benefit of all the peoples in the area.

A solution to the Israel-Arab dispute will come when the Arabs understand that Israel's right to independence and sovereignty is no less than the right of any people in its State. We are not a foreign body that has capriciously chosen this Land for its home. The Land of Israel and the people of Israel have been joined together since the dawn of history. Israel has returned to its Land and its home, and no force can sever the eternal ties between our people and its Land. When this fundamental fact takes root in Arab consciousness, it may no longer be open to the false propaganda about Israel's nature and its policies and purposes in the area.

Mr. Speaker,

These are a few of the basic tendencies in Israel's security policy. Consequently, in view of the chain of attacks on our borders during the past year, we have stated from time to time that we must try to exhaust all possibilities in explaining our position and in diplomatic efforts to put an end to these attacks.

We have reacted with force only when political efforts did not bear fruit and the attacks continued. It has been and is our view that every country where the saboteurs receive shelter and pass through its territory on their way to Israel bears responsibility for their acts. Accordingly, we have been compelled to take action against targets in Jordan and Lebanon, from which countries murderers have set out for their operations in Israel. We cannot exempt any country through which the saboteurs pass from its responsibility - which is expressly laid down in the armistice agreements -for preventing such passage.

Since January 1965 we have reacted with force a few times against dozens of murders and acts of sabotage by infiltrators from these two countries. It has become more and more manifest that the source and focus of the saboteurs are in Syria. The more difficult it has become for them to pass through Jordan and Lebanon, the more direct infiltration through Syria itself has grown. During the second week of July these activities were intensified, when four acts of sabotage were perpetrated in 48 hours: at Metulla, Almagor, Mahanayim and Kfar Yuval. In these outrages two Israeli citizens were killed and two wounded. We were compelled to react in accordance with the conditions.

On the night of 15 August this year, an Israeli police boat grounded on a reef near the eastern shore of Lake Kinnereth. A few hours later, Syrian artillery opened fire on the boat and other Israeli boats that came to the rescue. The Syrian air force was brought into action as planned in advance - as the Damascus authorities stated. In the ensuing battle, in which our aircraft also participated, two Syrian Migs, were shot down. Lake Kinnereth is entirely in Israeli territory and it was our right to extricate the boat, which was stranded in Israeli territory, in any way we saw fit. We chose to exhaust all possible diplomatic measures in order to extricate it without further fighting. After an arrangement with the UN Chief of Staff, the boat was extricated without incident.

The two acts of sabotage recently perpetrated, which are of a very grave nature the one because of the site of the attack, Jerusalem, Israel's capital, and the other because of the casualties caused - called for a vigorous direct reaction. This is not beyond our power - a fact which needs no proof - and I have pointed out on another occasion that the boasting of the Syrian authorities is in inverse proportion to their military strength. Nevertheless, we tried to deploy the maximum measure of political restraint in order to prevent a deterioration in the situation.

We approached international political factors and world public opinion by all the methods at our disposal - through the UN Chief of Staff, the Mixed Armistice Commissions, meetings with ambassadors here and with representatives of other countries in the world's capitals, meetings by the Foreign Minister with the UN Secretary General and the President of the Security Council. During this time I reported to the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Knesset on the situation and the measures we were taking. Following on these political -measures, we demanded an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to consider the acts of aggression carried out by infiltrators and saboteurs with the encouragement and inspiration of the Damascus Government. This is an appeal to the supreme international forum, which is responsible for the preservation of peace.

I should like to note with satisfaction that at the first meeting of the Council, last Friday, the Representatives of the United States, Britain and New Zealand, speaking on behalf of their Governments, showed that they correctly appreciate the situation, and that they are aware of the source of aggression and the place where the responsibility lies. We hope that other countries will express their views in the same spirit.

By all the rules of international justice, according to the UN Charter and the interests of peace, the Council as a whole ought to condemn the Syrian aggression. To our regret, as on previous occasions, there is some doubt in regard to this prospect. At the beginning of the discussion, the Soviet delegate largely supported the false Arab version and joined those who are distorting the truth. Nevertheless, let us hope that a view will take shape among the majority of the Security Council which will recognize the responsibilities of the Syrian Government for the position that has been created and the dangers that flow from it.

Despite previous disappointments, we have again brought our contentions before the Security Council. We await the outcome of its deliberations and the effect that they will have on the Damascus authorities. Let us hope that there will not be a new disappointment in store for us.

From this rostrum, I once again emphasize to Syria and its rulers: It is not our way to interfere in the regimes and internal affairs of our neighbours. But it is nonsense for you to say that we are acting as the agents of any foreign factor whatsoever. If you indeed labour under any false suspicion that Israel is planning an attack against you, Israel is prepared immediately to sign a mutual non-aggression pact with you. In any case, you are called upon to respect the cease-fire agreement to which you set your hand. If, despite our warnings and our proposals, you intend to continue the outrages, we have already shown that we have the strength to defend the nights and lives of our citizens. There is a limit to our patience. If the acts of sabotage and murder continue, we shall take measures to restrain them, choosing the appropriate timing and methods, in accordance with the right of self-defence which is reserved to every State and is recognized in the UN Charter.

Mr. Speaker,

To my regret, I cannot ignore, in this discussion, the regrettable fact that a world Power with which Israel desires to have sincere friendship is giving international currency to the foolish charge that Israel is planning an attack against Syria as part of an international plot against the Damascus regime. By this attitude, the Soviet Union encourages Syria and, to our regret, confuses the local tension between Israel and Syria with the question of the general international tension.

To the Soviet Union I want to say: Our policy is the same policy that you proclaim on various occasions: the solution of disputes by peaceful means. It is also a distortion to present Jerusalem's policy towards Damascus as a result of the character of the Syrian regime. The defence of the lives and rights of its citizens is one of the primary duties of every Government. To describe the matter as part of an international conspiracy is a flagrant distortion of the truth.

Mr. Speaker,

I have found it necessary to survey the situation in the Middle East as a whole and Israel-Arab relations in particular. Without a comprehensive view, it is difficult to hold a balanced discussion on a specific and complex sector of Israel-Syrian relations, which is the subject that occupies us at this moment because of the worsening of the situation on the northern border. I believe that each period calls for methods of reaction in accordance with the particular circumstances. One thing I can promise. The Government of Israel will continue with its efforts to bring about peace in the area. At the same time, it will know how duly to protect the lives of its citizens and its sovereign rights.

On this occasion, I hope the Knesset will join in my call to the Security Council and world public opinion to expose Syria's responsibility for the situation and to restrain its rulers. I also hope that the Knesset will add greater force to my call and warning to the Damascus authorities.


Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs