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Digital Archive International History Declassified

June 14, 1967

T. ZHIVKOV’S REPORT AT THE BULGARIAN PLENARY MEETING ON THE MIDDLE EAST

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    Zhivkov presents the BCP position on the Six-Day War.
    "T. Zhivkov’s Report at the Bulgarian Plenary Meeting on the Middle East," June 14, 1967, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 1-B, Record 34, File 59. Obtained by the Bulgarian Cold War Research Group. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113228
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MEETING MINUTES
OF THE PLENARY SESSION OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE BULGARIAN COMMUNIST PARTY

14 June1967 /11:00 A.M. /

CHAIRMAN STANKO TODOROV [1]:
Comrades, I open the session of the Central Committee.
There is only one item on the agenda:
Information on the events in the Middle East.
Are there any other suggestions?
- None.

I would like to ask the comrades, who agree to this agenda, to vote.
Comrade Todor Zhivkov [2] has the floor.

TODOR ZHIVKOV:
Comrades, we are unable to make a comprehensive analysis of everything that has happened recently in the eastern Arab countries because the crisis has not yet been overcome. Apparently, at some point such an analysis will have to be made with regard to our future military, strategic, political, economic, and other moves.


Our task today is to inform the Central Committee about the recent developments in the eastern Arab states, to present the line which the Politburo followed during these days, and to coordinate with the Central Committee the future actions of our country and Party in connection with these developments.


We cannot avoid the fact that the Arab armies were defeated only within several days. A total defeat and removal of the progressive regimes in the region was spared thanks to the energetic intervention of the Soviet Union, the European socialist countries and the communist parties.

How did it happen that the armies of the Arab states were defeated only within few days? Some find explanation in the notion that the Israeli army was much better equipped than the Arab armies. This is not true. At the time when the war started, the balance of powers - both political and military - was either equal or in favor of the Arab countries. As you all know, on the eve of the Israeli aggression certain unity was achieved between the Arab states, even though they are usually divided on a number of different issues. As for the quality and quantity of the weapons, the Arab armies' equipment was better or at least comparable to that of the Israelis. In terms of mechanized units – tanks, artillery, fighter jets – both sides were equal. The quality of Arab equipment however surpassed that of the Israelis. The Arab infantry units also outnumbered those of Israel.

Then what were the reasons for the defeat of the Arab armies?


First, the Arab states and especially the United Arab Republic (UAR) grossly overestimated their own capabilities and underestimated the Israeli forces. Both UAR and Syria carried out the military mobilization extremely slowly. Syria assembled only four out of the eight units that it could and, according to the initial plan, should have mobilized. In addition, even those four units were prepared very slowly. Also, the Arab units were not deployed properly and in timely fashion.


Second, the Arab armies were ill-prepared. They were not fully trained into the use of the Soviet weapons that they have been receiving for the last several years.


The war exposed the lack of preparedness in the government and military command, the lack of military coordination, and so forth.


We should mention however that the Chinese prodding, so to say, played a certain role in the overly self-confident and wrong actions taken by the UAR and the other Arab states. Chou Enlai's [3] address to Nasser [4] made the headlines of the Chinese press. All the articles praising the Arab states and their certain victory over Israel and the imperialists were always on the front pages. The meetings between Nasser and Chinese Ambassador also made headlines.


Third, the Arab nationalism played a significant role in the overwhelming defeat of the Arab armies. Once again, the events revealed that where nationalism reigns supreme nothing good could be expected.

Nationalism gives rise to adventurous acts, underestimation of enemy's powers and overestimation of one's own capabilities. It breeds inadequate, hasty, and unwise decisions. This is more or less what happened with the Arab states and especially with UAR, since it was the organizational center of the war.


How did the Arab nationalism play out? As you well know, the Arab leadership declared a holy war for the complete destruction of Israel and the Israeli people, even though they were warned that such a step is not only incompatible with our core values but is also unrealistic for the present situation. Despite our warnings, they called for a holy war against Israel. This had a very negative effect on the efforts to swing the world public to a more favorable position towards the Arab people. The Arab leaders did not coordinate with the Soviets or with us most of their actions before and during the conflict, as was the case with the blockade of the Akaba Bay and the Suez Canal. They reported on a number of actions only after those have already been taken.


