HL Deb 01 June 1967 vol 283 cc55-152

3.10 p.m.

THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (LORD CHALFONT) rose to move, That this House takes note of the situation in the Middle East. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. When the State of Israel was born in May, 1948, its first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, said: We extend our hand in peace and neighbourliness to all the neighbouring States and their peoples, and invite them to co-operate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. On the same day, at a Press Conference, the Secretary-General of the Arab League said: This will be a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the crusades.

I do not quote these statements to suggest that they represent two easily identifiable political attitudes—that would be naive—but simply to say that it would be difficult to imagine a less auspicious setting for the launching of a new State and of a new phase in the turbulent affairs of the Middle East, and to suggest that it can really be no surprise to any of us that to-day the whole peace of the world is threatened, the whole fragile structure of international relations is being shaken to its foundations, by this explosive confrontation between Israel and the Arab States.

There is little to be gained now by raking over the débris of the old argument about the end of the Palestine mandate and the creation of the State of Israel. In those days I was in the Middle East as an infantry soldier, and I know something at first hand of the bitterness and hatred that poisoned the air in those days in Cairo and in Tel Aviv. But the fact is that the State of Israel exists; and it is a fact, too, that the Arab/Israel conflict is one of the most intractable problems of our time. In 1956 and early 1957 it gave rise to the traumatic events of the Suez operation and the international crisis that flared up around it. We have in fact lived with a time bomb ticking away for twenty years in that crucial triangle which lies between Europe, Africa and Asia.

I remember being told in 1948, when I was discussing the events in Palestine, that they were historically inevitable. A distinguished foreign statesman supported his view with a rather brutal quotation: Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. As this doctrine still seems to inform a great deal of policy and action in the Middle East, it is perhaps not irrelevant to recall that that quotation is from the celebrated work entitled Capital by Karl Marx.

In the tense and difficult situation of the last ten years, one of the most encouraging factors until now has been the constructive role played by the United Nations. It was owing to the efforts of the United Nations and to the comparative effectiveness of its peacekeeping machinery in the area, that after the events of 1956 until about a year ago serious clashes on the borders between Israel and the Arab States were avoided.

The peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations were particularly successful on the frontier between Egypt and Israel. The establishment of the United Nations Force there brought calm to what had previously been a dangerous flash point, and the stationing of a United Nations detachment at the point where Egyptian guns had previously dominated the Straits of Aqaba was a material factor in obtaining Israeli agreement to withdraw her troops from Sinai in 1957. This agreement was given on the understanding that the United Nations post would remain, and on the basis of firm declarations that there would be free passage for the ships of all nations through the Gulf of Aqaba. On the Armistice Lines between Israel and Jordan and between Israel and Syria there were more incidents, but even there the observers of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation played an important role in preventing these incidents getting out of hand.

Unfortunately, however, the relatively stable situation which existed on the frontiers between Israel and the Arab States has been eroded during the last year by the training, mainly in Syria, of Arab sabotage groups aiming at a popular liberation war within the frontiers of Israel. "War of liberation" is another familiar phrase. These groups of terrorists have conducted sabotage operations within Israel which have led on occasion to loss of life and damage to property. The Syrian Government, under whose supervision most of these attacks have been carried out, have denied responsibility for these Palestinian groups who, they claim, cannot be prevented from seeking to regain their former home in Palestine.

Much as we deplore these terrorists attacks, and much as we have sympathised with Israel's dilemma in confronting them, we have always made plain to the Israelis our view that retaliation by force is unwise and that it could have incalculable consequences. But the Government and the people of Israel may, I think, be forgiven for believing, with Burke, that there is a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue; and the more so when last October the Israeli Government took to the Security Council a complaint about a raid in the North of Israel, and any hope of effective action by the Security Council to deal with the situation was frustrated by a Soviet veto. We could understand Israel's dissatisfaction at this situation, when the Soviet attitude made it quite impossible for the Security Council to function properly. But we do not consider that this justified the Israeli attack on the Jordanian village of Samu.

After a further spate of incidents on the Syria/Israel border, the Secretary-General of the United Nations appealed to both sides to meet in the Israel-Syria Mixed Armistice Commission which had been boycotted for many years by Israel. The Commission met but nothing effective was achieved, and after an incident in the demilitarised zone south of Lake Tiberius in early April Israel made a further retaliatory attack, this time by air against Syrian gun positions. This attack, although militarily successful, did not stop terrorist attacks, and in May the Prime Minister of Israel and other leaders gave a warning that if such attacks inspired from Syria continued a more severe retaliation would follow.

It may have been on account of these statements, and of misleading reports of an Israeli military build-up, that the United Arab Republic began to make large and ostentatious military moves. The criticism of the United Arab Republic for taking no action when the Israeli Air Force attacks on Syrian positions took place in April may also have played its part. Then on May 16 President Nasser demanded the withdrawal of the United Nations Force, which had so successfully maintained peace on the frontier between Egypt and Israel, and in the Gulf of Aqaba, since 1957.

We sympathise with the difficulties of the Secretary-General when he was confronted with this demand, and we can understand, too, the reluctance which he may have felt to expose members of the United Nations Force to unnecessary risks. Perhaps I may add that I have a great personal admiration, and indeed affection, for U Thant, whom I have come to know well in New York. He is a man dedicated to the cause of peace; a man to whom violence and war are almost painfully repugnant. But, having said that, I must also say that we very greatly regret the hasty withdrawal of the Force without further discussion in the United Nations. We regret also the effect which the sudden disappearance of this Force may have on the whole credibility of United Nations peacekeeping elsewhere in the world. The sudden removal of the United Nations Force meant not only that the screen on the U.A.R./Israel frontier was removed, with a consequently much greater risk of a local flare-up, but also that the way was clear for the Egyptians to occupy the positions overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba from which they had sought to control shipping there before 1956. This they proceeded to do, and President Nasser announced that he would prevent Israel flag ships and strategic cargoes in other ships from passing through the Straits of Tiran which lead into the Gulf of Aqaba.

This attempted reimposition by the United Arab Republic of a stranglehold on the Israel port of Eilat, which the Israelis had successfully fought to break in 1956, has produced a situation fraught with the gravest risks of war. In 1957 the Israel Government declared that they would regard interference with their shipping as an aggressive act entitling them to take measures of self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. But this is a matter which concerns countries other than Israel. Her Majesty's Government regard the principle of free passage through the Straits of Tiran as well established under International Law. Our delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations said in 1957: The Straits of Tiran must be regarded as an international waterway, through which the vessels of all nations have a right of passage. Her Majesty's Government will assert this right on behalf of all British shipping, and they are prepared to join with others to secure general recognition of this right. Other delegates made similar statements. As your Lordships know, the Prime Minister reaffirmed Her Majesty's Government's position on this subject last week, and again last night in another place.

It is against the threatening background which I have outlined that Her Majesty's Government have had to consider what to do to secure a peaceful settlement for the problem of the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba. But, my Lords, as was once said in an entirely different context, determining a point of law is less important than restoring tranquillity. There is much more at stake here than a simple juridical argument about territorial waters. It goes without saying that we should like to see a peaceful, negotiated settlement, not only of the specific problem of freedom of passage into the Gulf of Aqaba but also of the wider tensions in the area. We are under no illusions about the difficulty of this task at a time when passions have become dangerously inflamed. In any efforts we make we certainly do not wish to take sides between Israel and the Arabs, nor between different Arab groups. Our aim is to see peace and stability in the Middle East in which orderly and fruitful development can go on in the interests of all the peoples of the area. We can understand Arab feelings about Palestine, and we should like to see a final settlement taking account of their interests. But we cannot ignore the fact that the State of Israel has existed for nearly twenty years; and, my Lords, her 2½ million people cannot simply be blotted from the map.

We believe that in this difficult situation the United Nations has a most important part to play. As I have said, the United Nations Force made a most important contribution to keeping the peace for ten years, and we now have to look for some alternative way of bringing the United Nations effectively into the Arab/Israel situation. We welcomed the initiative of U Thant in going to Cairo, and we agree with him that what is now needed is a breathing space to allow the United Nations to work in a moderating and conciliatory way. The Secretary-General referred in his report to the need for all concerned to exercise special restraint, to forgo belligerence and to avoid all other actions which could increase tension"; and, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear in another place, we should consider as acts of belligerence any unilateral act to close the Gulf of Aqaba or any acts of aggression committed by either side on the Israel/Arab border.

My Lords, there are many tasks which the United Nations might perform in the present situation. A reduction of forces at an early date on either side of the frontier between Israel and her Arab neighbours is desirable. There is an urgent need for some new kind of United Nations presence in the area. The Secretary-General might send to the area some prominent person on a conciliatory mission as his personal representative. These and other possible ideas and openings we shall pursue vigorously at the United Nations if we think they may lead to improved machinery for keeping the peace in the area. But as we cannot be certain of the outcome in New York, we have also been keeping in direct touch with other Governments, through our Ambassadors in their capitals, and on the crucial question of freedom of navigation through the Gulf of Aqaba we have been in the closest touch with other maritime countries which share with us a vital interest in the freedom of the seas.

As the Prime Minister reaffirmed recently, our position is that the Straits of Tiran must be regarded as an international waterway through which vessels of all nations have a right of passage. He also said: Her Majesty's Government will assert this right on behalf of all British shipping and is prepared to join with others to secure a general recognition of this right". We are now discussing with other Governments which share our views on this right of free passage exactly what we and they can do together to assist and secure this right. We are consulting with these countries with a view to issuing a declara- tion that the Gulf of Aqaba is an international waterway through which the vessels of all nations have a right of passage. We believe that such a declaration would be conducive to restraint and would give us the time needed to find longer-term solutions.

We must, of course, face the fact that all these diplomatic initiatives may fail, and we shall consult with others concerned about the situation that will arise if that is the case. We hope, however, that the United Nations, or the declarations made by countries outside the framework of the United Nations, will be enough to secure the right of innocent passage to which we and all maritime nations attach such importance; and we shall use every diplomatic effort to this end.

In the last few weeks we have been reminded yet again of the precarious balance on which the peace of the Middle East has rested for the last ten years. In this area, where so many political, economic and strategic interests compete and coincide, where passionate nationalisms clash and where sophisticated armouries have been built up on either side, it is difficult to believe that fighting, once it starts, can be confined to the countries concerned. With armies mobilised in Israel and in the United Arab Republic and other Arab States, and with so much depending upon the advantages of striking first, the smallest incident could rapidly have the whole region in flames; and it is with this wider threat to peace in their mind that the Government have taken so grave a view of the present crisis.

My Lords, there is a more serious menace lurking just below the surface of this crisis. In the negotiations I have been engaged in over the last two and a half years to try to achieve a treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons there is one theme that I have returned to again and again. It is that if the nuclear weapon spreads outside the main political confrontations of the world into areas of local conflict, the dangers of nuclear war will increase almost beyond calculation. I do not want to sound a note too self-consciously apocalyptic, but I would remind your Lordships' House that Israel is one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of the development of its nuclear technology. Its nuclear reactor at Dimona is of the most modern type, and there is absolutely no doubt in the minds of our experts that Israel will be in a position to explode a nuclear device within a few years of taking the political decision to do so.

If this should happen let us be in no doubt that much will be violently and perhaps irrevocably changed. Apart from the effects on international relations as a whole and apart from the irretrievable damage that will be done to any prospect of serious disarmament, we should have the beginnings of a situation in the Middle East that would be infinitely more perilous than anything even in the present crisis. Israel and the Arab countries would be subjected to all the familiar pressures of nuclear confrontation—the instability, the arguments about preemptive strikes and counter-city strategies, and all the rest of the panoply and paraphernalia of nuclear weapons. Whatever one may say now about the inevitability of Great Power involvement in an Arab/Israel war, if nuclear weapons come into the picture there can be very little doubt that we would all be involved and that we might, what is more, be involved in nuclear war.

That is why, my Lords, it is important not simply to damp down the present crisis in the Middle East and leave its causes festering at the roots. We must tackle the basic causes of the disease and not just treat its symptoms. I do not pretend to offer any simple plan for this; but of one thing I am certain. We shall not solve the awful problems of the Middle East so long as it remains a cockpit for Great Power politics. The concept of pouring armaments into the area in some vague hope of preserving a balance of power is doomed to failure and disaster. And it is clear that the Great Powers on their own are reluctant to abandon this particular modern technique of wielding strategic influence. But unless they do abandon it, unless they are prepared to co-operate imaginatively within the framework of the United Nations, we should be under no illusion. The dangers will not go away even if we succeed now, this week or this month, in taking the fuses out of the explosive charge that lies across the Middle East. And next time, perhaps in months, perhaps in years—and there will be a next time—it may be that the wiser counsels that have prevailed on this occasion will be overwhelmed. There will be those who will argue, especially in Israel, that the problem can be permanently settled only by a sudden, paralysing military blow. And if there are nuclear weapons to be used, who can say with certainty that they will not be used?

This situation, my Lords, is a vital test for the United Nations and for the whole great experiment in international cooperation. Already there is bitter disappointment that the United Nations has failed to exert any decisive influence upon the course of events in Vietnam; there is dismay that the whole concept of the peacekeeping force has been put at risk by the withdrawal of the United Nations force from the Middle East; and if it now becomes clear that the solution to the desperate problems of the area must be sought outside the framework of the United Nations, another blow will have been dealt to the whole great idea of international co-operation and authority.

Those of us who still believe passionately, as I do, that the only real hope for a world of sanity and peace lies in the United Nations—imperfect and frustrating as its operations may sometimes be—will pray that somehow it will find the strength and the support to take the lead in bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East. It is in this spirit and with this aim that Her Majesty's Government continue to take their own share of the burden. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in the Middle East.—(Lord Chalfont.)

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, no-one in this House having heard the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, or having listened yesterday to the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister, will under-estimate the gravity of the situation in the Middle East and the dangers that may arise unless a settlement—and, as the noble Lord has just said, a permanent settlement—is found in the near future. I think the House will be grateful to the noble Lord opposite for the very careful way in which he introduced this Motion. As I think this is the first occasion since the House has resumed on which the noble Lord has made a speech, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches may I be allowed to wish him good fortune in the job he has just undertaken in connection with the Common Market negotiations.

My Lords, this crisis seems to have blown up rather suddenly; and one wonders why it should have happened at this particular moment. Perhaps we have had our heads in the sand over these last few years and have not sufficiently appreciated, or have not allowed ourselves to appreciate fully, the strength of feeling which exists in the Arab world about the very existence of Israel, and the determination and passion with which Israel, as a State, intends to defend what she has. No doubt the crisis could have come about at any time in the past ten years, but I should have thought that there was no doubt that the particular timing is not unconnected with the Soviet Union in the Middle East.

Over the last ten years the sympathy of Russia towards the Arab cause has been plain. It seems recently that this support has become rather more active and may well have been one of the factors which caused President Nasser to choose this moment. Russian motives are usually very logical, and the Russians may have decided that this is the right time to increase their influence in the Middle East. Perhaps, too, it is not unconnected with Vietnam and the hope that trouble in the Middle East may induce the Americans to take a softer line in Vietnam. Who knows? But we can hope that the Russians realise the dangers in what has been happening and can still decide before it is too late on a policy of restraint.

But however that may be, we are still left with the Arab-Israeli hostility which has existed since the formation of the State of Israel. It seems to me to be profitless to discuss whether or not the British Government were right or wrong in what they did in the post-war years, or to enter into legalistic arguments as to the exact status of Israel vis-à-vis the Arab countries. The fact remains that the State of Israel exists (and has existed for nearly twenty years) and has been recognised by the United Nations, and that some way of mediation and moderation must be found in order that she may continue to exist.

Naturally, one turns first of all to the United Nations. Here I must say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—and I am sure that the House agrees also—that we have all been profoundly disappointed at the performance of the United Nations in the last fortnight or three weeks. It is very easy to criticise the Secretary-General. U Thant has a Herculean task. He has now, and has had, the, support of all of us who remember the notable speech that he made in the Palace of Westminster some months ago and the impression that he then made. No one should underestimate the difficulty of his position. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly took the wrong decision in withdrawing the United Nations Force from the Gaza Strip and from the position overlooking the Straits of Tiran.

Of course, all sorts of complications arise if a sovereign State does not wish to have United Nations troops on its soil. But, after all, the Government of Egypt did enter into an understanding with the United Nations on the establishment of this Force, and in the aide-mémoire which followed that agreement it stated: … that when exercising its sovereign rights that is, Egypt's sovereign rights— on any matter concerning the functioning of the United Nations Force it will be guided in good faith by its acceptance of the General Assembly resolution of 5th November. Your Lordships will remember that that resolution referred to the need to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities.

My Lords, the Secretary-General did not authorise the establishment of that Force, nor was he responsible for its continuance. It was set up under the United Peace procedure of the General Assembly, and before the Secretary-General agreed to the withdrawal there should certainly have been discussions in the General Assembly, for the Force was set up precisely to ensure that the situation which has now arisen should not arise. It was part of the settlement reached by both sides after the Suez affair, and I do not think that the members of the United Nations should be put in the position of having to accept the unilateral action of Egypt in a matter in which they have been so greatly concerned over the past ten years.

I very much agree with the Foreign Secretary, who said, in so many words, that action of this sort made a farce of the peace-keeping activities of the United Nations. Certainly it is a lesson which we should all learn for the future and must take to heart. As Mr. Heath said yesterday in another place, it might have the most serious repercussions in other parts of the world where United Nations forces are stationed, notably in Cyprus. The United Nations Force at Gaza and in the Straits of Tiran was a model, until recently, of how the United Nations could keep the peace, and it is sad indeed that it has ended—I hope that it has only temporarily ended—in this fashion.

But the most important problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, indicated in his speech, seems to be the question of the Gulf of Aqaba and the right of access through the Straits of Tiran. Anybody who has been concerned with the problems of territorial waters and the rights of innocent passage—and I was concerned in some degree when I was First Lord of the Admiralty, though not nearly so much as my noble and learned friend, Lord Dilhorne—knows how thorny are the legal problems and pitfalls. In this case, however, certain things are abundantly clear. There can be no doubt as to what are the effects of closing the Gulf to Israel. She is deprived of the usual route for her oil supplies. I believe about 90 per cent. of those supplies come from the Gulf of Aqaba. For ten years Israel's shipping has used the Gulf of Aqaba and has done so under the auspices of the United Nations. The establishment of the United Nations Force in that area of itself makes plain that the United Nations considers the Straits an international waterway, and unless some settlement can be arrived at it is difficult to see how the Israelis can do absolutely nothing and submit to an alteration of a position which was guaranteed to them in the settlement of 1957. For it must be remembered that the Egyptians were prepared to agree to the establishment of the United Nations Force in the Straits of Tiran and consequently to the right of Israeli shipping to use the Straits; and President Nasser's declaration last week was clearly a breach of that agreement. I must say, my Lords, that for myself I think it says a great deal for the restraint and moderation of the Israelis that so far they have not taken any action other than to appeal to their friends to help them.

We must also realise that there are other consequences, possibly far-reaching consequences, which may result from a tacit acceptance of the Egyptian action in closing the Straits. They go much further than the immediate problem of an Israeli-Egyptian conflict or clash, for to a very large extent we rely for our livelihood on the freedom of the seas. As a maritime country our right of passage in the international waterways of the world is vital to us. There are a number of other straits which in similar circumstances might be closed by the action of a single country if the 12-mile territorial rule were applied. The Sunda Straits are one example. There are many others.

