In view of my right hon. Friend’s
announcement that there will be a further debate tomorrow, I will,
if I may, confine myself today to giving certain facts about the
situation which are available to us and to meeting certain of the
criticisms which may be in the minds of the House.
I will begin by saying this about the United Nations session.
Yesterday morning, the United States representative tabled at U.N.O.
(United nations Organisation) a resolution which was, in effect, a
condemnation of Israel as the aggressor in the events of the last
few days. We felt that we could not associate ourselves with this
and we said so through diplomatic channels both in London and in New
York. Her Majesty’s Government did not feel, and do not feel, that
it is possible to pronounce in this way against one of the parties
in the dispute for the action which they have taken, regardless of
the cumulative effects that went before.
Throughout recent months, and, in particular, since the seizure of
the Canal, the Egyptian Government have kept up a violent campaign
against Israel, against this country and against the West. The
Egyptian Government have made clear over and over again, with
increased emphasis since the seizure of the Canal, their intention
to destroy Israel, just as they have made it plain that they would
drive the Western Powers out of the Middle East. (An HON. MEMBER:
“What has happened?”) That is what has been happening and that is
the background to understand what is happening. It is from these
Egyptian policies that much of the present crisis has sprung, and to
ignore them is to shun reality.
In these circumstances, is there any Member of this House who can
consider Egypt as an innocent country whom it is right to exonerate
at the Security Council by condemning Israel as an aggressor?
Moreover, the Security Council resolution simply called upon the
Israeli Government to withdraw within their frontiers. That seemed,
and seems, to us in all the circumstances that have preceded these
immediate events, to be a harsh demand if it is to stand alone. It
certainly could not be said to meet in any way the guarantees for
Israel’s security which were asked for by several hon. Members in
the course of yesterday’s debate. As to our own request, to both
sides, to cease fire and to withdraw, Israel accepted that request
last night and declared her willingness to take practical steps to
carry it out. The Egyptian Government rejected it.
As to the military situation on the ground, I must give the House
what information is at our disposal. The Press this morning, the
House will have seen, reports that one column of Israeli troops
yesterday morning reached El Quseima, which is one of the biggest
Egyptian bases in North Sinai, in an outflanking movement from Nakhl.
To the best of our knowledge, this is true. I can confirm also what
my right hon. and learned Friend said last night in reply to the
right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that,
so far as our information goes, Israeli troops are continuing to
advance towards the Canal.
The Press also reports that a column is now well along the highway
built by Lord Allenby’s forces in the First World War. This highway
leads through the desert to Ismailia. Other columns are reported to
be nearer the Canal. Some troops may already be on it. The latest
report is that they are approaching the Canal, and there are a
number of details on the tape since, which hon. Members will have
seen, within the last hour. A number of prisoners have been
captured, I understand.
In the light of all these facts, can anyone say that we and the
French Government should have waited — (shouts of “Yes.”) — for a
satisfactory resolution by the Security Council authorising definite
action to stop the fighting? I must remind the House that we have
recently been to the United Nations and we went with proposals for
the future of the Canal, approved by 18 Powers representing more
than 90 per cent. of the traffic that uses the Canal.
Admittedly, we received strong support for our proposals, but they
were vetoed by the Soviet Government. Can we be expected to await
the development of similar procedures in the situation of much
greater urgency that confronts us now in and about the Canal? The
action we had to take was bound to be rapid. I regret it had to be
so, but it was inescapable.
We have no desire whatever, nor have the French Government, that the
military action that we shall have to take should be more than
temporary in its duration, but it is our intention that our action
to protect the Canal and separate the combatants should result in a
settlement which will prevent such a situation arising in the
future. If we can do that we shall have performed a service not only
to this country, but to the users of the Canal.
It is really not tolerable that the greatest sea highway in the
world, one on which our Western life so largely depends, should be
subject to the dangers of an explosive situation in the Middle East
which, it must be admitted, has been largely created by the Egyptian
Government along familiar lines. I would remind the House that we
have witnessed, all of us, the growth of a specific Egyptian threat
to the peace of the Middle East. Everybody knows that to be true.
In the actions we have now taken we are not concerned to stop Egypt,
but to stop war. None the less, it is a fact that there is no Middle
Eastern problem at present which could not have been settled or
bettered but for the hostile and irresponsible policies of Egypt in
recent years, and there is no hope of a general settlement of the
many outstanding problems in that area so long as Egyptian
propaganda and policy continues its present line of violence.
What would the future of the Middle East have been if, while
denouncing Israel, we had done nothing to check these Egyptian
actions? The only result would be warfare spreading through the
whole area and a great increase in the strength and influence of a
dictator’s power. In these circumstances, to have taken no action
would have been to betray not our interests alone but those of the
free world and, above all, of the Middle East itself. To have taken
ineffective action would have been a greater betrayal than to have
taken no action at all.
We have taken the only action which we could clearly see would be
effective in holding the belligerents apart and which would give us
some chance to re-establish the peace of the area. In entering the
Suez Canal area we are only protecting a vital international
waterway. We are also holding — and this is a point I would ask the
House to bear in mind — between the combatants the only possible
line of division which is practicable for us, because even if it had
been fair it would not have been possible to have attempted to
establish ourselves upon the armistice line itself. It is an
irregular line, with no facilities and no possibility of any limited
forces doing anything effective to control it, and, of course, would
have been no assistance at all in respect of shipping in the Canal.
Now I wish to say something about our relations with the United
States in the matter. The decisions which we and the French
Government took were, as I said yesterday, taken on our own account
and on our own responsibility. The Government remain convinced that
we could have done no other and discharge our national duty. Now, it
is, of course, an obvious truth that safety of transit through the
Canal, though clearly of concern to the United States, is for them
not a matter of survival as it is to us and, indeed, to all Europe
and many other lands. Indeed, Mr. Dulles himself made this clear on
28th August, when he said the United States’ economy is not
dependent upon the Canal. Of course that is true. We must all accept
it, and we should not complain about it, but it is equally true that
throughout all these months this fact has inevitably influenced the
attitude of the United States to these problems, as compared to that
of ourselves and France.
If anyone says that on that account we should have held up action
until agreement could be reached with the United States as to what
to do I can only say that this would have been to ignore what
everyone here and in the United States knows to have been different
approaches to some of these vital Middle Eastern questions. They
know it. We know it. Of course, we deplore it, but I do not think
that it can carry with it this corollary, that we must in all
circumstances secure agreement from our American ally before we can
act ourselves in what we know to be our own vital interests.