Editor: Robert, L. Jarman
Author:N/A ISBN: (10) N/A Published: 2011 Paper: Printed on acid-free paper Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish See sample pages:
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This project is the second in a series of collections of British political and economic reports on Israel. It examines the premiership of Moshe Sharett (1954-55), second Prime Minister of Israel, in this crucial period as Nasser comes to power in Egypt and the US and UK governments work together behind the scenes on the "Alpha" project, to try and bring peace to Palestine, while within Israel the tensions increase with regard to its neighbours Egypt and Syria.
This second publication in the series covers the two years of 1954 and 1955 – years which saw the premiership of Moshe Sharrett (appointed at the end of 1953) and then the slow emergence from retirement of David Ben Gurion first as Minister of Defence and then Prime Minister following the 1955 general election.
In the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill (who often described himself as a Zionist) finally resigned as Prime Minister in April 1955 and was replaced by Sir Anthony Eden, who was not known for any pro-Israeli leanings; whilst at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv Sir Francis Evans was transferred to another posting at the end of September 1954 and replaced as Ambassador a month later by Mr John (Jack) Nicholls.In Egypt, the Egyptian revolution was still an ongoing process with the accession to power of Colonel Nasser; and it was Nasser and Eden who negotiated an end to the presence of British troops in Egypt and established (at least in Eden’s eyes) a rapport with each other.In the USA, however, there was no change in the administration, with Eisenhower as President and John Foster Dulles as the Secretary of State – although one can detect in the documents of late 1955, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, an increasing lack of rapport between Eden and Dulles (which was to have such dramatic effects in 1956) and an increasing rapport between Dulles and the new British Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan (which would help to ameliorate UK/US relations from 1957 onwards).
In these volumes the despatches, letters and telegrams that were received by the Foreign Office in London originated from many sources.Obviously the Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Consulates-General in Jerusalem and Haifa provide the majority; but documents also originated from British Embassies in countries adjacent to Israel (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt) and other interested Middle Eastern states (such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran).The necessity for liaison and co-ordination with the United States government in communications with the Israeli government and in discussions and votes in the United Nations Security Council (and not least in 1955 during the discussions over the joint Anglo-US “Alpha” project for an agreed settlement of the Palestine problem) meant that there was constant communication between the Foreign Office in London and the British Embassy in Washington and the UK Delegation to the United Nations in New York.The British government, via the Commonwealth Relations Office, constantly updated Commonwealth countries on developments in the area.It has to be noted, however, that the British government was less concerned with liaison with the French government, and this is reflected in the paucity of documents originating from the British Embassy in Paris.
The internal papers of the Foreign Office are useful for the tracing of the development of future British policy, or for the exposition of the current policy.Often a despatch received from the British Embassies in Tel Aviv or Amman would prompt comments and minutes within the Levant Department; often the Israeli Ambassador’s forthcoming meeting with the Foreign Secretary or his Minister of State or the Foreign Office Permanent Under Secretary would prompt an official brief prepared by the department on the official British line to be taken.And where more detailed information was required, this was provided by the Research Department – this was especially the case during the preparation stage for discussions over the joint US/UK “Alpha” peace project when every aspect of the Palestine problem and possible solutions were researched in depth.
The recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee are reproduced, in particular the report of April 1955 which discussed British military options in the event of Israeli aggression – the necessity of abiding by the UK/Jordan defence agreement being the reason for this policy decision.These discussions about possible military action against Israel are echoed in Treasury papers on possible economic sanctions against Israel.
A brief outline of these two years, extracted from the documents in this publication, is as follows:
1954 saw an escalation of border incidents with Jordan.There was the attack on a bus at Scorpion’s Pass inside Israel on 23rd March in which 11 Israelis were killed and 2 wounded, and then the subsequent reprisals; and the major flare-up in the city of Jerusalem at the end of June/beginning of July.Despite these incidents, John Nicholls, the new British Ambassador, in his annual review felt able to record “a perceptible lightening of the atmosphere” and could point to “a number of encouraging signs both in the evolution of Israeli policy towards her Arab neighbours and in her own economic situation”; in addition Nicholls recorded a “growing respect and liking for the United Kingdom” with an openly expressed desire for some undefined special relationship with the United Kingdom, even membership of the Commonwealth.
1955 saw a deterioration in Israel’s situation.The year started badly with the execution by Egypt of 2 Egyptian Jews as Israeli spies and the capture of 5 Israeli soldiers in Syria.The return to office of David Ben Gurion as Minister of Defence in February 1955 saw the adoption by the Israeli government of a more hard-line policy in the event of Arab incursions into Israel.On 28th February, following a series of border incidents, the Israeli government launched a major offensive in Gaza in which 37 Egyptians were killed and 30 wounded.With this action, the Israeli government reverted to its earlier policy of reprisals and, in the words of the British Ambassador, “embarked on a course which was destined in the course of the year to have a catastrophic effect on Israel’s strategic situation and international standing”.Israel/Egyptian and Israel/Syrian border tensions were to be the feature of the rest of the year – although the situation on the Israel/Jordan border was comparatively quiet.A general election was held on 26th July, and on 18th August David Ben Gurion was asked to form a government – a task which was not completed until November.
Beginning at the end of 1954 and continuing throughout 1955, the British and US governments were trying to bring about an Arab–Israeli settlement – the so-called “Alpha” project.The British/American team that worked on the project, at meetings in Washington and London, put much effort into analyzing the problems that existed and providing a possible solution.But the increasingly fraught situation in Gaza meant that no peaceful solution to the Palestine problem was possible – despite the initial encouraging response from the Egyptian leader Colonel Nasser.
Two further, most interesting, points about the documents reproduced in these volumes need to be made:
Firstly, the normal practice of the British government is to release all documents into the public domain 30 years after being written unless they are politically sensitive – in which case, they are withheld in their entirety for 50 years or released in a censored or “redacted” form; however, the full document is normally released in its original state after the expiry of 50 years from date of production.The only exception to this rule is where an individual’s personal safety might be compromised.The documents relating to the “Alpha” project can still only be examined in their censored state, even though more than 55 years have elapsed since being written – a sign perhaps that the full details of some aspects of the Palestinian settlement that were agreed by the British and US governments in 1955 are even today too sensitive, and full publication would be prejudicial to the interests of the United Kingdom.
Secondly, in April 1955 the British government was seriously considering military action against Israel in support of Jordan, as outlined in the report by the UK Ministry of Defence Chiefs of Staff Committee.For this editor, to whom the Suez Crisis of 1956 (when the Eden government supported Israeli military action against Egypt) is still a very vivid memory, such a turnaround in British policy is quite remarkable.The reasons for the volte-face will become apparent in the next publication in this series.