Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Prime Minister Sharett Writes to Nasser, 1954

Another document appearing in the ISA's joint Independence Day collection shown here yesterday, which received much attention in the Hebrew press, is a translation of a message sent to Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt on December 1954 by Israel's second prime minister, Moshe Sharett. The original in English was delivered as an oral message to an Egyptian envoy in Paris by Gideon Raphael, Sharett's advisor.

When the Free Officers deposed the king of Egypt in 1952, Israel hoped that the new regime would concentrate on land reform and solving Egypt's social problems, and be willing to make peace. But these hopes were disappointed. Nasser, who became prime minister in 1954, wanted to become the leader of the Arab world and threatened a "second round" of war. Incidents on the border with Gaza, then under Egyptian rule, multiplied and were followed by Israeli retaliation, in a spiral of escalation. Another problem area was Egyptian refusal to allow Israeli ships through the Suez Canal.
Gamal Abdel Nasser
The arrest of a group of Egyptian Jews accused of sabotage and spying for Israel in the summer of 1954 increased the tension even more. The involvement of Israeli intelligence in this affair, known as the "unfortunate mishap", became known to Sharett only after the arrest and was kept secret from the public. The government did everything possible to help the accused. Unofficial contacts with the Egyptian junta were held, in which the two sides discussed an understanding between them. The letter to Nasser was part of these efforts. However Sharett's hopes of halting the deterioration of relations with Egypt were not realized. Two of the accused were sentenced to death and the rest to long terms in prison. In 1955, a major retaliation operation in Gaza and Nasser's decision to buy arms from Czechoslovakia, led to further tension, and eventually to the Sinai Campaign. 
Newspaper headline on the execution of two of the agents, January 1955

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