Livia Rokach - Israel's sacred terrorism
Nasser of Egypt
CHAPTER 8 - Nasser: Coexistence with Israel is Possible.
Ben Gurion's Reply: Operation Gazat
Commenting on Israel's terrorist actions in Egypt, a U.S. embassy official in Cairo concluded on February 8, 1955 that "Sharett does not have control of the matters if such mad actions can be carried out."17
The State Department, the prime minister noted, feared subsequent Israeli provocations to sabotage U.S. relations with the Arab world following the signing of the Ankara-Baghdad pact. The American administration therefore attempted to move simultaneously in two directions in order to save what may be saved in the given situation: it placed pressure on Nasser to negotiate some kind of agreement with the Sharett government, and it offered the Zionist state a security pact. The Israeli premier noted that Kermit Roosevelt Jr. of the CIA was working on the creation of contacts between Israel and Egypt, and that he, Sharett, would nominate Yigael Yadin as his representative. (21 January 1955, 675)
[I met with] Roger Baldwin, the envoy of the U.S. League of Human Rights who visited Cairo.... Nasser talked to him about Israel, saying that he is not among those who want to throw Israel into the Mediterranean. He believes in coexistence with Israel and knows that negotiations will open some day.(25 January 1955, 680)
Cable from Eban. .. the U. S. is ready to sign an agreement with us whereby we shall make a commitment not to extend our borders by force, it will commit itself to come to our aid if we were attacked. (28 January 1955, 69 1)
Teddy [Kollek] brought a message from Isser's [head of the Security Services] men in Washington. The partners (the CIA) renew their suggestion for a meeting with Nasser, who does not regard the initiative of the meeting canceled because of the outcome of the trial .... He is as willing to meet us as before and the initiative is now up to Israel. (10 February 1955, 716)
[In regard to Washington's proposals for a U.S.-Israel security pact] I cabled Eban that we are willing to accept a clause which obliges us not to extend our borders by force, but we should in no way commit ourselves to desist from any hostile acts because this would mean closing the door on any possibility to carry out reprisal actions. (14 February 1955, 726)
This last phrase indicates that the news of the American proposals, and of possible negotiations between Sharett and Nasser had spread rapidly in the security establishment. The pressures on Sharett were stepped up. On February 17, Ben Gurion accepted the premier's invitation to return to the government as minister of defense. Quoting his landlady, Sharett noted on that day in his diary "that is the end of peace and quiet." Ten days later, in fact
Ben Gurion arrived.......with.......the Chief of Staff, who was carrying rolled up maps. I understood at once what would be the subject of the conversation.... The Chief of Staff's proposal was to hit an Egyptian army base at the entrance to the city of Gaza.... [He] estimated that the enemy losses would be about ten ... and that we have to be prepared for a few victims on our side. Ben Gurion insisted that the intention is not to kill but only to destroy buildings. if the Egyptians run away under the shock of the attack, there may be no bloodshed at all.
I approved the plan. The act of infiltration near Rehovot-30km from the border of the Gaza Strip-shocked the public and a lack of reaction is unacceptable.... In my heart I was sorry that the reprisal would be attributed [by the public] to Ben Gurion. After all, I did authorize a reprisal action ... when Ben Gurion was away from the government, and it was purely by chance that the operation did not take place. I would have approved this one, too, regardless of Ben Gurion being the Minister of Defense. (27 February 1955, 799-800)
I am shocked. The number [of Egyptian victims (39 dead and 30 wounded, including a 7-year-old boy,)] changes not only the dimensions of the operation but its very substance; it turns it into an event liable to cause grave political and military complications and dangers.... The army spokesman, on instructions from the Minister of Defense, delivered a false version to the press: a unit of ours, after having been attacked supposedly inside our territory, returned the fire and engaged a battle which later developed as it did. Who will believe us? ( I March 1955, 804)
It was the same old story: hit and run and try to fool the world-
The embassies should be instructed to condemn Egypt and not to be on the defensive.... Now there will be a general impression that while we cry out over our isolation and the dangers to our security, we initiate aggression and reveal ourselves as being bloodthirsty and aspiring to perpetrate mass massacres . . . it is possible that this outburst will be interpreted as the result of the army and the nation's outrage against the Powers' policy of ignoring the security of their state and will prevent the continuation of that policy to the bitter end. We, at least, have to make sure that this will be the common impression. . . . I dictated a briefing for the embassies .... It is desirable that the press should express the following: (a) Our public opinion had been agitated by the penetration of an Egyptian gang into a densely populated area and its attack on public transportation; (b) It seems that the clash developed into a serious battle as the exchange of fire was going on; (c) Egypt always claims that it is in a state of war with Israel which it demonstrates by acts such as blockade and murders and if there is a state of war, these are the results; (d) This event cannot be detached from the general background of the feeling of isolation which prevails in Israel in view of the West's alliances with the Arab states , . .. the most recent example of which is the Iraq-Turkey Pact whose anti-Israeli goals are particularly evident.
