Statements in the Security Council by Ambassador Eban on the Kinneret Incident
(December 16 and 22, 1955)
After heavy artillery fire on Israeli villages and fishermen on 10 December, Israel launched, on the following night, a major raid causing many Syrian casualties. Both Israel and Syria lodged complaints with the Security Council. Excerpts from Ambassador Eban's addresses follow:
Speech of 16 December:
98. The clash of forces on the shores and borders of Lake Tiberias is both an index and a result of the tensions which have long prevailed between Syria and Israel.
99. Syria took a leading part in the invasion of Israel by Arab forces in 1948. Its special role in the total pattern of that aggression was to establish a dominating stranglehold on Israel's only source of water for irrigation and power. At that time and ever since, the upper Jordan, the Huleh region and the waters of Lake Tiberias, have been the main targets of Syrian encroachments and assaults.
100. In July 1949, Syria belatedly followed the example of other Middle Eastern Governments and concluded an armistice agreement with Israel. The terms of that agreement included the removal of Syrian troops from all the areas which they had aggressively occupied beyond the established international frontier. Thus the whole of Lake Tiberias, with a narrow strip of land on its eastern shore, lies within the territory of Israel, and Syria has no political or geographical status on tile lake.
101. Owing to the presence of subterranean hot springs, activity in the lake during the winter months is concentrated mainly in its north-eastern corner. Thus Israel fishermen and others carrying out their pursuits in this Israel lake are at all times within close view and range of Syrian military positions, from which artillery and machine-gun fire can be directed against them at will. In such conditions of proximity, the avoidance of conflict largely depends upon the character of Syrian policy towards Israel, both in its general and in its local aspect.
102. The Security Council is aware from its own intimate experience of the acute tension prevailing between the two countries which face each other across the shores of Lake Tiberias. The central fact is the implacable hostility of Syria towards Israel, accompanied by a determined resolve to prevent any crystallisation of peaceful attitudes or practices.
103. - This hostility has not always fallen short even of the eruption of Syrian forces on to Israel soil, as in the Syrian attack at Tel el Mutilla, which cost so many Israel lives. The Security Council will recall from its own records how the Syrian Government conferred a military honour on the commander of that invasion and how United Nations authorities certified that action as an overt act of Syrian aggression.
104. But throughout the whole of the armistice period Syrian authorities have continued their aim of attempting to reduce Israel to a wilderness by denying it the use of water resources which are exposed with special vulnerability to Syrian encroachment.
105. The Council itself was seized for several weeks of the Syrian attempt under the pressure of armed violence to prevent the drainage of the Huleh marshes. This Syrian claim collapsed under the weight of its own frivolity, and this beneficent work went forward. But later a new campaign of interference and intimidation was launched by Syria against Israel's electric power project, which was temporarily postponed two years ago pending its urgent consideration by the Security Council at that time.
106. In the meantime, a central concern of the Syrian Government has been to obstruct any plan for the co-ordinated use of Jordan waters, for fear lest an agreement might remove the main potential source of a conflict which Syria desires at all costs to keep alive.
107. These attacks and intrusions on Lake Tiberias and elsewhere must be viewed against the wider background of Syrian policy. Authentic expressions of that policy which have a direct effect upon the situation now being discussed have come from Syrian leaders in clear and ominous terms.
108. On 22 August 1955, the Syrian Prime Minister opened the conference of Arab representatives of the Mixed Armistice Commission with this pronouncement:
"The Palestine problem will not find its solution until the Arab flag is hoisted over Palestine, after its conquest by the Arab armies.
"There can be no doubt that your conference" - that is, the conference of members of the Mixed Armistice Commission -- "is the most fitting institution to deal with this Syrian question, and I can assure you that the Arab Governments appreciate your contributions and decisions. It is my hope that your decisions will be the beginning of salvation."
109. On 20 September 1955, the Syrian Prime Minister made a radio broadcast to his people in the following terms:
"Israel is Syria's avowed enemy. We shall not rest as long as this thieving enemy still dwells on the holy soil of the Arab world. My Government will therefore reject all peace proposals and decline all forms of contact with the enemy. My Government will keep before it the task of strengthening the blockade against Israel with effective means in order to continue the struggle against it."
110. More recently, on 20 October 195 5, this aggressive design was expressed in terms of an alliance with Egypt which was candidly interpreted in Syria as follows:
"It is not logical that Egypt and Syria will stand idle and merely look upon the problem of Palestine; after signing the pact, without hesitation, they intend to help the sons of their people when the hour arrives for the second round. Woe unto Israel when the Arab peoples are ready for a war of vengeance. Then will Israel be visited by terrible happenings."
