Israel: Political and Economic Reports 1954-1955

ISBN:  (13) 978-1-84097-330-3   Extent:  6 volumes, 4,100 pages
Editor: Robert, L. Jarman    Published: 2011
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available

This project is the second in a series of collections of British political and economic reports on Israel. It examines the premiership of Moshe Sharett (1954-55), second Prime Minister of Israel, in this crucial period as Nasser comes to power in Egypt and the US and UK governments work together behind the scenes on the "Alpha" project, to try and bring peace to Palestine, while within Israel the tensions increase with regard to its neighbours Egypt and Syria.


This second publication in the series covers the two years of 1954 and 1955 – years which saw the premiership of Moshe Sharrett (appointed at the end of 1953) and then the slow emergence from retirement of David Ben Gurion first as Minister of Defence and then Prime Minister following the 1955 general election.

In the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill (who often described himself as a Zionist) finally resigned as Prime Minister in April 1955 and was replaced by Sir Anthony Eden, who was not known for any pro-Israeli leanings; whilst at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv Sir Francis Evans was transferred to another posting at the end of September 1954 and replaced as Ambassador a month later by Mr John (Jack) Nicholls.  In Egypt, the Egyptian revolution was still an ongoing process with the accession to power of Colonel Nasser; and it was Nasser and Eden who negotiated an end to the presence of British troops in Egypt and established (at least in Eden’s eyes) a rapport with each other.  In the USA, however, there was no change in the administration, with Eisenhower as President and John Foster Dulles as the Secretary of State – although one can detect in the documents of late 1955, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, an increasing lack of rapport between Eden and Dulles (which was to have such dramatic effects in 1956) and an increasing rapport between Dulles and the new British Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan (which would help to ameliorate UK/US relations from 1957 onwards).


In these volumes the despatches, letters and telegrams that were received by the Foreign Office in London originated from many sources.  Obviously the Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Consulates-General in Jerusalem and Haifa provide the majority; but documents also originated from British Embassies in countries adjacent to Israel (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt) and other interested Middle Eastern states (such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran).  The necessity for liaison and co-ordination with the United States government in communications with the Israeli government and in discussions and votes in the United Nations Security Council (and not least in 1955 during the discussions over the joint Anglo-US “Alpha” project for an agreed settlement of the Palestine problem) meant that there was constant communication between the Foreign Office in London and the British Embassy in Washington and the UK Delegation to the United Nations in New York.  The British government, via the Commonwealth Relations Office, constantly updated Commonwealth countries on developments in the area.  It has to be noted, however, that the British government was less concerned with liaison with the French government, and this is reflected in the paucity of documents originating from the British Embassy in Paris. 

The internal papers of the Foreign Office are useful for the tracing of the development of future British policy, or for the exposition of the current policy.  Often a despatch received from the British Embassies in Tel Aviv or Amman would prompt comments and minutes within the Levant Department; often the Israeli Ambassador’s forthcoming meeting with the Foreign Secretary or his Minister of State or the Foreign Office Permanent Under Secretary would prompt an official brief prepared by the department on the official British line to be taken.  And where more detailed information was required, this was provided by the Research Department – this was especially the case during the preparation stage for discussions over the joint US/UK “Alpha” peace project when every aspect of the Palestine problem and possible solutions were researched in depth. 

The recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee are reproduced, in particular the report of April 1955 which discussed British military options in the event of Israeli aggression – the necessity of abiding by the UK/Jordan defence agreement being the reason for this policy decision.  These discussions about possible military action against Israel are echoed in Treasury papers on possible economic sanctions against Israel.