The last argument (d) needs very cautious handling in the sense that it should not be attributed to us and should be confided only to the most loyal [commentators] who must be warned not to appear inspired by our sources.
When I wrote these things [the instructions to the embassies] I still didn't know how crushing is the evidence-that was already published, refuting our official version. The huge amounts of arms and explosives, the tactics of the attack, the blocking and mining of the roads ... the precise coordination of the attack. Who would be foolish enough to believe that such a complicated operation could "develop" from a casual and sudden attack on an Israeli army unit by an Egyptian unit? . . .
I am tormented by thoughts as to whether this is not my greatest failure as Prime Minister. Who knows what will be the political and security consequence" (1 March 1955, 804-805)
One of the immediate and inevitable consequences was the following:
Yesterday . . . there was a conversation between [Salahl Gohar [the chief Egyptian representative to the mixed armistice commission] and [Joseph] Tkoa, The Egyptian representative informed [Tkoa] immediately that right after the previous meeting [which took place immediately following the Gaza attack] ... Nasser told him ... that he had had a personal contact with lsrael's Prime Minister and that there were good chances that things would develop in a positive way, but then came the attack on Gaza, and naturally now ... it's off.
Lawson [U.S. Ambassador] thinks that the reason for the warning and the threats [from Arab countries] is fear which has seized the Arab World due to Ben Gurion's comeback. The Gaza attack is interpreted as signaling a decision on our part to attack on all fronts. The Americans, too, are afraid that it will lead to a new conflagration in the Middle East which will blow up all their plans. Therefore, they wish to obtain from us a definite commitment that similar actions will not be repeated. (12 March 1955, 837)
But it was precisely to prevent a similar commitment that Ben Gurion rejoined the government, and he had no intention of changing his mind. On the contrary, on March 25, less than a month after the attack on Gaza, he proposed to the cabinet that Israel proceed to occupy the Gaza Strip, this time for good. The discussion lasted five whole days and ended with the ministers divided between the opponents of the proposal, headed by Sharett, and Ben Gurion's supporters. With five votes in favor, nine against it, and two abstentions, the plan was rejected, or perhaps simply postponed. The security pact offered by the U.S., however, had to be rejected, because-as Dayan explained in April 1955-"it would put handcuffs on our military freedom of action." He went into a detailed explanation on May 26, during a meeting with Israel's ambassadors in Washington (Abba Eban), Paris (Ya'acov Tsur) and London (Eliahu Eilat). The conversation was reported to Sharett later by Ya'acob Herzog and Gideon Raphael:
We do not need (Dayan said) a security pact with the U.S.: such a pact will only constitute an obstacle for us. We face no danger at all of an Arab advantage of force for the next 8-10 years. Even if they receive massive military aid from the West, we shall maintain our military superiority thanks to our infinitely greater capacity to assimilate new armaments. The security pact will only handcuff us and deny us the freedom of action which we need in the coming years. Reprisal actions which we couldn't carry out if we were tied to a security pact are our vital lymph ... they make it possible for us to maintain a high level of tension among our population and in the army. Without these actions we would have ceased to be a combative people and without the discipline of a combative people we are lost. We have to cry out that the Negev is in danger, so that young men will go there....
The conclusions from Dayan's words are clear: This State has no international obligations, no economic problems, the question of peace is nonexistent.... It must calculate its steps narrow-mindedly and live on its sword. It must see the sword as the main, if not the only, instrument with which to keep its morale high and to retain its moral tension. Toward this end it may, no-it must-invent dangers, and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation-and-revenge.. . . And above all -let us hope for a new war with the Arab countries, so that we may finally get rid of our troubles and acquire our space. (Such a slip of the tongue: Ben Gurion himself said that it would be worth while to pay an Arab a million pounds to start a war.) (26 May 1955, 1021)
On August 14, a U.S. Quaker leader, Elmer Jackson, on a visit to Jerusalem after a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Fawzi, told Sharett that Nasser was still interested in normalizing relations with Israel. On October 7, the Egyptian president himself said to New York Times special envoy Kenneth Love: "No Arab says today that we should destroy Israel."18 But Israel had already made its decisions. 19