FARAVID 35/2011


Kari Alenius, The Soviet Union “Uncovers an Evil Plot”. Soviet Rhetoric in the UN Security Council during the Palestinian Crisis of 1948

The Palestinian crisis broke out into large-scale warfare on May 14th, 1948 when the Palestinian Jews declared the independence of Israel. Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Transjordan reacted with immediate military operations against Israel. Of the great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union formally recognized Israel a few days after the Israeli declaration of independence was made. France and China and most of the other UN member states decided to choose the policy of “wait and see”, while Great Britain for its part embraced a policy of supporting the Arab states. Heated battles continued in Palestine into early June until both sides had reached a deadlock and agreed to a tenuous cease-fire.

The Soviet Union was by far the most active member of the Security Council during the crisis: its representatives gave 13 lengthy speeches. The total number and length of the Soviet speeches indicates the importance of the crisis in the eyes of the Soviets: it was actively working to influence the outcome of the situation in Palestine. It was logical that the actual parties to the dispute, Israel and the Arab states, would use their opportunities in the Security Council to blame the opposing side for causing the conflict. The Soviet Union, however, may also be grouped with these parties for its continual use of aggressive rhetoric, which was a striking difference compared to the other permanent members of the Security Council.

The Soviet speeches clearly pointed out the guilty party and the Soviet speakers openly expressed their profound inability to understand that party’s actions. The complexion of the Palestinian Crisis in the Soviet speeches, however, was not an entirely black-and-white situation, rather, for political and strategic reasons, it contained shades of grey. Nor in the Soviet opinion were there any truly innocent parties, excepting of course the Soviet Union itself, trying its best to help impartially from the sidelines.

The Soviet Union’s strategic aims concerning the Palestinian Crisis was to undermine Great Britain’s position as the most influential actor in the region. Of Israel, the Soviets hoped to gain an ally for itself, and a bridgehead into the Middle East. Instability resulting from a partition of Palestine too favored the Soviets hand, because it offered the possibility to send negotiators, inspectors and peace keepers to the Middle East, in other words, a pretext for placing Soviet troops in the region. On the other hand, though, the Soviet Union wanted to avoid appearing to support one side over the other, indeed preserving the best possible terms with the Arab states was one of its primary soviet aims. These underlying aims, working in the background, go a long way in explaining why the Soviet Union’s representatives chose the particular rhetoric they did in the Security Council sessions in the early stages of the conflict in Palestine in May and June of 1948.  

Faravid 35/2011