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Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Meir, (July 26, 1972)

In early July 1972, President Sadat decided to expel most of the Soviet advisers and technicians serving in Egypt. The departure of the Soviet personnel took place forthwith. In a statement to the Knesset, the Prime Minister appealed to President Sadat to open negotiations with Israel, in the wake of the great changes which had taken place in Egypt.

In a few days it will be two years since the cease-fire went into effect on the Egyptian front. During these two years there has been no lack of dangerous incidents and periods of tension due to Egyptian announcements of dates for the renewal of the firing, but, in general, the cease-fire has been maintained, with the result that murder and havoc have been avoided.

The cease-fire was attained following the response of the Government of Israel and the Governments of Egypt and Jordan to the approach made by the United States Government to appoint representatives for negotiations under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring.

The Government was aware of the risks it took in adopting this decision. Still fresh in our memories is the violation of the cease-fire by the Egyptians when they advanced their ground-to-air missile systems to the Canal line. In general, however, we can say that the Israel Government's decision at the beginning of August 1970 and thNe political moves that followed have justified themselves beyond any shadow of doubt.

Boldness and political responsibility have been rewarded. Thanks to this policy, Israel is stronger today in every respect: despite difficulties, Our international standing is firm on the whole and our web of ties with the United States is tighter. Israel's deterrent power has grown, and its readiness to negotiate for peace not only springs from sincere aspirations, but also rests upon its capacity of defence against any attacker.

During the two years of the cease-fire we have devoted ourselves to enhancing our economic, social and military strength and have continued to seek a way to negotiations for peace. Under the conditions of relative stability due to the cease-fire and as a result of our policy, ties of cooperation and co-existence have been woven between ourselves and the large Arab community that lives with us west of the Jordan River. The terrorist organizations have failed in their efforts to undermine life in Israel, and, above all, two years have passed without fire, which in itself is a blessing and a basis for progress towards peace.

As will be remembered, we agreed to a dialogue under the auspices of the UN Special Representative, in the hope that these talks would lead to direct negotiations and the signing of peace treaties. To our regret, however, this road has not led us to meaningful discussions, and after a number of documentary exercises, Ambassador Jarring in February 1971 made a surprise move which led - in fact - to the suspension of his activities. He demanded that Israel should make a prior commitment to withdraw to the international frontier. In other words, an attempt was made to exclude the subject of borders from the scope of issues requiring negotiation and agreement. The Government of Israel rejected this demand, since it empties the negotiations of their main content: the determination of agreed and recognized defensible borders.

Up to this day, the UN representative has not revoked the validity of his memorandum of 8 February 1971, and the Government of Israel has no intention of altering the reply given on 26 February of that year.

At the same time, the Government of Israel responded - on 9 February 1971 - to the proposal of the Egyptian President and announced its readiness to conduct negotiations with a view to arriving at a special arrangement for the opening of the Suez Canal. When the United States Government announced that it was prepared to offer its good offices, with the agreement of both sides, for the promotion of a Canal agreement, we expressed our consent and Egypt did likewise.

We made it clear that we attach hope to this special agreement as an advance towards complete peace. Hence we would be ready, on reasonable conditions, even before peace, for the deployment of Israeli armed forces at some distance from the Canal line. To our regret, however, it became clear to us that the Government of Egypt was not interested in the opening of the Canal as a step to a peace agreement. Its sole objective is to achieve a decisive strategic advantage by the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces far from the Suez Canal and the crossing of Egyptian armed forces to the east of the Canal with a view to renewal of the military offensive, aimed at repelling our forces to the lines of 4 June 1967. And indeed, on 30 March 1972, speaking at an Egyptian Air Force base, President Sadat said: "The initiative adopted by me in 1971 was undertaken in order to cross the Canal and spare my children heavy losses during the crossing. Instead of accepting this as an initiative for the solution of the entire problem - so that all that would remain would be the determination of a timetable for withdrawal by stages - they thought I wanted to open the Canal . . ."

In February of this year, the Government of Israel notified the United States Government of its agreement to participate in -proximity talks" for the opening of the Suez Canal. We now have reliable information that our agreement was transmitted to the Government of Egypt, but all signs indicate that the United States' proposal has not - to date at least - been accepted by the Egyptians.

