THE FAILURE OF THE ARMISTICE
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 THE FAILURE OF THE ARMISTICE

8/13/2000

 VOLUMES 1-2: 1947-1974
  SECTION 1 | SECTION 2 | SECTION 3 | SECTION 4 | SECTION 5 | SECTION 6
 
 

V. THE FAILURE OF THE ARMISTICE

INTRODUCTION


To "promote the return of permanent peace in Palestine" was the declared purpose of the armistice agreements concluded between Israel and its Arab neighbours in 1949, but even before the last of the agreements had been signed indications multiplied that the Arab States were not in reality ready to acquiesce in the existence of Israel and establish normal relations with it. Soon it became clear that they considered the armistice as a temporary lull until the next military test. This attitude of fundamental and uncompromising hostility was in contradiction to the letter and spirit of the armistice agreements as well as to Israel's desire for peaceful co-existence and friendly co-operation with its neighbours.

The gap between the declared intent of the armistice agreements and the declared Arab aim to undo the very existence of Israel became evident in the unsuccessful negotiations concluded by the Palestine Conciliation Commission, which had been established by the General Assembly to achieve a final settlement of all outstanding questions. With the passage of time, it soon became obvious that the Arab States were not interested in reaching any agreement.

In disregard of their solemn undertaking to desist from resort to military force and threats of force and to respect the right of Israel to security and freedom from fear of attack, the Arab States waged a campaign of hatred and hostility and openly proclaimed their resolve to embark on a second round of war.

They blocked any attempt to reach understanding on a practical solution of the Arab refugee problem, thus deliberately perpetuating the suffering of their own kin, using them as pawns in their fight against Israel. They launched economic warfare against Israel by methods of trade boycott, maritime blockade, and by systematic attempts to undermine and frustrate any major development projects of Israel, even at the expense of the welfare of their own peoples; the Huleh conflict and the major dispute on the Jordan River development testified to that.

They made concerted endeavours to isolate Israel in the political and diplomatic arenas by using pressure on other States to desist from establishing, or to sever already established, diplomatic relations with Israel and by obstructing the participation of Israel in regional activities of the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies in the Middle East.

They launched continuous attacks on Israel by sending marauders, saboteurs and suicide murder gangs across the borders. In seven years, between the end of the War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign, Israel suffered some 1,300 casualties in these incursions. The Arab States maintained that they considered themselves still in a state of war with Israel, a doctrine expressly repudiated by the Security Council as incompatible with the armistice regime, (Resolution S/2322, 1 September 1951). In practice, however, the attitude of the several Arab States was not uniform, nor were their actions always co-ordinated.

The policy of Lebanon was, relatively speaking, the most moderate. Lebanon, it is true, aligned itself with the political hostility against Israel, adopted a hostile position at the United Nations, and took active part in the economic boycott, but it did not engage in irregular warfare and sabotage, and its border with Israel was on the whole tranquil. Syria, on the other hand, was the most bellicose of all of Israel's neighbours during the entire period. Border incidents, mainly in the demilitarised zones, armed raids, interference with Israeli fishing in the Sea of Galilee, hindrance to the development projects in the Huleh area, wrecking of the regional Unified Plan for the utilisation of the Jordan River waters - these are the principal examples.

For a time, King Abdullah of Jordan thought of concluding a separate peace agreement with Israel and secret talks to that end were held between him and Israeli negotiators, but finally - as in 1948 - he recoiled. In particular, Jordan refused to implement Article VIII of the armistice agreement, and, after the assassination of King Abdullah in July 1951, the number of acts of violence emanating from Jordanian territory against Israel surpassed that of all other Arab States. Of 641 victims between 1951 and 1954 of aggression from across the borders, 466 were claimed by infiltrators from Jordan. This blatant policy of murder, sabotage and robbery generated permanent tension and obliged Israel to pursue a policy of retaliation.

