March 27, 2015

1955. Bill Downs Interviews Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion

The Lead-Up to the Suez Crisis
Source: Israeli soldiers during the Suez Crisis in 1956

In November 1955 Bill Downs interviewed Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who had just begun second tenure in office.

1. What do you feel are the reasons behind the Communist sale of arms to Egypt?

There are in my view two reasons: a) Russia's traditional urge, dating from the days of the Czarist regime, to penetrate into the Mediterranean and the countries of the Middle East; b) the Soviets' policy to establish a pro-Communist force in the Middle East in opposition to the Northern Tier.

2. Moslem leaders now claim that Israel has an overwhelming superiority in military power. What is your estimate of the situation and how much breathing space do you consider Israel has before Communist arms match Israeli strength?

Israel's superiority in the War of Independence and to this day lies only and exclusively in the moral superiority of her people, which, again, derives from two sources: a) fidelity to the heritage of the prophets of Israel; b) the recognition that our very existence is in danger and that we shall be destroyed unless we defend ourselves with all our might. However, even up till now we have never had superiority in armaments, even less in man-power. Not only the Arab countries as a whole, but even Egypt alone has had more arms and a larger standing army than Israel, even before the receipt of Soviet arms. The danger to Israel's existence will constantly increase unless we, too, receive substantial arms reinforcements.

3. If Israel feels that her friends in the West are delinquent in supplying her additional defensive weapons, would she apply to Communist sources from these things?

A country fighting for her very existence has a right to get arms anywhere. But I think it would be an illusion to expect arms from the Soviet Bloc, and I have not entirely given up hope of the help which we deserve from the United States and the other democratic countries.

4. There has been much speculation that Israel may be forced into a "preventative war." What is your estimate of this possibility?

A preventative war is a war unprevented, and it differs in no way from any other war. We prefer a preventive peace. As I have declared last week in the Knesset, our Parliament, we have never will, but neither shall we tolerate any warlike acts against us, by whatever name they may be called.

5. Egyptian leaders claim that recent Israeli border attacks prove the insincerity of your offer of peace talks with them. What is your government's policy regarding this?

There has never been an Israeli attack against Egypt and I can give my assurance that there never will be one in the future. The Egyptians recently invaded our territory at Nitzana in violation of the Armistice Agreements and International Law. When they refused to leave after repeated requests by representatives of the United Nations, we drove them out by force. But not a single one of our soldiers remained in Egyptian territory, because we have no desire to encroach upon Egypt.
If Nasser wants peace he can have it in five minutes. Let him send me a telegram and he will have an immediate positive reply. Our desire for peace stems from two sources: a) We have learned to value human life, and there is nothing we detest more than the shedding of blood. b) we are busily engaged in the work of development, construction, and absorption of immigrants for the sake of which we have established anew the State of Israel. We want our youth to devote all their energies to creative work, in both the material and spiritual fields.

6. What is your considered estimate of the present danger of full-scale war in the Middle East?

The large-scale supply of arms to Egypt increases the danger of war in the Middle East. This danger can be met in two ways: a) by preventing the flow of arms to Egypt and the other Arab countries; or b) by supplying arms to Israel.

7. What, then, are the requisites for peace and how can this be brought about?

There are two ways to ensure peace: a) If Egypt accepts my invitation to discuss a peaceful settlement; b) if the Great Powers deny all aid to the party which refuses to make peace.