Members of the Knesset,

Since the Six-Day War there has been no substantial change in the refusal of the Arab Governments, headed by Egypt, to reach an agreed peace with us. Their policy is aimed at one sole objective: to foist upon Israel complete withdrawal to the lines that existed before the Six-Day War as a phase towards resumption of the aggression against it.

From the three "nays" of Khartoum up to the latest declarations of the President of Egypt, there has been one continuous thread: the aim of forcing Israel to return to the conditions of 1967 which led from war to war, and then "to realize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people." Since the Egyptian President announced that the Palestinian demands as interpreted by him are those which were defined by the organizations for the liberation of Palestine, these are the true stages of the solution to which Egypt aspires. The Arab Governments wished to achieve the imposition on Israel by one of two methods or by both of them together: through a military decision or by means of political coercion with the aid of the Great Powers.

For the purpose of preparing for all-out war, the Egyptian rulers invited the Soviet Union to establish an ever-deepening presence and involvement in the military, social and ideological spheres. It is enough to examine the articles of the Egyptian-Soviet treaty of friendship and cooperation to learn how far the Egyptian Government was ready to go in adapting itself to the Soviet Union, what price it was prepared to pay in subservience of the global strategic interests of the Soviet Union at the expense of its own independence - so long as it could draw from the Soviet Union the utmost benefit in order to rout Israel in war.

The reality has been cruel and disappointing for the Egyptian rulers. Sober calculation compelled them to give up announcing dates for the opening of fire. The talk about the year of decision was replaced by explanations to their people of the need for a "prolonged struggle", and laying on the Soviet Union the responsibility for Egypt's weakness.

Hand in hand with systematic and ramified military preparations, efforts have been made by the Egyptian Government to achieve its goal by mobilizing political pressures in order to force its plan on Israel.

Egypt placed its trust in the Great Powers, in the hope that they would impose a solution. It hoped that, with the aid of the Soviet Government, pressure would be brought to bear on the Government of the United States so that it should "squeeze" from Israel concessions that would lead to the imposed solution desired by Egypt. In his speech of 20 May 1971, President Sadat revealed that he had told Secretary of State Rogers: "I do not agree that you should say: 'We are persuading Israel. I do not even agree that you should exercise pressure on Israel. What I ask officially is that you should tell President Nixon that what is required today, so long as we are talking about peace ... is that he should properly squeeze Israel."

These hopes of the Egyptian rulers increased on the eve of the summit conference in Moscow which took place this year. They hoped that within the framework of an American-Soviet understanding on a global scale the Soviet Union would be able to obtain an undertaking from the United States to impose on Israel a settlement in the spirit of the Egyptian plan. From all that we know of President Nixon's talks with the rulers of the Soviet Union, we may conclude that these hopes were not realized. The Middle East was discussed in the summit talks, but to the best of our knowledge there was no agreement on imposing a solution from the outside. In an official press briefing in Moscow on 29 May 1972, the adviser to the President of the United States, Prof. Kissinger said:

"This is a subject (the Middle East) in which a great deal depends on the parties concerned and the power of outside parties is limited".

Members of the Knesset,

The strength of Israel, the capability of the Israel Defence Forces and Israeli policy constitute a major factor in the developments of the past two years. There is no doubt that the power of the IDF. was one of the main factors taken into consideration by the leaders of the Arab States and their hSoviet advisers, when they decided to refrain from renewing the fighting and to prefer a "prolonged struggle". It should be borne in mind that in order to ensure the strength and the deterrent influence of the IDF, we must diligently pursue acquisition of the necessary military equipment. We are a country of limited resources and manifold needs. Nevertheless, there are essential armaments and weapons systems which we are unable to produce by ourselves and we are compelled to purchase them abroad either wholly or in part. Thus, securing the agreement of the US Government to resume the supply of the Phantom planes was a major goal of our political efforts.