In the early 1950's, Egypt restricted itself to political and economic belligerency, using the maritime blockade and economic boycott as its main weapons against Israel. When the revolutionary officers put an end to the monarchy in 1952, Israel welcomed the new republic and appealed to its new leaders to live in peace. But once the new regime was consolidated, it became evident that Colonel Nasser's ambitions surpassed those of the former regime, that he aspired to the leadership and domination of the entire Arab world and, in pursuit of that aim, he was determined to destroy Israel. From 1955 onward, Egypt led in the number of aggressions against Israel. Special fedayun squads were organised in the Gaza Strip and trained in Egypt. The maritime blockade was heightened and expanded. A powerful Egyptian force was stationed in the Straits of Tiran. Egypt began a military build-up in Sinai. Nasser spoke openly of an impending war of vengeance.

The Czechoslovak-Egyptian arms deal of September 1955, followed by arms supply agreements with the Soviet Union, gravely disturbed the balance of power in the Middle East to Israel's detriment. Already in 1954, the Soviet Union had adopted a one-sided, pro-Arab policy and used it's right of veto in the Security Council to prevent the adoption of any Resolution not palatable to the Arabs. Now it became the main supplier of arms to Egypt and, subsequently, to other Arab States. Israel's requests to the Powers to restore the balance by consignments of arms to Israel were unheeded. Prime Minister Eden of Great Britain advised Israel to seek a territorial compromise with Egypt. A mission undertaken by Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in 1956, at the request of the Security Council, was unsuccessful. A secret peace mission undertaken by Robert Anderson in 1956, at the request of President Eisenhower, also failed to yield results. In that juncture of dire peril, the only comfort for Israel was an arms agreement concluded with France in the summer of 1956.

The progressive worsening of Israel's security and the disintegration of the armistice regime are dealt with in this and succeeding sections.

A. THE PALESTINE CONCILIATION COMMISSION

On 27 April 1949, the Palestine Conciliation Commission, established by the General Assembly in Resolution 194(III) of 11 December 1948, and composed of the representatives of France, Turkey and the United States, convened delegations of Israel and its Arab neighbour States in Lausanne. Armistice agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan had by then been signed, and negotiations with Syria had begun; Israel's application to be admitted to membership in the United Nations had already been approved by the Security Council. The circumstances seemed propitious for further progress. But, from the very beginning, the work of the Commission was seriously hampered by the refusal of the Arab delegations to sit at the same conference table together with the delegation of Israel, whereas Israel suggested direct negotiations. The Commission, therefore, arranged two separate meetings to be held on the same day, 12 May, one with the Arab delegations and the other with the Israel delegation.

At these meetings, agreement was reached on two identical protocols to be signed by the Commission with the delegations. In subsequent meetings, held separately with each of the parties, the Arabs first tried to limit the agenda to the Arab refugee question, demanding the immediate return of the refugees from areas allotted in the original Partition Plan to the Arab State and, for the rest of the refugees, the right of choice between return or compensation. These demands were rejected by Israel's delegation, which maintained that understanding on the territorial issue logically preceded any comprehensive solution of the refugee problem. On the territorial issue, the Arab delegations claimed all the territories allotted to the Arab State under the Partition Plan, as well as Eastern Galilee and the entire Negev, which would have truncated the area of Israel to a narrow coastal strip from a point south of Acre to a point north of Ashdod. Israel suggested that its borders with Lebanon, Syria and Egypt should follow the former frontiers between Mandatory Palestine and those countries, but the frontier with Jordan should follow the armistice line, with some adjustments to be mutually agreed. In other words, Israel asked for the territory actually under its control, and for the Gaza Strip under Egyptian military rule. At a later stage, in August 1949, Israel agreed that the areas under its control should constitute its territory, the future of the Gaza Strip to be determined in further negotiations. But no progress was made in further negotiations between the Commission and the parties.