What was Israel's situation? After serious political preparations, Israel, together with the US and Great Britain, treacherously attacked. Employing lies and dirty tricks they tried to deceive the Arab people. As it is well known, just hours before the attack the Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan [5] assured that there would be no military attack and that diplomacy would be left at work. Apparently, at the very same moment there was an order for the air force to launch an attack. All evidence suggests that, Israel's treacherous act, conducted without waiting for the decision of the Security Council, where the question was put on the agenda, was in preparation for a long time with the direct assistance of the U.S. and Britain. Recent reports indicate that Israel has dramatically increased its air force, and is likely to have received professional jet pilots (of Jewish origin) from Britain and the US. Israel turned out to be better prepared and with a better trained army. Unlike the Arabs, Jews are literate. In addition, the Israeli applied very suitable, scientifically-proven military strategy. They actually used the lessons learned from the WW II – surprise attacks and concentrated blows in one direction – strategies employed by the Soviet High Command to defeat Hitler's army. Attacking by surprise, they managed to destroy over 70% UAR's Air Force directly on the ground. At that time, UAR's level of alert was three – meaning that pilots were allowed to sleep at home.


Gen. IVAN MIHAILOV:
And to pray in the mosques.

TODOR ZHIVKOV:
With the surprise attack the Israelis destroyed most of UAR's Air Force. Then they launched attack on a broad front on the Sinai Peninsula and in Jordan. They knew that the Jordanian army is quite weak. It basically consists of only 12,000 troops, trained not to fight wars but to protect King Hussein. The Israelis crushed them in a few hours. After dealing the main blow on UAR, they re-grouped their air force and attacked Syria.


We do not know how other people assessed this war, but we, the members of the Politburo, knew from the very beginning that Israel would win. I provided Tito [6] with our assessment. He reacted nervously and repeatedly voiced his disagreement with me, saying that he was very optimistic about Arab countries' capabilities. However, to us it was clear that if we fail to provide assistance, the army of the UAR would be defeated. Unfortunately, the subsequent events surpassed even my own pessimistic expectations. Since UAR's army was defeated very early on, the Israelis only had to cover the distance. The fact that the Israeli army was advancing about 60 kilometers per day shows that UAR had been defeated in the first couple of hours.


What is the right assessment of this war? Apparently, we cannot consider it an isolated event – it is not simply a war between Israel and the Arab states. It is clearly a part of the struggle between the forces of socialism and the forces of imperialism – a struggle for control over the region.

The Arab East is a region of great political, strategic and economic significance. This region connects three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa. The main transportation lines between these three continents by sea, land and air pass through this region. The Suez Canal is of great economic and strategic importance and brings enormous profits to the imperialists. It makes sea transportation 40% cheaper and cuts the duration sailing with 14-16 days. The significance of this region is even greater, considering its abundant natural resources. The Middle East owns 60% of the world oil reserves and produces more than 470 million of tons of oil per annum, i.e. more than a third of the oil production in the capitalist world. The Middle East supplies 80% of the oil for the Western Europe and about 90% of the oil used for the war in Vietnam. This is why the control of the Middle East is a life-and-death struggle for the imperialists. Britain established powerful military bases in Cyprus, Malta and Aden and the Americans established their own – in Libya and Turkey. They also retained their privilege to use the military bases in Saudi Arabia in case of war. The Sixth US Fleet deployed in the region is often used to intimidate the Middle Eastern peoples.