In the face of the arms shipments which flowed from the Soviet Union into Egypt and seriously upset the military balance, we deemed it essential to discuss the matter with the President of the United States in order to make clear to him the gravity of the dangers with which we were confronted. In early 1972 we were informed that the sale of Phantom planes to Israel would be renewed. The Government of the United States and its President deserve our full appreciation and gratitude for this. It soon became clear that the alarmist forecast, as if the renewed sale of Phantoms would bring about military escalation and cause renewed fighting in the Middle East, proved to be unfounded. Quite the opposite. The strengthening of Israel's power became a decisive factor in deterring the Egyptians and the Russians from cancelling the cease-fire and renewing the war.

Members of the Knesset,

I believe it may be said unequivocally that the policy we adopted has led to enhanced understanding with the Government of the United States. The aid to Israel has been kept up and increased, and has reached the level we have been privileged to perceive during the past two years. These friendly relations would not have been woven had we not known how to conduct a policy combining undaunted insistence on our rights with indefatigable readiness for peace, a policy combining the courage not to recoil at differences of opinion, hand in hand with a constant endeavour to convince and gain understanding.

In this regard, I note the US President's statement to both Houses of Congress upon his return from Moscow, on 1 June 1972. Relating that full and frank talks on the Middle East had been held in Moscow, President Nixon stated, inter alia: "I reiterated the American people's commitment to the survival of the State of Israel and to a settlement just to all the countries in the area". I have confidence in the feelings of friendship of the American people - regardless of party affiliation - for the State of Israel. It is incumbent upon Israel to foster this friendship diligently, for the advancement of the State of Israel and in the service of peace in the region and throughout the world.

Members of the Knesset,

Coercion by force of guns or enforcement by means of the Powers cannot bring the hoped-for peace to our region. The military path will only add death and destruction. Recourse to outside forces for the purpose of political imposition is bound to lead ultimately to enslavement to these forces and to disillusionment.

Along neither of these paths - whereby Egypt has attempted to promote its cause - will a solution be found to the conflict, nor will progress be achieved towards peace.

The developments of recent years testify time and again that the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace in our region is by means of dialogue and negotiation between the parties concerned. The truth of this proposition stands out now more than ever in the light of the new and promising attempts at dialogue unfolding before our eyes in different areas of the international arena.

The US Secretary of State, Mr. William Rogers, defined this frame of mind aptly on 11 July 1972, when speaking at a press conference in Rome:

"I think we agreed that the best course is one that has not been tried yet, to discuss the problems of the area on a face-to-face basis or, if that's impossible for political reasons, indirectly, with some other methods. The reason for that is that the only way problems can be solved in human affairs is to have discussions about them, and this can happen all over the world except in the Middle East. "

Mr. Rogers then enumerated a long series of international conflicts in which there is direct dialogue between the parties: India-Pakistan, North and South Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus, East and West Germany. He also noted the US dialogue with the People's Republic of China and with the Soviet Union. Mr. Rogers went on to conclude:

"So the only area in the world where there is a major conflict and no active discussions are underway is the Middle East. It is high time that everyone concerned realize the importance of getting down to it. When you look at what has happened since 1967, it has been essentially argumentation ... There were no negotiations nor talks ... I believe the cause of peace will be furthered if the parties will start talks ... We are not in a position to impose a settlement, and no other country is actually in a position to do so."

This political approach, which found expression in the words of the US Secretary of State, is shared by an ever-increasing number of nations throughout the world. I recently had the opportunity of experiencing the prevalence of these trends at close quarters in the course of talks I had with Heads of State, heads of Government and statesmen in Europe.

On this occasion I wish to express my thanks, from this rostrum, to the President and the Prime Minister of Romania for the cordial hospitality I was privileged to receive during my official visit in their country. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity that I was given to have long conversations with the President, Nicolae Ceausescu, and the Prime Minister, Ion Gheorghe Maurer, to clarify Israel's stand and to obtain a firsthand impression of the Rumanian Government's approach to international problems in general and to those affecting our area in particular. I hope that this visit helped to reinforce and broaden our bilateral relations, and I would like to believe that our mutual understanding of Middle Eastern problems has been enhanced. I should like to note the important principles on which we agreed and which found their expression in our joint statement. The Prime Minister of Romania and myself reiterated that:

"The relations among States should be based on the observance of the principles of national independence and sovereignty, non-interference in domestic affairs, equal rights and mutual advantage and on the observance of the right of each people to decide freely its own fate, without any outside interference. "

Together we emphasized the necessity of "the need to make efforts for the settlement of litigious questions in peaceful ways, for the elimination of force from international life."