An attempt by the Commission, in 1951, to obtain a declaration by both sides emphasising their peaceful intentions had been favourably accepted by Israel; the Arab delegations did not react to it. In November 195 1, the Commission admitted its inability to carry out its mandate. The following documents describe the unsuccessful mission of the Palestine Conciliation Commission as reflected in its Progress Reports, and the Israel position as explained by Foreign Minister Sharett. The efforts of the Commission in the refugee issue are dealt with in Section VI.

B. ECONOMIC BOYCOTT

In 1945, the newly formed Arab League began to elaborate the boycott doctrine as a major weapon in the Arab struggle against the Jewish presence in Palestine, and assumed responsibility for the campaign. After the establishment of the State of Israel and the War of Independence, the campaign was intensified. In 195 1, the administrative apparatus of the boycott took definite shape, a central boycott office was opened in Damascus and regional offices were established in other places.

The boycott took two distinct forms: the first was the direct or primary boycott, which was the severance, or prevention, of business relations between Arab countries and Israel; the second, the indirect or secondary boycott, which was the attempt to prevent or disrupt economic relations between neutral parties and Israel by persuasion, pressure, intimidation and sanctions, mainly blacklisting. In this process, companies or individual businessmen were asked to supply detailed information on their commercial relations with Israel and on any link with Israel of a particular person connected with the firm. Suppliers of goods ordered by Arab customers were asked to furnish certificates of origin issued by Chambers of Commerce and declaring that the goods were neither a product of Israel or contained materials or components of Israeli manufacture. Companies which had Jews on their board of directors were also boycotted. The aims of the boycott as a means of economic warfare against Israel were frankly admitted by its organisers and supporters.

The practice of boycott and blockade has been denounced by the United Nations as "unjustified interference with the rights of nations to navigate the seas and trade freely with one another" (Security Council Resolution S/2322, 1 September 1951). Many Governments, Chambers of Commerce and private firms also criticised this illegal practice.

The boycott has not been unsuccessful. Especially in the first years of Israel's existence, its trade, maritime connections, and efforts to attract prospective investors were severely handicapped by the surrender of many concerns to the threats of the Arab Boycott Office. Gradually, Israel found alternative trade partners and, as its economy grew stronger, the effectiveness of the boycott began to weaken. Israel's reactions to the boycott in the 1960's are reviewed in Document 8.

Parallel with the economic boycott were Arab efforts to isolate Israel politically and diplomatically by pressure on Governments not to establish, or if they had been established, to sever diplomatic relations with Israel. Coercion of that kind was especially directed at organisations and States in Asia and Africa, and very noticeably at the Federal Republic of Germany. Arab pressure also resulted in preventing the establishment of regional United Nations Specialised Agencies, for example the split of the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Organisation of, the World Health Organisation and the transfer of Israel from the Near East to the European region of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and the failure at the time to establish a regional Economic Commission of the Middle East due to the opposition of the Arab States to Israel's participation.

C. THE HULEH DISPUTE

A major development project envisaged by the Jewish Agency for Palestine as long ago as the 1930's was the drainage of the lake and marshes of Huleh in Upper Galilee. It had a three-fold purpose: to reclaim an area of over 15,000 acres for intensive cultivation; to rid the malaria-infested area of that disease; to make 100 mcm of water, until then lost by evaporation, available for irrigation as part of an overall water development plan. In 1934, the Palestine Land Development Company (PLDC), a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency, acquired the Huleh Concession from the Palestine Government, but negotiations for the purchase of some adjacent lands delayed the beginning of the operation and then World War Two and the War of Independence intervened.

So work by the PLDC on the project only started in October 1950, with full knowledge of the Syrian Government and the United Nations. The first stage was to broaden and deepen the Jordan riverbed to dry the lake, the second to drain the swamps. The work had to be performed partly within a demilitarised zone, and that involved the permanent use of 6.25 acres owned by 70 Arab inhabitants.

