HL Deb 01 May 1957 vol 203 cc245-8

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their attention has been drawn to a report in the New York Herald Tribune of April 20, stating that aviation-training teams from the Soviet Union are arriving in Syria regularly on a six-week rotation system from the Caucasus, and that the aeroplanes carrying them are photographing strategic areas in Iran and Iraq, and to ask further whether Her Majesty's Government can make any statement on the progress of the build-up of Communist armaments in Egypt and Syria with the purpose of destroying Israel and assisting pro-Communist revolutionary action in the oil-producing Arab States.]


My Lords, I have seen the report referred to by my noble friend Lord Dundee. Her Majesty's Government believe that military technicians and advisers have been arriving in Syria over the past few months from the Soviet bloc to train the Syrian forces in the use of equipment with which they have been supplied. They have, however, no evidence to confirm specifically that aviation-training teams are arriving by air from the Soviet Union on a six-week rotation system, or that strategic areas of Iran and Iraq are being photographed by aircraft transporting such teams.

As regards supplies of Communist arms to Egypt and Syria, as is now generally known, Egypt had received from the Soviet bloc by the end of October, 1956, military equipment to an estimated value of between £120 million and £150 million. Similarly, Syria by the same date had received military equipment to a value of about £20 million. The equipment supplied covered The entire range of Egypt's and Syria's military requirements, including naval vessels, aircraft, tanks and other armoured vehicles, artillery, small arms, motor vehicles and ancillary equipment, together with ammunition and the necessary spare parts. Subsequent to the Suez crisis, in which Egypt lost a considerable quantity of the arms supplied to her from the Soviet bloc, Soviet ships were widely reported to have resumed deliveries of military equipment to both Egypt and Syria. Shipments to Syria were certainly resumed in December; shipments to Egypt were reported to have begun again by February, at least, if not earlier. Her Majesty's Government are not in a position to confirm these reports of renewed deliveries to Egypt but, equally, they have no reason to doubt them.


My Lords, my noble friend has been good enough to give figures up to October of the arms supplied which have since been largely captured by the Israelis. May I ask whether Her Majesty's Government can confirm or deny the reports in the American Press to the effect that within the last few months the Egyptian Army hail been supplied with so many Stalin tanks and MiG aircraft that its strength is now about equal to what it was in October, before the Israeli action? And would it be possible for Her Majesty's Government to represent to our American friends that their diplomatic support of Colonel Nasser is greatly strengthening pro-Communist elements in the Middle East, and particularly at this moment in Jordan?


My Lords, as I said in the last sentence of my reply, Her Majesty's Government are not in a position either to confirm or to deny these reports. We do not know the details of the arms shipments, although we know that some arms are going into both countries. So far as our ability to tell America frankly what we feel about the rôle America has played and may play in the Middle East is concerned, I think my noble friend can rest assured that that was done at the Bermuda meeting.


My Lords, may I ask whether this does not look like part of the new Soviet technique of sending the weapons and equipment into a country in advance, and then, as occasion may arise later, sending in the army to operate those weapons and that equipment?


My Lords, that has been the Soviet technique. It is exactly that technique against which we reacted so strongly in October, on which occasion I wish that we had had more support from a greater number of people.


My Lords, I should like to know whether the answer the noble Earl gave to the first supplementary question does not show an absence of intelligence as to what has gone into those countries in recent months? Does it not show that our Intelligence Service is perhaps a little at fault?


No, my Lords. It only shows that the Government are prudent in giving what news they can.