Last month I took part in the conference of the Socialist International in Vienna. During the deliberations of the conference and in the talks I held with the European leaders who participated, the theme that dialogue between parties is the most promising method of achieving a solution to international problems was voiced time and again.

As for the Middle East, the Socialist International reiterated its resolution of last year, which emphasizes, inter alia, that "the peace settlement should be based on negotiation and agreement between the parties and should not be forced on them from the outside."

On this occasion, it is worth mentioning that the conference also adopted a resolution condemning terrorism and denounced in particular the murderous deed at Lod Airport on 30 May 1972 and the self-identification of Egyptian leaders with this vile crime.

Solidarity was also expressed at the conference of the International with the struggle of Jews in the Soviet Union and Syria.

Members of the Knesset,

On 18 July the President of Egypt announced the following decisions - and I quote, according to the Middle East News Agency:

"a. To wind up the functions of the Soviet military advisers and experts who came at our request, with effect from 17 July, on condition that our sons in the armed forces will replace them in all the work they were doing.

2. The military installations and equipment which were established on Egyptian soil during the period after the aggression of June 1967 shall be the sole property of Egypt and shall be under the administration of the armed forces.

3. To convene, within the framework of the friendship and cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union, an Egyptian-Soviet meeting, on a level to be agreed upon, in order to hold consultations in regard to the next stage."

According to the information in our possession, these decisions are in the process of being implemented.

The Government of Israel was in no hurry to draw conclusions from this development and to announce its reaction in public. Even now, it is still premature to make a reliable evaluation of the reasons, scope and results of this decision taken by the Egyptian Government. It may, however, be said that this highly significant event in the life of Egypt may even contribute to positive developments in the area, on condition that it indeed presages a true turning-point in Eygpt's policy from war to peace. We are not indifferent to the developments which may be expected from now on. We must follow with alertness the developments in Egypt and the region, maintaining a positive attitude to trends that advance the independence of the nations and promote the peace of the region.

There are many indications of the feeling of relief that now prevails in Egypt - and no wonder. The decision on the exodus of the Soviet experts and advisers is no doubt due to the response of the regime to the feelings of dissatisfaction and resentment that were rife among the people and the army towards the Soviet presence in Egypt in view of the painful dependence upon the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union has extended to Egypt great and variegated assistance: a wealth of modern types of arms, planes, tanks, ships, sophisticated missiles of various kinds, means of electronic warfare, and so forth. It took part in the defence of Egyptian skies and Soviet pilots participated in operational missions. The, equipment was given on easy credit terms and at reduced prices. Thousands of experts and advisers trained troops and helped to build up the Egyptian war machine. I will not go into detail now about Soviet aid in the economic field - and all this to the tune of billions of dollars. It appears that even this extensive aid was not sufficient to lull the resentment. On the contrary, it seems that the presence of the Soviets in Egypt was a source of friction and strain. For the Soviet aid was designed to consolidate on Egyptian soil a permanent Soviet presence to intensify its influence over Egypt's sovereign domestic affairs.

The decision on the evacuation was not the outcome of profound mutual understanding between the Egyptians and the Soviets or of any identity of views between them. From the statements made by the Egyptian President we may learn of differences of opinion and bitter complaints. It was said that the Soviets did not respond to all of Egypt's requests in the military and political spheres. It appears that the Egyptians blame the Soviet Union for the postponement of the -liberation of the usurped lands" because it failed to respond to all the Egyptian demands. The Soviet Union is charged with responsibility for the continuing situation of "no peace and no war.-

We shall not intervene in this debate. According to our experience and conviction, the policy of the Soviet Union in the Middle East cannot be regarded as a policy striving for peace. We vividly remember the irresponsible role it played on the eve of the Six-Day War. We are Well aware that its unreserved support for Egypt's aggressive policy was a factor that sabotaged the prospects of peace.

