Editor's Note: The absence of any significant international reaction to the reimposition of the blockade on the Gulf of Aqaba only emboldened Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. In a speech to Arab Trade Unionists on May 26th, he declared his real objective: "The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel."
Thank you for this initiative. You have provided me with an opportunity to see you. I have actually heard your speeches and resolutions; there is nothing to add during this meeting to what you have already said. You, the Arab workers’ federations, represent the biggest force in the Arab world.
We can achieve much by Arab action, which is a main part of our battle. We must develop and build our countries to face the challenge of our enemies. The Arab world now is very different from what it was ten days ago. Israel is also different from what it was ten days ago. Despair has never found its way into Arab hearts and never will. The Arabs insist on their rights and are determined to regain the rights of the Palestinian people. The Arabs must accomplish this set intention and this aim. The first elements of this aim appeared in the test of Syria and Egypt in facing the Israeli threat. I believe that this test was a major starting point and basis from which to achieve complete cohesion in the Arab world. What we see today in the masses of the Arab people everywhere is their desire to fight. The Arab people want to regain the rights of the people of Palestine.
For several years, many people have raised doubts about our intentions towards Palestine. But talk is easy and action is difficult, very difficult. We emerged wounded from the 1956 battle. Britain, Israel and France attacked us then. We sustained heavy losses in 1956. Later, union was achieved. The 1961 secession occurred when we had only just got completely together and had barely begun to stand firmly on our feet.
Later the Yemeni revolution broke out. We considered it our duty to rescue our brothers, simply because of the principles and ideals which we advocated and still advocate.
We were waiting for the day when we would be fully prepared and confident of being able to adopt strong measures if we were to enter the battle with Israel. I say nothing aimlessly. One day two years ago, I stood up to say that we had no plan to liberate Palestine and that revolutionary action was our only course to liberate Palestine. I spoke at the summit conferences. The summit conferences were meant to prepare the Arab states to defend themselves.
Recently we felt we are strong enough, that if we were to enter a battle with Israel, with God’s help, we could triumph. On this basis, we decided to take actual steps.
A great deal has been said in the past about the UN Emergency Force (UNEF). Many people blamed us for UNEF’s presence. We were not strong enough. Should we have listened to them, or rather built and trained our army while UNEF still existed? I said once that we could tell UNEF to leave within half an hour. Once we were fully prepared we could ask UNEF to leave. And this is what actually happened.
The same thing happened with regard to Sharm el-Sheikh. We were attacked on this score by some Arabs. Taking Sharm el-Sheikh meant confrontation with Israel. Taking such action also meant that we were ready to enter a general war with Israel. It was not a separate operation. Therefore, we had to take this fact into consideration when moving to Sharm el-Sheikh. The present operation was mounted on this basis.
Actually I was authorized by the [Arab Socialist Union’s] Supreme Executive Committee to implement this plan at the right time. The right time came when Syria was threatened with aggression. We sent reconnaissance aircraft over Israel. Not a single brigade was stationed opposite us on the Israeli side of the border. All Israeli brigades were confronting Syria. All but four brigades have now moved south to confront Egypt. Those four are still on the border with Syria. We are confident that once we have entered the battle we will triumph, God willing.
The Objective of Arab Nations
With regard to military plans, there is complete coordination of military action between us and Syria. We will operate as one army fighting a single battle for the sake of a common objective – the objective of the Arab nation.
The problem today is not just Israel, but also those behind it. If Israel embarks on an aggression against Syria or Egypt, the battle against Israel will be a general one and not confined to one spot on the Syrian or Egyptian borders. The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel. I probably could not have said such things five or even three years ago. If I had said such things and had been unable to carry them out my words would have been empty and worthless.
Today, some 11 years after 1956, I say such things because I am confident. I know what we have here in Egypt and what Syria has. I also know that other states, Iraq for instance, has sent its troops to Syria; Algeria will send troops; Kuwait also will send troops. They will send armoured and infantry units. This is Arab power. This is the true resurrection of the Arab nation, which at one time was probably in despair.