With the creation of the state of Israel, the imperialists, supported by the Israeli bourgeoisie, managed to subjugate Israel to their own political and strategic agenda. Actually, the Israeli people became a pawn in the realization of the infernal plans of the American, British, and French imperialists. They are supplying Israel with weapons, transforming it into a militaristic state with a modern army, militaristic economy and widespread chauvinistic and nationalistic feelings. Regaining of the Land of Israel has become a national goal of the state of Israel. Furthermore, the imperialists deliberately leave some of the main issues in the region unresolved, as for example the problem of the exploitation of the Jordan River or the Palestinian refugee problem, in order to keep the tension between Israel and the Arab states.

As you are well aware, Israel took part in all military campaigns of the American imperialists in the region. Israel acted treacherously during the Suez crisis and now is directly involved into the plans of the American and British imperialists to wage these plundering raids. These are the main forces behind the policy of the imperialists, and especially of the American imperialists, for the the Middle East.


Which are the progressive forces and progressive trends? A powerful national-liberation movement is developing in the Arab world. The reactionary monarchy in Egypt was deposed and the Suez Canal was nationalized. The reactionary regime in Iraq was also overthrown and the country left the Baghdad Pact. The French imperialism suffered heavy blow in Algeria. The feudal-like regime in Yemen gave way to a republic. The Syrian government also joined the anti-imperialist forces. The struggle against the British colonialists in the South Arab Emirates intensified. The struggle for socio-economic and political reforms moved into Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and other Arab states that are still governed by reactionary regimes. The powerful national revolutionary movement, supported by the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries, poses a serious threat to the imperialists who might lose control over the region in the near future. Consequently, the most aggressive imperialistic forces tried to launch counteroffensive in the Arab world in order to tip off the balance of powers in their favor.

They set out to unite the Arab reactionaries – the wealthiest bourgeoisie, feudal aristocracy and landowners. Through military and other assistance to countries such as Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, they tried to create the so-called “Islamic Pact” whose purpose was to attack and overthrow the progressive Arab regimes, especially that of the UAR. The Islamic Pact, as you know, has failed.


In the meanwhile, the imperialists began exerting pressure upon the Arab republics quite openly. Today it is widely acknowledged that the war of the Yemeni royalists against the Republic of Yemen has been supported by the Saudi Arabia and directly financed by the US and Great Britain for many years. The UAR assists the Republican army of Yemen with a 60,000 troops. Lately the imperialists have been constantly launching hostilities against Syria. On 7 April 1967 they even bombed Damascus. There they try to capitalize on the lack of popular support to the ruling Ba'ath party, whose members come mostly from the military. The Ba'athists have refused to cooperate with the Syrian Communist Party, even though they have already had one of its members in the government. It was only at the eve of the war that direct communication between the two parties was established.


Since all these efforts failed to produce any results, the imperialists prodded Israel to attack. What did they pursue through the war?


First, Israel's role was to quickly conquer as much territory as possible using the blitzkrieg strategy. Apparently, the imperialists were well aware of the Arab countries' real capabilities. This enabled Israel to consolidate its position as the major political and military power in the region and consequently, to play power politics during the negotiations with the Arabs.


Second, the imperialists intended to overthrow the progressive Arab regimes, especially those in UAR, Syria and Algeria; to set up bases for the new colonization of the Arab East and thus to offset the balance of powers in that region. They wanted to put the Arab states under complete control and to turn them into a launching pad against the Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist countries.


Considering a number of factors, such as the enormous strategic, military and political importance of the Arab East, its relative proximity to Bulgaria and the Soviet Union, as well as our consistent policy of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, we, together with the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact countries, provide persistent support to the national liberation movements of the Arab world. The broad Soviet assistance in the political, economic, and diplomatic field is especially significant.


What exactly is our assistance?


During the Israeli crisis, the Soviet Union coordinated its moves with us and the rest of the Warsaw Pact members. It launched large-scale diplomatic activities and exerted great effort to subdue the fires of war through the Security Council. The Soviet leadership directly addressed the American and British imperialists, including Lyndon Johnson [7], and had conversations with De Gaulle [8] and the Arab leaders.