Volume 1, 1954 Part I

1.            Periodic Reviews for 1954 

1.1        Monthly Political Reports

1.2        Monthly Economic Reports

1.3        Personality Reports: Heads of Foreign Mission

1.4        Leading Personalities of Israel

1.5        Annual Report 

2.            Internal Affairs

2.1        The Political Situation

2.2        Influence of the Zionist Organisations

2.3        The Economy: Trade and Finance

2.4        The Economy: Social Developments

2.5        The Economy and War

2.6        The Arab Inhabitants of Israel

2.7        The Armed Forces of Israel 

3.            Foreign Relations of Israel

3.1        General Overview

3.2        Israel and the United States

3.3        Israel and the UK: Overview

3.4        Israel and the UK: British Mediation

3.5        Israel and the UK: British Defence Guarantee for Israel

3.6        Israel and the United Nations: Historical Overview

3.7        Israel and the United Nations: Increasing Israeli Antagonism

3.8        Israel and its Neighbours: Overview

3.9        Israel and its Neighbours: Border Situation

3.10      Israel and its Neighbours: Possibilities of Peace

3.11      Israel and Egypt: Overview

3.12      Israel and Egypt: UK/Egypt Canal Zone Agreement

3.13      Israel and Egypt: Border Incidents


Volume 2, 1954 Part II 

3.            Foreign Relations of Israel (continued) 

3.14      Israel and Syria: Jordan Waters Scheme

3.15      Israel and Syria: Military Clashes

3.16      Israel and Jordan: Overview

3.17      Israel and Jordan: Incidents - From January to March

3.18      Israel and Jordan: Incidents - Beersheba Bus Incident in March

3.19      Israel and Jordan: Incidents - From March to June

3.20      Israel and Jordan: Incidents - Jerusalem Incident of June/July

3.21      Israel and Jordan: Incidents - From July to December

3.22      Israel and Jordan: Proposals to Reduce Border Tension

3.23      Israel and Jordan: Possible Demilitarization of Jerusalem

3.24      Israel and Jordan: UK Military Support for Jordan

3.25      Israel and Jordan: Israel Irrigation and River Jordan


Volume 3, 1955 Part I 

1.            Periodic Reviews for 1955

1.1        Personalities: Heads of Foreign Mission

1.2        Leading Personalities of Israel

1.3        Annual Report 

2.            Internal Affairs

2.1        The Political Situation

2.2        Administration of the New (Israeli) City of Jerusalem

2.3        Immigration

2.4        The Arab Inhabitants of Israel

2.5        The Economy: Trade And Finance

2.5        The Economy: Oil Supplies

2.6        The Armed Forces of Israel 

3.            Foreign Relations of Israel

3.1        General Overview

3.2        Israel And Its Neighbours: Role of the United Nations

3.3        Israel And Its Neighbours: Weekly Summaries of Border Incidents

3.4        Israel And Its Neighbours: Israeli Reaction to Border Tensions

3.5        Israel And Its Neighbours: Possibilities of a Settlement

3.6        Israel And Syria: Capture of Five Israeli Soldiers in Syria

3.7        Israel And Syria: River Jordan Diversion

3.8        Israel And Syria: Border Incidents from January to August

3.9        Israel And Syria: The Border Incidents of October/November

3.10      Israel And Syria: Details And Results of Israeli Attack in December

3.11      Israel And Syria: Egyptian Infiltration into Israel via Syria

3.12      Israel And Jordan: Overview of Incidents

3.13      Israel And Jordan: Border Tensions from January to April

3.14      Israel And Jordan: Illegal Cultivation of Israeli Land by Jordanians

3.15      Israel And Jordan: Role of the United Nations

3.16      Israel And Jordan: Border Tensions from June to December

3.17      Israel And Jordan: Egyptian Infiltration into Israel via Jordan

3.18      Israel And Jordan: Increasing Jordanian Support for Israel

Volume 4,1955 Part II 

3. Foreign Relations of Israel (continued)

3.19      Israel and Iraq

3.20      Israel and Lebanon

3.21      Israel and Egypt: Background and Overview

3.22      Israel and Egypt: January - Execution of Israeli Spies by Egypt

3.23      Israel and Egypt: 28th February - Israeli Attack on Gaza

3.24      Israel and Egypt: 25th March - Attack on Israel Settlement at Patish

3.25      Israel and Egypt: April/May - Border Incidents and Tensions

3.26      Israel and Egypt: January to May - UNTSO Mediation

3.27      Israel and Egypt: June to August - UNTSO Mediation

3.28      Israel and Egypt: August/September - Renewal of Border Hostilities

3.29      Israel and Egypt: Mid-September - UN-Sponsored Truce and Negotiations

3.30      Israel and Egypt: Late September - Renewal of Hostilities

3.31      Israel and Egypt: October/November - Continuation of Hostilities

3.32      Israel and Egypt: November/December - UNTSO Mediation and Truce


Volume 5, 1955 Part III 

3.            Foreign Relations of Israel (continued)

3.33      Israel and the Non-Aligned World

3.34      Israel and the Soviet Union

3.35      Israel  and France

3.36      Israel and the United States

3.37      Israel and the UK: Background and Overview

3.38      Israel and the UK: Lobbying of UK by Friends of Israel

3.39      Israel and the UK: Possible UK Defence Arrangements with Israel

3.40      Israel and the UK: Eden’s Speech on 4th April

3.41      Israel and the UK: Possible UK/US Sanctions Against Israel

3.42      Israel and the UK: Status of Jerusalem

3.43      Israel and the UK: Mediation Attempts by Colonel Banks 

4.            “Alpha” Peace Plan of the UK and USA

4.01      Late 1954: Genesis of the Project

4.02      January 1955: Preparations for 1st Round Discussions in Washington

4.03      January/February 1955: 1st Round Discussions in Washington

4.04      February 1955: Initial Approach to Egypt by Sir Anthony Eden


Volume 6, 1955 Part IV 

4.            “Alpha” Peace Plan of the UK and USA (continued)