111. In yet another statement, the Syrian spokesman referred to Egypt and Syria as having surrounded Israel with two sides of a pair of scissors.
112. These are illustrations of the general background of relationships against which life is pursued on the frontier between these two States. I have often had occasion to tell the Security Council how a generalised hostility and hatred directed against Israel by an Arab State has its direct and inevitable impact on the frontier where the two countries meet. Successive reports of the United Nations Chief of Staff have also explained how a fundamental condition of tension finds its particular point of explosion in conflicts which at first sight bear a purely localised aspect. The frontier between the two countries cannot be isolated from the relations between them. Indeed, if there is hostility, it is at the frontier that it assumes its most perilous aspects.
113. I cannot, therefore, emphasise too strongly to the Security Council that the exercise of hostility, of non-recognition, of belligerency and of covetous territorial claims against a neighbour, accompanied by frequent acts of violence, is unlikely to co-exist for long periods with the peaceful frontier between the author of that hostility and its target. The danger of local clashes emerging out of general hostility is bound to be especially frequent in a case such as this.
114. Geography dictates that life in the greater part of Israel, and especially in the area we are now discussing, is lived within close range and view of a hostile Arab border. In such circumstances, a minimal condition of stability is a readiness by the Arab States to leave Israel alone, to let our economic, agrarian and industrial development proceed unhindered, to abstain from any perverse temptation to use the geographical advantage for constant harassment and violent assault. So long as Arab policy is directed to the disruption of Israel life, often by armed force, Israel policy must be partially directed towards the prevention of such disruption.
115. Nowhere is this general dilemma more acute than in Israel's northern lake region, where much of the country's vital development work is intensively pursued. In our conception and desire, Lake Tiberias, the Huleh marshes and the tipper Jordan are the domain of farmers, workers and fishermen who seek nothing but the opportunity to follow their pursuits in peace. Israel's defence forces have no other objectives in that region than to ensure a minimal tranquillity for these innocent and fruitful enterprises, while safeguarding the established territorial integrity of the State. The Armistice Agreement confers upon Israel the right to this tranquillity and upon Syria the duty of helping to ensure it.
116. The obligations of the patties in the Lake Tiberias region are fully defined in the General Armistice Agreement itself, and in the key resolution adopted by the Mixed Armistice Commission on 15 March 1954. This important verdict covers a specific incident in which Syria at that time- elicited the Commission's censure; but, more importantly, it defines the general system of rights and obligations on which the Commission hoped to establish tranquillity in this region. The resolution reads as follows:
"The Mixed Armistice Commission
"1. Finds that, on 15 March 1954, the Syrian army positions near Kafer Aaqeb directed fire with anti-tank guns, machine-guns and rifles at two Israel police boats;
"2. Decides that the above warlike act by the Syrian army constitutes another serious violation of article 1, paragraphs I and 2, and article III, paragraphs 2 and 3, of the General Armistice Agreement by Syria;
"Notes with great anxiety the repetition of' these serious incidents on the eastern shore of Lake Tiberias;
"Further notes with great concern the repeated violations by Syria of the General Armistice Agreement; and
"Calls upon the Syrian authorities to implement fully all their obligations under the General Armistice Agreement, and especially the Mixed Armistice Commission's resolution that calls upon them to ensure no interference whatsoever within Israel territory."
117. It will be noted that the Mixed Armistice Commission has thus established that the lake is a part of Israel territory and has rejected any right of Syria to intrude upon activity therein. This applies both to fishing and to the use of the 10-metre strip on the eastern shore. It is, moreover, laid down that the Syrians have no right to interfere with any Israel activity on the lake, where Syria has no political or legal status.
118. In discussing that resolution, which is the juridical basis of the present position in the area, the Israel representatives suggested negotiations for the renewal of the 1923 agreement which provided for fishing by Syrians in the Sea of Galilee. Syria, however, refused to enter such discussions and also rejected Israel's suggestion that individual Syrians, on personal application to the responsible, authorities, be granted special fishing permits.
119. The majority of the Mixed Armistice Commission no doubt sincerely hoped that the adoption of this clear ruling on jurisdiction would eliminate any further tensions in the area and would perhaps lay the foundations of an improved local relationship between the two countries.
120. But the Syrian Government, which had vehemently opposed the Commission's ruling, now embarked upon a steady course of frustrating its purposes. Syrian artillery was established close to the frontier, dominating Israel territory on the eastern shore as well as hundreds of metres of the lake's surface. Exploiting this formidable advantage, Syrian forces have, as we shall see, attempted to banish Israel from its own lake by surrounding activity on its waters with a constant sense of peril. Fire has been repeatedly opened on fishermen on the northern corner of the lake.
