Thursday, December 6, 2012

Moshe Sharett and Operation Kinneret: Does Israel Have a Foreign Policy?

A footnote to yesterday's post about the Israeli operation against Syria on December 11-12, 1955 (known as "Operation Kinneret"): you can see quite a different side to this story in the collection of documents in Hebrew in memory of Moshe Sharett, Israel's second prime minister, published by the Archives in 2007.

Sharett generally opposed retaliatory attacks, believing that they had little effect and led to a spiral of violence. He had just been replaced as prime minister by Ben-Gurion, but was still serving as foreign minister. At the time of the operation he was in the United States, trying to raise money and mobilize political support for Israel against the threat of the Soviet-backed Nasser regime in Egypt. In September 1955, Czechoslovakia had announced a massive deal to sell modern arms and planes to Egypt, and Israel was seeking arms from the US to restore the balance. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had not yet given up hope of persuading Nasser to join the Western camp and was reluctant to help Israel. He warned it repeatedly against provoking a war.

The attack on Syria had no immediate cause. It was seen by the press (and still is by some historians) as an attempt by Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan to provoke a war with Syria into which Egypt would be drawn. Dayan favored a preventive war with Egypt before it could absorb the Czech weapons, and Ben-Gurion did too – some of the time. At others he was reluctant to risk war without Great Power support and a guaranteed supply of arms.

Sharett saw the Kinneret operation, which was widely condemned, as a direct attempt to undermine his efforts. Ben-Gurion did not consult him or the acting foreign minister, Golda Meir. Sharett wrote bitterly in his diary: "Defence Minister BG consulted Foreign Minister BG and received the approval of Prime Minister BG."

On December 13 he sent Ben-Gurion a caustic telegram:


In the wake of the retaliation in Syria ... I would like to bring the following facts to your attention.

A. Up till now there has never been a retaliatory operation which in its extent and force was so entirely out of proportion to the damage which preceded it.

B. The series of Syrian attacks on fishing in the Sea of Galilee [Kinneret] (which is dangerous in itself) did not lead to a single casualty in the last few months, whereas we killed fifty people at a single stroke and sacrificed at least four of our own men...

I. The damage to fishing ... has been going on for years, and even if it was decided to react to it with a major and crushing operation, a worse time for it could not have been chosen. It directly contradicts the vital political and diplomatic efforts being made in the name of the government and on its instructions, in both America and Europe, and is bound to give public opinion a false impression, which is completely opposed to the central political and military campaign [we are waging].

J. The question is bound to arise: does Israel have a single government, if so does it have a single policy, and if it does, does this policy consist of obstructing its representatives, sabotaging itself and missing its objectives?


1 comment:

  1. This post and yesterday's post read like the argument between Jacob on one side and Shimon and Levi on the other, regarding the treatment of Shechem following the kidnapping/rape of Dina.