4.05      February/March 1955: 2nd Round Discussions in London

4.06      March/April 1955: Possible Second Approach to Egypt by USA

4.07      April 1955: Further Discussions Between the UK and USA in London

4.08      March-June 1955: Reaction of Israel to a Possible Settlement

4.09      May-June 1955: Renewed UK/US Talks on a Change of Tactics

4.10      Dulles’ Desire for a Public Statement on the Principles of Alpha

4.11      August: Dulles’ Desire for An Immediate Public Statement on Alpha

4.12.     Reactions to Dulles’ Statement About Palestine on 26th August

4.13      August/September: Stalling of Progress Due to Gaza Situation

4.14      September: Consideration of Possible Alternatives to Alpha

4.15      October/November: Renewed Impetus for Alpha by Eden’s Speech

4.16      Reactions to Eden’s Speech

4.17      November: Future Direction of the Alpha Policy

4.18      November: Alpha - Initial Discussions With the Egyptians

4.19      November/December: Alpha - Discussions With the Israelis

4.20      Status of Alpha at the End of the Year


 A brief outline of these two years, extracted from the documents in this publication, is as follows:

 1954 saw an escalation of border incidents with Jordan.  There was the attack on a bus at Scorpion’s Pass inside Israel on 23rd March in which 11 Israelis were killed and 2 wounded, and then the subsequent reprisals; and the major flare-up in the city of Jerusalem at the end of June/beginning of July.  Despite these incidents, John Nicholls, the new British Ambassador, in his annual review felt able to record “a perceptible lightening of the atmosphere” and could point to “a number of encouraging signs both in the evolution of Israeli policy towards her Arab neighbours and in her own economic situation”; in addition Nicholls recorded a “growing respect and liking for the United Kingdom” with an openly expressed desire for some undefined special relationship with the United Kingdom, even membership of the Commonwealth.

1955 saw a deterioration in Israel’s situation.  The year started badly with the execution by Egypt of 2 Egyptian Jews as Israeli spies and the capture of 5 Israeli soldiers in Syria.  The return to office of David Ben Gurion as Minister of Defence in February 1955 saw the adoption by the Israeli government of a more hard-line policy in the event of Arab incursions into Israel.  On 28th February, following a series of border incidents, the Israeli government launched a major offensive in Gaza in which 37 Egyptians were killed and 30 wounded.  With this action, the Israeli government reverted to its earlier policy of reprisals and, in the words of the British Ambassador, “embarked on a course which was destined in the course of the year to have a catastrophic effect on Israel’s strategic situation and international standing”.  Israel/Egyptian and Israel/Syrian border tensions were to be the feature of the rest of the year – although the situation on the Israel/Jordan border was comparatively quiet.  A general election was held on 26th July, and on 18th August David Ben Gurion was asked to form a government – a task which was not completed until November.

Beginning at the end of 1954 and continuing throughout 1955, the British and US governments were trying to bring about an Arab–Israeli settlement – the so-called “Alpha” project.  The British/American team that worked on the project, at meetings in Washington and London, put much effort into analyzing the problems that existed and providing a possible solution.  But the increasingly fraught situation in Gaza meant that no peaceful solution to the Palestine problem was possible – despite the initial encouraging response from the Egyptian leader Colonel Nasser. 

Political Sensitivities

Two further, most interesting, points about the documents reproduced in these volumes need to be made:

Firstly, the normal practice of the British government is to release all documents into the public domain 30 years after being written unless they are politically sensitive – in which case, they are withheld in their entirety for 50 years or released in a censored or “redacted” form; however, the full document is normally released in its original state after the expiry of 50 years from date of production.  The only exception to this rule is where an individual’s personal safety might be compromised.  The documents relating to the “Alpha” project can still only be examined in their censored state, even though more than 55 years have elapsed since being written – a sign perhaps that the full details of some aspects of the Palestinian settlement that were agreed by the British and US governments in 1955 are even today too sensitive, and full publication would be prejudicial to the interests of the United Kingdom.

Secondly, in April 1955 the British government was seriously considering military action against Israel in support of Jordan, as outlined in the report by the UK Ministry of Defence Chiefs of Staff Committee.  For this editor, to whom the Suez Crisis of 1956 (when the Eden government supported Israeli military action against Egypt) is still a very vivid memory, such a turnaround in British policy is quite remarkable.  The reasons for the volte-face will become apparent in the next publication in this series.