121. This has made it necessary for this activity to be accompanied by police launches; but these have come under repeated fire, with loss both of life and of property. I would add that the use of police launches, which had previously been challenged, was agreed between General Bums and the Israel Chief of Staff on 8 September 1955.
122. Since its central resolution of 15 March 1954, the Mixed Armistice Commission has twice felt itself called upon to adopt resolutions calling on Syria to honour the General Armistice Agreement and to implement the ruling of 15 March. One of these resolutions was adopted in response to an assault by a Syrian outpost on an Israel police launch, killing 2 policemen and wounding 5.
123. Thus the basic difficulty has been and continues to be Syria's refusal to accept the ruling of 15 March 1954, under which Syria has no right to exercise any intervention, and least of all intervention by armed force, against Israel activity on the lake. This verdict was assailed so vehemently by Syria, both in words and in deeds of violence, that the Commission felt obliged to repeat the substance of its positions only a few months later. Thus, in its resolution of 29 July 1954, the Commission ruled:
"The Mixed Armistice Commission
"Notes the existing serious situation on the eastern shores of Lake Tiberias;
"1. Syria and Israel are bound by article IV, paragraph 3, of the General Armistice Agreement, confirmed by various undertakings made by their representatives during the official Mixed Armistice Commission meetings, which have the same binding force as the Armistice Agreement, to ensure respectively that no crossings from Syria into Israel territory and from Israel into Syrian territory take place;
"2. Any crossing from Syria into the 10-metre strip on the eastern shore of Lake Tiberias, as well as from Israel into Syrian territory, is a violation of article IV, paragraph 3, and of the above-mentioned undertakings;
"3. Syria and Israel are bound by articles of the General Armistice Agreement, confirmed by various undertakings made by their representatives, to ensure that no interference whatsoever with activities within the territory of the other party occurs; "Calls upon the Syrian and Israel authorities to ensure the full implementation of the General Armistice Agreement and their undertakings; and
"Calls upon the Syrian authorities to ensure no interference whatsoever with any Israel activities on Lake Tiberias and in the 10 metre strip, and no crossing whatsoever into Israel."
124. This resolution, then, again established the doctrine of Syrian non-interference with any Israel activity on the lake. But this verdict, too, has been held up to persistent violation. The year now drawing to its end has seen a persistent record of Syrian attacks. A situation had manifestly arisen in which a crucial choice presented itself; either peaceful activity on the lake would have to be stopped in deference to Syrian guns, or Syrian guns would become silent in order that the conditions for work and development might be restored.
125. It was against this background, following the unprovoked attack by Syrian batteries on 10 December 1955, that Israel forces undertook the operation of 11 December. A communiqué published in Jerusalem that night clearly and frankly defined the purposes of the operation. It read as follows:
"Tonight Israel forces advanced against Syrian positions to silence the batteries responsible for this attack, in order to avert further Syrian aggression and to ensure the security of Israel citizens engaged in their lawful occupations. Syria has been repeatedly called upon by the Mixed Armistice Commission to put an end to interference with Israel activities inside Israel territory, particularly with fishing in the lake. The Mixed Armistice Commission's decisions have, however, proved of no avail, and all efforts by United Nations representatives to bring about their implementation have failed Syrian batteries on the lake have, on repeated occasions, attacked Israel fishermen and police boats. The season in the lake has turned into unabated Syrian aggression against Israel, during which considerable damage and casualties have been inflicted."
126. As a background for its central theme, I would point out that, during the first eleven months of 1955, there were recorded 108 violations by Syria of the General Armistice Agreement; in other words, an average of one every three days, over a border extending to only about 22 miles in length. The majority of these border incidents occurred in the area of the Huleh lake, in the demilitarised zone to the south and in the northern corner of Lake Tiberias. They included firing on farm workers, firing on Israel police patrols, harassment of fishermen on Lake Huleh, penetration of Israel territory in the demilitarised zone and elsewhere, and armed interference with fishing in the Sea of Galilee.
127. During that period there were 20 cases of firing from Syrian army posts on Israel boats or on police launches in the northern corner of the lake, 11 cases of illegal incursion by Syrians on to the lake, frequently under the cover of Syrian fire, 44 cases of firing from Syrian army posts on villages, farm workers and on civilian activities, 11 cases of firing from Syrian posts on Israel police patrols, 9 cases of armed incursions by troops into the territory of Israel, 5 cases of incursion for the purpose of theft, I abduction, 3 attempted abductions and 1 sabotage of the water installations.