This is a problem which simply cannot be ignored by the maritime countries of the world and we should seek, as I understand we are seeking, to get the United Nations to reaffirm the position as it was before President Nasser's action. For the last ten years the Straits have been accepted by the United Nations, and by Egypt, as an international waterway. This cannot be changed by the action of one country, and the United Nations should make it absolutely plain that there can be no tame acceptance of a fait accompli just because it is easier and less controversial. I was very glad to hear what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday in the House of Commons, that we would not be satisfied with an inequitable solution of this problem.

My Lords, it seems to me—and this too was said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, though in different words—that unless the members of the United Nations apply the Charter of the United Nations fairly and without fear, that organisation itself will become weaker and weaker and more and more discredited. If a settlement of the kind outlined by the Government were to be achieved, that would do something to restore the rather tarnished reputation with which the United Nations has, so far, emerged from this crisis. As the noble Lord says, if this fails, the maritime nations should band together and do what the United Nations should have done in the name of the maritime nations of the world. Here again, I greatly welcome what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said yesterday.

Of course it is right that we should consult our friends on what needs to be done if the United Nations fails to do it. This is surely prudent and proper, and I do not think that any of your Lordships would wish to press the Government further as to what exactly they would propose to do, and how they would act, at this particular moment. If we do not support the view expressed originally by Sir Alan Noble in 1957 and repeated by the Foreign Minister at the start of this crisis, it seems to me that British interests and the interests of all maritime nations will have suffered a considerable set-back. I do not know, but it may be that in the end—I very much hope not—it will be necessary to threaten force or to use force in some international arrangement.

I notice, my Lords, that we have an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea and an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. I would say only this, though I realise that it is not strictly relevant to this debate; that it becomes more and more noticeable as time goes on how, in every succeeding crisis, the first thing that any Government of whatever political complexion does is to ask the Minister of Defence, "Where are the Royal Navy aircraft carriers?". They are vital units which can support British policy. They are mobile airfields on which on every occasion the Government seek to rely; and I should not be a bit surprised, if and when the Government decide to leave Aden, if they find it necessary to support whatever Government they leave behind with airpower from the sea. I hope that the crises have done something, if nothing else, to make Ministers think again about their decision to let the Fleet Air Arm die. It was always a bad decision, and each succeeding crisis underlines it. Perhaps the events of the last few weeks may bring home, even to the most diehard opponents of naval power, that if the country is to exert any influence throughout the world, air power deployed from the sea is essential.

There is one other matter I should like to touch on and about which I think that something ought to be said. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, did say something about it. It concerns a letter printed in yesterday's Times by Mr. Alastair Buchan, in which I think he put a most important point. I do not know how near to becoming a nuclear Power Israel is. The noble Lord gave us to understand that a political decision on this had not been made. He may well be right—I do not know. But there can surely be no question that if Israel feels herself isolated, and if she feels that she has suffered a reverse of considerable magnitude, there will be an increasing temptation for her to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent, and perhaps, in the last resort, for use. If she lets it be known that this is what she proposes to do the consequences may be catastrophic. For what will Egypt do? What will the Soviet Union do? And how will they react? What will happen to the nonproliferation agreement, for which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has worked so laboriously? I very much hope that this aspect of the problem will be forcibly brought home to the United Nations, and that the possible consequences of inaction will be underlined, for it could be that out of this crisis the most dangerous result will be the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Should that happen, it would be a truly disastrous thing for the whole world.

To sum up, it seems to me that we are really faced with a decision whether or not to let a small country be snuffed out of existence by its neighbours. This is not to be pro-Arab or pro-Israeli. It seems to me that it is just to take a realistic view of the pattern of events in the world. None of us wishes to be other than friends with both Arabs and Israelis. We seek nothing from either, save friendship and trade. But if the United Nations allows Israel to be destroyed, what happens next? I think that a leading article in the Daily Mail yesterday spelt this out very clearly in saying that if the present situation was allowed to stand, Israel might well be in the position of Czechoslovakia in 1938. This, clearly, should not be allowed, and I entirely agree with what the Government are trying to do to prevent this happening.

Let us first of all try to persuade the United Nations to take the action which has been outlined over the Gulf of Aqaba and to restore the United Nations Force on the Gaza Strip—on both sides of it, if possible. If that fails, I think that the Government will be quite right to consult with other maritime Powers to make clear what we consider to be the important principles at stake in the Gulf of Aqaba. I am sure that we on this side of the House will do all that we can to help the Government in following this policy, which I believe to be in the best interests of Britain.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we all greatly appreciated the grave, constructive and, I think, farsighted speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who introduced this Motion. May I also extend my personal congratulations to him on his new appointment, because he is there embarking on a realm which is very dear to my own heart. May I say also that noble Lords on these Benches very much appreciated the speeches of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in another place yesterday, particularly their calm and rather cautious attitude towards the terrible problem which besets us now.

But I think that we must admit that the rôle of Britain in the present Middle Eastern crisis, though of course it is important, is not decisive. Perhaps it would have been more decisive if by this time he had succeeded in making in Western Europe some kind of entity which could have a policy of its own. I am sure it is in that direction that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will be working in the months and years to come. But it is not so, and though, as I say, our rôle is important, we cannot delude ourselves in thinking that it is in any way decisive.

I suggest, in fact, that any peaceful settlement of this terrible dispute in the Middle East depends primarily on the relationship between the two super Powers, America and Russia—in other words that if it is going to be solved, it will have to be solved in accordance with the unwritten rules of the famous "balance of terror". The theory of this balance is that in areas where they are directly opposed to each other, where there is military confrontation, neither side does anything to provoke a military clash, whereas in areas where they both have interests but are not directly present militarily, they are, so it would appear, at liberty to pursue their own interests and promote those of their friends and allies only up to the point at which there is a real risk of their becoming directly involved themselves.

So tar as the Middle East is concerned, it is an unfortunate fact that most of the Arabs have now chosen the Soviet Union as their ultimate protector, while the Israelis rightly look primarily to the United States, which, after all, was largely responsible for the setting up of the State of Israel. If, therefore, the game is to be played in accordance with the rules each of the super-Powers will see that there is a point beyond which it cannot legitimately go in furthering the interests of its own friends to the detriment of the friends of the other.

If one thing is certain, for instance, it is that should the Arabs attack Israel and show signs of wanting to push the Israelis into the sea, which in a sense is their declared intention, the United States would either have to intervene and give military aid to the hard-pressed Israelis or suffer a major defeat which would endanger American interests all over the world. Equally, if hostilities should break out, and the Israelis showed signs of chasing the Egyptians back to the Suez Canal, and beyond, the Russians would probably in the circumstances be forced to intervene and send their planes, materials and even troops—so-called "volunteers"—in order to maintain the position of the Egyptians. So if logic is any guide, it would seem that neither one super-Power nor the other can afford to see actual large-scale hostilities breaking out between Israel and her neighbours. For if this happens the situation might get out of hand, with the really dangerous consequences alluded to by both the noble Lords who have spoken.

It would also seem to be in accordance with the theory that if by any chance one side scores a heavy success at the expense of the other in one of these areas, it is legitimate for the protector of the side unfavourably affected to insist on its having some kind of compensating advantage with the object of maintaining the status quo, and preventing the spread of hostilities. The sudden advance of the Egyptians in Sinai, coupled with the immediate disbandment of the United Nations Emergency Force, in accordance with the wishes of the Secretary-General (which I may say I join with the two previous speakers in deploring), and, most importantly, the blocking of the Straits of Tiran which had been open to Israeli shipping since the settlement of 1957, has put Israel in a weak strategic position and has thus increased the danger of uncontrolled hostilities. Therefore it is here that something has to be done.

No doubt the Egyptians took action, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, only after secret negotiations with the Russians—possibly when Mr. Gromyko was in Cairo at the beginning of April—and they must have considered very carefully their riposte to any move on the American side. I think it is very possible that they assumed that the moment was ripe for some successful Egyptian coup owing to American preoccupation with Vietnam. But it is most improbable that the Russians actually informed the Egyptians that they would risk war with the United States of America if the Americans, by any chance, did take some kind of forceful action on behalf of Israel as a result of the Egyptian moves. The Russians have, of course, implied that they might, and I am afraid it looks as if the suspicion that America will not take any effective action to support her protégé has resulted in the remarkable, though perhaps not very durable, reconciliation of King Hussein and President Nasser. If Nasser is really going to be allowed to raise the banner of the Holy War, obviously no Arab State can afford to be elsewhere than on the bandwagon.

So there is, I think, only one way to rectify this imbalance, and, as I see it, it is one which would be in accordance with the rules of this extraordinary game. It is for the Americans, in association no doubt with ourselves and any other maritime Power that can be induced to join us, to insist by one means or another on the opening of the Straits of Tiran to international shipping. Presumably they are at this moment so insisting with the Egyptians; and if they are, they should certainly enjoy, if they are not already enjoying, our full support. But if this diplomatic procedure does not succeed, then it should be clearly indicated—and in diplomacy it is always desirable to be clear on essential points—that the maritime Powers, with America at their head, would take such measures as are necessary to open the Straits by any means that seem good to them. For, I repeat, it is only if this is done that we shall have a chance of avoiding the outbreak of hostilities which would certainly be difficult to control, or, alternatively, the collapse of the State of Israel, which would imply a major victory for one super-Power over the other and a grave blow, therefore, to the balance of terror, and, in the long run, a real increase in the danger of general war.

It may be said that if they get to the point of issuing such an ultimatum, and still more of carrying it out, the Western Powers would be trespassing on the preserve of the United Nations. This is no doubt true in theory; but if anything has been quite clear since 1947 it is that in the event of a major confrontation between its most powerful members the world Organisation is really helpless, at any rate from the point of view of the preservation of peace. It will certainly have a role to play as an intermediary and as a body making for peace generally when such a clash is not absolutely manifest; that is to say, when it is disguised in some way or other. For instance, it can, with the consent of all concerned, put observers or non-combatant troops in a given area so as to hold the fort; and no doubt it will do this in the future. Of course, nothing I say should be taken as meaning that I am against the United Nations or suggesting that it is totally useless and we should not back it up. Naturally we back it up to the limit of our power, but we should recognise that in some defined circumstances it just cannot function. If indeed the confrontation really takes place—as it did over Cuba, or previously over Berlin—then I repeat that it can be only the super-Powers themselves who can deal with the crisis by employing the rules of this game of the balance of terror to which I have already alluded.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me these remarks of a rather theoretical nature, but I think it is necessary, when we consider the immediate crisis, to try to see the situation as a whole and the real reasons behind it. At any rate, the conclusion which I draw as to our immediate conduct in this dispute is that we should fully support any eventual American action designed to open the Straits of Tiran, supposing that negotiations have failed to do so. Maybe the Government should not say this now, but those who are not in the Government can, and I think they should. How exactly we, for our part, could help the Americans would seem to depend, in the first place, on the nature of any action which they may be contemplating if peaceful negotiations for the freeing of the Straits fail, and on the disposal of such units as we may have in the immediate neighbourhood. But obviously it is not the time or place to consider such matters this afternoon.

Two things would seem to stand out fairly prominently when such a move is under consideration. First, the United Nations itself is entirely unlikely to come up with any formula which would lead to a solution of the present dispute between Israel and her neighbours; and secondly, the longer the delay in bringing the issue of the freeing of the Straits to a head the more likely it will be that there will be some desperate action on the part of the Israelis. There is no doubt, therefore, to our way of thinking on these Benches, that though the Government should rightly be cautious, they should also be firm in expressing their point of view, at any rate in their dealings with the Americans and with any of the other maritime Powers involved. For though the situation is still very dangerous, there is no doubt room for a continuing diplomacy.

As I see it, for instance, it would be desirable for the Israelis, provided the Straits are effectively opened to shipping bound for Eilat, to agree to the exclusion of Israeli warships and of vessels actually flying the Israeli flag. There may also be other reasonable conditions which could be negotiated. It might well help if the Israelis could now agree to some kind of United Nations body—observers or whatever it might be—being stationed on their own territory.

More generally, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said about the enormous danger of the nuclear element if things get out of control, even if not immediately. Unless we can find some way of arriving at a more constructive, peaceful solution than seems at present possible, that is something that will always be hanging over our heads.

But, as I see it, the maintenance of peace and the uninterrupted flow of oil supplies to the West depend primarily on the maintenance and operation of the balance of terror, which both the superPowers—though there have been some nerve-racking moments—have successfully operated up till now. In this process we can play a useful but in no way a determining part. It is still probable that if we all play our cards correctly the position of Israel, though no doubt weakened, will be preserved, while the present Arab bloc—many of whom really do not want to come under the influence of Communism—will be likely once again to disintegrate from a practical, if not from a theoretical, point of view.

In the long run, the idea of some balance of power in the Middle East as a whole probably still holds good, but the Arabs must be persuaded, in the first place, that Israel is not really a menace to them; and, in the second place, that even if they wanted to, they would not be allowed to push the Israelis into the sea. In human affairs we are admittedly often the victims of the irrational; but provided that we in the West—and that primarily means the Americans—stick firmly to the principle that the State of Israel must continue to exist and to trade in peace with the rest of the world, and do not lose our nerve, I believe we should avoid a general, or even a local war and emerge successfully from the present crisis.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with the other speakers in thanking the noble Lord who opened this debate for the lucidity of the account which he gave us, and also to congratulate him on his new activities. Unhappily, there cannot be any disagreement this afternoon in this House about the extreme gravity of the situation which we have to discuss. In these conditions, it seems to me, we have, all of us, a certain obligation; and if we have opinions about the present situation, and any counsel to offer, it is our duty to say so in this place and at this time. It is in that spirit that I propose to detain your Lordships for only a comparatively short time this afternoon.

Several reflections have been made, in the debate in another place yesterday and by my noble friend this afternoon, about the suddenness of the impact of the crisis in which we now find ourselves; and a variety of explanations have been given.

One which my noble friend gave was the influence of Russia on the proceeding. That may well be so. But I think there is another reason, one which has perhaps not been attended to as it should have been over recent years; that is, the forgotten war, the terrible slaughter and devastation which have taken place in the Yemen over the last five years.

In this country, naturally enough, those hostilities have not been closely observed. But it is fair to say that their duration and their cost have been phenomenal, even by modern standards. I have seen figures—I do not know whether they are correct—that in what I may call the first phase of the hostilities, that is, up to the period of the armistice of 1965, there were something like 100,000 dead in the Yemen. Whether that be true or not, it is certain that the efforts of the United Nations, and even the terms of the armistice made between President Nasser and King Feisal, never came to fruition. And I think it not unfair to say that this was on account of the reluctance (shall we say?) of the Egyptian Government to reduce their forces at any time.

That fighting, and the cost of it, has had its effect throughout the Arab world; and I think it not at all unlikely that one of the influences which led to this revival of a strident anti-Israel call—which is what this really is—was the desire to some extent to escape from the tragedy of the Yemen. At least I think that may have been so. And if any of your Lordships is interested in what has happened there, may I say that I happened to read the other day a book by a distinguished Swedish General, General Von Horn, who, as your Lordships know, was commanding the United Nations forces there at one time. However that may be, that situation has also its effect for us.

Nobody so far this afternoon has mentioned Aden, and I do not want to go into the situation there at any length. I think I saw something Lord Shackleton said on his return which seemed to me very wise. I imagine—I do not ask, but I imagine—that the Government are considering the situation afresh in the light of recent developments in other parts of the Middle East. I can understand and share the wish that we should not be involved in a lasting commitment once a decision has been taken that at some date we have to withdraw. The question is whether we can find some way through which gives to Aden a fair chance of survival in freedom to run its own affairs, without at the same time landing us with an indefinite and, shall we say, unsatisfactory commitment. There are various possibilities, and I have no doubt that several of them are in the noble Lord's mind.

It has seemed to me that in the present situation it would not be unreasonable for us to guarantee against external interference for a fixed and definitely limited period, with the added proviso that the commitment would at once disappear the moment that all Egyptian forces were withdrawn from the Yemen. At least that is a possibility which, without injuring anybody, could assist to loosen up a situation which is so full of danger at the present time. I think there can be little doubt either way in our minds that the present situation would not have arisen in respect of Israel if these troops had not been in the Yemen for all this time, not for the immediate objective but in search of something much wider—that is, Aden and beyond.

Now, my Lords, I come to the actual immediate situation as it is now. We are told from time to time that it is very important to gain a period for a breathing space. I think that was mentioned this afternoon. But of course, unfortunately, the right moment for that exercise, with which I thoroughly agree, was before, and not after, the United Nations troops were withdrawn from the Middle East. The immense difficulty which the Governments now face is that the best defensive arrangement they have has disappeared overnight, as it were, and they are now told to conjure up something which will find a solution for a situation that ought never have been allowed to arise. I have no desire at all to join in criticism of the United Nations Secretary-General, but I must say that I do think it quite extraordinary that there was no summoning either of the Security Council or of the General Assembly—the latter, certainly—as I think there should have been, before this devastating decision—for such it was—was taken. But, that being so, what, unfortunately, we cannot escape is that, that decision having been taken, it cannot be put back overnight, and the Governments have to face far greater difficulties than would otherwise have been there. And it is no use trying to belittle now the consequences of that action and the Egyptian President's declaration about the Gulf of Aqaba.

What is evidently aimed at by the Egyptian Power now is not the question of their rights to their own territorial waters, but whether they can take some action which will finally strangle Israel. That is the issue, and we must not delude ourselves or get lost in very fine arguments about the rights in the international waters. My noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne is going to talk with authority on that subject later. But I find it most astonishing to see our Russian friends announcing their support for the Egyptian doctrine in the Gulf of Aqaba. I remember in 1936 the very prolonged negotiations which we had in order to enable the Treaty of Montreux to be agreed, under which at this very moment Russian ships, not her peaceful merchant ships, but large, thumping warships, are passing through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the Mediterranean. That Russia, of all countries, should say that Israel is to blame for aggression because she complains when her right to free access to the ocean is denied to her seems to me the most extraordinary doctrine—an extravagant doctrine, shall we call it? If it were followed through in Russia's case, as she wants to follow it through in poor Israel's case, I do not suppose the Russians could ever come out of the Gulf of Finland at all; they would be bottled in there for ever. It just shows the lengths to which distortion can go in a desire to put somebody in the wrong. I would say that there is no reason in equity or in law why Israel should not enjoy exactly the same rights in the Gulf of Aqaba as the Russians enjoy in the Sea of Marmora, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles to-day—the more so as Israel has been given this very definite undertaking which was mentioned by the right honourable gentleman at the beginning of his speech, and more particularly by the United States of America.

My Lords, the question that now arises —the difficult question which was broached by my noble friend just now—is what is to be done in the face of this deliberate threat to the life of Israel, couched in such menacing terms. I think there are certain things that we should remember: first, that Israel is, and has been for many years, a member of the United Nations, with all the rights and obligations that that membership entails. Incidentally, I think I am right in recalling that the Soviet Union was the first country to recognise Israel. However that may be, we have also to recall that the declaration to which I referred just now, about free passage in the Straits of Aqaba and Tiran, was publicly stated ten years ago, and was finally and firmly endorsed by the maritime Powers, who have therefore a special responsibility which they cannot escape, even if they should want to. Personally, I do not believe they want to escape that responsibility, because I agree with my noble friend that what is at stake here is so important for the future of world trade that it is inconceivable that a great maritime nation like ours should not feel a direct interest as well as an interest on behalf of Israel, for whom we engaged ourselves.

