November 21, 2016

1955. Ben-Gurion on Egypt and the Potential for War

Spectre of War
"David Ben-Gurion with IDF Commander Yosef Nevo and Mayor of Jerusalem Mordechai Ish-Shalom at an army post at the Jerusalem border, 1962" (Photo by David Harris - source)
This report below has been adapted from telegram style.
Bill Downs

CBS Jerusalem

November 1955

Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion told CBS News today that there are two reasons behind the Egyptian-Communist arms deal: Firstly Russia's traditional urge, dating from Czarist times, to penetrate into the Mediterranean and Middle East, and secondly the Soviet policy to establish pro-Communist a force in the Eastern Mediterranean in opposition to the West's Northern Tier.

Speaking in his map-decorated office, Ben-Gurion decried talk of "preventative war" and declared: "Preventative war is war unprevented, and it differs in no way from any other war. We prefer a preventative peace."

Ben-Gurion recalled his inaugural speech in Israel's parliament last week, where he declared that Israel never initiated war and said: "We never will, but neither shall we tolerate any warlike acts against us, by whatever name they may be called."

However, the Prime Minister declared: "The large-scale supply of arms to Egypt increases the danger of war in the Middle East. This danger can be met in two ways: Firstly, by preventing the flow of arms to Egypt and other countries, or secondly, by supplying arms to Israel."

When questioned about Egyptian claims about Israel's military superiority, Ben-Gurion denied that there is any "breathing space" left for his nation: "Israel's superiority in the War of Independence and to this day lies only and exclusively in the moral superiority of her people." He declared that, even up until now, Israel has never had superiority in armaments, and even less in manpower, and said that: "Not only Arab countries as a whole, but even Egypt alone has had more arms and a larger standing army than Israel, even before the receipt of Soviet arms. The danger to Israel's existence will constantly increase unless we too receive substantial arms reinforcements."

Asked if Israel would apply to Communist sources for arms if she feels the West is letting her down, Ben-Gurion said: "Our country is fighting for her very existence and has the right to get arms anywhere. But I think it would be an illusion to expect arms from the Soviet bloc, and I have not entirely given up hope of the help which we deserve from the United States and other democratic countries."

Commenting on Egyptian statements that recent Israeli border attacks prove the insincerity of Ben-Gurion's offer of peace talks, the Prime Minister declared that: "There has never been an Israeli attack against Egypt, and I can give my assurance that there never will be one in the future."

In referring to last Wednesday's battalion-sized action at Nitzana, Ben-Gurion said: "The Egyptians recently invaded our territory at Nitzana in violation of the armistice agreement and international law. When they refused to leave after repeated requests by representatives of the United Nations, we drove them out by force. But not a single one of our soldiers remained in Egyptian territory, because we have no desire to encroach upon Egypt."

"If Nasser wants peace he can have it in five minutes. Let him send me a telegram and he will have an immediate positive reply."