On 14 February 1951, Syria protested to the Mixed Armistice Commission, claiming that the armistice agreement was being violated by Israel; restoration of the civilian life of the Arab inhabitants was demanded. Syria also claimed that Israel was gaining a military advantage by changing the topography of the area. Syria and Israel agreed to seek an opinion of the Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO). Major General Riley delivered his opinion on 7 March 1951. He dismissed the Syrian assertions. He did not, however, limit his advisory opinion to the terms of reference mutually agreed upon by the parties, but discussed general aspects of the armistice regime. According to his view, "any laws, regulations or ordinances in force prior to the Armistice Agreement which affected any areas included in the demilitarised zone are null and void (in a revised wording: are held in abeyance)" Accordingly, the Huleh Concession of 1934 was not to be considered valid in the new circumstances. Israel contended that this ruling on the question of principle was ultra vires, contrary to the practice of the past two years, and absurd in its consequences, putting the area and its inhabitants in a legal vacuum and creating "an island of anarchy dedicated to the maintenance of a swamp." (S/2084, 10 April 1951.) Nevertheless, Israel consented to stop the works for one week, pending clarifications. After the work was resumed on 25 March, the Syrians opened fire on Israeli workers.

Syria was now determined not only to prevent the carrying out of the Huleh project but to obstruct any large-scale development schemes; this was amply proved afterwards in the matter of the utilisation of the Jordan waters. In the pursuit of that wider aim, Syria was interested in escalating the conflict up to the brink of an all-out war.

On 4 April, the Syrians murdered seven Israeli policemen at el-Hamma in the southern demilitarised zone. Israel, by way of reprisal, bombed a Syrian outpost and the police station of el-Hamma. On 2 May, regular Syrian forces crossed into Israel at Tel el-Mutilla, in the central demilitarised zone and heavy fighting ensued in which Israel suffered many losses. The United Nations was ultimately able to arrange a cease-fire.

On 18 May 1951, the Security Council adopted an apparently objective and even-handed Resolution, but in effect it ordered the stoppage of all operations in the demilitarised zone "until such time as an agreement is arranged through the Chairman of the Mixed Armistice Commission for continuing this project". Israel took strong exception to a decision that virtually doomed the area to desolation.

In the end, the PLDC found a way to finish the project by sidestepping the few acres owned by Arabs, and approval for resumption of the work was given by General Riley in June 1951. In 1958 the project was completed; its chief objectives were achieved: highly fertile land was reclaimed; malaria was eradicated to the benefit of Jewish and Arab inhabitants alike, and an extra 100 mcm of water for the National Water Plan were obtained.

D. ISRAEL CALLS FOR PEACE

The relentless hostility of the Arab States did not weaken Israel's resolve to seek peace with them. In spite of the failure of the negotiations with Jordan, the negotiations with the Palestine Conciliation Commission, and efforts exerted through friendly Powers to create an atmosphere of peace, efforts which were unsuccessful, Israel did not despair. Its leaders used every opportunity to spell out their desire for peace. Two such opportunities are contained in this sub-section.

E. ARAB AGGRESSION AND ISRAELI RETALIATION

As more time elapsed without any progress towards a permanent peace, the deficiencies of the armistice agreements became increasingly obvious. Without peace, the long and artificial armistice lines, especially the long line with Jordan, which had no natural obstacles, invited violation and aggression. From 1949 to 1951, the violations were mostly penetrations by Arab civilians for the purpose of theft; but from the second half of 1951, the incursions were more frequent, more serious and better planned. It became evident that the Jordanian Government had embarked on a new policy of irritating Israeli farmers in the border settlements, most of them new immigrants, trying to undermine their morale, with the ultimate aim of forcing a revision of the border line in favour of Jordan. Meetings of local commanders, useful in the first two years of the armistice, were now losing their effect. After much hesitation, Israel decided to retaliate in force, in order to convince the Jordanian authorities that infiltration and robberies, sabotage and murder did not pay. After the murder of a mother and her children in an Israeli border village by marauders from Jordan, Israel responded by an attack on Qibya, the village across the line, whence the killers had come. There were 66 casualties in Qibya. Israel expressed deep regret for the loss of civilian lives, pointing out at the same time that it had suffered 421 casualties by infiltration from Jordan since 1950. The Security Council condemned Israel but also stressed the violations of the armistice by Jordan. After a relative lull, infiltrators struck again, in March 1954, ambushing an Israeli bus near the Scorpion Pass in the Negev, killing eleven passengers. As a result of the investigation, Israel withdrew temporarily from the Israel-Jordan Mixed Armistice Commission. Israel's policy of retaliation had some salutary results on the Jordanian border. From the second half of 1954, there was a decline in infiltration from Jordan.