Obviously it is right that this state of affairs in the Gulf of Aqaba should be brought to the United Nations, and that every possible effort should be made to try to get agreement there, even though the prospects may be dim. I lay emphasis on this argument for another reason. There is another threat to Israel's life which is almost as important as the question of the Gulf of Aqaba, and that is the activity of the Arab Liberation, or Palestinian Liberation movements—whatever they are called—and the danger of the revival of these raids into Israel. That would be as important to Israel, and in certain circumstances more important, than the Gulf of Aqaba. Therefore, it is right that the United Nations should not only be seized of this, but should also continue to be seized of it in addition to whatever other steps ate taken.

Before I turn to the question of what is to be done, I should like to mention one argument which I know has to be met. We hear a great deal about the Palestinian refugees, and quite rightly so. It is a tragic problem, and it may be that neither Israel nor the Western Governments have done as much as they should in the past to try to help to solve this problem. Certainly large sums of money have been spent—we have spent large sums ourselves as has the United States of America—but when that has been said I think it is also true that the Arab States themselves might have done rather more on behalf of their Arab brothers than in fact they have done. There has been perhaps a little too much of the attitude of: "Well, this is something which ought not to have been done to us, but since it has been done to us we will keep it there as a grievance, if for no other reason". Although I feel there is power in that argument, I do not feel it is one which should cause us to consent to some injustice to Israel.

I now come to the question which I mentioned just now. If the Security Council cannot find a course to agree upon in respect of the Gulf of Aqaba—perhaps because of the Soviet veto or for some other reason—then as I understand it the right course, and the course which apparently the Government contemplate, would be to call a meeting of the maritime Powers and to determine there the course of action which ought to be followed to restore the Straits to free navigation once again. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord that contacts with the other maritime Powers are already under way against that eventuality. I am sure that is wise and necessary, because time is not on our side in this business.

We must remember the tremendous stress and strain to which Israel has been put in these circumstances. She has been asked, and I think rightly asked in these conditions, to hold her hand. Mobilisation for Israel, a small democratic country, is a much greater strain upon her in every sense than upon her wealthier and more numerous neighbours. So we are asking Israel to do something which we should not count upon being continued indefinitely. For my part, if the Government took counsel with the maritime Powers, I should be willing to support whatever action they and the United States of America and, I hope, some other maritime Powers, thought necessary in order to ensure that freedom of navigation is restored once again.

My Lords, the noble Lord who opened this debate made a reference to something which has also been very much in my mind in this present crisis, that is, the nuclear aspect. I think his warning was fully justified, but in it all—as I think he meant to mark, and certainly I feel—there is a warning for us. History does or does not repeat itself. I will be frank; I do not feel myself in the time of ten years ago, but very much in the 'thirties at the present time; and if we were to try to do as we did in the 'thirties in respect of Czechoslovakia, at the expense of Israel, we should deserve all we got. And all we should get would be the very nuclear danger to which the noble Lord referred. So while I endorse every word he said on that point, I think also it has a message for us all. Perhaps he meant it to have a message. That message is that not only must we do justice in this business, but that we must play our part in seeing that justice is done. Otherwise we shall suffer, as others will suffer, too. Perhaps that is a selfish argument, but it is one that works occasionally when others do not.

To me the most tragic feature of this affair is the declaration—as it were the attempt—to make a holy war out of an endeavour to exterminate these unfortunate Israeli people who have suffered more than any other race upon the earth in our lifetime. It is also (is it not?) a very grim commentary upon modern methods of propaganda and their power, if those methods know no scruple. It is terrible that it should be thought a Godly deed to butcher a whole people or to call by radio for genocide. Yet this is what is happening as we sit here in this House to-day.

Israel is a member of the United Nations, with a right to live. Israel cannot be deprived of that right. This is something which must never be allowed to happen. It is quite true, as the noble Lord said just now, that ours is not the greatest responsibility, still less an exclusive responsibility, but we must be ready to bear our full share and we must encourage others to do the same, so that this crime will not be perpetrated. There can be no free conscience for this country of ours otherwise.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to commence by saying how much I agree with what the noble Earl said in his concluding sentences. Like him, I have paid a number of visits to Israel, and while I share the view expressed by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that in these matters we are both pro-Israel and pro-Arab in the sense that we are pro-peace, I think it would be a crime against humanity if the United Nations (and when I talk about the United Nations I do not mean as an organisation, but as an association of 120 nations, practically every nation in the world except China and one or two others) should be party to any policy which has the slogan, "Drive the Jews into the sea". The noble Earl made some reference to the fact that the Jews have suffered possibly more than any other people in history. He and I served in the National Government during the war years, and we must, as we do, remember the stories that came through and were afterwards substantiated which showed that something like 4 million Jews had been slaughtered by Hitler and his minions. What has Israel done to justify any attempt being made to drive 2¾ million Jews, men, women and children, into the sea, even though it may be just a propaganda slogan?

The Prime Minister yesterday in his great speech—and I thought both he and the Foreign Secretary made speeches which indicate the statesmanlike approach which has characterised the actions of our Government at the present time—said that we are faced not with a state of war but with a state of confrontation; and that is perfectly true. We must not get too excited and too hysterical, or even too afraid of the fact that this confrontation exists. It does not necessarily mean war. We have been in a state of confrontation between the NATO Powers in the West and the Warsaw Pact Powers in the East for the past 18 years, and thank heavens we have not yet had war! It is very doubtful, in my opinion, whether the Arabs would be foolish enough to take the initiative against Israel.

I hope also that Israel does not make a mistake herself. She suffered great provocation in 1955–6. I remember visiting Israel in April, 1955, and through the courtesy of Mr. Ben Gurion, the then Israeli Prime Minister, being allowed to accompany a squadron of armoured cars forming part of the Jewish border patrol along a large section of the border between Israel and Jordan. I came back completely convinced that something had to be done to interpose a force between Israel on the one hand and the Arab States on the other. If I may be allowed to make a personal reference, I would say that I made a speech—and I think perhaps I was the first one to make it—in December, 1955, months before the Suez affair, in which I advocated that a United Nations police force should be deployed along the borders, but on both sides; and if I have any regrets to express about my friends in Israel I must be frank and say that I regret that they never agreed to the establishment of UNEF on their side of the border with the Arab States. President Nasser and the rest of them could have come to the Secretary-General and said, "We want you to take your forces away from our territory", but that would have had no effect upon the forces that would have been deployed on the Israel side of the border.

Be that as it may, when one realises the fantastic progress that has characterised the twenty years' existence of Israel one can only say, as I said a few moments ago, that it would be a crime against humanity, a calamity, for the eight or ten Arab States, with a total population of possibly 40 million, who are now ganged up against a small country of 3 million, to make any attempt to destroy that country. I agreed a great deal with what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition said, but I was sorry that he referred to a "tarnished" United Nations. I, like him and others, have known U Thant for a good many years. I have the greatest admiration for him. I think he is a man who is dedicated to the cause of international peace, and I regret that he seems to have been guilty of an error of judgement in being a party to responding to the demands of the Egyptian Government for the withdrawal of UNEF. I understand that he did consult the United Nations Emergency Force Advisory Council. I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply to this debate if this is so. Our Government is not of course responsible for, and maybe it is not a member of, the United Nations Emergency Force Advisory Council, but U Thant has stated in his report to the General Assembly that he actually consulted with that Advisory Council before he took his decision to withdraw the Emergency Force. That is an extraordinary position. It does not alter the consequences, but it does mean that U Thant did not take the decision entirely on his own without regard to any of the member States of the United Nations who were associated with him in the maintenance of this Force in Egypt.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that what was required was patient diplomacy, and I am bound to say I agree that that is much more than a platitude, because the alternative to patient diplomacy is to have a war. No-one wants war, unless of course in the last resort there is no alternative—for example, to force the Straits of Aqaba. I found myself in complete agreement with the noble Earl in his reference to Russia and the Treaty of Montreux. I am not sure the noble Earl did not play a considerable part in that conference; I believe he was Foreign Secretary at the time. I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, is going to inform the House about the views expressed in Oppenheim's International Law. What does he say? He says that in the 18th century before Russia was a unified State it was not regarded as a littoral State in the Black Sea. Turkey completely ignored it and refused to permit Russian ships free access into or egress from the Black Sea through the Straits of the Bosphorus, the Dardanelles. Then, later on, when Russia became a littoral State, the position in International Law changed, and, as we know, various conventions were arrived at, which result today in the fact, as the noble Earl said, that Russian warships freely leave the Black Sea and go into the Mediterranean.

But surely this is not merely a legal point; it is not a point of theory. This is something that is fundamental to the rule of law; it is fundamental to the existence of the United Nations. The Charter of the United Nations, whether or not we consider it is impotent to-day, and in one sense it is impotent—I think the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was one of those present at San Francisco and I believe he would agree with me—always contemplated that the United Nations organisation that was to be formed could operate effectively as a peace-keeping organisation only if there was co-operation and agreement between the four Great Powers. We have not got that. We were told by the noble Lord who opened the debate where the Soviet Union stands, and it was echoed by speakers from the other side. It is really inconceivable to me that the Soviet Union, with its historical background in relation to the Dardanelles Straits, should be supporting the Egyptian Government in relation to the Gulf of Aqaba. I was there in the port of Eilat myself in 1955, 12 years ago. Israel to-day is a littoral State of the Gulf of Aqaba, and therefore so far as International Law is concerned, in my opinion (I hope I carry the noble and learned Viscount with me), there can be no doubt that the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran leading into the Gulf constitute an international waterway, and that the Egyptian Government have no right to seal it off even from ships going to and from Israel.

One has to remember that the international position is a concern of the United Nations. I do not think it would help matters if I were to suggest that the proposed declaration of the maritime Powers which was referred to by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, and supported by the noble Earl this afternoon, should be delayed by referring to the International Court the legality of the act of the Egyptian Government, but I should like to see the declaration supplemented by such a reference. I see no reason why that should not be done. After all, if we expect Israel not to go to war, she is entitled to exercise her right to go to law; and while, from the realistic point of view, it may be that Israel cannot wait the weeks and months that may pass before the International Court can give either an advisory opinion or decision, the declaration that is proposed should not be delayed.

I would differ from the noble Earl—or perhaps add to what he said and to what my noble friend who opened the debate said—only by saying that I hope that the Soviet Union will be invited to any conference that is proposed to bring about this declaration of maritime Powers. Russia is vitally interested and, whether she likes Israel or not (I do not know whether she does; and in any case it is irrelevant), as a maritime Power she should be given the opportunity to participate in any such conference, and in the opportunity to sign a declaration such as the Government are considering. Whether that is likely to make much difference to the Soviet Government and to Communist Governments throughout the world I do not know. But certainly, if they are nothing else, they are realists, and may consider it to be in their interests to stand by the Arabs and not be associated with anything that will be opposed or disliked by the Arabs.

My Lords, the world is facing a difficult and complicated problem to-day. We must do everything we can to promote a United Nations presence in the Middle East. I should like to support the proposal of U Thant himself. He suggested, in his report to the General Assembly, that the Government of Israel should be invited to return to the Egyptian-Israeli Mixed Armistice Commission which for a good many years has been more or less boycotted by the Government of Israel. That, supplemented or augmented, could constitute a United Nations presence. It might not prevent the Arabs from launching their armies against Israel, if that is what they intend to do anyway—I do not know; no-one knows; they may not know themselves. But at any rate, it is an alternative to the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force. May I remind noble Lords that the fact that the Emergency Force has been withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, together with the 40 Jugoslavs from the forts that overlook the Straits of Tiran, does not give the green light to the Arabs to make war, nor does it give the green light to the Israelis to make war. It merely brings us back to the position that there is no United Nations armed peace-keeping force in Egypt as there has been for the last ten years.

There are those who say that the United Nations is a tarnished organisation. I am sorry that that phrase was used. I do not agree that the United Nations is a tarnished organisation. It may be weakened; it may to some extent be impotent, for the reasons I have given. But it is not a tarnished organisation, and I hope that we do not accept the view that, because U Thant and the members of the advisory committee made an error of judgment, the United Nations Organisation itself has in some way become tarnished. After all, the United Nations has not one mind. It is not an entity; it is an agglomeration of 124 separate nations, eight or ten of whom are at the present time ranged on the other side to Israel. Is the U.N. to be blamed for what the eight or ten Arab States are doing, or what they may propose to do? No, my Lords. I hope that we shall agree that it must be the policy of our Government to strengthen the efforts of the Secretary-General, and those members of the General Assembly who want to prevent a conflagration, to see that Egypt and the other Arab States are invited with Israel—who I certainly hope will reverse this part of her policy—to take their place in the Mixed Armistice Commissions.

May I give one personal experience? In 1959 I was in Amman. I was talking to the then Prime Minister of Jordan and to his Foreign Minister, together with our own British Ambassador. I had just come through the Mendelbaum Gate, and I had five points given to me by Mr. Sharett, who was the then Israeli Foreign Minister. They were small points, because I was but a humble Back-Bencher. I had said to him, "Give me some points about which I can talk to the Arabs." When I started talking, the Prime Minister of Jordan said: "But Mr. Henderson, there is no such country as Israel. We do not recognise Israel's existence." I said: "Mr. Prime Minister, I have just come from there. I was the other side of Jerusalem 24 hours ago. I have spent a week in Israel, yet you tell me there is no such place." It is that fundamentalist Arab point of view which is causing, and is the background of, the problem we are facing to-day.

On the other hand, I also visited some of the refugee camps. There are 1½ million refugees in the Gaza Strip and in Jordan. Perhaps it is their own fault that they are, because had the Arabs not attacked Israel in 1947 and got the worst of it they might still have been residents of that great little country. But they are a problem and, as the noble Earl said—and I agree with him—more could have been done for them. But let us be fair to Israel. The Prime Minister of Israel has officially stated in the past that Israel would be prepared to provide at least £100 million to help resettle the refugees in these countries. Perhaps that sum is not sufficient, and it may be that it would be spurned by the Arabs. If there is to be a Holy War, no reason at all will influence them.

But, my Lords, that does not alter the fact, as the Prime Minister said last night, that in these circumstances we must follow a policy of patient diplomacy as an alternative to armed conflict. There is no conflict at the moment; there is con- frontation. But it is part of the problem that if the Gulf of Aqaba is not reopened not only will it cut the lifeline of Israel but the result, if there is war, will affect the fate and future of these 1½ million refugees.

I wish my noble friend Lord Chalfont well in his new responsibilities. I would say, in conclusion, that I do not remember in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords—the British Parliament—such a high standard of constructive approach to this very complicated world problem as has characterised the debates in both Houses yesterday and to-day. We can go forward together in the belief that we, as a nation, have a contribution to make in maintaining the peace of the world.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I rise as an individual from these Cross Benches to lend such support as an individual can give to the aims, the strategy and the tactics which have been set forward yesterday by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in another place and by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, today in this House. After the leaders of Parties have spoken and given their support to the Government and, above all, after the speech of my former chief, Lord Avon, it would perhaps be quite sufficient if I were to leave it at that and sit down. If I do carry on briefly, it is to say that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will not be too disappointed if he cannot, at least in the near or foreseeable future, reach the wider settlements he so rightly said should be borne in mind. After all, there has been a Jewish problem for some 3,000 years, and perhaps it would be as imprudent as it might be arrogant for us to think that this should necessarily be resolved in any complete sense during our lifetimes. So if the worst dangers can be averted now, we should be grateful and at least partially satisfied. In addition, I should like to say a few things which may perhaps be easier for an individual to say who has no responsibility than it might be for a member of the Government.

We are met to take note of the situation in the Middle East. This situation, like all other situations, has its roots in long history, but let me say what I have to say without going back even to the Balfour Declaration and the various statements made at that time which have so unhappily added their bit to the confusion and conflicts which have since taken place. I would only ask what are the present elements which have made this potential go critical. The basic ingredients have been there for some years. Short of the annihilation of Israel, they will remain. I would say unequivocally a combination of two elements, Nasser and the Russians. Nasser alone was not enough. His Syrian experiment in federalism, the United Arab Republic, failed. His attempt to topple the regimes of Jordan and Saudi Arabia have so far been abortive. His Yemeni adventure has got bogged down.

But the scale of the present threat, when backed as he is by word and deed by the Soviet Union, is of a totally different order. True, the Russians have been involving themselves deeper and deeper with Nasser for some time. It started, as your Lordships will remember, in 1955, with the sale of arms and the purchase of cotton. These have gone on. But by now there is far more besides cotton—the Aswan dam and debts to it. There are a considerable number of Russian technicians in the Yemen, based on Sana, and there are reports of Russian naval facilities in the Red Sea, perhaps at Hodeida. I recognise that it may not be profitable for the Government to be too plain in public at this moment about these aspects, and I would not expect any details of the extent of Russian involvement. What is already common knowledge is quite enough, and it does not require any help from the C.I.A. to know that the Soviet Foreign Minister did not visit Nasser in March only to get away from the climate of Moscow at that time of the year.

What follows from this? I suggest one thing, and one thing inescapably. It is that if there is to be an outcome of the kind that Her Majesty's Government would regard as satisfactory in the terms of the careful words used by the Foreign Secretary yesterday in his speech in another place, our actions must have, and be known by the Russians to have, the full backing of the United States. Whether the United States Government will want to come out in the lead or not is a tactical question. But with Russian commitments of the kind already announced, this is the reality of power. I have great personal sympathy for President Johnson.

So far as I know, he is the record-holder in the number of I.O.U.s he has had to pick up from previous Presidents. It was not he who started the Vietnam affair. This was started in the time of President Eisenhower and was carried to a further stage in the time of President Kennedy. This bill is a very considerable one already. Now there is the Middle East. There he is faced by commitments made in the time of President Eisenhower and these may now be of a particularly large order. He also has inherited from President Kennedy the commitments of the New Frontier, or, as President Johnson would say, the Great Society. That, unhappily for him, has had to be put off while these other bills come to maturity. But, like it or not, the American President cannot, in my view, avoid his responsibility for the commitments made towards Israel and towards the freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran.

Here I would say that it is not only the reality of power that makes this so but United States actions and abstentions in the past. There was a period when France and we could have made ourselves principally responsible in this area. At that period the United States Government preferred to walk, like a cat, alone. The final epitome of this attitude was when Mr. Foster Dulles, giving evidence in public on Capitol Hill, said that if things came to a show-down he would prefer not to have a British soldier at his right or a French at his left. But Mr. Dulles changed his view shortly afterwards, and the United States and ourselves joined in a successful operation in the Lebanon and in Jordan. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the past; whatever those of us who, unlike myself, disagree with American policies elsewhere may think; however much this may confirm President de Gaulle in his view of our attitude, I would urge the Government to be ready to encourage and support the Americans to assume this responsibility which is theirs whether they or we like it or not.

Having said this, I, of course, accept that the Government are right to try first to work through the United Nations—indeed, to repair the United Nations, who have become, as Sir Alec Douglas-Home said yesterday, the first casualty in this crisis. They are right to work also outside the United Nations, and in particular to try to get the support of the maritime Powers for a declaration of the freedom of the Straits of Tiran and, if need be, for effective physical means of ensuring this freedom. They are doubly right in trying to secure that this responsibility should be shared as widely as possible. But if, in the end, the choice is for us to back the United States alone in this or back out, I would myself urge that we should stand up and be counted in. We cannot pretend that we have no forces in this area for such a supporting role. We have forces in Cyprus, Aden, Bahrein, Shajah and at sea. This would be a question of will. In this I would partially disagree with the emphasis which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, gave to our note. Otherwise I hope that your Lordships would note this afternoon that you have been addressed by two diplomats who, for once, sing in unison.

