Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1966.

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Photo of Mr George Jackson Mr George Jackson , Brighouse and Spenborough 12:00 am, 6th December 1966

It is always a temptation in a foreign affairs debate to adopt a tour d'horizon approach, ranging from Paris to Peking or West Africa to West Iran, but I shall try to confine my remarks to the Middle East and some of the problems there, perhaps because the crisis in the relationships between the Arab States and Israel is mounting at such a rate that the United Nations may in the near future be much more concerned about a new outbreak of conflict in that area than it is at present in dealing with the question of sanctions against Rhodesia.

When I was at the United Nations in October, we had the reference to the Security Council of the Syrian-Israeli frontier dispute and a condemnation of Syria. Recently, the Israeli Government have been condemned for their actions in Jordan. It would appear that a pattern is beginning to build up quite similar to the 1956 situation, when the whole of the Middle East and world peace were disrupted by the Israeli-Arab conflict.

In particular, I am thinking of the dangers in Jordan to the Hashemite régime caused by the attack by Israel on Jordan, leading to grave discontent among Palestinian refugees on the west bank of the Jordan and to the situation in cities like Jerusalem and Jericho. Should this lead to the collapse of the Jordanian monarchy, to the disappearance from the international scene of King Hussein, one further complication could be an attempt by Israel, which has been represented in the Israeli Press many times, to move down the bank of the Jordan.

This would put this country and the West in an appalling predicament. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union would come to the aid of the Arabs and condemn Israel. What would be the attitude of this country, the nation that gave to the world the Balfour Declaration and which has so many distinguished members of the Jewish faith in its public life? How would we feel if a second move was made by Israel?

I suggest that urgent preventive measures are needed through the United Nations and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to consider two points on the question of United Nations involvement. First, reference has already been made to the valuable job of the U.N. force in the Gaza Strip and there is a more limited observer force along the Syrian-Israeli frontier and also along certain sections of the Jordan-Israeli frontier.

When in New York I questioned whether we could increase the number of observers. We have had a number of examples of U.N. observers, some not happy, as in the action in the Yemen and the not terribly successful action in 1958 in the Lebanon-Syrian frontier dispute, but a thickening up of the observer corps, particularly along the Syrian-Israeli frontier, the mere presence of a limited number of U.N. observers, would he a deterrent. Very often these incidents occur not through some deliberate action, as with the unfortunate Israeli action in relation to Jordan, but through the escalation of an action by local commanders without any great self-control.

Secondly, I wonder whether, apart from the increase in the observer force along the frontiers, the Government would consider advocating as a sort of further sandbag provision the use of the U.N. force in Cyprus, not only for preventive action there, but for a possible movement to the South-East if there should be an eruption on the frontier. In 1958, when there was a grave danger of collapse, British troops were flown from Cyprus to Jordan. I do not think that eight years later we could now expect that to happen. The fear is that there might possibly be further border trouble which an observer corps could not contain. We have the Dkelia base and I have asked before whether we could turn it into the first full permanent U.N. base in the world, with Britain possibly making a contribution, particularly in the logistic sense.

I move on to the general question of armaments in the Middle East. The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) referred to the supply of arms by the Soviet Union to Egypt and the Somali Republic. One must make a much wider survey of arms supplies in the Middle East. There is the supply of arms by the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia and to Iran. There is the American supply of Lightnings to Jordan which has now been announced and there is the French supply of arms to Israel. I was recently in Algeria and saw the appalling build-up of Soviet arms there, including some missiles.

I should have thought that the time had come, through the United Nations, or the new British initiative which we hear talked about, for a conference on the cessation of the supply of arms to the Middle East. It is now reaching alarming proportions and when linked to the sense of frustration felt by the Palestinian refugee and to the Israeli tendency to say, "It worked in the punitive raid in 1956 and so we will repeat it in Jordan", one has a highly dangerous and inflammatory situation. In his book "On the Beach". Nevil Shute prophesied that the third world war would begin in a conflict between the Arabs and Israel. He was right about metal fatigue and we must make sure that he was not right in this sense, too.

I want now to refer to the situation further south, in the Arabian Peninsula. The Government have been asked to be more flexible about the date of our departure from the Aden base. I make a different suggestion, which is that we should make that date more definite. At present, we are told that it is to be 1968. It is difficult for our forces there to be absolutely sure about the time of the total wind-up and I think that they are right to aim for 1st January. We should give a definite date of departure. Dr. Johnson said that a sentence of death clarified the mind wonderfully, and the date of departure would give a further sense of urgency to the political negotiations in the South Arabian Peninsula.

We need Abdullah Al Asnag and Mr. Makawee back in the negotiations to speak for Aden. If they realise that there is a definite date for departure, then their sense of urgency will be increased. I would like to know what steps are being taken to contact those two leaders, who undoubtedly represent a considerable section of the Aden population and of Aden public opinion.

I support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) about a U.N. presence, an idea which was observed in West Irian. He mentioned Pakistan. We have had success in the acceptance of the general principle of a United Nations observer mission to Aden, but Britain will have to go further and the United Nations will have to go further in some form of limited military presence after the departure of the last United Kingdom soldier. There can be no answer in Britain's remaining indefinitely in South Arabia until 1970 or 1972. The tensions in the area will remain regardless of a British presence or absence. What is needed is to interpose a force between the rival Arab Powers and let them know that unilateral action on the part of one or other would not go unnoticed and unchecked by the United Nations and world opinion.

There are two other problems in the Arab world with which I want to deal. One has already been mentioned—the political future of the Persian Gulf. I, too, find it completely incomprehensible that on the one side we should be winding up a British Army base in Aden and on the other side getting more deeply involved in the Persian Gulf. The slightest knowledge of history would make it perfectly clear that, once switched off Aden, the spotlight of Arab nationalism will be switched to the Persian Gulf.

At the same time the idea now fortunately put forward by far fewer people than 10 years ago, that one can secure one's oil supplies only by military means is ludicrous. A major military intervention in the Middle East 10 years ago provided a major disruption of oil supplies. It is in the self-interest of the Arab Gulf States to make their oil available. There is a world surplus of oil and we are now in a buyers' and not a sellers' market. If the Arab States so conduct themselves in internecine strife that they reduce their oil wells to uselessness, they deprive themselves of their own interests and of their own revenues.

A delicate balance of power in the Arab Gulf will have to be worked out. The interests of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, all oil-producing countries, will need to be balanced, but I am perfectly sure that a deepening British military presence will only exacerbate the situation.

I return to something mentioned by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie), the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United Arab Republic. This would be to the interests of London as well as Cairo, especially bearing in mind our departure from Aden in the reasonably near future.

There can be no reason, however, for not making an essential pre-condition of this the ending of terrorism in Aden. It cannot serve the interests of Egypt any more than it serves the interests of any other civilised Arab territory. For far too long we have found our relations in the Arab world bedevilled by the historical sense of misunderstanding with the people of Egypt. The Egyptians have a real affection for this country but the present generation, their fathers and grandfathers, have lived under the shadow of a British military presence. I hope that with these new initiatives—we have already had an example in the meeting between the Foreign Secretary and Field Marshall Hakim Armer in Moscow—we can make progress and achieve diplomatic relationship status with the U.A.R.