139. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1
Tel Aviv, February 29, 1956—5 p.m.
861. At social event yesterday evening, Colonel Neeman, Deputy Chief IDF intelligence, made following comments USARMA:
(1) Practically the entire Egyptian Army is now in the Sinai area, most elements being close to Israel’s borders.
(3) Israel is taking precaution short of substantial mobilization which is extremely expensive and disruptive to her economy and daily life. Israel has been through this before and was learning how to live with such a situation.
(4) Neeman commented on the extreme vulnerability of the Egyptian forces in Sinai, adding that at time of Nitzana incident the army had urgently advised Ben Gurion that an opportunity existed to destroy the Egyptian Army, requesting permission to attack. Ben Gurion who, he said, had traditional and biblical outlook and morality despite the fact he is not a religious man, refused permission to attack.
(5) In view of vulnerability Egyptian forces, the army is now urging Ben Gurion to allow it to strike and destroy Egyptians before it is too late; that within a very short period of time Egyptians would be in a strong position. The Prime Minister had given no answer to date to this IDF advice. After referring to the increment in Egyptian tank strength, Neeman stated the real danger to Israel was Egyptian Air Force rather than Army. IDF knew Egyptian Air Force could bomb Israel in a matter of three minutes from bases close to Israel’s border and that all of the aircraft and fighter strength in the world would not prevent them from bombing. He added that Israel desired interceptor aircraft despite this fact, she was willing to take bombing losses but knew that with interceptor aircraft she could intercept Egyptian aircraft returning from their mission and ultimately wipe out Egyptian Air Force due to pilot rather than plane losses.
In conversation previous evening with Embassy counselor, Colonel Harkabi, Chief IDF intelligence, gave a similar estimate of the concentration of Egyptian and Syrian forces on Israel’s borders. In response question as to why IDF believed Egyptians would eventually take initiative in attacking Israel, Harkabi said this conclusion was based largely on intelligence information as to what Nasser was telling his own officers. According Harkabi, Nasser was taking line that destruction Israel was the keystone to establishment Egypt’s leadership throughout Arab world, which when accomplished would lead to Egyptian dominance Africa and Islamic world.
Embassy comment: Neeman’s comments re exchange between IDF and Ben Gurion at time Nitzana incident is consistent with reports received by Embassy other sources which indicated that IDF regarded situation at that time as a “golden opportunity” but that Ben Gurion did not go along because he and Cabinet had already adopted alternative policy obtaining additional arms to offset Czech arms shipment to Egypt.
...Sources close to Ben Gurion report that his current thought processes this subject run along following line. While willing to give limited credence to Nasser’s expressions to Westerners of his good will toward Israel his final decisions when he is militarily strong enough will be strongly conditioned in first instance by General Amer and RCC colleagues; in the second instance by the free officers; and, finally, by pressures from the other Arab States. Ben Gurion reportedly believes that somewhere along the line the pressures will become so great on Nasser as to force him to take the military initiative against Israel.