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Ben Gurion Announces Israel Reserves ‘freedom of Action’

October 16, 1956
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Premier David Ben Gurion served notice today that Israel reserved its freedom of action in the event that Iraqi troops entered the territory of the Kingdom of Jordan. The Israeli’s warning came in the course of a 90-minute review of the situation made to the Knesset, the Parliament of Israel.

Earlier in the day, the Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman, in an apparent reply to London assurances announced that “whoever encourages and abets Iraq, actively or passively, in the realization of its schemes, takes on a grave responsibility.”

(In London, a Foreign Office spokesman, who said Britain had sought to reassure Israel over the Iraqi move, refused to accept for Britain responsibility for the entry of Iraqi troops into Jordan.)

Mr. Ben Gurion, whose speech was awaited here with mounting tension and excitement, told Parliament that Israel cannot subsist on encouragement alone, and declared that ‘we shall continue to demand arms from the United States for land sea and air to deter the enemy.”

(In Washington, Lincoln White, the State Department spokesman, declined to comment on Mr. Ben Gurion’s declaration.)

Mr. Ben Gurion opened his address with a tribute to the members of the Israel armed forces who “gave their lives during the last few weeks to defend our security and show our enemies that the blood of our people cannot be shed with impunity in their own country.”


The Jewish year of 5716, the Premier said, marked the turning point in Israel’s security situation and in the general situation in the Middle East. It began, he noted, with the Czech arms transaction which has been providing Col. Nasser, the Egyptian dictator, with a copious flow of heavy arms of all types. It ended, he said, with the crisis over the Suez Canal.

According to the Soviet bloc spokesmen, the Premier sardonically commented, all this was done in the interests of peace in the Middle East and the strengthening of the independence of the Arab peoples. But in practice, he declared, the result was to increase tension in the region and throughout the whole world.

The danger to Israel was increased, Mr. Ben Gurion asserted, because the Egyptian dictator, like other Arab rulers, has never, for a moment, interrupted his feverish preparations for a second round against Israel.

He recalled that in discussion with the General Zionists whether Israel should initiate war, the Government decided that Israel would not start a war. Israel, he said, recoiled from a decision to make war although the alternative was to acquire arms. The prospects, however, for acquiring arms in sufficient quantities and types which would be decisive in battle were not particularly promising, he said.

If he had succeeded in preventing a renewal of the disaster of war in the course of the many anxieties of the past year. Mr. Ben Gurion told the Parliament, he felt a profound satisfaction at his success, Instead of war, he said, “let us make an effort to strengthen the Israel defense forces.”

He cited efforts to obtain arms from the United States “to whom we owe thanks for much political and financial assistance from the day the State was founded.” He declared that the United States has recognized, in principle, the need to rectify the balance between Israel and the Arab States and has encouraged its allies to supply Israel. “But be added we cannot be content with encouragement alone. We shall continue to demand arms from the United States for land, sea and air to deter the enemy.”

Mr. Ben Gurion expressed Israel’s profound thanks to France which was the first to supply 24 Mystere jet fighter planes, and to Canada for its decision to sell Israel, 24. Sabrejets. He also referred to Britain which had previously supplied a number of Meteors.

The Premier expressed grave anxiety that despite a distinct improvement in the arms situation, Egypt alone still had superiority by sea and air and even on land. Egypt, he said, has destroyers and submarines, heavy tanks, British, Czech and Soviet jet bombers superior to Israel’s. “Nevertheless,” he assured the house, “we are not defenseless as at the beginning of the year.” The Israeli leaders said that although he was confident that any conflict with Egypt or the other Arab armies would result in victory, “I want to prevent war and to safeguard our position and security. This can only be achieved if the friends and true lovers of peace give us sufficient arms no inferior in quality than our enemy’s even if not in the same quantity. Only then will the enemy be deterred.”

For this reason. Mr. Ben Gurion said, Israel would continue to demand arms from the United States, in the belief that “it is only when the enemy knows that we are well-equipped according to his own concepts that he will not dare to attack us and peace will be established in the region.

The Premier described the situation on the Jordan-Israel and Egyptian-Israel frontiers since the cease-fire and charged that the United Nations truce supervision organization was “helpless” to compel the Arab States to maintain order.

Israel, he said had no alternative but action in self-defense and he challenged the UN organization to deny Israel this right. “Israel,” he exclaimed, “will not allow its land to be transferred into a hell, the murderers and those who sent them will not be allowed to escape without punishment–without severe punishment.” Whoever declares Israel’s so-called reprisals to be wrong, he said, would deprive Israel of the right of self-defense and would give the green light to bands of murderers. He said Israel would never give up this natural right.

Mr. Ben Gurion accused the United Nations authorities of transforming the armistice agreements into “unilateral obligations towards the United Nations on the part of Israel.” thus freeing the Arab states of their obligations. He charged that the United Nations had consistently ignored armistice violations by the Arab states such as the denial of the right of free access to the Wailing Wall, to the Hebrew University and the Hadassah Hospital, and the blockade at the Suez Canal. He accused the United Nations of “obvious discrimination” against Israel. He sharply condemned the United Nations for its failure to compel Egypt to raise the Suez blockade.

The Premier announced firmly “from this rostrum.” that Israel will not submit to any discrimination with respect to her sovereign international rights. He warned that continuation of the Egyptian blockade of Israel shipping at Suez and in the Red Sea “will disturb the stability and peace of the Middle East.”

Mr. Ben Gurion charged that the situation was being further complicated by Anglo-Iraqi plans to introduce Iraqi military forces in Jordan. “The Government of Israel,” he said, “will reserve its freedom of action if the status quo is violated and foreign military forces enter Jordan.”

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