Volume #21 - 562.|
EUROPE DE L'EST ET L'UNION SOVIÉTIQUE
Le secrétaire d'État aux Affaires extérieures|
au chargé d'affaires en Israël
le 14 janvier 1955|
RELATIONS BETWEEN EGYPT AND ISRAEL|
On December 24, 1954 the Ambassador of Israel in Ottawa approached the Department about two matters which he said were aggravating the already uneasy relations between Egypt and Israel. The points he made may be summarized as follows:
(a) The Bat Galim Case. The Israelis are not interested in winning a debating point; they consider that the debate was won when the Security Council passed its resolution of September, 1951 calling upon the Egyptian authorities to terminate the restrictions on shipping in the Suez Canal bound for ports in Israel. Nor will the Israelis be content with the release of the ship at the southern end of the Canal, nor its cargo (or compensation for it) and crew, all of which the Egyptians have now promised. The Israelis want a practical solution which will result in the removal of interference by the Egyptians which has done much to cripple the economy of Israel. Mr. Yafeh had made these points clear when he, as Chargé d'Affaires of the Israeli Embassy, asked the Department on December 7 to instruct Canadian representatives to use their influence on members of the Security Council in order to promote Israel's case.
(b) The "Spy" Trials in Egypt. The Israelis charge that the thirteen persons of Jewish origin, who have undergone trial before a military court in Cairo, have been bullied into confessing crimes which they did not commit. The Prime Minister of Israel recently announced that the trial had evoked a storm of indignation in Israel and all over the Jewish world and he had called upon "all those who uphold peace, stability and human relations between nations to prevent this dangerous miscarriage of justice". In making this request specific as regards the Canadian Government, Mr. Comay said that the death sentence in these "spy" cases would have serious repercussions in the Middle East and that the United States had undertaken to make representations to the Egyptian authorities.
2. Following this démarche we asked our missions in London and Washington to consult with the appropriate authorities to determine whether the Israelis had made a similar approach and, if so, what action had been taken or contemplated by the United Kingdom and United States. In due course we were informed that separate, oral and unofficial approaches to the Egyptian authorities had been made by the United Kingdom and the United States representatives in Cairo, who had urged that restraint be exercised in the conduct of the trial and had emphasized the repercussions which might result if the death sentence were to be imposed. The United Kingdom Chargé d'Affaires had reported his opinion that his representations had been sympathetically received and, in view of the reasonable manner in which the trial was being conducted, the Foreign Office seemed hopeful that the sentence would not be unduly harsh. The United Kingdom information suggested that "the accused were engaged in mild espionage and sabotage". The information supplied by the United States authorities tended to confirm the foregoing but they believed that the Egyptian court might be obliged to impose the death penalty because of the execution of members of the Muslim Brotherhood as "enemies of Egypt". The State Department seemed uneasy about the consequences of such action by the court.
3. In the meantime we had reviewed the factors which we believed should govern our reply to Mr. Comay's démarche. It seemed to us to be related to Mr. Sharett's foreign policy statement in the Knesset on November 19, 1954. Referring to Arab-Israeli relations, he had singled out Egypt for criticism, mentioning the refusal to allow Israeli ships to pass unmolested through the Suez Canal, the continued sabotage and bloodshed along the Gaza Strip, and the "show trial" of a group of Jews in Egypt who had been falsely accused of plotting in favour of Israel. He had described these developments as evidence of a lack of international responsibility and moderation on the part of the Egyptian Government and added (no doubt for home consumption) that the Nasser régime should realize that Israel's restraint in the face of this persistent provocation was due solely to its wish to test the ability and willingness of the Egyptian authorities to curb aggression and restore order.
4. Mr. Sharett's statement seemed to spark a new Israeli drive for diplomatic support. The drive appears to have at least three aims: to win recognition for Israel's profession of peaceful intent, to compel Egypt to lift the Suez blockade and to discredit the Government of Egypt in the eyes of the world. This policy reflects, we believe, (a) the disappointment which Israelis suffered because the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement on the Suez Canal offered no guarantees to Israel concerning its security or its right to make peaceful use of the Canal;18 (b) Israel's apprehension about the recent trend in United States policy toward arming the Arabs against communism; (c) Israel's sense of isolation in a hostile environment; and (d) the frustration and hardship in Israel resulting from the economic boycott and blockade imposed by the Arab states.
5. The link between these underlying factors and some of the particular events is often obscured by the criss-cross of argument and propaganda from both sides. The link is there nonetheless. As regards the Bat Galim case and the spy trials, the Egyptians have tried to justify their refusal to terminate the restrictions on Israeli shipping by arguing that Israel has aggressive intentions: The Bat Galim's crew of ten was depicted clumsily as a murderous crew which fired upon helpless Arab fishermen in Egyptian waters. The Egyptians have also argued that Israeli shipping, if allowed to pass through the Canal, would clandestinely carry Israeli spies and saboteurs into Egyptian territory. The present trials at Cairo are represented as evidence of Israeli designs in that direction. For their part the Israelis wish to show that they want peace, that it is the Arabs who maintain the warlike measures. Thus, as in the recent statements before the General Assembly, each side tries to blacken the reputation of the other.
