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Eban Assesses Chances for Talks, Israel’s Unpreparedness on Oct. 6

November 12, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The signing of the six-point agreement signifies the beginning of a dialogue between Israel and the Arab states and presents a “fair prospect” that negotiations may begin before the end of the year. This assessment was offered here last night by Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban in his address before 3000 Jewish communal leaders from the United States and Canada attending the 42nd General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. The envoy extolled the American government for its military, economic and diplomatic aid and support to Israel during the war and for its “courage and steadfast action by withstanding a dark, authentic threat by the Soviet Union.” Eban underscored this last point by stating that the Soviet threat to Israel “was genuine.” The friendship between the U.S. and Israel withstood the highest test, he observed. “Nobody outside the Jewish people has ever provided such a profusion of welfare.” But, Eban stated, Israel “promises no docility in that relationship” and friendship does not mean that “there cannot be disagreement.”

The Israeli diplomat excoriated the European countries who capitulated to the Arab oil threat and reserved his greatest scorn and derision for these countries. “The question for Europe is whether, having surrendered their colonization of the oil sheikhdoms, are now willing to become colonized by them. The real question these nations should be asking is not what Israel’s independence means to them, but what their own independence means.” But Eban was also unsparing in his appraisal of why Israel was caught by surprise on Oct. 6. He declared bluntly that Israel’s top leadership “cannot renounce scrutiny of what was clearly a deficiency in our defense system. With the end of the war there must be a quiet, profound and human inquiry by an independent committee as to what went wrong on the opening day of the war.”

Focusing on this issue Eban listed several factors responsible for the lack of Israel’s preparation on Oct. 6. The assumption by Israel that the Arab realized that another war would bring the Israeli armed forces closer to Cairo and Damascus was based on a calculation that the Arabs were rational enough to understand this. “But we underestimated the irrational element in human history,” he observed. In addition, the decisive and lightning victory of Israel in 1967 lulled the nation into a false sense of security as it did the rest of the world that Israel was invulnerable and unbeatable even when the greatest odds confronted it. Israel, he noted, “lived for six years in an unreal world.” The 1967 victory had been so unique “that it should not have been taken as a framework of reference.” Before leaving Lod Airport yesterday on his way here Eban, in an interview with Haaretz, observed that Israel’s concept of security and defense was shattered by the war. He said that the Suez Canal did not turn out to be the secure barrier to attack that Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had claimed it to be. He also stated that the idea that the 1967 security borders would give Israel sufficient time to deploy its forces in case of war, that a new war would be a short one and that the superpowers would not be drawn in, all proved to be misconceptions.

Nevertheless, he told the audience here, Israel’s military victory “in technical military terms” was the nation’s “most decisive victory since it was snatched from an overwhelming force. Every advantage was theirs (the Arabs), every disadvantage ours. But it was a technical victory without celebration, a triumph along with bereavement, deliverance along with grief. The deeper memory is not how it ended but how it began. This is what is going on in Israel right now.” The signing of the treaty, he noted, does not mean that “our ordeals are over. It only means that they will unfold in a different context. The need to make the transition from hostility to dialogue, from war to peace has been the vision of Israel since its founding.” Why, he asked, “has nothing except empirical experience of war brought us as close as we have come to peace.” Part of the reason, Eban noted, was that international guarantees mattered little in terms of assuring Israel’s sovereignty unless there was also a determination for defense.

In the final analysis, Eban said, the price Israel has had to pay–1854 dead, IL 22 billion for the cost of the war and the decline of the tourist trade during these past few weeks–cannot be borne by Israel alone. “It is too heavy for us to carry alone,” he declared. “We need a vast and triumphant assertion of Jewish solidarity. We want to know if you are with us, and if so we shall stand steadfast, confident and serene until the obstacles are surmounted and the task is done.” The was greeted by a prolonged; thunderous and standing ovation by the delegates who filled the main ballroom of the Marriott Hotel and two other rooms set aside for the overflow crowd who were watching Eban on closed circuit television. Prior to Eban’s address the meeting heard greetings from Mrs. Nicole Goldman of Paris, member of the executive committee of the Fonds Social Juif Unifie of France, and Clarence de Wolfe, vice-chairman of the Jewish Welfare Board of London. Morton L. Mandel of Cleveland, vice-president of the CJF, chaired the meeting.

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