TEL AVIV (Jan. 16)
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan paid a surprise visit to the prisoner-of-war camp at Athlit yesterday and told 100 Egyptian officers, including four generals, who are about to be repatriated, that Israel wants to exist peacefully as a Jewish state among Arab states but will always fight back if she is attacked. He said he wanted the Egyptian soldiers, who were captured in last June’s Six-Day War, to return home with the message that Israelis want peace and mutual coexistence.
Gen. Dayan’s visit to the POW camp was unannounced and was made apparently on the spur of the moment when severe gales and snow storms delayed a prisoner exchange agreed to by Egypt and Israel under the aegis of the International Red Cross. Israel holds about 4,500 Egyptian POWs. Egypt has 10 to 15 captured Israelis, mostly pilots. The agreement for their exchange was arranged by the IRC at Geneva and the first contingent of Egyptian prisoners was sent home last Friday.
General Dayan’s remarks, made in English, were summarized by the Defense Ministry today. He brushed aside as “historic” the question of whether the lands of Israel belonged to the Arabs or were the ancestral home of the Jews. “Now we have a state and the question is whether this state can exist here. I say yes,” Gen. Dayan told the Egyptian officers. “We consider ourselves part of the Jewish world, just as we consider Arabs living in the state of Israel as part of the Arab world. We don’t want to make them into Jews – it’s impossible and there is no need for it – just as we don’t want to be made into Arabs. True,” Gen. Dayan said, “we are a small nation, perhaps we shall reach 5 million souls. But even as such we can live alongside you and with you without becoming part of you and without your becoming part of us. Under those circumstances, we can live in mutual respect and peace. You will not attack our ships and we will not attack you. The only way is for you to understand that in the midst of the Arab world there exists a Jewish state. The refugee problem can be solved and a peace treaty can be signed. We shall try to achieve it.”
Gen. Dayan blamed the June war on misinformation supplied to Egyptian by Syria and the Soviet Union that Israel was mobilizing for an attack on Syria. He said that Egypt’s subsequent blockade of the Strait of Tiran, which Israel shipping had used for a decade, was considered by Israel “a declaration of war.”