6. There are domestic reasons why the Egyptian authorities might maintain, at least for the time being, their hostility toward Israel. Nasser has successfully negotiated for the withdrawal of the foreign troops; he has stamped on the internal enemies in the Muslim Brotherhood. He has from time to time also blamed the Zionists and communists for Egypt's troubles. He has held sway over the Egyptian public by posing as the vanquisher of all evil. One of the greatest evils, built largely by propaganda, is the usurper state of Israel. To root out all vestiges of that evil is a popular aim and one which helps the Egyptians forget the shame of the Palestine War of 1948. Undoubtedly these considerations influence the Nasser régime which to date has barely scratched the real problems of Egypt, in the economic and social field. Because the Nasser régime is perhaps the last chance for stability in Egypt, it should not be condemned too strongly for resorting to those tactics in order to survive.
7. The Israel Government too has domestic problems. It is under strong pressure to take positive action to end the stalemate in relations with the Arabs, the frustration of the elaborate Zionist dreams, the hardship of day-to-day living with a distorted economy. Violence along the borders with Egypt, the seizure of an Israeli ship and crew, the trial of Jews in Egypt serve as fire in the hands of the militant nationalists. Mr. Sharett, who has shown commendable moderation, is hard pressed and looks for outside support so that he will have an answer for the extremists pressing for retaliatory action. The death penalty, imposed on Jews by an Egyptian military court, might ignite a spark too hot to handle. Mr. Comay tried to promote this impression but he may well have overstated the possible effects of a harsh sentence by the Egyptian court in order to win our support.
8. In addition to the foregoing considerations we had to bear in mind our own interest in developing friendly relations with all the countries in the Middle East. Whereas for a variety of reasons we can be reasonably assured that our relations with Israel are on a sound footing, we have less reason to be complacent about Canada's relations with the Arab states. There are high barriers of race, language and religion to be overcome and a deeprooted suspicion and distrust which the Arabs have for all Westerners. Our missions in the Arab states will therefore have no easy time winning friends for Canada and task would be made all the more difficult, if the Canadian Government were to play too active a part in Arab-Israeli disputes, especially in promoting the cause of Israel. In particular, we believe that the future of our diplomatic mission in Egypt should not be jeopardized so soon after its establishment by pressing too vigorously Israeli contentions which may not be as well founded as spokesmen for Israel might make them appear. To illustrate from the present démarche, while we are reasonably satisfied that Israel has the legal right on its side in the Bat Galim affair, we conceive that Israeli agents may be operating, however ineffectively, in Egypt.
9. In the light of these factors it was decided:
(a) As regards the Bat Galim that we should continue to consult informally with the United Kingdom, the United States and perhaps France on the steps which might be taken to bring about a termination of Egyptian restrictions on Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal. If we should see some opportunity for Canada to make a useful intervention, we might consider whether the Canadian Government should do so.
(b) As regards the "spy" trials in Egypt that we should take no action beyond consulting with the United Kingdom and United States authorities. It seemed most unlikely that an approach by our newly established mission would add anything to the influence already exerted by United Kingdom and United States representatives in Cairo. Such an approach might, indeed, provoke resentment because the Western powers were "ganging up" on Egypt.
10. Accordingly on January 11 Mr. Comay was informed orally along the following lines:
(a) Although the Department has looked with sympathy on Israel's claims to unmolested passage for its shipping in the Suez Canal, because Canada is not a member of the Security Council, the Canadian authorities are reluctant to intervene in the Bat Galim dispute while that body has the matter under consideration. We are, however, following the proceedings closely.
(b) As regards the trial in Egypt, Canadian authorities view with concern the prospect of increased tension in the relations between Israel and Egypt, a result which the imposing of the death sentence might produce. The Department has, however, no special knowledge of the matter and does not consider itself competent to take sides. It is doubtful, moreover, whether the new Canadian Ambassador in Cairo, who has so recently presented his credentials, would be able to influence the Egyptian authorities to any extent in a matter as important as the "spy" trial. The Department had instructed the Ambassador to send a full report on the matter.
Mr. Comay made no comment but we believe he was not surprised by the answer he had received.
11. Except for the preceding paragraph, this despatch is largely for your own information on Departmental thinking about the two problems which have arisen in Israeli-Egyptian relations. If you are approached on these subjects you should be guided by the policy decisions stated in paragraph 9 and by the summary of what was said to Mr. Comay on January 11. We shall be glad to have your comments on these matters.