128. We cannot doubt that it is Syria's purpose and desire to paralyse Israel's use of Lake Tiberias, just as it has been Egypt's policy to deny Israel the use of international waterways leading to Israel ports.
129. The Syrian attack on the lake on 10 December showed clearly that the resumption of seasonal activity would again be attended by new harassments.
130. The profound issue underlying Arab-Israel relations under the armistice system is whether the peaceful exercise of legitimate rights must be suspended whenever there is an Arab threat of force, and whether the Arab Governments have a right to practise belligerency and hostility against Israel, and themselves enjoy complete immunity against any responsibility. This is the very text and theme of our discussion today.
Speech of 22 December:
110. The Galilee incident well illustrates the general themes which I have here discussed. Few members of the Security Council at its first meeting on this question could have had such a clear picture of Syrian provocation as that which has since emerged. Let me summarise what has been established on this subject.
111. First, under the terms of the General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Syria, the whole of Lake Tiberias and the narrow strip on its north-eastern shore are Israel territory.
112. Secondly, it has been established that Syria has installed gun positions, partly in Israel territory itself, dominating this Israel lake for the purpose of exercising Syrian control over a part of Israel territory.
11.3. Thirdly, it has been established that these Syrian positions operate to this day under instructions to deny to Israel, and to arrogate to Syria, the control of a sector of Israel territory - namely, a belt of 250 metres on the surface of Lake Tiberias.
114. Fourthly, it has been established that the clash on Lake Tiberias on 11 December followed a Syrian action on 10 December in opening fire on Israel territory.
115. Fifthly, the Chief of Staff has reported [S/35/6/Add.1] that these orders under which Syrian forces operate, and their execution on 10 December, are contraventions of the General Armistice Agreement...
147. Two draft resolutions now stand before the Security Council. We believe that the tone and content of the draft resolution submitted by France, the United Kingdom and the United States do inadequate justice to the tormenting conditions under which Israel pursues its quest for peaceful development and for freedom from constant menace. The expressions of condemnation, concern and warning are, in our view, wholly disproportionate to the action to which they refer.
148. Members of the Security Council will doubtless recall the tragic events of 1947 and 1948, when the regular armies of six Arab States invaded Israel in order to destroy it in the very hour of its birth. In the bitter fighting that followed, over 61000 - not 56, not 60, not 600, but 6,000 - young Israelis were killed, and much of the country was laid waste. Yet the student of history will not find in the many resolutions which were adopted by this Council at that time any condemnation or censure of the aggressors, who made no secret of their responsibility and, indeed, gloried in it, or any clear expression of the Council's view that open war undertaken in defiance of the will of the United Nations was reprehensible.
149. How, then, can France, how can the United Kingdom, how can the United States, justify the idea that the murder of thousands in an attempt to destroy a country is less serious in the literature and jurisprudence of the Security Council than one single episode with infinitely lesser loss of life and without any attempt to change an established international situation by force? These considerations should weigh with the sponsors of this draft resolution in bringing their language into some due proportion with the past record of the Security Council.
150. They can hardly be under any impression that Syria is appreciative of their tripartite concern. The Syrian representative this morning has expressed scorn for Sir Pierson Dixon, contentious criticism of Mr. Alphand and helpful advice to Mr. Lodge on how the United States should apply its economic aid agreements. If I were disposed to be despondent at the fact that Syria does not recognise Israel's sovereignty, I might perhaps find consolation in the fact that Syria does not recognise the sovereignty of the United States either. Mr. Shukairy appeared before us as a sort of one-man world government. He is competent, in his view, to describe agreements between the United States and Israel as "intolerable" -intolerable to him. I am sure this rebuke will be borne in mind by all Governments which enter into agreements with other Governments without first obtaining clearance and indulgence in Damascus.
151. The saving merit of the tripartite draft resolution is that it contains a minimal reference to this last provision has been vividly illustrated by the Syrian representative, who has made statements of unbelievable extremism, such as the following, which I quote. He said at a previous meeting:
"I must state that there are no frontiers between Syria and Israel, and I make this declaration from the table of the Security Council ... I should like to tell Israel, from the table of the Council, that Israel has no legal or political status, not only on Lake Tiberias, but on any inch that now lies under its control" [709th meeting, paras. 27 and 291.