It is impossible not to be impressed by the fact that the President of Egypt accuses the Soviet Union of "excessive and exaggerated caution". The complaint that the Middle East question is not a matter of first priority for the Soviets is surprising. It is possible that the Egyptian rulers demanded offensive weapons systems and militaryoperational commitments which the rulers of the Soviet Union were not prepared to grant. It is not to be excluded that they did not agree to take upon themselves the role which the Egyptians earmarked for them in their plans for a renewal of war. If the Egyptians are right in claiming that the Soviets did not respond to demands which, if met, would have caused and made possible renewal of the war - if that really was so, it should not be charged to the discredit of the Soviet Union, for this lack of response contributed to the saving of Egypt from a further defeat and prevented a dangerous deterioration in the region.

The Soviet Union stationed in Egypt more than 7,000 advisers, experts and instructors in all the armed forces, and close to 10,000 additional military personnel to operate squadrons of MIG-21 and other aircraft, SA-3 and SA-6 batteries and personnel in various command formations.

The Egyptian demand for evacuation affects the entire establishment of advisers and experts, but not the instructors. The latter will continue to function. On the other hand, the demand for evacuation also affects the Soviet operational units which are integrated in the Egyptian air defence system. It appears that the SA-3 batteries and perhaps also the interceptor squadrons have been handed over to the Egyptians.

The evacuation decision does not - at least at this stage - affect Soviet forces and positions in Egypt which serve the strategic objectives of the Soviet Union in the region.

Here and there, in Israel and elsewhere in the world, commentators have hastened to predict the Soviet Union's "exodus from Eggypt---. Such haste could be a source of disappointment. According to our information, the Soviet strategic base in Egypt exists and continues unaffected. According to the information we have, the Soviet strategic hold on Egypt exists and continues. The Soviet Union has not been told to eliminate its strategic positions. The evacuation of the advisers and the experts, the reduction of the Soviet units which were integrated in the Egyptian system, constitute a significant fact, but do not indicate the cessation of the Soviet Union's role in Eygpt.

From the statements of the President of Egypt it is not difficult to see that he is trying to localize and limit the shock, lest it develop into a split. The Egyptians and the Soviets are due to meet and discuss the future, and meanwhile, President Sadat in his speech launched a vigorous attack on the United States, in the hope of thereby satisfying his Soviet allies. The reactions of the Soviet Union have also been most restrained. The TASS announcement of 19 July ascribed to the event the character of an agreed measure. The statement said that the Soviet military personnel who had been sent to Egypt for a limited period had completed their assignment, and that both sides deemed it useful that they be returned to the Soviet Union. The statement concludes that: "the Soviet Union plans to continue, in every possible way, to develop and strengthen its relations with Egypt, which are based on the friendship and cooperation treaty and a joint struggle to eliminate the consequences of Israeli aggression."

As stated, we have not seen the end of the matter. In Soviet-Egyptian relations, an upheaval has taken place the significance of which should not be underrated, but it is early as yet to appraise its consequences.

It appears that internal ferment and unrest continue to prevail in Egypt. The Soviet experts and advisers are leaving, but the difficult problems remain unsolved. When the hour of excitement and leave-taking has passed, the problems which are crying out for a solution and require decisions will stick out once more. In a situation like this, we cannot be safeguarded against surprises. Developments in this or that direction may well take place.

Who can guarantee that they will not try to find a solution, or a way out of confusion, frustration and internal strife in Egypt by-resuming the fighting? In Egypt, the doctrine of preparation for a military decision still holds sway. The declarations of a willingness to sacrifice a million men still go on. Hundreds of thousands of men are still under arms and tension. In such a situation, for all our readiness for peace, we must be prepared to meet the danger of renewed fighting at any time.

Members of the Knesset,

An event has taken place in our region. Egypt is the principal among the Arab States in our region, and the tide of events inside Egypt will not be restricted to that country alone, but will influence the other countries bordering on Israel. Accordingly, although in my address today I have concentrated on Israeli-Egyptian relations, this does not imply any lack of attention to other areas and topics, including weighty domestic issues.