Let me end as I began, by adding my support to the Government in the priorities which they have laid down and in the strategy and tactics which they have so far followed. I hope they will be fortified by the support which they received in the other place yesterday and in your Lordships' House so far to-day. On that I would join entirely in what the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, has just said to your Lordships. However, in these affairs there may come a moment of critical decision and commitment where courage and clarity are demanded, and these qualities are particularly necessary in dealing with the Russians.

Here, in so far as it is proper to talk to your Lordships with history present to our recollection, I should have thought the two outstanding examples of when disaster was averted by clarity and determination were, in the last century by Lord Castlereagh, and in this century by President Kennedy. It is for that reason that I have detained your Lordships with my view of the basic responsibility of the United States, for reasons of history and the reality of power. It is for that reason that I hope, if the crunch comes and all the steps now rightly being taken by the Government are insufficient, we will be ready to support such action as the United States may take to maintain freedom of navigation through the Straits, and prevent the annihilation of a fellow member of the United Nations.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, while all of us, I am sure, welcome the constructive suggestions which have been made in to-day's debate, those of us who are taking part in it cannot, I am afraid, hope to add anything very new to your Lordships' consideration of the difficult issues with which we are all faced. The importance of this debate, as I see it, is to show the virtual unanimity which at present exists in this country with regard to the critical situation which has arisen in the Middle East.

We meet to-day in circumstances anxious, indeed grave, but not unfamiliar. For we, whose lot it has been to he born in the present century, have come to recognise the technique of ambitious dictators who wish to extend their power and prestige and, possibly, their territories. It seems to follow a standardised pattern and this, I should have thought, could be regarded as a classic case. First, the dictator in question accuses some other nation, which very likely has no such intentions, of being a potential aggressor and danger to peace. Next, he himself takes some action of an aggressive character—some action which perhaps he has long wished to take—on the pretext that it is necessary to restrain the other nation from a breach of the peace. Then he makes a spectacular announcement that the last thing he wants is to start a war, but that if that other country takes any step to restore the status quo, which he has himself upset, even though that status quo may have the support of international law, he will regard that as a casus belli.

The present crisis, I suggest, is a very good example of that technique. There is no reason, so far as I know, to suppose that Israel has wished in any way to disturb the status quo. She was not mobilising her forces or taking any of the steps necessary for a country contemplating war: and why should she? She is a satisfied country, whose energies have been of recent years wholly devoted to developing her own territories. I am not suggesting that the very existence of Israel as a State in the Middle East has not been a constant irritant to her Arab neighbours. We all know it has.

But that does not mean, I repeat, that Israel has herself been contemplating any breach of the peace.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that if one were an ambitious dictator aspiring to leadership of the Arab world, Palestine is by far the best issue on which one could possibly hope to rally the united support of that world. That is no doubt the main reason for the action which President Nasser has taken. He has chosen it and the moment for it with considerable acumen, for not only has he judged correctly that Palestine was the only issue on which he could count on receiving the united support of the Arabs, but he knew that he could also pretty certainly count on the support of Russia, whose traditional policy it has always been, from long before the arrival of the Soviets, to fish in troubled water, and who in the present case, as has been pointed out in this debate, has the additional inducement that trouble in the Middle East is likely to prove a serious embarrassment to the United States, while her forces are pinned down in the Far East.

It is clearly a situation which Egypt and the Russians in conjunction have every interest in exploiting, and now, having marshalled their troops, they are beginning to disclose their whole plan. They are, in effect, as the Prime Minister said yesterday in another place, and I think the noble Earl, Lord Avon, re-emphasised it to-day, preaching a kind of holy war. Israel is being denounced not only as a potential aggressor, but also as a State whose very existence is an offence to humanity and which must be stamped out of existence. That is the formidable position which is now emerging.

Whether or not this is a gigantic bluff, we do not know. But I feel that the time has very evidently come when we must make up our minds to state clearly that we (and by "we"—and here I fully agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, has said—I mean not only us but the United States who are to-day the greatest power in upholding international law) intend to stand firm in the face of what, however wrapped up, can only he regarded as a deliberate snapping of fingers at that law. As I understand it, this is in effect what the Foreign Secretary said in another place yesterday, when he indicated that it must be British policy that the ships of all nations should continued to use the Gulf of Aqaba as an international waterway, whatever the Egyptians may have said. That was re-emphasised by Lord Chalfont this afternoon.

I am sure that all of us in this House, whatever may be our general views on Government policy, have welcomed that statement most warmly. For make no mistake, my Lords, if President Nasser is allowed to get away with this we shall never have a moment's peace again, any more than we did with Hitler before the War. I know there are those who would say, as they did at the time of another similar crisis not long ago, to which I do not intend to refer this afternoon, that this is not a matter on which we ought to take an individual line of our own: it is a matter for the United Nations, and we should act only in accordance with the decisions of the United Nations. And I am sure we all share the hope of the Government that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the United Nations will act as a moderating influence. But I am afraid—and I must say this—that I do not feel we ought to pin too much faith on that institution. For it has become more and more obvious with every day that passes that the United Nations itself is split from top to bottom on this particular issue. There are already very evident indications of this; and the stark truth is—and I am afraid we must all face it—that the cleavage of view between those who broadly support the rule of international law and those who take the contrary view stretches right up into the Security Council itself. To leave this issue entirely to the United Nations therefore means only too probably that nothing will be done. In that event Nasser will get away with his aggression, and that will strike a far more deadly blow to the rule of law, upon which, above all, the survival of civilisation depends, than any action that we and the United States could take by ourselves in support of our own solemn obligations.

Surely, my Lords, there are very respectable precedents for steps to be taken by individual nations, or by groups of nations such as the maritime Powers, in support of the principles of the Charter and in anticipation of action by the United Nations; which groups, in the present case, as has been emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, must include the United States. If I am told that there are risks in standing firm now, the truth is, my Lords, that there are risks whatever we do, and to fail to make a stand now will, I believe, only pave the way to even more dangerous situations later on. A world that had become a kind of stamping ground for the internationally lawless would not be worth living in at all.

That being the position, I beg we shall not let ourselves be led astray into dissociating ourselves from any firm line in this crisis. We in this country, as has already been said, are neither pro-Jew nor pro-Arab: we have many good friends in both camps. No doubt it would be very easy to find reasons for doing nothing. We could say, as some do, that the former state of war between Israel and Egypt has never technically been ended by a peace treaty, and that Egypt, therefore, by taking the steps she has, is only exercising her legitimate rights of belligerency. Or we could say, as I understand one speaker did in another place yesterday, that we are no longer a great Power and, that being so, there is no obligation on us to act as if we still were one.

My Lords, to my mind all such arguments ignore two hard, inescapable facts in the present situation. The first is that this is a clear case of threatened aggression against a small country. And the second is that it is to protect small countries from just such aggressions as this that the United Nations Organisation itself exists, and we, by our signature of the Charter, have, by that very fact, assumed an obligation to do all in our power to assist towards that end. So long as that is also the firm determination of the Government—and I understand it is—I hope that they will have the support of us all, in whatever part of the House we sit.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Marquess in this debate. I do not always agree with what he says, but to-day I have agreed with almost everything he has said; and the clarity of his mind and his staunchness have won my complete admiration.

My Lords, if a documentary were to be made in, let us suppose, about a year's time, there would be four quick sequences, as has already been pointed out by many speakers. There was the sacking of the U.N. forces by Nasser; there was the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel; there is this talk of establishing the pre-Suez position; and now there is further talk of establishing the pre-1948 position. I do not wish to add further reproaches to those already made to U Thant for his very obedient response to Nasser's ordering the U.N. forces out. The Secretary-General is a man for whom I have a great respect and admiration but. because this act was so out of character for him, I wish to add only one thing. I wonder whether there were hidden pressures on him which we do not know about.

I do not want to mention Suez, with a kind of "I told you so" attitude. In fact, I think that our guilt about Suez should not now confuse the issue. And here may I say how very pleased I am to see the noble Earl, Lord Avon, in his place to-day, how much I enjoyed his speech and, again, how much I agreed with it. Nations and countries make mistakes—many of them—and at the moment Colonel Nasser is himself making a great many. If in many parts of the world a spirit of revenge is to reverse the status quo every ten years, I think that we can look forward to continuous wars and to crises always on the boil.

This also applies, I believe, to the question of the Palestinian refugees. If the European refugees—and I am thinking particularly of those who were found in the camps in Europe after the last war (although there is no doubt that the state of refugees anywhere always affects the conscience of the world)—had insisted that only repatriation would be considered, I think they would still be flooding the camps in Europe. So, because the Palestinian refugees made this condition, that nothing short of repatriation would satisfy them, what has happened is that Nasser has used this human misery as a completely political pawn, and has done nothing but inflame their feelings of revenge and hatred.

My Lords, this question of the Palestinian refugees could have been negotiated, as could the question of other refugees anywhere in the world. Means could have been found to settle them, and to compensate them. After all, the Israelis themselves took a great many Middle East refugees, Jewish refugees, and did very well by them. They also have a great many Arabs still living in Israel itself. It would not have been beyond human competence to discover a way of settling the Palestinian refugees. Cairo Radio has poured out streams of hatred and incitement to revenge, day in and day out, ever since Nasser has taken office. I hope that in the future Israel will try and try again to contribute something to the settlement of these Palestinian refugees. I have spoken to Israelis, and many of them are very willing to do this. They want to sit round a table and talk about these things.

So we have the unique position of a very small country surrounded, ringed round, by a great many Arab States making continuous propaganda for its destruction. Israel has no territorial ambitions; and whatever the problems between Israel and her neighbours, surely it is not impossible to negotiate them. As the Foreign Secretary said in another place, and as other speakers have said, Britain, France and America have tried not to take sides. I am not suggesting that self-interest has no part in this. We all have interests in the Middle East which we must look after and try to maintain. But we have tried, perhaps in an imperfect way, to maintain some kind of balance. There has been very little enmity towards Nasser since Suez, whereas Russia has gone back on her acceptance of the State of Israel and has come out plainly on one side—for the Arab States only. It is possible to analyse the reasons for this attitude of one of the greatest Powers in the world; but it is not so easy to understand it.

But, my Lords, all this is no surprise to me after my experience in the United Nations. During the last session there I saw the alignments emerging and crystallising. I watched the Soviet Union, my neighbours-but-one, cultivating the Arab delegation, whatever the issue, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the voting line. One needed no crystal ball to count the votes of the Soviets and Arab States. I wish that some of the gullible Members of Parliament who have visited Nasser recently would go to the United Nations and learn some of the inter national facts of life. Recently some of them have returned to tell the British public, through television and radio, that Nasser wants only peace. They hear Cairo radio clamouring for the extermination of Israel; they hear Nasser say openly that he is not going to rest until he destroys Israel. Then he coos like a dove, although he speaks and acts like a hawk; but still they tell us that he wants peace.

My Lords, whichever way we look at this crisis, whatever be our views or emotions about the Arabs or the Israelis, there is one central issue: the survival of Israel. This is the problem on the plate of the big Powers to-day; and not only of America, Britain and France but also of Russia. Many speakers have said that time is not on our side in settling this crisis. One Arab State after another has signed on Nasser's dotted line. This is a great encouragement to Russia and we are all aware of the weight that the Soviet Union places on spheres of influence. No one in the Afro-Asian world attacks "spheres of influence"—after all, there are spheres of influence in Europe which were never there before the last war. All that they attack is colonialism. We should all think very seriously about the complete dominance of the Soviet Union in the Middle East.

The Government have come out plainly to maintain the Gulf of Aqaba as an international waterway and as essential to maintaining the well-being of Israel. We do not remember to-day that Israeli ships are not yet allowed through the Suez Canal. Many people remember my husband's bitter opposition to the Suez operation. What they do not remember is that while he thought the seizure of the Suez Canal did not justify the use of force, he firmly stated in his speech of August 2, 1956, that if there was anything which Nasser had done which did justify the use of force it was stopping the passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal.

My Lords, it is very difficult to get a feeling of reality about war, even when it is most imminent—and certainly it is very imminent today. The Israelis have behaved with unbelievable restraint. Nasser's prestige has increased. I believe that a preoccupation with prestige by ambitious nationalist leaders is a very dangerous thing, that it is always a stumbling block to negotiations and that it is always a spur to war. There is a real danger in prolonging the tension in Israel. Those who know the Israelis know also that they will, if need be, fight and die to the last man to defend their country. Personally I am not against Nasser; he is a very great nationalist leader. History will still tell whether he will be a very great man, because revenge and hatred is still the spur to all his actions to-day; and if we try to cleanse ourselves of all bias we must realise that there are times when this kind of exercise leaves a person—or a country—devoid of principle or judgment. Central to this debate to-day, and to the conscience of the world, is simply the survival of Israel.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, just after the last war—so long ago that I expect most noble Lords, if not all, have forgotten about it—an Anglo-American Commission was appointed to consider and report on the problem of European Jewry and Palestine. I was a member of that Commission with Mr. Crossman—we were the only two Members of Parliament on it—and there were two things about it that I have never forgotten. One was what we saw, learned and heard about in Europe; the other—when we went round the Arab States—was the bitterness and hostility, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred in the course of what I thought was an excellent speech, evinced at that time towards the Jews in Palestine. It was clear then that every effort would be made by the Arabs, if they thought it could succeed, to prevent the establishment of Israel. That hostility has remained; and, unfortunately, over the years it has not grown less.

We on that Commission produced a unanimous Report (which was rather remarkable for an Anglo-American Report on those subjects) which I and Mr. Crossman signed—and that again was remarkable—and which made a number of recommendations. It was a package deal. I think I am accurately reflecting the views of all the Members of that Commission when I say that we thought that if those recommendations had been accepted and endorsed by the United States and the United Kingdom there would be a real chance of a peaceful settlement, despite the hostility then apparent. Our hopes were dashed. Only two of the recommendations were accepted by the United States, and that chance—which think has been until now the last chance—of a peaceful settlement disappeared.

I cannot believe now that the great problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred—not just the Gulf of Aqaba but the relations between Israel and her neighbours in the Middle East—can improve unless and until we can get it recognised among those neighbours that the existence of Israel is a fact and that the existence of Israel is going to continue. No-one in these days, whatever views he may have had or now has, could possibly contemplate 2½ million people, no matter to what race they may belong, being driven into the sea or exterminated. I should like to throw out the thought to the noble Lord for consideration, if it has not been considered already, whether perchance there are not ways in which it can be brought home to the Arab nations—it may be through the statements of other States—that Israel is a fact and Israel will continue to be a fact. Once that is established, then I believe that there is a chance, in the course of years, that the hostility which now exists will diminish. One now feels that the Arabs, believing that Egypt and Russia are behind them, believing that Israel is alone, think the opportunity has come to achieve that which they have long sought to achieve. I hope the Arabs will remember that when we gave up the mandate their spirit of optimism over what they were then going to achieve was just about as great as it is to-day. Their hopes were not realised then; nor do I believe they will be to-day.

My Lords, at that time—it was in 1958—I also had the honour of leading the United Kingdom delegation to the Law of the Sea Conference convened under resolution of the General Assembly, and I should like to say something about that. The Conference was asked to consider, as a basis for its recommendations, a Report compiled by the International Law Commission. It was a purely legal Conference. We had not to consider any political questions. Our task was to formulate in the clearest possible language, and to embody in Conventions, what we believed to be the International Law in relation to the sea. My Lords, we did that; and of the five Conventions that we put forward the Convention on the Territorial Sea was signed by at least 52 nations, including the Soviet Union. That, to my mind, clearly means that the Soviet Union then thought—and that, as I say, was in 1958—that the Articles of that Convention embodied International Law.

I have heard it said in this debate that Egypt has claimed to extend her territorial sea over the Straits of Tiran and over the Gulf of Aqaba, as if that meant that ships of foreign States were denied passage through those straits and over that sea. I think there was an observation from my noble friend Lord Carrington which rather implied that. But, my Lords, that is not the case. If one looks at Article 14(1) of the Convention one sees in the clearest terms that ships of all States are entitled under International Law to enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas. And so Egypt, just by saying, "This is my territorial sea", has no right whatsoever to deprive the ships of any State of the right of innocent passage. Again, Article 15(1) goes on to emphasise that the coastal State must not hamper innocent passage through the territorial sea. I should have thought it was clear beyond doubt from those Articles that it would be a breach of International Law for Egypt to deny any State that right of passage; and the Soviet Union, as it signed that Convention, can hardly deny that this would be a breach of International Law.

My Lords, Article 14(4) states that passage is innocent "so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State." Traffic to or from Eilat, or Aqaba, the carriage of goods, even the carriage of oil, really cannot be regarded as "prejudicial to the peace, good order or security" of Egypt. I think it right that I should call attention to the fact that under Article 16(3) a coastal State may—and I would emphasise these words—without discrimination among foreign ships, suspend temporarily the innocent passage of foreign ships if such suspension is essential for the protection of its security. However, I do not think it could possibly be contended that the prevention of this exercise of the right of innocent passage through these straits is essential for the protection of the security of Egypt. Indeed, it would be a breach of this Article if the ships of only one State were prevented from exercising that right.

I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, suggested that a possible solution would be for an arrangement whereby ships of all States other than the State of Israel would be allowed through the Straits of Tiran. My Lords, I think that would be a deplorable and a wholly unacceptable solution to this problem. There is the right of suspension of this right of innocent passage, but that right cannot be suspended through straits which are used for international navigation between one part of the high seas and the territorial sea of another State. And the Straits of Tiran have been used just for this for many years. So, to my mind, it matters not whether Egypt's claim that these are part of her territorial waters is valid, and it makes no difference if you say that these are international waters. For, whichever it be, Egypt has no right under International Law, as I see it, and as declared by that Convention in 1958, to interfere with the right of innocent passage. She has no right to stop a ship or to search a ship, because that is hampering the right of innocent passage.

I thought it right, my Lords, to draw attention to these matters, to the terms of this Convention, to which, as I have said, the Soviet Union is a party. It may be asserted that Egypt is a belligerent and, as such, has the right to stop ships of her enemy and the right to search ships of all nations in various circumstances. I do not think that such a claim is in the least degree tenable. There has been no fighting between Egypt and Israel for ten years, and in the circumstances I think it ridiculous to assert that Egypt has the right of a belligerent.

There have been many statements made and threats uttered. The movement of troops right up to the Egyptian border is a clear threat and a serious threat to peace. There have been statements about closing the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran. My Lords, threats are one thing; action is another. I do not know whether those threats have yet been carried into action. I have seen one report—I do not know whether it is true—that a Liberian ship was turned back. I hope that those threats have not been turned into action, because until they have been, I think it gives a hope that we, the world at large, may be able to take action to prevent those breaches of International Law.

I support what the Government have proposed, but I should like (I am not sure whether I understood him aright) the declaration to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred, regarding the Straits of Tiran, to be put into the most positive language—not that these are international waters; I do not think we used that phrase in the Convention: but a positive statement that there is, and always has been and will continue to be, the right of innocent passage for all ships of all States, including Israel, through the Gulf of Aqaba and through the Straits of Tiran. That is the statement I should like to see. And all those 52 States, including the Soviet Union, which signed that Convention ought, if the Convention means anything, to endorse such a declaration.

