Come, let us cut them off from nationhood, so Israel’s name will not be remembered any longer! Psalm 83:5

Many consider 1938 as the year of betrayal by the Western countries. The Evian Conference certainly was an historic moment (July 6, 1938), as was Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler with his pornographic “peace in our time” pronouncement (September 30, 1938). Observing the indifference of the Allied powers, the Nazis felt free to act against European Jewry, and on November 9, 1938, the Night of Broken Glass—Kristallnacht—the final solution began. The year 1938 was pivotal, sealing the fate of European Jewry.

But once the State of Israel was reestablished, 1956 became the watershed year in the relationship between Israel and the United States – a mere eight years into the reestablishment of the modern State of Israel. In response to attack after attack from the Sinai by Egyptian terrorists, Ben-Gurion wrote, “We would not be thrown into panic by the fedayun in ambush…. And we would not be misled by political intrigues of specious lovers of peace. Our trust was in the Rock of Israel, and with that trust we would meet all visible or veiled designs to jeopardize our independence, our territory, or our peace.” (David Ben-Gurion, Israel: Years of Challenge, p. 92)

“In the first twenty days of April [1956] alone, we suffered eighty-two casualties among our soldiers and civilians … including the loathsome murder of children in the synagogue at Shafrir. … The Egyptian, Syrian, and Saudi dictators publicly proclaimed their intention to liquidate Israel. … In the War of Independence and thereafter, we had learned the hard lesson: only if we ourselves had strength would we have peace. If we lacked strength, no one would take our part. (Ibid., pp. 96-7)

But just eleven years after the end of the Holocaust, Jewish lives were again threatened, and neither the U.S. nor Britain would sell arms to Israel. Both countries looked to the U.N. to enforce the armistice agreements put in place after the 1948 War of Independence. Clearly, Egypt was not abiding by the armistice agreement it had signed, which bound each party “to observe and honor the right of the other to security and freedom from fear of attack.” And while the U.N. and the U.S. and others sat silently despite full knowledge of each Egyptian attack, the silence of the world body was met with Egypt’s July 26, 1956 announcement declaring its nationalization of the Suez Canal.

“Egypt’s unilateral decision to nationalize the Suez Canal brought her into conflict with Britain and France, as the main holders of shares in the company responsible for its construction and operation. … The decision represented a new and alarming stage in the development of Nasser’s arrogant self- confidence….” (Ibid., pp. 105-6) Britain and France supported the U.N. resolution reaffirming the “freedom of passage through the canal for all ships of all nations,” yet Egypt continued to refuse to allow Israeli ships to pass through the canal.

These were the days of Nasser’s ambition to become the leader of all Arab states. As Ben-Gurion reflected, “Most of our population were immigrants from a variety of origins and with a babel of tongues. Egypt, on the other hand, had a continuous history of at least 6,000 years…. But while neither Nasser nor his people could speak the language in which Pharaoh had addressed Joseph, … we spoke, once again, the language our forefathers had used in their first contact with Egypt about 3,500 years ago, and our Book of Books, after 3,000 years, was still the source of our learning.” (Ibid., p. 114) Ben-Gurion concluded “A country that did not actively protect its sovereignty, its security, and its rights would not long preserve any of them.” (Ibid., p. 116)

With the U.N. resolutions proven worthless, Ben-Gurion, on the morning of October 29, 1956, invited the opposition parties into the government and informed them of his plan to re-open the Suez Canal and to occupy the Gulf of Aqaba in order to restore Israeli freedom of navigation. Ben-Gurion also alerted U.S. President Eisenhower who expressed his “deep concern” over the plan. Ben-Gurion assured Eisenhower that Israeli troops, if successful, would not cross the canal to the Egyptian side. On the evening of October 29, the operation began. Seven days later, the Sinai campaign was over and Israel had control of the canal, the Sinai, and the Gulf of Aqaba. An “enormous amount of Egyptian armaments [was] now in our hands … [and] among the Egyptian officers’ equipment left behind in the desert we found an Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. … After 3,300 years, we were at Mount Sinai again. … This was one of the finest military campaigns in Jewish history.” (Ibid., p. 131)

And it was in his address to the Knesset that Ben-Gurion once again turned his thoughts to the Torah:

Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will harken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine. (Exodus 19: 3-5) (Ibid., p. 132)

And Ben-Gurion concluded his speech in the Knesset with these words:

We shall not imitate the futile arrogance of the Arab rulers, but we shall not humble ourselves before the powerful forces of the world when right is not on their side. … Let us meet the days ahead with courage and wisdom, conscious of our strength and the justice of our cause, without ignoring our natural and necessary ties with the world family of nations. (Ibid., pp. 133-4)