Members of the Knesset,

I do not intend to discuss President Sadat's latest speech of 24 July in detail. I will content myself with a few brief remarks:

Amazingly enough, President Sadat reiterates the baseless argument that the United States allegedly gave its approval to our military measures in June 1967, and that "the plan was brought to the attention of President Johnson and he gave his approval to the plan before the aggression . . . " There can be no greater folly.

I prefer to refrain from referring to the anti-Jewish comments in Sadat's speech. It is a grave face that in his melancholy speech the President of Egypt brought no message of a turning point, nor did he indicate any way out for his people. I read his speech from beginning to end but I did not learn how he intends to terminate the situation of 11 neither peace nor war". It is a sad thing to see that the Egyptian President did not present his listeners with a brave evaluation of the situation as it really is and did not determine conclusions that ought to be drawn from Egypt's position.

Members of the Knesset,

Permit me to refrain from entering into polemics with the President of Egypt in the wake of his latest speech. It would seem that this is not a routine time in our area. It would seem that this hour in the history of Egypt can, nay, should be the appropriate hour for change. And if it truly is the hour for change - let it not be missed.

Last month marked the fifth anniversary of the Six-Day War. This month is the 20th anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. Next month will see the second anniversary of the cease-fire. Since the revolution Egypt has undergone trials and difficulties, and has attained achievements. There was progress and there were regressions. But there is no doubt that the lack of peace between our two countries, and its concentration on aggressive military efforts have diverted precious resources into barren channels and have hamstrung the possible development of Egypt. The hope of subduing Israel has not come true and has no chance of being realized. Israel, though it has overcome its attackers, is not drunk with victory. It is aware of the horror of war and prefers to invest its resources inn peaceful and creative goals.

I appeal to the President of Egypt as the leader of a great people, a people with an ancient heritage, whose future is ahead of it, with all the feeling of responsibility which must beat in the heart of a responsible leader. Is it not meet that we decide to halt today and to strike out on a new path, never to return to the course which has led to death, destruction and frustration, without bringing peace?

The people and Government of Israel desire with all their hearts to put an end to the fighting and the conflict and to march together towards peace. Let us meet as equals and make a joint supreme effort to arrive at an agreed solution to all the outstanding problems. When all is said and done, no foreign country or factor can solve for us, or instead of us, the problems which stand between us. The well-being and future of our nations depends upon such a dialogue. Negotiation for the establishment of peace is no badge of surrender or humiliation, as Arab spokesmen are wont to state. Negotiation for peace is a supreme revelation of sovereignty, of national honour and of international responsibility.

In your speech of 24 July you referred to the principle of the revolution which Nasser expressed in his book, and I quote: "The people is the only master, the source of all power and all rule belongs to them. It can create the change and dictate it." Today, perhaps more than ever, it may be possible to direct all of the power, energy and good will to bring about the true and longed-for change which could lead us towards peace. Bravery and daring are not only measured on the battlefield, but also in the ability of a people and a leader to blaze a new trail towards new horizons.

Five years have passed since the war. Nevertheless, we have not declared permanent borders, we have not drawn up an ultimative map, we have not demanded prior commitments on matters which must be clarified by means of negotiations. In stating that so long as there is no peace we shall fully maintain the situation determined by the cease-fire agreements, we do not intend to perpetuate the cease-fire lines between us or to freeze the existing situation. Let us sit down together to discuss the peace settlements. Let us search for a way to break the deadlock, to seek a way out of the ossified situation, lest war be renewed between us, and let us advance towards complete peace.

Nor do we close the door on interim moves, such as your proposal of February 1971 for a special arrangement for opening the Suez Canal. Such a settlement could make a real contribution on the road to complete and agreed peace, since we, too, regard such a settlement as a temporary solution - a step towards peace, without fire or fighting. Let us try to reach understanding on reasonable arrangements which would make this initial step possible.

This appeal of ours does not stem from weakness, nor out of any desire to take advantage of an embarrassing situation, but out of a deep awareness of the need for peace, of the advantage of peace and the preferability of negotiation over any other alternative.

Members of the Knesset,

It will not run counter to what I have said earlier if I conclude by stating that two basic qualities are characteristic of, and natural to, Israel's policy: constant preparedness to withstand aggression, and constant readiness to make peace. These two complement each other.


Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs