FIRST KNESSET 1949-1951
Foreign Minister's Statement on the Conflict with Syria
Sitting 251 -- 14 May 1951
The General Armistice Agreement with Syria, the last to be signed in July 1949, was the first to be violated massively. Syria regarded itself as the only invading Arab country which had not been defeated by Israel, and the terms of the Agreement were deliberately vague and ambivalent in some major respects--demilitarization, supervision, sovereignty and normalcy. Internal instability in Syria encouraged an aggressive stance vis-a-vis Israel. On the other hand, some of Israel's major development projects, in the spheres of land reclamation and water utilization, were perforce concentrated in the relatively water-rich area in the north, adjacent to the Syrian frontier. Early in April 1951 seven Israeli policemen were killed by a Syrian ambush in the narrow defile of the Yarmuk River in the demilitarized zone. In view of the difficulties of the terrain, Israel deployed its air force for the first time since the Armistice Agreements had come into effect. Some weeks later, at the beginning of May, Syrian units established themselves on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, west of the mouth of the Jordan River. IDF units, sent piecemeal to dislocate them, suffered heavy casualties before succeeding in their task.
Sitting 251 of the First Knesset
14 May 1951 (8 Iyar 5711)
Knesset Building, Jerusalem
The Foreign Minister, M. Sharett: I would like to report to the Knesset on the situation in the north of the country.
The events of the last few weeks on Israel's northeastern border have been made public at every stage....The Government's responses to these events have also been published in official statements to the press and the institutions of the U.N. and in the speeches of Israel's permanent representative to the U.N., made at the sessions of the Security Council.
It would appear that the conflict erupted as a result of the work to drain the Hula Valley, but the true cause of it lies in the special nature of the Armistice Agreement between Israel and Syria, which is vague on essential points, as well as in the unfounded demands of the Syrian government regarding certain parts of the region. The Government of Israel has always rejected those demands unequivocally, and still does so today.
The conflict reached its peak at the beginning of May, as a result of events which were unconnected with the draining of the Hula swamp, indicating the true nature of the plot confronting us. An armed force consisting of local Arabs, who had been deliberately recruited and armed for this purpose by the Syrian army, as well as well-armed Syrian regulars, seized positions in Israel's territory in and around the central section of the demilitarized zone, and opened fire on our military units. This impudent deed, constituting a blatant infringement of the Armistice Agreement and an act of aggression against Israel, required an immediate and firm response. Early on 6 May an IDF unit attacked the enemy's main outpost on the border of the demilitarized zone...gained control of it and drove those holding it across the Syrian border. The enemy abandoned its other outpost very hastily.
I would like to use this opportunity to praise the heroism of the IDF unit which implemented this mission in very difficult conditions. Particular mention should be made of the valor of soldiers who are recent immigrants. I am sure that all the members of the Knesset join the Government in its gratitude to the officers and soldiers who participated in the action. From this podium I would like to offer condolences to the families of those who fell in the battle; they should be regarded as casualties of the War of Independence, of which this incident is a belated manifestation.
The reliable information received by the Government of Israel regarding the Syrian army's direct responsibility for this escapade and the involvement of army regulars in this action was borne out by the discovery of bodies of soldiers wearing Syrian army uniforms and of large quantitities of modern weapons and equipment...in the outposts.
Israel complained to the Security Council, accusing Syria of infringing the Armistice Agreement and instigating an act of aggression against Israel, and requested an urgent debate on the subject. This took place on 8 May, at a meeting which had already been set aside to discuss the dispute concerning the Hula region. Israel's representative, Mr. Abba Eban, presented Israel's complaint and described Syria's act of aggression. There is reason to believe that the proof he presented there was accepted by most of the members of the Council.
The Security Council resolution, which was passed unanimously, was published in the press. Its main point was: "The Security Council appeals to the sides and to individuals in the areas concerned to cease hostilities, and draws their attention to their undertaking according to Clause 2, Section 4, of the U.N. Charter, on the basis of the Security Council resolution of 15 July 1948, and their commitments under the Armistice Agreement, and accordingly asks them to fulfill the obligations and conditions they have taken upon themselves."
Both Israel and Syria proposed that the resolution be amended. Israel...wanted it to contain an explicit demand that armed forces... leave the demilitarized zone. Syria...wanted it to state that the Arabs who had left the demilitarized zone could return to their homes and that the Israeli police had to leave it. Both amendments were withdrawn before the vote. Israel did so after it had been made clear to our repre-sentative...that the mention of the parties' undertakings in the original resolution also referred to the withdrawal of armed forces from the area.
Israel agreed to maintain the ceasefire...provided the other side did so too. At the moment the area is quiet and the work of draining the Hula swamp is continuing.
Two issues still cause the Government concern: the safety of the Jewish settlements in the demilitarized zone within Israel, and the fact that Syrian forces or local Arabs armed by Syria are there....
On the whole, considering the complex situation arising from the establishment of the demilitarized zone and the conditions of the Armistice Agreement, the situation has improved considerably in the wake of the recent events. Nevertheless, the Government is involved in ensuring the security of the Jewish settlements in the area, which have increased and expanded since the Armistice Agreement was signed. The Government...is determined to act first of all through the institutions of the U.N. in order to eradicate any illegitimate armed force from the demilitarized zone.
The Hula conflict has caused a stir in the neighboring countries....There is only one reason for this: Syria's desires, which have not been and will not be satisfied....
During the War of Independence, when the aggressive invasion was being repulsed, Israel's forces gained control of extensive areas across the border in both the north and the south. They left those areas voluntarily, because Israel has no designs on them. Syria deserves no prize for participating in the Arab attack on Israel....
Just as Israel has no intention of expanding across the border into Syria's territory, it will defend its land against aggression by Syria....It would be better for all those concerned...to take heed of Israel's firm stand.
Motions for the Agenda: The Conflict with Syria
The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: I give the floor to the proposer of the motion, MK Landau.
H. Landau (Herut): Mr. Speaker, we are very surprised that the Government has not allowed a debate to be held in the Knesset following the Syrian aggression and the blood that has been shed in the north, so that those responsible for the events can give a report on them. That is why we have had to demand a debate in this way.
Two years ago the Government of Israel signed an Armistice Agreement with Syria, and in addition to the demilitarization of areas held by the Syrians, our Government agreed to the demilitarization of the Ein Gev and Dardara areas held by Israel. From this podium MK Meridor warned the Government that if the armistice lines passed within Israel's territory they would be a source of conflict and we would have to give in or fight. But the Foreign Minister said that the demilitarization was essential, and that the Syrians sought "peace and stability with Israel." Now, two years later, we see how this assessment has been verified....
The Syrians began their attack...from outside the demilitarized zone, which is also under Israeli sovereignty, and the Foreign Minister makes no mention of that fact...perhaps because he has agreed and given in in advance.
Seven Jewish policemen were murdered by the Syrians and no help was given by the IDF. Instead they turned to that Gentile and asked him to be so kind as to remove the bodies, and this was followed by the bombardment. But for some reason our Government was alarmed by what it had done, and next day the self-justification and self-accusation began, indicating to the Syrians that they could advance and conquer more of our country. That was an opportunity to clean up that area after the murders and the Syrian invasion of our land. It was an opportunity to create a "fait accompli."
The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: Would you please propose your motion.
H. Landau (Herut): I am explaining why it is necessary to discuss it--that is my right. There is a very grave development in that area. After retreating the Syrians advanced again, killed four soldiers and conquered Israeli territory outside the demilitarized zone. Then the Government woke up and the IDF set out to conquer one outpost, in the course of which a great deal of blood was shed. For some reason the Government has concealed this fact.
What is serious is that the Syrian invasion still exists, armed Syrian forces are in the main demilitarized zone, which is under Israeli sovereignty, and the Foreign Minister completely ignores this, regarding the fact that the Syrians have been driven out of Tel-al-Muteila as a great "victory." This worthless policy of retreat cannot be allowed to pass without comment. Nor should the military censor be used to prevent a political debate on recent developments, as the Government has done....Sir, there is nothing to reveal, the world press--
The Foreign Minister, M. Sharett: The censor will protect the security of the state, in accordance with the Government's instructions.
H. Landau (Herut): You think that's the security of the state, but it's the failure of the Government....Let's hear the facts of the matter, so that everyone may know that our policy is one of cowardice. We condemn that policy, because every concession is an admission of failure. Don't evade a debate and don't hide behind supposedly military considerations and the censor's pencil.
Consequently, in view of the fact that our territory has been invaded as a result of inadequate policy...we demand that the entire affair of the Syrian aggression and the behavior of Israel's Government be discussed forthwith.
M. Argov (Chairman, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee): Distinguished Knesset, the issue upon which the statement made by the Foreign Minister...and the question raised by MK Landau focused has been discussed four times in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, including two meetings during the recess. All the political, military and strategic data were presented to all the members of the Committee. What is the point...of bringing them out in public?...We held an extensive debate about the Armistice Agreements at the time, and the Knesset endorsed the Government's view by an overwhelming majority and rejected the views and warnings you uttered then. What is this feeble attempt to speak about the IDF in this way?...Where is your respect for the blood which has been shed? MK Landau, in speaking of the policemen who were murdered you do not know the details of the affair. Explanations were given and statements made about that too. If it is necessary to continue the debate, I state on behalf of the Committee that the Government has given its assurance that...at every stage of this conflict, whether the developments are political or military, the issue will be discussed in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The Government has not given in on three basic issues: the work on the Hula continues, the demilitarization remains in effect...and Israel retains its sovereignty over the demilitarized zone.
H. Landau (Herut): Which army is there?
The Foreign Minister, M. Sharett: You don't know what you're talking about!
M. Argov (Chairman, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee): I can't argue with you here as I do in the Committee....MKs Landau and Bader are so brave, so patriotic, and I, of course, am dwarfed by them....But I think that you should show some respect for those who went armed with bayonets to drive the Syrians out of Israel. (Shouts from MK Landau.)
Do you really think that I regard you as a hero? How can you say that the affair was hushed up when the matter was brought before the Security Council and ended in armed hostilities?...The political campaign is still continuing, and how can you demand that we hold a public debate on all those questions? Can we give you all the reasons here?...
Consequently, I propose that the issue be transferred to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for discussion....If members feel that the subject should be discussed by the plenum, they will be free to do so. At this stage it would be both pointless and irresponsible....
I. Bar-Yehuda (Mapam): Distinguished Knesset, there is no doubt that we are all united in our feelings of gratitude to and sorrow for the families of those who fell, and we are all united in our anger with...and opposition to the Syrian aggression....The additional information we have received from the people living in and around the demilitarized zone fills us with concern, not only for the fate of the settlements but for the way the entire Government functions. That is why we propose that the Foreign Minister's statement on behalf of the Government, and the debate on the situation and the Government's actions, should be transferred to the Committee, which will decide what should be brought to the plenum.
The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: Because of the interruption in our work the members of the Knesset appear to have forgotten our customary procedures. A motion for the agenda has been put forward and it is possible to propose to discuss it, to transfer it to a committee or to remove it from the agenda. One cannot request the floor.
I. Rokeach (General Zionists): I request the floor in order to respond to the Foreign Minister's statement on behalf of my party group.
The Speaker, J. Sprinzak: We will not alter our procedures. MKs should not seek other ways of obtaining the floor.
I. Rokeach (General Zionists): Is there room for a proposal? MK Bernstein wants to make a proposal on our behalf,
The Speaker: The rules determine which proposals may be put forward with regard to a motion for the agenda. I will not give anyone the floor for other proposals. I now put MK Landau's motion that the subject be debated here and the proposal that the discussion be transferred to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to the vote.
(The proposal to debate the matter in the plenum is rejected.)
(The proposal to transfer the discussion to the Committee is adopted.)