General George C. Marshall had described the Sinai Campaign as one of the most brilliant battles in world history. But not everyone was happy with the situation created after the 1956 Suez War. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower submitted a “severe motion of censure against Britain, France and Israel.” Russia, having supported Egypt in its aggressive, illegal actions, was angry and embarrassed. The U.S. was concerned not only about Russia, but also about its own supply of oil from the various Arab states. The president demanded that Israel withdraw from the Sinai immediately. In a November 8 letter to Ben- Gurion, Eisenhower reiterated:

Statements attributed to your Government to the effect that Israel does not intend to withdraw from Egyptian territory…have been called to my attention. … Any such decision by the Government of Israel would seriously undermine the urgent efforts being made by the United Nations to restore peace in the Middle East, and could not but bring about the condemnation of Israel…. I need not assure you of the deep interest which the United States has in your country, nor recall…our policy of support to Israel in so many ways. … It would be a matter of the greatest regret to [the U.S.] if Israeli policy on a matter of such grave concern to the world should in any way impair the friendly co-operation between our two countries. With best wishes, Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ibid., pp. 138-9)

Tensions between the U.S. and Israel began to rise, and would continue over the next four months as Israel demanded specific assurances once it pulled back. After both Britain and France succumbed to the pressure and withdrew their support, Israel stood alone. As letters continued to go back and forth at the highest levels, Ben-Gurion wrote on February 8, 1957 to President Eisenhower:

I have to record with regret that in this matter the United Nations has applied different standards to Egypt and to Israel. For eight years Egypt acted in disregard of the [1948] Armistice Agreement…and pursued a policy of belligerency towards Israel. … Those who have the power and authority to intervene took no effective steps whatever to end these flagrant violations of international obligations. … It is unthinkable that now that we have recovered our independence in our ancient homeland we should submit to discrimination. … The question is not a legalistic one. It affects the very foundations of international morality: will the United Nations apply one measure to Egypt and another to Israel?” (Ibid., pp. 166-8)

And after four months of severely strained relations, Eisenhower relented, and the U.S. gave assurances to Israel that if Israel withdrew from the Sinai and the Straits of Tiran, the U.S. would be obligated to assist Israel in any future Egyptian aggression and would seek to “assure that Israel would, for the future, enjoy her rights under the Armistice and under international law [and additionally] would seek such disposition of the United Nations Emergency Force as would assure that the Gaza Strip could no longer be a source of armed infiltration and reprisals.” (Ibid., p. 173) Three weeks later, in a March 2, 1957 letter to Ben-Gurion, Eisenhower wrote that Israel’s freedom of passage would be ensured, and “that the United States … as a loyal member of the United Nations, will seek that such hopes prove not to be vain.” (Ibid., p. 180)

And so it was just ten years later, in early May 1967, that Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt, first demanded that the U.N. withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Sinai and on May 22 once again closed the Suez Canal to Israeli ships. In Decade of Decisions, William Quandt wrote that by May 26, “Secretary [Dean] Rusk and Under Secretary [Walt] Rostow had prepared a policy memorandum for the president [Lyndon Johnson].” A meeting was scheduled for noon to discuss it and to plan for the president’s meeting with Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban. Rostow requested a delay, “claiming that Johnson was busy studying the 1957 documents on the American commitment concerning the strait. … [Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara then spoke of his morning session with Eban in which the Israeli foreign minister had raised the issue of United States commitments made in 1957 as part of the negotiations that resulted in Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai…signed by Dulles on February 27, 1957. … Johnson expressed his feeling that he could not make a clear commitment to use force. Three times he repeated the phrase that Rusk had coined: ‘Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone.’ [President Johnson] noted that he did not have the authority to say that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on the United States.” (Decade of Decisions, pp. 50-53)

Johnson clearly understood the commitment Eisenhower had made ten years earlier, but Johnson wanted to resolve the situation diplomatically. Although it did go to the U.N., the U.S. refused to live up to either the letter or the spirit of the agreement Ben-Gurion had signed with the Eisenhower administration. Had Eisenhower been sincere in his agreement? Probably—but he was out of office. Was Johnson a good and honorable person? Perhaps. But what is crystal clear is that a U.S. president reneged on and dishonored an agreement entered into by his predecessor, and that constitutes betrayal.

The agreement with Iran that was signed by the P5+1 and most notably the American Obama administration, to universal skepticism, should be viewed historically in the same light. Sadly, congressional Democrats who voted for the agreement, with full knowledge of Iran’s history of duplicity, put party before country and must be held personally accountable. In time, we will see if they were on the right side of history. Don’t bet on it.

Shabbat Shalom, 10/02/15 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger * *Back issues are archived at The Times of Israel.com