But at the same time, Egypt began to encourage incursions from the Gaza Strip, carried out by Arab refugees trained by the Egyptian army, and primarily by the Egyptian military intelligence section. Egyptian troops also participated in raids, as part of an overall Egyptian policy of stepped-up belligerency against Israel. After months of a mounting number of Egyptian raids into Israel, the Israel Defence Forces mounted a major retaliatory raid against Gaza (28 February, 1955), in which 37 Egyptian soldiers were killed. Unlike the effect of retaliation on Jordan, the Egyptians continued and even intensified their acts of border violence, leading to a chain of incursions by fedayun and by regular Egyptian troops into Israel, and Israeli counterraids. By early 1956, there was little doubt that Egypt was fanning up the border war with the intention of escalating the tension into a full-scale assault on Israel, or, in other words, the much threatened "second round". The intensified Egyptian warfare also led, in 1956, to renewed Jordanian belligerency. An effort by the Secretary-General to calm the tension, including a visit by Mr. Hammarskjold to the Middle East, failed to yield results.

Border incidents along the Syrian frontier bore a different character. Exploiting its advantageous topographical position, Syria occupied, in the early 1950's, parts of Israeli territory in the southern demilitarised zone at el-Hamma, the Banias area between the Jordan river and the old international border in the northern demilitarised zone, and a strip of land on the north-eastern shore of Lake Kinneret. Israel was unable to prevent these acts of gross violation of the armistice without resorting to war, a decision it was not willing to make. After these successes, Syria proclaimed a belt of 250 metres of the Sea of Galilee as Syrian territorial waters and began to interfere with Israeli fishing activities in this part of the lake. Israel became aware of the grave perils involved in this encroachment of its sovereign rights. After heavy Syrian gunfire on Israeli settlements and fishermen, Israel launched a major attack on the Syrian positions north of the Sea of Galilee on 11 December 1955.

Israel's policy of retaliation, aimed as it was at warning the aggressor and thus preventing war, was relatively successful with regard to Jordan, a country aware of its military inferiority vis-a-vis Israel. But this policy failed to achieve its aim in Egypt and Syria, which were interested in escalation towards war. The following sub-section contains statements of Israeli representatives dealing with major incidents on the borders with Jordan (Ma'aleh Akrabim); Egypt (Gaza) and Syria (Lake Kinneret); and an explanation of Israel's security policy by the Chief of Staff.

F. THE GROWING DANGER TO ISRAEL'S SECURITY

By the fall of 1955, it became evident that Egypt was embarked on the road to war. Massive supplies of Soviet weapons had changed the balance of power in the region. Continued terrorist raids from across Israel's eastern, and primarily southern, borders caused many casualties and much damage. Israel sought to halt these incursions by retaliatory raids, but was unable to do so entirely. Meanwhile, Israel approached the French Government and was able to purchase arms from France. By late 1956 there was an improvement in the Israel Defence Forces' armaments. Efforts by various powers to reduce the growing tension in the area failed, as did a mission by United Nations Secretary-General Hammarskjold. Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Egypt, international efforts centred on securing freedom of navigation for ships of all nations through this waterway, but Israel was specifically excluded. In the fall of 1956 an Arab Command was created which included Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. New dangers faced Israel from the east. The stage was now set for the Sinai campaign. This sub-section deals with the deterioration in the security situation as described by the Prime Ministers of Israel, its Ambassador to the United Nations and the Secretary-General of the world organisation.

 
 
 
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