152. Can it be conceived that any other Member, or at least any non-Arab Member, of the United Nations would ever make a statement totally denying the jurisdiction of a Member State of the United Nations? Can there be a more vivid proof that the real problem before us is the aspiration of Syria and of other Arab States to encompass the destruction of a neighbouring State? These ominous statements by the Syrian representative show a complete disregard for Israel's rights as a member of the United Nations and as a party to the Syrian-Israel General Armistice Agreement. If Syria has no frontier with Israel, then Israel has no frontier with Syria.
153. If such a sinister conclusion were to be accepted for a single moment, we would reach the grotesque conclusion that there are two neighbouring Members of the United Nations which are not bound, one to each other, by the system of mutual rights and obligations defined in our Charter. I have never heard any doctrine which so offended the spirit of the Charter, with the exception of the equally discredited Arab theory of belligerency and a "state of war."
154. What is Mr. Shukairy's answer to this basic question of inter-State relations? First, he solves it with invective. I quote from his address this morning:
"It is only natural that a beggar with a brandished dagger should not be entitled to charity. "
The Mandatory Power, he said in another passage, had given "birth to Israel ... after a thirty years' pregnancy." What grace of language; what nobility of thought! What would we do without the unique sense of dignity which Mr. Shukairy introduces into international discussions?
155. His only other Substantive solution is to suggest that the United Nations as a whole should emulate the hostility, the boycott, the ostracism and the discrimination which disgraces the regional conduct of the Arab States in their relations with a neighbour. That, I understood it, was his proposal -that the United Nations as a whole should adapt itself to this enviable pattern of Arab relations with Israel.
156. The Security Council will surely understand the significance which we attach to the opening of fire against us from across the Syrian frontier, when that fire is directed on the authority of a Government which has such overt claims against our sovereignty and integrity. A call to Syria to respect the armistice border is perhaps the most fundamental and important measure which the Security Council can take.
157. 1 now turn to the document presented on behalf of the Soviet Union [S135281. This draft resolution does not make any claim to objectivity. The Soviet representative has simply copied down certain extreme and partisan views of the Syrian Government, and has put the name of his delegation to Syrian views.
158. The Soviet draft resolution completely ignores the important passages of the Chief of Staff's report which refer to contraventions of the Armistice Agreement by Syria. Here we have a remarkable paradox. Syria defines 250 metres of Israel territory as Syrian "territorial waters" and instructs its armed forces to extend their controls beyond the Syrian frontier into an area of Israel jurisdiction. All these things are established by the Chief of Staff's report. Yet a permanent member of the Security Council finds it possible to formulate proposals which completely disregard these findings.
159. Similarly, the Soviet draft resolution refuses to say anything requiring Syria to respect the armistice demarcation line and to avoid firing across it, as has happened so frequently in the past.
160. Ignoring the equality of rights of Israel and Syria under the Armistice Agreement, and thereby discriminating against hundreds of Israelis who have lost their lives at Arab hands, the Soviet draft resolution includes an injunction, which it chooses to call a "decision", on how the indemnification problem should be solved, without agreement between sovereign States.
161. Israel deeply regrets this unbalanced approach. We see here the unfortunate extension of an attitude previously expressed in the vetoing of two important draft resolutions before the Security Council, for no other reason that they emphasised an Arab duty to observe Charter obligations and treaty obligations towards Israel. We are here acutely reminded of the inequitable disadvantage under which Israel labours in the Security Council. Ever since the veto frustrated two basic Security Council decisions in 1954, we have been gravely aware of the effects of this imbalance. Israel here comes before a tribunal where the only alternative, whatever the merits of the case, is a verdict for the Arabs or no verdict at all.
162. The PRESIDENT: Will the representative of Israel please weigh the gravity of the words he has just spoken?
163. Mr. EBAN (Israel): I think I have weighed my words carefully and I am accurately describing the position created by a habit of vetoing draft resolutions whenever they seem to give indulgence to Israel's case. And I ask whether any citizen in any country would find satisfaction in recourse to a court where the only available verdict was a verdict against him? In the light of what happened in the Banat Ya'coub and Suez discussions, what weight can we attach to Syrian or Soviet contentions that, if Israel has a grievance, its best course is to submit it to the Security Council? We fear that the doctrine that a Security Council resolution should not contain material which raises Arab objections now finds expression in the Soviet draft resolution, which in my Government's view is not based on objective criteria.
164. Israel will give serious consideration to the views expressed by members of the Security Council. But we hope that the Council, in its turn, will make an imaginative effort to comprehend the difficulties and burdens of a small people which has no other aspiration but to be left alone to cultivate its garden; to pursue the ways of peace; to develop its society and culture within its modest domain of sovereignty; to be free from the illicit hostility which has besieged it for seven years; and to testify in its new independence to the deep vitality and grandeur of its immortal traditions.