My Lords, I hope indeed that the efforts made by the noble Lord, with other Governments, will succeed. I do not think that we can just leave it to the United Nations. Nor do I think this a problem, as has been said in one or two speeches, which chiefly concerns the maritime nations. They are, of course, concerned, but this problem concerns every single nation, be it land-locked, be it maritime, which has any faith or belief in International Law. Here is a Convention which has been signed by all these States and which has never been challenged. If we allow this Convention to be breached, great injury will be done to the rule of law, and great harm will be done to the hopes of peace throughout the world. I hope that the noble Lord will make it clear beyond doubt that, whoever joins us and whoever does not join us, and however long it may take, it is the firm intention of this country to maintain the rule of law and to see that these rights of passage—rights under International Law which in my belief are conclusively established—are capable of being exercised.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, I stand before you in rather strange clothing, because I am not usually engaged in international politics. I am more conversant with productivity and human relations. But I should like to intervene in the discussion to-day because I visit Israel frequently, and before the war I visited Egypt frequently. I believe that before we can claim to know how best to prevent dire disaster falling upon us, we should examine the approach of Israel to the problem that confronts her. Every Israeli believes that Israel is a sovereign State, and is convinced that at no time has any other nation been threatened by its independence. Israel has steadily concentrated on the economic and social development of her population, which has now reached a total of 2½million. The majority of them came from Hitler's death camps, and a great many from Arab countries where they were being expropriated and oppressed.

The Israelis are threatened by the Arabs with complete annihilation. We may sit comfortably in London and contemplate the threat of annihilation because it is something which is at a distance, but the people who live in Israel are genuinely afraid of being swept off the face of the earth, as the Arab leaders have said so frequently. I have relatives there, and I know their fears and how they regard this danger which confronts them. The people of Israel, whether they are in khaki or in ordinary clothing, appear to me to be exceedingly brave. I can think of no case of a sovereign State such as Israel being eliminated by the threat of brute force exercised by its neighbours. I think your Lordships will agree that this is not a moment when the people who have to bear the brunt of threat and attack will be pleased to discuss with us the niceties of international law.

I believe that this should be regarded fundamentally as a moral question. I cannot think that we in Britain, along with many other countries, will stand idly by in the face of a situation where practically the whole population have brought to their minds pictures of what happened in the 'thirties in another country. Of course, we are facing international issues. Modern Israel and its inhabitants are facing their gravest hour since the Nazi holocaust. My words may sound exaggerated, but I am only repeating the threats of the leaders of the Arab peoples. It is difficult to foresee that the world may be witnessing the beginnings of a World War which can leave nothing but ghastly evils in its train, but Israel believes that the point has been reached where there is no time to lose.

One noble Lord said that the present crisis was not of Israel's making. But some elements of this crisis reside in the very existence of Israel, because its civilisation and cultural pattern differ somewhat from its neighbours. Surely Israel's approach to life and the development of its industry and agriculture are not sufficient reasons for threats of war or for invasion. It may be that many differences are found in the geographical, historical and political situation of modern Israel, but these elements alone need not have led to a progressive worsening of the situation between Arabs and Israelis. Behind them all was the determination and malevolence of President Nasser, bound on the destruction of Israel.

Ten years ago the Government of Israel agreed to withdraw from the unchallenged position which they held at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba. They did this because they had received a written undertaking from the Governments of the United States, Britain and France that the inviolability of the Gulf of Aqaba as an international waterway would be ensured by them and the United Nations. This undertaking has now been broken. One cannot accuse Israel of impatience if she presses on the three great Powers speedily to restore this situation, which Israel had abandoned at their request, when the very existence of Israel is being threatened by the closing of the Straits of Tiran. It is only natural that if they do not, then Israel may have no alternative but to do it herself, with all the terrible and, at this moment, unforeseen dangers.

It is interesting to note that during the debate on the Middle East in January, 1949, Sir Winston Churchill said: The coming into being of a Jewish State in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective, not of a generation or of a century, but in the perspective of a 1,000, 2,000 or even 3.000 years. That is a standard of temporal values or time values which seems very much out of accord with the perpetual click-clack of our rapidly changing moods and of the age in which we live. It is this creation of history, the scene of so much valuable work and achievement, which is being threatened. As I have mentioned before, the threat is not a new one, and President Nasser, like another dictator before him, has already put his plans down in his book. Those of your Lordships who have read Nasser's book will have read the whole story. It is not accidently achieved; it planned in advance, just as Hitler's book planned in advance. The possibility present at that time in the case of Hitler was carried through to the bitter end, and had it not been for the strength, the morale and spirit of the Allies, it may have been successful, to the terror and dire distress of the whole civilised world.

My Lords, this state of unstable equilibrium that has existed, in so far as the Gulf of Aqaba is concerned, is now disturbed by the removal of the United Nations Force and the closure of the Gulf of Aqaba by the Egyptians. It is an historical paradox that, after ten years of valuable though uneventful service, the peace not only of this area, but of the whole world, is now at stake because the United Nations Force has been withdrawn.

I do not desire to discuss the legalistic aspect of the action of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, but I doubt very much whether there was not some other way to deal with this matter. The Secretary-General of the United Nations reported to the Security Council that the withdrawal of the United Nations Force would be carried out in an orderly, deliberate and not precipitated manner. He concluded this report with this warning, however: I do not wish to be an alarmist, but I cannot avoid the warning to the Council that in my view the current situation in the Neat East is more than disturbed, indeed, I may say more menacing than that at any time since the fall of 1956. That may indeed be an understatement. If the world is passing through the gravest crisis since the Second World War, it is tragic that the United Nations, like the League of Nations, has failed to come to grips with the situation. Admittedly, the United Nations withdrawal could be justified in narrow legal terms, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations has argued the case at some length. But, my Lords, in this world of conflict, where so much is at stake, a legalistic explanation is not enough. The withdrawal of the United Nations Force at a time of tension and danger may definitely outweigh, on behalf of peace, all that the United Nations has achieved.

The action of President Nasser in the Gulf of Aqaba is intended to strangle the life out of Israel by a blockade. If we are to prevent extreme dangers, the Gulf of Aqaba must be kept open and, as has been repeated here, the mines must be removed. This is not only necessary for the survival of Israel, but for the preservation of world peace. To do less—that is, to appease President Nasser—would be to court another aggression. In the past Hitler has shown the world how it is operated. To appease Nasser would be to court another type of aggression.

My Lords, if we avoid another Munich, can we also avoid another war? I think so, if Israel is not left to act alone. This is an international situation which calls for international action. This time the world surely will remember the lesson of the last war. As Sir Winston Churchill said in the debate from which I quoted earlier, it is obvious that both Jews and Arabs must have access to the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba is, in fact, to the Red Sea as Trieste is to the Adriatic. The outlet here is certainly not to be monopolised by either of the nations who have dwelt together for so long. It is therefore a place of special significance. Let us hope that, if these words are prophetic, the significance of Aqaba, like that of Cuba, will be as a place and a point in time when the world came near the brink and when good sense prevailed.

I would conclude, my Lords, by quoting an extract from an appeal to the conscience of the world: We cannot believe that the Great Powers, which took the historic decision some twenty years ago to recognise the right of the Israelis to live in freedom in the land of their ancestors, will deny Israel the right to and means of defending itself in its hour of danger and leave it to stand alone against forces that threaten its destruction and imperil the peace of the world. These are the basic ideas which activate the Israelis. I believe it is of the utmost importance that we should realise what they are. At the present moment, they are following a lead which is set to them. But there will come a time when terror, translated into a desire to face the situation, to attack it, will come into being, and that will be a dangerous period for us all.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to the previous speakers, and finding myself in substantial agreement with what they have said, I think there is little new that I can say at this stage of the debate. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Chalfont upon his masterly survey of the situation, but if there is any point at which I disagreed with him, it was when he said that we do not wish to take sides in this matter—and I think I have quoted him correctly. I believe that this is something of such great importance that we have to face the fact that it is necessary to take sides if this matter is to be resolved successfully.

I am sorry that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, is not in his seat, because I wanted to say how much I enjoyed and benefited from his exposition of the legal position of the maritime situation. To a layman like myself it is good to have such an authority put this matter in very simple English. I cannot remember a time since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House when there has been so much agreement among your Lordships, and if I touch on a number of matters that have already been mentioned it is because I feel very strongly about them and want to associate myself with what has been said.

One matter which causes me grave concern is the disastrous—and I say advisedly "disastrous"—action of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in withdrawing the peace force so quickly and not playing for time. I am not unmindful of the demand made on him by the President of Egypt, but it would have been of supreme value if the peacekeeping force had been kept in position while the matter was referred either to the Security Council or to the General Assembly. I think that, to put it at its lowest, it was a hasty decision on the part of the Secretary-General, a decision which in the future will lead some people to question the effectiveness and value of the United Nations in time of emergency and crisis. At the risk of being misunderstood, I would say that I think it may well be a decision deserving of censure. It was all the more unfortunate for, while I recognise that the force was not on Israeli territory, Israel was not consulted about the withdrawal, although she was a party to the international agreement reached in 1957, which resulted in the peacekeeping force being in that particular area.

I believe that the real problem, from Nasser's point of view, is not just the sovereignty of the Straits of Tiran or the Gulf of Aqaba. The real problem, I think, from his point of view is, who owns Palestine? It is this aspect of the situation which is to me more worrying. We need to keep in the forefront of our minds the fact—and this point has been made by a number of Members of your Lordships' House—that both Nasser and the other Arab countries have made no secret over the years of the fact that it is their intention to destroy Israel. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who repeated a phrase used by Nasser some years ago: "push Israel into the sea". This is, and has been—he has been consistent about this—his professed mission and avowed intention. Are we really expected to stand by and watch this happen?

Some people say that our prestige today in international affairs is not very high. But I ask your Lordships: will it be higher if we fail to take action of some definite kind in the matter now before us? Will not our prestige be lower if we cease to do anything in it, if we seek to appease—and I want to say this, because I believe it—this man who seems bent on assuming the mantle of Hitler? And Nasser's intentions are very reminiscent of Hitler. Any success he may have in this war of nerves, any concessions which other countries may make to him, can be only at the expense not only of Israel but of the reputation of the United Nations. The present position of Israel, as a number of noble Lords have said, is not unlike that of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Any concessions made at this time to Nasser would lead to bolder demands in the future—and from a greater position of strength.

I do not think for one moment that, in respect of peace in the Middle East, time is on our side. I do not think we can wait for the United Nations to plough its way to a decision. The late President Kennedy acted swiftly in the Cuban affair. Why cannot we and America, if possible with the other maritime nations, do something similar without further delay? Having regard to what Israel has had to put up with over the years, we should recognise that she has shown commendable restraint. From 1965 to May, 1967, last month, there have been 113 mine-laying and sabotage attempts and operations on Israel's soil, for which Syria was responsible. In addition, there have been scores of shootings and shelling outrages against Israeli farmers, as well as the shelling of Israeli villages. Since July, 1966—a period of only ten months—Israel has sent no fewer than 34 Notes concerning these incidents to the Security Council, an average of over three Notes of protest per month.

The point has already been made that Israel is the only democratic and reliable State in the Middle East, and is no doubt solely on that account a source of annoyance and grievance to the Arab countries, and I think we ought to do everything in our power, and do it quickly, to sustain her. Her achievements in the twenty years of her existence are unrivalled in the modern world. The Soviet Union did not achieve as much progress in her first twenty years as a Communist State. Many of us have seen at first hand something of the progress and determination to build, not only a just society but a society dedicated to the wellbeing of the individual. Israel is a State where—and let us face this fact, my Lords—the remains of a destroyed Jewry have created a haven for all Jews who may wish to go there. When I was there, not long ago, I saw a large number of aged and maimed Jews from every part of the world who were going to be for the rest of their lives a liability upon the Israeli State. But because they were Jews they had a right to go there. They have created—not "are creating"—a haven for all Jews of that kind and condition to which they can go if they wish. If it is a question of earning their right to exist, then they have earned it; and we should see that Israel has the right to live in peace.

It is in my view quite unrealistic to require or expect Israel to compromise on the shipping issue, or to accept the Egyptian blockade—and this point has already been made by a number of your Lordships. The continuation of the blockade could mean economic disaster to Israel. The Port of Eilat is vital to Israel for oil supplies from Iran and for her trade with Asia and with Africa. I do not feel it sufficient to say that she managed before 1956 and will no doubt manage again. She did not manage, at any rate in the sense of being economically viable, before 1956. Both the Prime Minister and my noble friend Lord Chalfont have said that the Government would promote and support international action to uphold the right of free passage for shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba. This free passage must, of course, include Israeli ships. But what I would ask the Government to do is not to wait for the United Nations to discuss this matter over a long period of time—because I do not think that time is on anyone's side at the moment, except that of the Arabs and of Egypt—but to take a decision in the very near future; and, if necessary, that we and America should act independently to see that the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba are kept open.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, the situation is clearly too grave and too difficult for any of us in this House to try to say anything but words that would help the Government, so far as possible, in the situation in which they find themselves. But I do not think it is wrong that some of us who have looked at this trouble spot in the world before should search our experience to see whether there is any helpful counsel that we can put forward at this time. In this I am glad to follow my noble friend Lord Avon, who said much the same at the beginning of his remarks, and the noble Earl will know in what affection he is held by a good many of us in this House.

There are certain matters which I should like to put forward. Obviously one does not expect the Government to give answers, because it is better that they should keep their own counsel at the moment, but perhaps at least they will listen. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and I were not always entirely in accord when he represented a great newspaper and I was Minister of Defence, but we are entirely in accord in what he said to-day and, if I may say so, I think he was wise, as also was my noble friend Lord Carrington, to raise this question of nuclear weapons.

Let us face it, the world is armed with an over-kill capacity of these weapons, and it is utterly unrealistic to expect that a situation like this, which is gaining the backing of one country after another, and of the two great nuclear Powers on opposing sides, is one where the threat of nuclear war can be dismissed as unimportant. I think it is important, not from the point of view of trying to bring alarmist talk to a grave problem, but because I believe it is gravely to the disadvantage of the Russians that they should seek to drive on this situation. I see the advantages to the Russians of what one might call a "two-way stretch" on the Americans. Anyone can see the advantages of dabbling in troubled waters, but I wonder whether the Russian Minister of Defence to-day (who is new to his post) is really considering whether his Government wishes to face the Russian nation with another direct confrontation like Cuba. Yet this is the end of this business, if Russia does not have some care with the somewhat reckless commitments which she is making to a situation which is certainly not under her control.

So I think it was wise for both the opening speakers to bring in this issue, and I hope that through the normal channels of diplomacy (such as they are) the Government will seek, if they can, to bring to the notice of the Russians, as strongly as they can, the real dangers to which they themselves are bringing their nation if they force this to a confrontation with the Americans on one side and themselves on the other. I think perhaps having muddied the waters a bit they might be wise to play for the pause which we all so badly need.

I want to raise another question, which is, I expect, difficult for the Government. It seems to be the general consensus of view in this House and in the other place that these consultations between maritime Powers with a view to setting up some sort of consortium, which presumably would send some form of convoy with some form of escort into the Gulf of Aqaba, is a matter of considerable urgency and vitally important. I agree, too, that there are some of us in this House to whom this brings rather sad memories of the ill-fated Suez Canal Users' Association. Perhaps my noble friend, Lord Carrington, will remember this sad body which, if it had succeeded, might well have saved the world a great deal of trouble. I suspect it is very much in President Nasser's mind at the present time that a similar consortium was formed, and it failed. It never went into operation. I do not think this is so in the present circumstances: America and ourselves are clearly aligned together in this issue, and I for one am grateful for it.

There is no division in this House, in the other place or in the country, but none the less I think we must realise that if we are to form that consortium (and it may well be a consortium, in the end, consisting of America and ourselves) it is no good talking about it any more unless through the channels—about which I do not want to know at the present time—there is clear agreement that it will operate and that it will not brook any opposition of any kind. If we do not do this, then our situation will be much worse. If we go on talking about it; if we say, "This is a good thing, let us do it", and then nothing happens, we shall give the maximum possible encouragement to a situation which, as I have indicated, could well lead to a major confrontation, with nuclear weapons at risk. So, while I strongly support this concept and think that we should go ahead with it, if we have to, even if only the Americans and ourselves will operate in these particular circumstances—but, one hopes, with the backing of a large number of maritime nations—all I say is that we must not promise it unless we are quite certain that we can fulfil that promise.

Of course, as almost every other speaker has said, we should seek to solve this problem through the United Nations. I pray that we can, and frankly I do not know enough about the circumstances that pressed on the mind of the Secretary-General when he took, as many other noble Lords have said, what seemed to many of us to be a somewhat amateur and precipitate action. I do not express any view whatever. The United Nations is seized of this problem and, as I understand it, the problem is now in front of the Security Council. I think it was Sir Winston Churchill who said, "Jaw, jaw is better than war, war." This may be so, but if this talk goes on indefinitely and becomes a cloak for the present status quo—and after all Egypt claims that she is in control of the Gulf of Aqaba at this moment—it seems to me that it would impose an almost intolerable burden on the Israeli nation.

Personally I do not take either side. I think the interests of this country will best be served by a return to the status quo at the earliest possible moment. I think, too, that we would be unrealistic, as the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said, if we thought that some long-term solution of the age-old problem of the Jews and the Arabs could come out of this particular circumstance. It is in Britain's interests that this problem should be solved, that the Gulf of Aqaba should be reopened to the shipping of all nations—and certainly to those flying the Israeli flag—and that the patient and somewhat thankless tasks of diplomacy should be able to go forward again.

I want to say again, if I may, particularly to the noble Lord and his colleagues on the Government Bench, that they have to operate on a basis where in many cases it may be that those who to-day lead the Arabs, and lead them I fear to destruction if they do not look out, may well be judging that our resolution is not nearly as strong as our words. Let us face it, they might well have some excuse for so believing. I hope the Government, therefore, are taking this possibility most carefully into account and will do all they can to show that if we say we will force the Straits and preserve the international right of the martime nations we mean to do it, and very soon after we say we are going to do it.

There is one last matter I want to raise. There is another area where I think the Government now must show that they mean to honour their obligations exactly and precisely, and that area is Aden. Again, as an ex-Minister of Defence I have some knowledge of this part of the world, and while no decision is easy there and I see the pressures on a Minister of Defence to cut his commitments where he may—that pressure has been on every Minister of Defence and always will be—the situation has changed. Again one does not ask the Government to come forward and say, "Of course we have changed our mind"; but what one does ask the Government to do is, in the light of what I am sure is the very up-to-date and accurate advice that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has brought back—I think he is perfectly competent to judge the facts of the position—to re-examine the whole Aden situation. I am one who has tried very hard to keep quiet about Aden because I felt it was a difficult enough situation without too many added difficulties by criticism over here. But I must say this: if the Government now appear to disregard their obligations as they are publicly thought to be in that part of the Arab world, I, for one, shall find it very difficult to forgive them, and I, for one, shall feel that they bear a great share of the blame if this, in turn, reacts on the more direct confrontation to-day between Israel and the Arab countries.

So there are three issues where I hope the Government are thinking very hard on what they might do: first, what could be done to bring before the Russians the real problem of the confrontation in which all is at stake. The issue in a way might be small; it might just be the Straits of Tiran; but the real issue will be who will back down—the Russians or the Americans. I cannot believe that the Russians at this stage want to get into that position. Perhaps we could help them, because we are not so directly involved, to slide out. And I beg the Government—I hope they do not need begging—not to embark on forcing the Straits in words unless they are going to do it in deeds. I am sure they will, and I am sure they should, and I do not think there is a single noble Lord in this House or anybody in the other House who will not support them. But do not talk unless you are going to do it. Lastly, I believe the situation in Aden has now fundamentally changed and what may have been right in the Government's mind three months ago cannot be right to-day. They really will have to think again very carefully, for I am afraid a much longer period than at one time they thought possible, how they are going to preserve at least some balance between the Federation and the Aden Government and to keep some rule of law against these constant attempts to subvert the country from outside.

We are not the major Power in the issue now, but we are there. We cannot escape our responsibilities, and the sooner we say we are going to fulfil our responsibilities, as I believe the Government intend to do—and all honour to them—the more likely we are to get some pause in this most dangerous situation. It is dangerous not only within itself—that is dangerous enough—but because I cannot see that it will go on much longer without engaging America and Russia as direct protagonists in an issue in which one or the other will have to give way. One can only wish the Government well and say that they have the support of this House and I believe of the country if they will pursue their policies, as they have indicated, with firmness and courage; and perhaps then we may get a return to peace in this most dangerous situation.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, at the end of the debate in another place yesterday the Prime Minister indicated that he interpreted the general burden of the speeches as a mandate for the further search for a peaceful and just solution to this present emergency. I am confident that when this debate concludes it will be interpreted by the Prime Minister and every other reasonable person as an extension of that mandate or further confirmation of it. In the various relationships in so many fields of this most acute and dangerous problem I venture to say something about the religious aspect of it, and I dare say on this occasion I can speak for my absent, but interested, ecclesiastical friends. To set that out, perhaps I had better declare myself.

I can find evidence of many mistakes and difficulties on both sides in this acrimonious dispute, but I am unreservedly committed in moral principle to the Israeli side, for a simple and quite sufficient reason. When any country or group of countries is committed to the extermination of another contry it puts itself outside the moral code, and any reasonable and moral person, whatever his religious beliefs, must take the side of those who are so threatened. Therefore in principle I am quite convinced that we ought to give our support to the Israelis; but not to give our support to the Israelis as though this is a problem of which the political antecedents are of fairly recent growth, but to include—and this may be some of the light we can help to shed upon this problem in your Lordship's House—the religious incompatibility between the two sides which goes back to Biblical times. It is no irrelevance to remind ourselves that the case for the Arabs, which is not of course Biblical but a derivation of the Biblical story, is that these Arab countries are the sacrosanct homeland of the children of Allah and that those who intrude are essentially colonisers; and the process of decolonisation, though it may not stand up very well in law or in the more sophisticated debates in your Lordships' House, is very present to the mind of many Arabs to-day, and has been continuously trumpeted by the radio from Cairo and in the speeches of Nasser himself. It is rubbish, but it has a very strong and religious appeal in which rubbish has often a greater power than ordered belief. Therefore to ignore this basic religious conviction that the Israelis are intruders and that the Arabs have a divine right finally to get rid of them if they can is an incompatibility, and it does not suffer I think any immediate or proximate political or economic solution.

The same, of course, is true on the other side. I believe the Israelis have an existential right, and, of course, as the Prime Minister said in another place, it would be a crime to deny them a living and a place to live in which many of them have lived in for twenty years. But they have no divine right, and this can be very easily proved if one makes an excursion into that somewhat bloodthirsty book the Book of Joshua. No doubt it is true that the Jewish people, the Hebrews, were there before the Arabs, but there were a lot of people there before the Hebrews, including the Hivites, the Hittites, the Jesuites, the Ammonites, the Canaanites and others as well. The story is of this initial aggression by the people of Israel into somebody else's territory to which they forged the signature of God and went on to do even worse things; if you read Joshua 11.20 you will find one of the ways in which the wretched aborigines were denied any chance at all. It says: The Lord caused their hearts to be hardened, so that they opposed the children of Israel so that he destroyed them". That really does not give the Ammonites and Hittites and Canaanites a dog's chance.

I believe Zionism in its cruder form is another of those religious obsessions which has produced a kind of incompatability which will not be solved by political means and will finally be solved only in a different kind of climate and principally by the processes of education. Therefore I believe this has to be introduced into the argument; otherwise we are dealing with superficial or semi-superficial issues, when so many of these issues go right back to those primitive, obscure and very often irrational processes, of which some of your Lordships may be guilty as I very often probably am.

What then are we to do? I heartily endorse what has already been said—and I think I speak for every Christian believer in this country, and every member of the Christian Church: that to endeavour to seek a just solution through the United Nations, through appeals to both sides, through an attempt to bring the Arab peoples to sense over the Gulf of Aqaba, seems to me to be admirable. I earnestly hope that the present emergency will not flare up into war. But if it does, or if, indeed, our best intentions are prevented from solution; if indeed the Arab remains obdurate, if indeed Russia remains threatening (and from now on I know your Lordships will listen to me with your customary courtesy, though you may find what I have to say entirely preposterous and perhaps extremely unpleasant to your ears and your thoughts), I am myself committed to the belief that, in the final analysis, it would be completely and utterly wrong to go to war, even for the salvation of Israel.

I know that this view is incompatible, or is hostile to almost every thought that has been expressed or that has been half hinted at in your Lordships' House today; but I venture to say, I hope without truculence, that if these words of mine are remembered in fifty years' time, which is most unlikely, we shall look back at this period as yet another example of the way in which we are tricked into the assumption that we can solve any of these problems by recourse to that process of war which has already been indicated in your Lordships' House to-day and will escalate into total disaster. This is a pacifist faith. I indicate it as a witness. It cannot, obviously, be a programme at the moment. I realise that quite clearly, and would not press the point beyond your Lordships' indulgence.

The fact remains that I am committed to the conviction that anything, even for the Israelis, would be better than the plunging of that country and the surrounding countries into strife of a military nature. And though I can see little hope at the moment of a solution in other ways that would be in any way compulsory or likely, yet in this dilemma, when your Lordships venture to hope that this will eventuate into some kind of peaceful solution, I venture at least to bring into this debate and to this discussion an idea which is to me far more than an idea; it is an utter conviction: that only when a community such as this community is prepared to put the fact and the project of war completely outside its programme will there be any real break-through in what otherwise seems to be a hopeless situation. What can be done? Immediately, very little. But supposing we do emerge from this particular calamitous situation—please God we shall; and I have every hope that we may—nothing dims my ardour for the work that is already being done and the preparations that are in hand for further projects and co-operative efforts—who knows? At least it is part of my religious faith that this will not be the end of the matter.

I would commit to you, if I may, what emerges from the kind of argument which I have deployed. It is this. I do not see in the proximate future any resolution of this basic religious problem. I wish I did. I think it would take a long time to convert the Arab to the belief that he should live in amity and concord with the Israeli. God knows how sympathetic one must be, without any kind of patronage, to the Israeli in his fear that he is about to see another persecution only a few years after being delivered from the last one. Yet, if it is impossible in the near future to see any major change in the attitude of individuals, is it not possible to see a change in our administration, so that when the quarrel continues, those lethal and dreadful weapons which have brought so many people to their death may not be included in that quarrel? As I see it, this is the true hope, the unilateral process of disarmament by which those who do quarrel are no longer committed to killing one another because they do not have access to the kind of weapons which do it. This is the faith I hold, and I should not have intruded on this debate unless I had felt that it was a responsible faith. At least it is a growing faith among many of the Christian Churches. It is part of the argument: it is part of the prospect.

I would conclude, if I may, by reading to your Lordships part of a letter written by T.E. Lawrence to his mother in 1909. It says: … then I walked down the lakeside to the southern end of the lake"— This is the Lake of Tiberius, and he reflected that the country was not a bit like this in the time of Our Lord. that is, under the Romans— There were not twenty miles of thistles behind Capernium. And on the way round the lake they did not come upon dirty, dilapidated Bedouin tents.… Palestine was a decent country then"— that is, in the time of the Romans, maybe, but at any rate it was a highly cultivated one— and could be so easily made so again. The sooner the Jews farm it all the better; their colonies are bright spots in a desert. This is germane to the final argument. It is a fact that the Jew has made the desert blossom like the rose, and that within Palestine, within Israel itself, 250,000 Palestinian Arabs have found co-operation and a higher standard of living, and many of the amenities of the good life, in co-operation with the Israeli. There is no final reason why Israeli and Arab should not live together and cultivate so much more of the desert that still needs to be cultivated.

But that will not happen, my Lords, until weapons are put away. How shall we persuade them to put away their weapons? I have only one constructive answer to that question: by putting away our own weapons. In such a process we may well get into a great deal of trouble. I cannot but believe that the trouble which will follow such an adventure in demilitarisation and disarmament would be infinitely less than the colossal tragedy of entering upon even what appears to be a small conflict, with the prospect, as I believe it to be a real one, of starting a third world war. In that respect I make this testimony. I hope that it has not sounded too solemn, but I make it because I am convinced that this is the end of the matter so far as our immediate programmes are concerned. We now have to await events and do what we can. It is the beginning of the matter, as I see it, if we are prepared to take an entirely new line; and at least I am sure that my noble friend will take what I say into consideration though he may have to repudiate it, as many other realists will feel they must do at the moment. But I believe that, sooner or later it must come.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened with great interest to the most moving speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and indeed to many speeches that have been made this afternoon. I hope that the noble Lord will not think me discourteous if I do not follow him on his line. I hope that I am a good Christian, perhaps not so good as he is; but in any case I am not a pacifist, and I could not agree with the arguments which he has made. I agreed with the argument at the beginning of his speech, but I could not understand how, holding those views, he could also hold views which must inevitably, if you are not prepared to fight for what you believe in, end for everyone in defeat by some force or other—in this case the Nasser forces—which I should find altogether humiliating and utterly wrong. However, we are not here to argue the pacifist case against that of the non-pacifist. All I can say is that I, as I am sure we all do in this House, respect the views of the noble Lord, but could not subscribe to them.

We have had an extremely interesting debate. I should like to add my congratulations to those of many other noble Lords to both Lord Chalfont for his opening, and to Lord Carrington for his response on this side. I think we have had a debate in which many contributions have been of the first order and of enormous interest. I thought that the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, was particularly interesting, and also that of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, who, like me, speaks from her experiences at the United Nations. I was also deeply moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, who outlined to us so vividly the make-up, the texture and the history that goes into the present State of Israel.

I make my contribution to-day simply on the ground that I must be one of the very few people in either House of Parliament who was a delegate to that Assembly, the Eleventh Assembly of the United Nations, in 1956, when the suggestion of the United Nations peacekeeping force was first brought forward by the leader of the Canadian delegation, Mr. Lester Pearson, now the Canadian Prime Minister. I remember the occasion clearly, because it followed on events to which we have not to-day referred in great detail but which are vivid in our minds—the difficulties which arose between delegations during the time of that Assembly and the events which led to the Suez crisis. The proposal which came from the Canadian delegation for a peacekeeping force, which calmed the atmosphere and eased the dangerous positions which had been taken up by so many people, including the acute difficulties between Israel and Egypt over the Gaza Strip, was supported at that time by everybody, and was a remarkable event. I think that it was the only great event which came out of the United Nations Assembly at that time.

The proposals were discussed in Plenary Session of the Assembly. I remember that, although I did not take part in discussion, I took part in the voting, and it was my clear impression that when that Force was set up it was set up with the support of the Security Council and of the Plenary Session of the Assembly. I do not believe any of us thought that the Secretary-General would ever take that Force away within a very short space of time, as the present Secretary-General has done. I am certain that the then Secretary-General, Mr. Hammarskjöld, was acting for the Assembly, for the Security Council, and not as an individual when that Force was set up. I do not believe that that Force should have been removed without consultation with the Assembly and the Security Council which set it up. Therefore, I feel very strongly that it was an extremely unfortunate action on the part of the present Secretary-General.

During the years in which this Force has been operating in Jordan and on the Gaza Strip in the difficult frontier areas, I have twice been to Jordan and once to Israel, and I have seen the way in which the Force has operated. I have seen the groups of soldiers in their blue berets and shoulder flashes. I have flown in an aircraft piloted and crewed by United Nations Forces. It all worked excellently, and I believe that it was the one good suggestion which came out of all those disrupted times during that Eleventh Assembly. It is a tragedy that this should have been eliminated so quickly. I feel that some delegation at the General Assembly might have moved a resolution of thanks to those soldiers who for ten years have been doing an excellent job under the direction of a commander approved by and under the auspices of the United Nations.

I entirely agree with those speakers in this debate who have said that we cannot stand by and see the State of Israel driven into the sea, or whatever phrase President Nasser uses in his broadcasts. It is a terrible thing once again to hear these bombastic ravings of a dictator coming over the radio. It sends shivers down one's spine. Those of us who experienced these things in the past know what a terrifying experience it was to hear such words from the dictator, Hitler. To hear again now the same kind of words, coming over in the way in which we have heard them only recently, is a terrifying experience.

One tries to take a dispassionate view of the situation. Perhaps it is difficult for me to do so, as I am a committed person; but I have been to Israel and to Jordan, and I have seen the situation there. The Arab nations have millions of acres, stretching almost from the Atlantic to the Himalayas, and yet they grudge to the State of Israel this tiny part of the Middle East which is no bigger than the Principality of Wales. This is a terrible point of view when one remembers the people who for centuries have given to the world so much in science, in medicine, in art, and scholarship—in everything that makes for the development of civilisation; people who. as the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, said, have suffered in ways one can hardly bear to think of to-day. To stand by and listen to the kind of broadcasts which are being put out, and the kind of words used by the President of the Arab Republic, makes one feel very unhappy indeed.

I was re-reading only last night an article written by my husband in 1949 after his first visit to the new State of Israel. He wrote in the article: I asked my guide in Tel Aviv, 'What is the main shortage in this country?' My guide replied, 'The chief shortage is peace'". In this article my husband went on to say: The keys to peace are three: stable boundaries, vigorous development, and lasting good will. That was in 1949.

Now there is no doubt that the Israelis have achieved vigorous development. What Israel has done in the desert areas—in areas with no better land than the thousands of acres which the Arab nations control—and in other development is nothing short of miraculous. They have done this to give to Jews from all over the world a home. They want to have the opportunity to develop, and, tiny as they are, they want the chance to become a great civilised State. Their efforts have been nothing short of a miracle, and one must pay homage to them, because the achievement has been astonishing. They are searching for good will, and we in this country and in other Western countries must realise that they are the people who want the good will. They are the people who have achieved the development; they are the people who want peace. They do not want to enlarge their country. They only want to make their country a great State, almost as the Phoenicians did, a State which has turned to the sea for its trade. They do not want an aggressive policy towards their neighbours, as they have said over and over again, and it is entirely true. This is one of the things which makes the present situation so painful for one to read about.

I have visited the refugee camps, many of which have been helped by funds raised all over the world, and not least by funds raised in this country during World Refugee Year; I have seen the training centres which have been set up for the training of Arab refugees. I have walked among them. I have seen them. There is a whole generation in those camps which never knew Palestine. They were born long after 1948, and I do not believe they want to go to Palestine.

I believe that many of them are being kept in those huge encampments at a much higher standard of living than if they were living in much less well-cultivated areas in some of the Arab countries. They are in those camps, sitting on the borders of Israel, and this is a kind of blackmail. But many of the young people who are trained have gone out into the world and have found work for themselves. They have gone into other Arab countries, too, and anyone who looks at the situation and understands what has been done in the State of Israel, and who realises what could be done with the great potential in many of those UNWRA Palestinian camps, knows that a great deal could be done to give those people work and a new life in the kind of conditions under which they want to live; namely, in a Moslem country. I feel very strongly about the attitude of Egypt towards the refugees, because it is not true to say that Israel has not taken some refugees. I think the noble Lord, Lord Soper, spoke of 250,000. I have been given a figure of 100,000 Arab refugees taken in 1949, and there were quite a number after that who went back to Israel and who are living there perfectly happily.

The other point which I should like to mention—I do not think it has been mentioned in this House, but I heard it yesterday in another place—is on the question of compensation. I remember Mrs. Golda Mayer, who was the Foreign Secretary of Israel for many years, telling me that compensation had been offered to many Palestinian Arabs but that it was not the policy of Egypt to allow that compensation to be taken because it meant recognition of the State of Israel. This kind of hatred, this kind of wickedness which exists, is very unfortunate, and I am glad that all of us in this House and in another place show ourselves to be thoroughly dissatisfied with it.

Of course, we are in a difficult situation. It has been said that we are not strong enough to act on our own, nor do I think we should act on our own. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, have both given very good reasons why we should act in concert with the United States and with the French. If one could only persuade the Russians that the interests of the world, which after all are their interests, are involved, what a miracle might happen. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has said—and I can confirm this—when it comes to taking an active part in the United Nations in a move for peace in the world, you may count on it that straight away the Russians will be on the other side in practically every vote. This happened on every vote in the United Nations when I was present, and evidently the noble Baroness has had the same experience.

So we are in a very difficult position indeed. But nothing can be done by prevaricating. Time is not on our side. When we look back at the difficult and chequered history of the world, and the failure of Governments, from the days of the Peel Commission, to take any decisions, I hope we shall not wait too long. But if we are not going to take a decision, I hope that we shall persuade our friends to come and take a decision with us, to let the world know for certain that we are anxious and determined not to let this act of closing the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran go by as though it were not of importance. It is a matter of importance to the whole world and I should like the world to know where we stand, because that might well clarify the situation and make it very much more difficult for the Egyptians to take any irrevocable step. We are united here. Let them know that we arc united.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think there is any subject on which I am conscious of such divided loyalties as the issue which we are debating to-night. I am one of those who have been to Israel, and I think I was more inspired by what I saw there than by what I have seen in any other country. The quite wonderful way in which desert has been converted into fields and towns, in which swamps have been converted into fishing lakes and fertility, has been almost a miracle. Israel also had an appeal to me which perhaps Members on the other side of the House will not share, in that it seemed to have gone further towards a Socialist society than any territory which I have visited. One cannot have had these experiences without having a feeling of identity with the people.

But there is not only what has been done in Israel. I suppose that from our childhood, reading the Biblical revelations, we have learned to think of the Jewish people as associated with Palestine, despite what my noble friend Lord Soper said about the Book of Joshua. I want to emphasise, also, what the noble Baroness has just said in tribute to the contribution which the Jewish race has made to mankind. I think that intellectually and artistically—perhaps specially in music—it has given us more than any other race. Also, none of us can possibly think of this issue without remembering the persecution which the Jewish race has suffered and which found its terrible climax in Poland and under Hitler when 6 million Jews were exterminated. No one can possibly have either the experience of a visit to Israel, or a sense of history, or recognition of the contribution of the Jewish race to us all, without feeling identity with them.

On the other hand, if we are looking at this issue from a human point of view, we must also have a great sense of identity with the Arab peoples. For over fifty years they have been engaged in a struggle for their own rights and their own freedoms. In the First World War they were our allies against Turkey in helping to end the Ottoman Empire. Very many of them are now carrying through a struggle not only for their political rights, but against the feudal system which has kept the many poor and a few rich over the years; against monarchical and sheik wealth, side by side with their desperate poverty. Not only have we seen what the Jews have done in Israel: we have seen the quite extraordinary progress that has taken place in Egypt in the regions of the Aswan Dam, in the fertilisation of the desert and in the beginning of co-operation among peasants. In the U.A.R. we have seen probably the biggest contribution there has been anywhere towards the conquest of the desert. Therefore, no one who is approaching this issue to-night with a sense of what is happening in the world can say that all our sympathies should be on one side, with no sympathy on the other, or that all that is right is on one side and all that is wrong is on the other.

My Lords, this country has a very great responsibility for the conflict which has grown up between the Jewish and the Arab populations in the Middle East. It dates from the First World War, when two promises were given by the British Government which were contradictory. On the one hand, we said to the Arab peoples; "Overthrow the Ottoman Empire and you shall possess this territory". At the same time, we said to Chaim Weizmann, for whom I have a very great regard, "Palestine shall be the national home of the Jews". Those were inconsistent pledges, and from those two contradictory promises the subsequent conflict between the Arabs and the Jews has arisen.

I cannot share the view—and I think that what I have said about Israel indicates this—which the Arabs have held, that the settlement of the Jews in Israel was simply a repetition of colonialism. The great majority of its immigrants have been poor workers, and many of them have been refugees. They have gone there not to exploit others but to contribute to the construction of the society to which they are so much dedicated. Nevertheless, one can understand the view of the Arabs who resisted their coming into the Middle East as racial occupation. One can understand the deep bitterness which resulted from the eviction of one million Arabs in the Jewish War of Liberation, and the bitterness which is still there. Like the noble Baroness, I have been to these refugee camps, and, like her, I take the view that the refugee problem is soluble, because the younger generation are leaving those camps to take work in Kuwait, Iraq and elsewhere; and because the majority of the older generation, if they were given a choice with compensation, would, I believe, prefer to live the rest of their days in Arab communities rather than in Israel.

One of my great regrets is that over these years we have allowed this bitterness to remain. I accept the view that the Arabs have used it for political purposes, but I also take the view very strongly indeed that the Israeli Government have been wrong in saying that they would not negotiate a settlement of the problem except as a part of the total problem of peace. In my view, if we had made a contribution to the settlement of the refugee problem and the problem of the Jordan waters—which I will not expand upon now—we should have done something to change that psychology and probably avoided the situation which has now arisen in the Middle East.


My Lords, may I—


I did not interrupt the noble Baroness, but still—


May I interrupt? I apologise for interrupting, but I should like my noble friend to say where he has got this information that the Israelis would not consider a settlement of the Palestine refugee problem. Whenever I have talked to them they have always said that they have asked the Arabs to sit round a table, but they have never been allowed to do so.


But it has always been as part of a general peace settlement.




I differ from the noble Baroness. I have read their public statements, and I have also had my talks with Mrs. Golda Mayer, their Foreign Secretary. So far as the refugee problem is concerned, I think it is true to say that they have insisted that it shall be regarded as part of a general peace settlement. I recognise that they have been quite prepared to sit round the table in that wider context.

My Lords, repeatedly during this debate the danger of the present situation has been emphasised. I am perfectly sure that our Government, the American Government, and also I think the Russian Government, are exerting an influence of restraint at the present time. I regretted very much the fact that the Russian Government did not accept the proposal which President de Gaulle made for a conference between the four Powers—America, Britain, France and Soviet Russia. But, despite that refusal, I think there is very considerable evidence that Russia's contribution to this situation has been to bring restraint to bear; and I do not believe for one moment that Russia wants war in the Middle East, any more than America or the United Kingdom do.

The immediate difficulty arose from the withdrawal of the United Nations forces. I regretted that that was done so expeditiously. Undoubtedly Egypt had the right to ask for it, though I do not think the request should have been accepted without some consultation with the Security Council or the General Assembly. And when we are thinking about this we must also have in mind that while Egypt was prepared for the United Nations forces to be on its territory at the frontier, that proposal has always been rejected by the Israeli Government. I am trying, if I can, to balance this situation, because I think it would be dangerous if we got into the emotion of thinking that all the right has been on one side.

My Lords, following the withdrawal of those forces, there was the occupation of the head of the Straits at the Gulf of Aqaba by the Egyptian forces. The danger now is of the breaking of what is a lifeline for the Israeli economy if ships are not allowed to pass through those Straits. I would just say—and I listened with great care to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and other speakers—that, despite what has been said in this House, there is considerable doubt in the highest legal circles on the question of International Law and the Gulf of Aqaba. One had only to read the article in The Times of yesterday to appreciate the different views held on that issue by high legal authorities. I should like to see the issue submitted to the International Court at The Hague. The difficulty about that is one of time. It might be six months, it might be a year, or even two years, before it was settled; and, obviously, if that course were taken we should have to advocate some policy and seek to obtain its acceptance before a judgment by the International Court could be made.

My suggestion—and I agree that there would have to be accommodation and compromises on both sides to get through the situation—would be that we should say to Egypt: "We will maintain through the Straits all foreign shipping; we will maintain through the Straits the tankers which take the oil to Eilat, which is so important to Israel; we will maintain through the Straits all the ships which take trade to Africa and Asia; but we will accept one limitation", a limitation which would not affect the economy of Israel. We should say that, without prejudice to consideration by the International Court, and without prejudice to its decision, we would limit, during that consideration, the movement of Israeli ships themselves through the Straits. That would have very little effect on the economy of Israel. The actual number of Israeli ships passing through the Straits is very small, and the transport of oil and the trade which is essential to its life could still be carried on. I recognise that this is a compromise; but I believe that to seek an accommodation of that kind would be better for Israel and better for the peace of the world than to risk the dangers of war resulting from the situation in the Gulf.

Finally, I want to look at the long-term situation. If we get through this crisis there must be continued effort, with great patience, to find a solution to the Arab/Jewish issue in the Middle East. To do this, it seems to me there have to be two changes in attitude. Israel must begin to think of itself in terms of the Middle East rather than in terms of its association with the West. Israel must begin to think in terms of inter-racialism, so that it will no longer be a racist State. On the other side, among the Arabs there must be a recognition of the Jewish historical right, deep and long-standing, to a presence in that territory. I believe that if those two changes were to take place on the two opposing sides then, by a continuous effort to bridge the gulf that divides those peoples, we might find a solution—though not at an early date—and move towards a federation of the Middle East in which both Jews and Arabs would be joined.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, after the doves the hawks. May I make a brief, brisk, abrupt speech on the lines recommended' by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, when he told us to speak shortly? I do not propose to speak about the Middle East—it is, so to speak, not my area. I propose instead to say one simple thing; and it is this. Once again we find ourselves forced back to the horrid truth that in the last resort it is strength and armed preparedness which counts; that in international affairs the weak will always go to the wall and that appeasement never pays—particularly in the Arab countries, where the strong is regarded as the good.

I believe in the high purposes of the United Nations. I do not—after the latest most lamentable failures—any longer believe in its effectiveness; although, of course, that does not mean that we should abandon it or write it off. Frankly, I should prefer a couple more aircraft carriers or ten battalions of anti-missile missiles to a dozen new hospitals or a hundred new schools. Those noble Lords who know me at all will realise that I am not against hospitals or schools. But what is the point of these splendid things, what is the point of our new social Utopia, if we cannot defend them when the time comes?—and it may come. Which of us does not sleep more comfortably in bed because "Hermes" is at Aden and "Victorious" at Malta?

Which of us is not grateful for the awesome presence of the American Sixth Fleet? I except those noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who are saints—but, if I may say so. foolish saints. I ask the most dedicated peace-lover—and we are, on the whole, I believe, a peace-loving House—to agree that we are grateful for the strength that is still there.

I believe—and I have said this in this House before—that we are slowly moving to a new age of compassion, tenderness and tolerance; and I believe this profoundly. But these things as yet apply to individuals only and not to nations. It will take perhaps fifty years before we have a United States of Europe, let alone of the world. Meanwhile, should we not, as a country, vow ourselves to protect those things, the good things we have and in which we believe? Should we not learn from this crisis, even if it does not become more than a crisis, that virtue in international affairs is not enough unless it is backed by strength? Can we not resolve, whatever Government is in power, that they will never leave Britain so defenceless as not to be able to protect herself and also those who still look to her for protection?

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, we are now reaching the end of a long and remarkable debate. Yesterday, too, the debate in another place was remarkable for the general consensus of opinion in all parts of the House that Israel must not be destroyed—and if the speeches from the Government Front Bench yesterday were somewhat less emphatic than those from the Opposition, everyone must recognise the heavy weight of responsibility that rests on our Government to-day. No one, I think, would willingly be in their shoes and face the agonising decisions with which they are now confronted.

In his opening speech yesterday the Foreign Secretary spoke of the need for a lowering of the temperature. On that, of course, we all agree. But has he not got his priorities somewhat wrong? The first essential is for an accurate diagnosis to be made. Only then can we proceed with a deliberate lowering of the temperature. Otherwise we run the risk of a recurring temperature, each successive bout higher than the preceding one, until the patient is consumed in a temperature so high that treatment becomes too late.

Is it not the case that in his diagnosis the Foreign Secretary appears to have been somewhat at fault? He said yesterday: We would consider as acts of belligerence any unilateral act to close the Gulf of Aqaba or any acts of aggression committed by either side on the Israel/Arab border."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, col. 112.] But he has chosen to omit entirely a third act of belligerence far greater than either of those two, an act of belligerence which has already been committed; namely, the wanton destruction of the United Nations peace-keeping force. I cannot conceive of any graver act of aggression against the whole of humanity. Not only has this act of aggression already been committed, but the destroyer of the United Nations peace-keeping force has openly boasted of his aggression. Do not let us be mealy-mouthed about all this. The holding of an inquest, the blaming of U Thant or anyone else, is utterly futile in the face of this wanton act of aggression; and it is on Colonel Nasser that the real blame must lie for demanding the removal of the peace-keeping force.

The first act of aggression, the closing of the waterway of the Straits of Tiran to shipping of all nations, including Israel, already been committed; and in this, too, its author has gloried in his act. The second act of aggression on either side of the Israeli /Arab border may or may not be committed in the very near future. But, as we know already to our cost, it can always be precipitated or provoked even by reports which are of doubtful accuracy—as in the case of the mobilisation on the Syrian border—at any moment which might suit the whim of a dictator. This technique has long been known. It was known even in the days of Hitler, and it has been perfected by subsequent dictators. But the greatest aggression of all for which any nation must always stand condemned, the destroying of the peacekeeping force, that surely our Foreign Secretary should have added to his list of acts of aggression, for that action alone has caused this crisis and brought the whole world to the brink of the precipice. Furthermore, if I may say so with great respect, has not the Foreign Secretary also got his priorities all wrong? I quote from his words yesterday: …the centre of the present crisis seems pretty clearly to be the Gulf of Aqaba. The immediate crucial problem is the freedom of navigation there."—[c. 113.] Surely a greater mistake could hardly have been made. The immediate crucial problem is the concentration of Arab arms on Israel's frontiers. Perhaps Israel could survive without the use of the Gulf of Aqaba for a month or two, but with each day that passes while Arab armies remain concentrated on the frontiers of Israel, the danger of a spark which might ignite a shooting war becomes greater. if you wait until you have solved the problem of the Gulf of Aqaba very valuable time will have been lost.

Of course, my Lords, it is wise of U Thant to have called for a breathing space to enable passions to cool. But what is happening during this breathing space? On the one side there is the breathing of fire and war and destruction: exhortations for the final extinction of Israel. Perhaps time will allow these passions to cool—we all firmly hope so; but no signs of this are apparent as yet. On the other side, there is a breathing space which leaves the victim more and more gasping for breath in a vice-like grin on her one pipeline for the supply of oil. Of course it is wise to call for restraint, but Israel has earned the gratitude of the whole world by the superb restraint she has already shown—restraint almost beyond all human endurance.

Let us face the hard facts, my Lords. At this moment the Arab nations of 40 million souls have their armies mobilised on the Israel frontier. Some 4 million Arabs may be under arms, but some 36 million Arabs remain behind, and life continues more or less normally in Cairo and Alexandria, in Amman and Riyad, in Mecca, Algiers and Morocco; save only for the demonstrations in their streets. But in Israel to-day the position is totally different. A whole nation of 2½million souls, men, women and children, has been mobilised to man its frontiers. The streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are deserted. All public transport has been requisitioned Factories are idle; fields are unharvested. The whole economy is slowly grinding to a halt. Colonel Nasser knows that he has only to stay poised on Israel's frontiers for three months for the whole country to fall into his lap like a ripe orange.

A policy of restraint—except restraint in their words—may be all very well for the Arabs, but a policy of indefinite restraint spells suicide for Israel. It may well be Massada all over again. One can hardly expect a people which has survived for 5,000 years to take kindly to a policy of self-immolation. By each day of its restraint the Israeli Government is driving another nail into its own coffin, and no country can be expected to do that for very long. Are we prepared to stand by and watch Israel go down amid a chorus of pious hallelujahs? What then can we do to avert the risk of a holocaust? We know that our Government will not weary in their efforts to save the world from catastrophe. What then should our Government do?

I suggest that four immediate steps can be taken. First, let us be absolutely frank, as they were in another place last night. Let us drop the pretence of refusing to take sides. We are only deceiving ourselves. We convince no-one else, certainly not Colonel Nasser. The whole Government Front Bench to-day—they were then in Opposition—are committed Labour friends of Israel. Do our Government really hope to convince Colonel Nasser that now, with agonising decisions to make, they will become enemies of Israel? Of course we are friends of both sides. We trade with both sides and shall continue to do so. But on the day the Labour Government declared themselves the friend of both sides they became the enemy of the Arabs. So long as we continue to trade with Israel we are black-listed as enemies of the Arab people. To-day we are bracketed by Colonel Nasser, together with the United States, falsely, as enemies of the Arab cause. To-day the Arabs are claiming that the only true friend of the Arab cause is Russia—Russia, who has never lifted a finger to aid the Arab refugees, who has been maintained by us as a member of the United Nations without paying any of its contributions, to torpedo the United Nations decisions by the use of her veto, while we, who have for over twenty years saved hundreds of thousands of Arab lives by our aid to the refugee camps, are now branded with America as enemies of the Arabs. Could bitter irony ever go farther?

Secondly, we must replace at once the destroyed peace-keeping force of U.N.O by another international force, composed of maritime and peace-loving Powers, and on Israeli soil if need be, to act as a buffer, as a shock-absorber, between the two opposing armies. I believe that Israel would now welcome the presence of any peace-keeping force on her soil to avoid a shooting war and enable her to continue living in peace. But today the United Nations no longer commands any confidence in the Middle East, neither in Egypt nor in Aden or Israel, whatever the confidence we may still retain in it ourselves. Its machinery is too slow and too cumbersome, and the present situation is far too grave to permit of any delay.

Thirdly, if we wish the State of Israel to continue to show restraint, we must offer her aid in her hour of trial, instant, immediate aid—oil to enable her economy to keep going, food to replace her abandoned harvests, and other aid in every possible way to compensate for the destruction of the peace-keeping force and for her confrontation by the Arab enemy, aid to enable her to continue indefinitely her present policy of self-restraint and non-aggression. This aid must come from us, as well as from America and from all peace-keeping countries of the world.

Fourthly and lastly, we must join with other maritime nations to break the blockade in the Straits of Tiran. And if, as a result, President Nasser again carries out his threat to block the Suez Canal, as he did in 1956, then he forfeits all claim to be left in control of it. For there can be no hope of peace in the Middle East so long as he remains in charge of the Canal and continues to exclude the passage of Israeli shipping. The use of any great international waterway as an instrument of national policy should be banned by all maritime countries.

For ten years we have brushed the Suez Canal issue under the carpet, a procedure even more inept than Canute's attempt to order back the waves. Can anyone else have endured such a policy of feebleness and appeasement? If Turkey had blocked the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles to Russian shipping, or Denmark her entrance to the Baltic, does anyone imagine that Russia would have waited for ten years and taken it all lying down? Or if the Republic of Panama had decided to block the Panama Canal to the shipping of all nations, does anyone imagine that the United States would have endured passively ten years of shame and humiliation? Yet this is the policy that all the maritime nations have adopted with the Suez Canal. For how long can appeasement be endured, even at the expense of Israel?

And so I end with these four immediate steps, which I urge our Government to take now, at once, and in that order of priority. And of those vast glowering armies facing each other across the borders of Israel, face to face with death and destruction, let us ask: who is the aggressor? Who destroyed the peace-keeping force, and who gloried in its destruction? To the Arab nations seething with hatred of Israel let us say: "Turn back, turn back now while there is yet time. Turn your swords into ploughshares and your machine-guns into pruning hooks. Your people have greater need of these than of all your arms of destruction. Turn back now, before it is too late, before in your eagerness for the kill and your sharing of the spoils, you destroy yourselves and destroy each other".

And to Israel let us say: "Have no fear. Already you know who is the aggressor, who has destroyed the peace-keeping force, and who has gloried in its destruction. You have not survived for 5,000 years to be liquidated by President Nasser. Others have encompassed your downfall in the past, and you have sat at the graves of your oppressors. Through all the centuries they have come and gone, and you have survived as a living witness to their destruction. Men of iron and men of straw, they have vanished into oblivion. But you will survive to bring a testament of peace and hope to mankind".

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, I hate a lot of talk and legal argument. I like action and simplicity. The solution of this problem is so simple that it can be put in about five words. The United Nations will guarantee the frontiers of Israel and the Arab countries. Then we can be friends with both or enemies of both, as they like. It may be said that somebody may apply the Veto to such a proposal. If a nation applies the Veto to such a resolution, it means that they have demonstrated to the world that they want to exterminate 2½ million people and cause hundreds of thousands dead and wounded. That is what they do if they veto this proposition. I cannot think why our representative has not got up and said, "I propose that we guarantee the frontiers of Israel and Egypt and the Arab countries". Then the whole problem is solved. We can send our observers and ask the Arabs and Jews to demobilise.

I do not think that the Gulf of Aqaba is so important at the moment. I remember the precedent of the Spanish Civil War. All that has to be done is for the United Nations to see that any ship going through the Straits of Tiran flies the United Nations flag at the mast-head and to put a United Nations observer on board. If the Arabs fire on the ship, they are firing on the United Nations, which I do not think they will dare to do. I would strongly oppose trying to force ships or a convoy through the Straits. I have been through these Straits dozens of times and I know that it is very difficult to force a convoy through, unless you occupy the shore and safeguard shipping from mines. That is my solution in five words. The only other thing I want to say is that I think the Government must now see their folly in abandoning Malta, evacuating Aden and giving up aircraft carriers.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to intervene briefly at this late stage in the debate because, while it is difficult to contribute anything new to it, as one of the Jewish members of your Lordships' House I feel most strongly about the danger facing Israel at this time; also, I do not believe too much emphasis can be laid on the problems arising from the confrontation in the Middle East. The position in that troubled area is both complex and at the same time starkly simple. What are the facts? Israel is a land of about 8,000 square miles; Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt between them cover an area of many millions of square miles. The Arabs outnumber the Israelis by 17 to 1, and there is a great discrepancy in troops and weapons. The difference in morale and fighting spirit cannot totally compensate for this discrepancy.

It is the declared intention of the Arabs, particularly Egypt and Syria, to erase Israel from the map of the Middle East. This has been stated not once, but many times, and bears direct analogy to Nazi Germany. Hitler's solution of the Jewish problem was to wipe out the Jewish people. Nasser's intention is to exterminate Israel and, by implication, its inhabitants, also. Those, my Lords, are the simple facts. In order to implement these intentions and to detract from his failures in other fields Nasser, with the collusion of Russia, took the steps which your Lordships well know.

In my opinion, any arguments as to the legality of the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli ships are frankly immaterial, since President Nasser has stated categorically that he does not intend to be moved from his position there and will retain a stranglehold on an important part of Israel's economy. This position is intolerable. But so far as Nasser sees it, he has not been challenged on it, and, indeed, the whole operation has been carried out with ridiculous ease, thanks primarily to the co-operation of the United Nations. Such was the boosting of Nasser's standing in the Arab world that King Hussein, whom Shukari had only ten days previously been urging the Jordanian people to rebel against and to kill, came running to Cairo to claim his share of the spoils. The vultures were gathering for the kill. What happens to-day to Hussein could happen to-morrow to Feisal, who has already declared against Israel but has not yet met with his foe, Nasser.

The provocation on the Israelis has been immense. There are those in that country who have been, and are, advocating immediate military action, and it is to the everlasting credit of the Israel Government that, so far, they have resisted these pressures and have heeded the external urging to stay their hand. But time is running out: not only are the Arabs mobilising their forces, but the longer that Israel has to maintain its forces at a state of standby the greater the strain on her economy. Indeed, to take it to its theoretical extreme, if the wait was too lengthy, the war could be lost without a shot being fired, due to the collapse of the economy.

Obviously, then, there is not much time left. The situation in the Gulf of Aqaba has to be resolved, and to be resolved quickly. If diplomatic attempts to persuade Nasser to withdraw his restriction on shipping should fail—and, on the face of it, it would seem that they surely will—then the maritime nations must soon implement their promise to take the appropriate action. As was stated with such clarity in the Daily Telegraph last week: Any act interfering with Israel shipping would be an act of war, and any retaliation by Israel would be an essential act of self-defence and not an aggression. Nobody wants to see that statement proved one way or the other. but should the Israeli air force strike at Sharm el Sheikh, these are about the only words which will still be relevant.

There is not merely a need to save little Israel from being squeezed into oblivion by her bigger neighbours; there is the more long-term need to stop Nasserite aggression in the Middle East. Should we fail in this task, then this in time will inevitably and inexorably lead to total Russian domination of that area. My Lords, this must not happen.

7.46 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for arriving late and, therefore, not having been present for the earlier part of the debate, but to-day is the first day that I have earned my living as a civilian, and I had to put in my full time in my new job. When France left NATO, and America and England cast doubt upon her future in it, my Commander-in-Chief sent for me and said: "Within one year we shall have a probe outside Europe". I believe this last trouble is a sign of that probe. I believe, also, that there are other reasons.

President Nasser (I feel that we should give him his title, but as a colonel of the regiment I rather resent calling him colonel) has been in difficulty on three or four counts. First, he has been in difficulty on the religious side. I have many friends of the Moslem faith, and particularly those of the Moslem Brotherhood, and the slaughter and ill-treatment of the Moslem Brotherhood throughout Egypt has caused great resentment among the Moslem religious throughout the Middle East. By having an enemy who can be common to the Arabs and seen to be hated by the Arabs, Nasser diverts attention from the religious struggle, and, as Hitler did, gives a common purpose of enmity and hate. Secondly, as I know has already been said in the House, he has done badly in the Yemen. But thirdly, he is at the moment doing all too well in the Yemen by the use of poison gas and bombing the Royalist stronghold. By having this crisis at this particular time he is diverting attention from what ought to attract the attention of all of us; that is, the appalling goings on and the use of gas in the Yemen.

I think that these are the reasons which have caused the crisis. The idea that Russia is trying to de-escalate the situation (whatever that may mean) within days of sending ships through the Bosphorus I find difficult to understand. But one thing I am sure of is that we cannot have moral leadership from this country without some force behind it, and some committed force behind it. T must admit that I was under the happy illusion that under the old tripartite agreement we had an agreement to come to the aid of Israel and Jordan if they were attacked. I believe, unlike so many in your Lordships' House, that by being committed to the defence of a country, or two countries, war is much less likely than by sitting back and waiting for the thing to develop and some of us saying: "Well, we shall come in if it goes badly." It is the risk of commitment and with the power behind it that very often will save war.

I believe that Israel is a country that has a right to live: so has Jordan a right to live, and so have the other State; around. Let us make sure that we do not opt out of all our duty and commitments. I believe we still have a duty; and, I could not agree more with the noble Lord sitting in front of me. We have just heard that Cyprus has put a restriction on the use of our forces. Malta has not done so. I know I return once more to my old love, Malta; but let us keep our troops in Malta. I said the last time I dared to stand up that the Army accepted that there must be cuts. But is this the time to cut our forces, when we may be called upon to do our duty—because duty I think it is—to ensure that Israel has a right to live

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, it is certainly a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley. It was a privilege which never came to me in the time of his beloved father, because he was never induced to make a maiden speech; while the noble Viscount, who has not been with us very long, has already made two speeches. I am sure that the time will come when he makes a speech and does not refer to Malta, but that perhaps is still some way off, and we are always most anxious to listen to him.

My Lords, it is with a deep sense of responsibility and anxiety, shared by every noble Lord of the twenty or more who have spoken, that I rise to say these final words in the debate. It must have been clear to all, certainly all in the House, how very close we were last week to war. Those in the Government, I suppose, were still more aware than others of the imminent dangers. Certainly, if a war had broken out—and it would apply if a war broke out in the future—it would be very hard to see where such a war would end. Restraint has been shown by many countries in recent days. I am not going to single out any one country except Israel. But when I single out Israel's restraint, I must plead quite diffidently with the noble Lord, Lord Segal, who spoke with such deep feeling, to ask himself whether the words he used about restraint, when he reads them to-morrow, were quite the happiest, and whether he might not wish to modify them on some future occasion. If I understood him aright, he said that restraint for Israel was suicide—may I just finish this sentence before the noble Lord intervenes—and I cannot believe that that is a message which any of us here would want to send out to the Middle East to-night.


My Lords, I quite sincerely believe that restraint carried on indefinitely would lead to a halt of the Israeli economy, and unless we go to its aid we should be encouraging it to commit suicide.


My Lords, I have made my submission to the noble Lord, and he has modified his statement. But, personally, I hope that restraint will continue to be shown by all countries, Israel not least. But, of course, the countries which are threatening Israel are still more in need of restraint. Certainly we have not gone over the brink and found ourselves involved in actual fighting, but we should realise that no nation has drawn back, and the longer the nations stand where they stand the greater is the danger that this edge where we rest may itself crumble and we may slip into war. So nobody here, I am sure, is in the least content, let alone complacent about the position.

As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who spoke so well at the beginning, this is not an occasion when time is on the side of peace. It is certainly not a moment for any sort of dramatic strokes or any kind of spectacular postures, but a quiet diplomacy; and that has been the mood in which the House has found itself, and in which it has supported the Government. It is not, in one sense, very easy to comment on most of the speeches, because the great majority of them agreed very powerfully with the Government. The policy of the Government has been already stated three times—twice yesterday, and once most cogently by my noble friend Lord Chalfont—in the last two days. I am sure that no one wishes me to reaffirm or to run over that policy in any detail now. But, of course, we are grateful—and when I say "we", I mean that the Government have reason for gratitude—to those who have supported them. But I feel that our nation and other nations have also reason to be grateful to so many of the speakers to-day. I have mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but I should also say what a pleasure it was to listen to the noble Earl, Lord Avon, who came here with a characteristic sense of duty, at much personal inconvenience; and also to Lord Salisbury and Lord Dilhorne, both of whom, like Lord Avon, have been compelled to leave this debate; and to great ex-Ambassadors like the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, and of course to many others, all of whom spoke with much knowledge and feeling.

But before I come to what may be felt to be the central theme, there are one or two aspects which perhaps can be dealt with separately. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, wondered why the crisis had erupted so suddenly; and I share that puzzlement. I sit, as the House knows, in the Cabinet, and I cannot pretend that I, whatever may be the case of my colleagues, was in any way prepared for a crisis of this kind; and I think it would be the same for most of us, however advantageously placed. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, felt that the fortunes of the Egyptian forces in what he referred to as the forgotten war in the Yemen had a good deal to do with it. That may also be true. I would not set aside the opinion of the noble Earl at all lightly. But others, such as Lord Carrington and Lord Gladwyn, laid much stress on the role of the Soviet Union, and this was also the view of Lord Caccia and others. And I think we can have little doubt that the Soviet Union has had a great deal to do with these lamentable developments.

I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, along his expert analysis of the operation of the balance of terror. On the whole he seemed to reach an optimistic conclusion—and may it indeed be so! But I noticed—and I say this on a somewhat lighter note—that his policy of total abandonment of the Middle East as rapidly as possible on the part of Britain seems to have been modified to fit in with his latest argument. But I say that in this grave debate merely to show the noble Lord how closely I follow all his speeches.


My Lords, my thesis was that peace was likely to be preserved more by the balance of terror than by any intervention on our part.


I thought we were supposed to do something about it. If the noble Lord had had his way a little while back, we should not be there to do it. But I do not want to make too much of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, pointed out that the United Nations Emergency Force was skilled in keeping the peace between Israel and Egypt and was a model in peace-keeping operations. I certainly share with the noble Lord and others a very great regret at the decision of the Secretary-General that these forces should be withdrawn so precipitately at the request of the Egyptian Government. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Segal. I am sorry to seem to be picking on him for everything, but I thought he went much too far in saying that the withdrawal of these forces, on the instructions of the Secretary-General, represented an act of aggression and belligerency—may I finish this sentence also?—because I think there is no ordinary use of words that could justify the language that was used by the noble Lord.


My Lords, what I hoped to point out quite clearly was that the demand by Colonel Nasser for the withdrawal of the peace-keeping Force, which resulted in the virtual destruction of that Force, was in fact an act of aggression on the part of Colonel Nasser against all the peace-loving nations of the world.


My Lords, again I can only ask the noble Lord to read his words to-morrow and, on reflection, to see whether he feels they were altogether well chosen. I think there are few of us in this House who feel much sympathy for Colonel Nasser—I am sorry to keep using the word "Colonel", but as the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, is a General I do not see why he should be so upset about it. Few of us to-day feel any sympathy for Colonel Nasser, but I do not think we should exaggerate his enormities by talking about his destroying the Force.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowley, who spoke with such balance, asked me a specific question, and as I have not been asked many questions I think perhaps I should answer this one. He asked whether it was the case that U Thant had consulted his Advisory Council before withdrawing the Force. The answer is that he did consult the Advisory Council and, in addition, three countries which were represented in the Force itself. So, if we are to try to be fair, as we all wish to be, I am afraid that to talk as though this Force was destroyed in the way that Hitler might have wrecked Czechoslovakia, is quite wrong and unfair to Colonel Nasser. What happened is that U Thant was asked to withdraw the Force, and in fact he withdrew it after consultation.


My Lords, may I point out that I took great care to use the words "virtually destroyed", in the sense that the Force was prevented from achieving its objective.


My Lords, we are both on record. I have made my point and the noble Lord has made his.

There have been a good many comments about the United Nations to-day. Some, I am afraid, have almost despaired of the United Nations, and I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, put the record right. It seems to me that this is a time when those of us who believe in the United Nations—and I hope that every one of us here believes in it—are under a particular obligation to keep our faith alight. It may be difficult, but these are the times when, in after-years, if the United Nations fulfils our hopes we shall be proud not to have lost our faith in that great hope for the world.

The noble Earl, Lord Avon, and I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson (although I am afraid that I missed his speech), referred to Aden and South Arabia. We have the greatest living authority on that subject sitting within a few inches of me, but I think it would be contrary to the Rules of the House to ask him to step into my shoes and to deal with this question. He has just come back from having rendered a notable service in South Arabia, and I am sure he will shortly give the House a very clear account of matters. At the moment I will only say that it is obviously true that the wider Middle East problem could affect the situation in South Arabia. The Government will be watching carefully for any effects of the Middle East crisis on South Arabia, but I hope that nobody will misunderstand me in any way when I say that it is much too early to talk about a change of policy as a result of events further North. However, I am sure we can obtain the help of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on another occasion.

When we come to the central theme—what may be called the tragic core of this debate—we are in one way or another concerned to discuss these terrible threats to Israel. I am not saying that Israel is perfect, any more than any country is perfect, but this is certainly very close to the heart of the debate. It has come up in more speeches than one, and, indeed, it has never been out of this Chamber at any time this afternoon. However, I hope we shall be completely fair to both sides in these discussions. It should be quite clear that we are friends of the people of Israel and also of the Arabs. I hope it is completely clear that this is the attitude of the Government—and, indeed, it was brought out as being our duty by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I am not sure whether one or two noble Lords would actually dissent from that as a desirable proposition. But certainly the Government do not favour one side or the other. We are anxious to be completely fair and well-disposed towards both sides.

I am not going over past histories, which were dealt with yesterday by Ministers in another place and by my noble friend Lord Chalfont here to-day. I hope we can claim that Her Majesty's Government have shown sympathy for the Arab peoples of Palestine in the most practical way they can, by being among the foremost contributors to the humanitarian work of UNWRA. May I emphasise on behalf of the Government that we wish the Arab peoples well. We are not enemies of Arab nationalism, and we sympathise with their aspirations towards a greater unity.


My Lords, I am sure Her Majesty's Government will not—


My Lords, may I just finish the sentence?


My Lords, I only wanted to say—




My Lords, am I making a mistake? I will make my point later.


My Lords, I am ready to give way after one more sentence, but as noble Lords know, if a noble Lord who is on his feet, whether it be at the Box or at one of the Back Benches, does not give way, the other noble Lord, if I may venture to say so, has to wait. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, will not have to wait long. I was only going to say that I hope no one will carry away the idea that we in the Government or anyone in the House of Lords are hostile to the Arabs.


My Lords, I just wondered whether Her Majesty's Government, while not being hostile to the Arabs, were at all in sympathy with their avowed intention to drive the Israelis into the sea.


My Lords, if the noble Earl will wait, I think he will be left under no misapprehension about that point of view. If he really thought that I was going to argue along that line he would assume that I was going to depart totally from the speeches of Ministers and of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. Of course the present threat is a threat to Israel. There is no doubt about that. We recognise also that Israel is a State which exists and flourishes, and in the foundation of which we played a part. Here are 2½ million people who will certainly not allow themselves to be driven into the sea, and who will fight to the death if any infamous attempt is made to strangle them. May I add that from our point of view we should consider any attempt to eliminate Israel as being unthinkable and utterly nauseating. So I think the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will realise that I was coming into line, at least with some of his sentiments. We are anxious to be helpful to both sides.

The dangers of the present threat to Israel have, of course, been much aggravated by the arms race between Israel and her Arab neighbours, which has gathered a terrifying momentum since the Soviet Government, despite its earlier recognition—and, as the noble Earl, Lord Avon, mentioned, I think Russia was the first to recognise Israel—started supplying sophisticated weapons to the Arab States, some of which at least are pledged to the total destruction of Israel.

So we reach the present situation. The U.A.R. claim to deny access to the Gulf to Israeli flag ships and to strategic cargoes to Israel. This poses a threat of strangulation to Israel, and a threat to freedom of navigation generally through an international waterway; and as a maritime nation we cannot accept this. If war had come—and it could have come within the last week or so; and I repeat my approbation of Israel's restraint—it is a total illusion to suppose that it could have been confined to the Arab countries and Israel.

It is against that background that the Cabinet have been discussing this matter, as the House will probably have been aware, on several occasions in recent days. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that they deplore threats of force, subversion, hostile propaganda and terrorism, from whichever side they come. We also have made it clear that we regard the United Nations as primarily responsible for the maintenance of peace in the Middle East, and it is in the United Nations forum that we believe a solution must first and foremost be found, both for the Straits of Tiran and for the wider problem of Arab/Israel relations.

I said that some noble Lords seem almost to despair, to be altogether too pessimistic, about the United Nations, but my old colleague in the Admiralty, the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of North Cape, does not suffer from that kind of delusion, because I think he is more optimistic about the United Nations than any leading figure I have encountered. He seems to suppose that all we have to do is to propose that the United Nations takes over the defence of the area and the thing is done. He may be aware that if any attempt of that kind were made, it would be vetoed by the Russians within the hour.


My Lords, I think I said that. What I really said was that no one proposed it. I have seen people talking on the television, but nobody has got up and proposed that we shall guarantee the frontiers of Israel and Egypt. Then somebody else can shoot it down, but nobody has proposed it, so how does anybody know whether it is wanted? If Russia vetoes that motion she is saying she wants to exterminate 2½ million Jews and have hundreds of thousands of other people killed. Somebody ought to say, "If you veto this proposal, that is what you are doing".


My Lords, I am afraid it is not quite as simple as that. As the noble Lord is aware, there has been this relatively small Force, which was a move in that direction, but even that has now been withdrawn. So to suggest now that all one has to do is go to the United Nations and get a very much bigger project carried out without interference from the veto I am afraid is far removed from reality.


But why does not somebody propose it?


My Lords, I will not put the answer too clearly, because I should then find myself accusing the noble Lord of being, along with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, in the words of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, a foolish saint. I do not know whether that language introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, could be applied to the noble Lord.


My Lords, I may be foolish, but not a saint.


I must preserve my own opinion that both words would apply.

At any rate, the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, has been in continuous consultation in New York, making every effort along every conceivable line to work out effective measures to safeguard peace. We believe that if all countries refrain from belligerent acts—and I mean interference with free passage—there can be time for diplomatic consultation to take effect. We certainly believe that Britain has a vital part to play in those consultations. We are labouring most strenuously to produce this firm declaration asserting the right of freedom of passage. There seems to be almost unanimous support for what the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, called this strategy and this tactic. There remains the question, which must haunt so many, of what happens if these diplomatic efforts fail. I think the Government must be grateful to the Opposition Leaders and Members of the House generally for not pressing us on that point. I feel we should express our thanks for not being pressed.


My Lords, may ask the noble Earl one question? Would he make it clear that in the view of the Government the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force, as I said, does not give the green light to either side to commit a breach of the Charter and commit aggression?


My Lords, I am sorry; I thought I had made it plain. I thought I had said that. We believe that if all countries refrain from belligerent acts there can be time for diplomatic consultation to take effect. I denounced every possible kind of aggression. In the course of one or two little exchanges I may not have made it as clear as I should have wished. Certainly we are entirely opposed to any aggression; the withdrawal of the Force does not give any excuse for aggression of any sort at all. But there remains this grave possibility, and no one can suppose the Government are not working immensely hard to cover that situation. The noble Lord, Lord Caccia, and the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, and others have suggested, if I understood them aright-as I said, I missed Lord Watkinson's speech—that in the last resort it would be very wrong to separate ourselves from the Americans. I can only say that we should be most anxious to keep in closest touch with the Americans. The Prime Minister will be seeing President Johnson almost immediately and I should have thought that up to now the closest and most cordial contact had been maintained in regard to this particular matter.

There the matter rests. The debate, I think, can have done nothing but good. The House has made it absolutely plain, beyond any question whatever, that we are utterly opposed to any aggression, any strangulation of Israel, any interference with shipping; and we are working hard along lines which the House seems to approve to deal with that very grim situation. Those who carry at the moment the responsibility, sitting for example in the Cabinet, are going to have very testing decisions, but I can assure the House—I am sure my noble friend the Lord Chancellor will agree with me—that as we sit there in these future discussions we shall be strengthened by the debate that has taken place this afternoon. I believe that whatever differences of opinion I may have had with one or two noble Lords about the formulation of our ideas, we are at one. I cannot remember a time when the two Houses of Parliament on a great issue can have been said to be more solidly united; and certainly the Government must be thankful that there is so much patriotism abroad in the land.


My Lords, did the noble Earl think of that question of flying the United Nations flag on ships to go through the Straits?


My Lords, I am ready to discuss any proposals the noble Lord will suggest, to me. I do not want to treat the noble Lord as a pure theorist. A man of his tremendous record can afford to ignore any flippancy of mine on that subject. I can assure him that I will consider anything at any time that he raises.

On Question, Motion agreed to.