Today people must know the reality of the Arab world. What is Israel? Israel today is the United States. The United States is the chief defender of Israel. As for Britain, I consider it America’s lackey. Britain does not have an independent policy. [British Prime Minister Harold] Wilson always follows [President Lyndon] Johnson’s steps and says what he wants him to say. All Western countries take Israel’s view.
The Gulf of Aqaba was a closed waterway prior to 1956. We used to search British, U.S., French and all other ships. After the tripartite aggression – and we all know the tripartite plot – we left the area to UNEF which came here under a UN resolution to make possible the withdrawal of Britain, France and Israel. The Israelis say they opened the maritime route. I say they told lies and believed their own lies. We withdrew because the British and the French attacked us. This battle was never between us and Israel alone.
I have recently been with the armed forces. All the armed forces are ready for a battle face-to-face between the Arabs and Israel. Those behind Israel are also welcome.
Friends and Foes
We must know and learn a big lesson today. We must actually see that, in its hypocrisy and in its talks with the Arabs, the United States sides with Israel 100 per cent and is partial in favor of Israel. Why is Britain biased towards Israel? The West is on Israel’s side. General [Charles] de Gaulle’s personality caused him to remain impartial on this question and not to toe the U.S. or the British line; France therefore did not take sides with Israel.
The Soviet Union’s attitude was great and splendid. It supported the Arabs and the Arab nation. It went to the extent of stating that, together with the Arabs and the Arab nation, it would resist any interference or aggression.
Today every Arab knows foes and friends. If we do not learn who our enemies and our friends are, Israel will always be able to benefit from this behavior. It is clear that the United States is an enemy of the Arabs because it is completely biased in favor of Israel. It is also clear that Britain is an enemy of the Arabs because she, too, is completely biased in favor of Israel. On this basis we must treat our enemies and those who side with our enemies as actual enemies. We can accord them such treatment. In fact we are not states without status. We are states of status occupying an important place in the world. Our States have thousands of years of civilization behind them – 7,000 years of civilization. Indeed, we can do much; we can expose the hypocrisy – the hypocrisy of our enemies if they try to persuade us that they wish to serve our interest. The United States seeks to serve only Israel’s interests. Britain also seeks to serve only Israel’s interests.
In the Gulf of Aqaba and Beyond
The question is not one of international law. Why all this uproar because of the closure of the Gulf of Aqaba? When [Levi] Eshkol and [Yitzhak] Rabin threatened Syria, nobody spoke about peace or threats to peace. They actually hate the progressive regime in Syria. The United States, Britain and reaction which is the friend of the United States and Britain – do not favor the national progressive regime in Syria. Israel, of course, shares their feelings. Israel is an ally of the United States and Britain. When Israel threatened Syria, they kept quiet and accepted what it said. But when we exercise one of our legitimate rights, as we always do, they turn the world upside down and speak about threats to peace and about a crisis in the Middle East. They fabricate these matters and threaten us with war.
We shall not relinquish our rights. We shall not concede our right in the Gulf of Aqaba. Today, the people of Egypt, the Syrian army, and the Egyptian army comprise one front. We want the entire front surrounding Israel to become one front… We want the front to become one united front around Israel. We will not relinquish the rights of the people of Palestine, as I have said before. I was told at the time that I might have to wait 70 years. During the Crusaders’ occupation, the Arabs waited 70 years before a suitable opportunity arose and they drove away the Crusaders. Some people commented that Abdel Nasser said we should shelve the Palestinian question for 70 years, but I say that as a people with an ancient civilization, as an Arab people, we are determined that the Palestine question will not be liquidated or forgotten. The whole question, then, is the proper time to achieve our aims. We are preparing ourselves constantly.
You are the hope of the Arab nation and its vanguard. As workers, you are actually building the Arab nation. The quicker we build, the quicker we will be able to achieve our aim.