417. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

515. At Prime Minister’s request I called at his apartment in Jerusalem yesterday afternoon. Obviously Ben Gurion concerned over Eden speech and arms supplies to Egypt. In our long conversation he discussed emphatically and seriously current security position Israel which he said greatly worried him especially in light of recent developments. He said threat to Israel security becomes more dangerous every day;Nasser has boasted he will wipe out Israel in six months; and Eden’s speech greatly strengthened Egypt’s intransigence.

He said UK selling Egypt 64 Centurion tanks of which 38 delivered but UK fails to deliver to Israel equipment it agreed to sell her. Thus UK has violated spirit of tripartite declaration. France also selling arms to Egypt; British and French arms plus Soviet arms giving Egypt superiority over Israel.

Ben Gurion said that if GOI were not able to purchase certain arms from US because they were too expensive then US should not prevent France and Italy from selling arms to Israel. When I denied we had taken such action he replied “may be not France but we know definitely Italy is being prevented from selling to us.” I again expressed doubt regarding authenticity of his information and subsequent to meeting I informed one of his assistants that I believed report on this subject from the [garble] Rome had been misunderstood. In response to request of Israel Embassy Rome for meeting to discuss arms procurement with Israel Deputy Minister of Defense2 American Embassy Rome, not in position advise re Italian arms supply to Israel, had suggested such discussion might more properly take place in Washington or Tel Aviv (Rome’s 1686 to Department3); there was no attempt prevent shipment as Ben Gurion alleged.

Ben Gurion repeated he was very worried as to what would happen to Israel if she sat idly by while arms poured into Egypt and Israel got virtually nothing and in somewhat restrained manner commented “Israel cannot wait quietly to be struck down. Consciously or unconsciously UK is giving Egypt possibility of striking down Israel”.

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I said effectiveness of UK and French arms supply to Egypt seemed to depend on relative quantities involved and whether it would be continuing operation or merely covered orders already placed or in pipeline.Ben Gurion thought any arms added to those Nasser receiving from Soviets increase materially threat to Israel’s security and he opposed such policy.

Subject of Eden’s speech was very much on his mind. He was considerably exercised by British Ambassadors statement to Foreign Ministry that speech had been fully agreed to by Secretary Dulles. Although he felt certain British Ambassador had not made deliberate misstatement Ben Gurion could not reconcile this statement with what he considered basic differences in Eden’s speech and President Eisenhower’s statement also of November 9 nor could he visualize Secretary approving speech containing such contradictions with President’s statement. He then made following comparison:Eden’s speech denied (sic) British arms to Israel whereas President agreed to consider arms sales to Israel; made no reference to tripartite declaration whereas President did; did not speak against area arms race but President spoke against arms race.

He attacked Eden’s mention of UN resolution 1947 along lines his Knesset speech November 15 (Embtel 5084) underscoring particularly fact that resolution never contemplated sovereignty for any existing Arab state over any land now held by Israel or over area since taken by Jordan or Gaza now held by Egypt.

In reply my question how he interpreted Eden speech he said “it is an attempt to eliminate Israel—not by people of Great Britain but by present government which considers Israel nuisance and feels it could make deal with Arab states if Israel no longer exists.” Re concession of land by Israel, he said, “I do not believe that people of Great Britain would permit their government to send troops to fight against Israel.” He then referred to an interview he gave to British correspondent some months ago in which he said if UK wanted Israel to make concessions of its sovereign area then she must send troops to enforce that wish, in which event Israel would fight. That attitude re Eden’s proposal of territorial concessions held good today, he said. He thought Eden’s suggestion was move to isolate Israel in area as well as within western world.

I was unable to extract from Ben Gurion his own estimate of time before Egypt would be in position to employ incoming Soviet arms. But he implied that danger was closer than once believed and spoke of daily increase in danger. My impression was Israel would be able more accurately to assess imminence of danger in two or three months. I spoke of Egypt’s need for trained pilots to fly MIGs.[Page 786]Ben Gurion said Communist pilots would be supplied with planes. I replied that Nasser claimed to have sent his own men to Czechoslovakia for training but Ben Gurion said there would also be Czechoslovakian pilots and those to come over Israel would probably be Czechs—and every technician would be Communist agent.

Ben Gurion then discussed at some length design of Soviets to penetrate not only the Near East but entire African continent pointing to Egypt as ideal starting point.Nasser, he thought, was ideal instrument or agent who although probably legally anti-Communist would soon be unwitting tool of USSR.Ben Gurion wondered if USG was alive to this danger. I replied that I was certain that Secretary Dulles understood Nasser and that he was thoroughly aware of critical dangers of Soviet penetration and ambitions. Nor did I feel that he has been misled by the “Geneva smiles” as Ben Gurion thought possible. He expressed hope that I was right.

Although Ben Gurion appeared to be not well man he showed considerable vigor and his voice was strong. He was using cane in connection with his attack of lumbago but he escorted me down hall to entrance to his apartment with surprising freedom of action. His color was as high as usual but not usual healthy pink. He spoke with his usual emphasis but showed more emotion than I have ever noted in past and revealed, I thought, greater seriousness of attitude toward situation and reflected more obviously heavy weight of his responsibilities as Prime Minister.Herzog, of American section, Foreign Office who was present thought Ben Gurion showed more signs of worry and responsibility than he had seen since 1948 war days.

Lawson
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 774.56/11–1755. Secret; Priority. Received at 6:26 p.m. Repeated to Paris and London.
  2. Presumably Shimon Peres, who was Director General of the Ministry of Defense.
  3. Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 784A.56/11–1455)
  4. See footnote 5, Document 406.