After it became clear that all diplomatic and political means were exhausted, the Soviet Union organized the Moscow Meeting, which adopted a declaration explicitly warning the Israeli aggressors. The declaration was followed by the rupture of diplomatic relations between the European socialist countries and Israel. Clearly, [the Israelis] got the meaning of all these decisive measures and terminated the hostilities within several hours.

The declaration was widely discussed in the press in America and Western Europe. It not only received broad support and inspired enthusiasm in the Arab states, but also raised the international prestige of the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries.

Comrades, we are facing a very important stage in this ongoing struggle. Clearly, the imperialists will try to take advantage of Israel's military successes to strengthen it as a country and to consolidate their military, economic and political position in the Arab East. They will also try to instigate conflicts among the Arab states and to keep them weak in order to successfully play the power politics and to achieve their ultimate goal - the overthrow of the progressive regimes of the UAR, Syria and Algeria.

We are heading for a tough battle in the UN. You know that the Soviet Union proposed convocation of extraordinary session of the General Assembly with regard to the new situation in the Middle East. We insist on full withdrawal of the aggressor's troops to the lines of the 1949 truce, i.e. within Israeli pre-war boundaries. The problem of the Suez Canal, as many other problems, will most probably be raised again. The Americans and the British will try to prevent us from securing a majority in the GA. However in our political and diplomatic activities our main objective must be the immediate withdrawal of the aggressor's troops to the 1949 truce lines. Certainly, this will depend to a great extent on the Arab countries' behavior.

What are the current objectives of the imperialists?
1. To provoke clashes between Israel and the Arab states.
2. To incite conflicts between the Arab states and their only true friends and supporters - the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries.

Actually, such a hostile campaign has already been launched in the UAR, among many other Arab states. On the one hand, this campaign overstates the internal disagreements and blames the defeat on Nasser; on the other, it tries to discredit the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries, suggesting that in the critical moment we failed to support the Arabs and thus betrayed their cause.

We must persuade the Arab leaders that such campaigns are hurting their struggle and advance the agenda of the imperialists. Over the last few days, however, the situation has improved. Nasser interfered and the hostile campaign in the UAR has been terminated. An article from today's papers speaks favorably about the Soviet Union and argues that the biggest socialist country is in fact a close ally of the Arab states. The Soviet comrades also had a conversation on that matter with Boumedienne [9] .

For the time being, we have the ability to ward off these imperialist attempts to incite conflicts between the Arab states and to instigate anti-Soviet hysteria.


Our second task is to secure unity among the Arab people and, more importantly, among the Arab leaders. This will not only help them overcome the negative consequences of the war with Israel but will also help suppress the anti-Soviet campaign. Their unity will enable us to coordinate our future steps on the international arena and in organizations such as the UN.

Comrades, I would like also to inform you about Politburo's activities during those fateful days. You all know that People's Republic of Bulgaria follows a policy of friendship and broad support for the Arab states and the national liberation movement in the Arab East. We maintain active diplomatic and trade relations with the majority of these countries and provide them with economic and military aid as much as our capacity allows. Due to our diplomatic, political, and economic activities in this region so important for Bulgaria, the prestige of our country increased considerably. All of this continues to work favorably for us. During the aggression Politburo held daily sessions. We used to review the latest events, exchange opinions and passed initiatives. We stayed in a constant contact with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with the Soviet High Command and with the High Command of the Warsaw Pact. We talked to Comrade Brezhnev every day. Basically, all our decisions concerning our international and domestic policy were made after consultations with the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact members. We also stayed in contact and coordinated a number of issues with Nasser.


Our recent visit to Yugoslavia was also part of the consultation process. It was obvious, that the planned visit of the official BCP and Government delegation would be impossible considering the fact that the war had already started. We decided to go in order to conduct talks precisely on the crisis in the Middle East. Our visit was successful in this regard. Actually, most of our talks were focused on the events in the Middle East. As you know from the Press release, Tito and I had a special meeting and we openly discussed the unfolding events. I am glad to report that we reached an agreement regarding our assessment of the situation and our future steps.

[Source. Archive of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Fond 1, Record 34, File 59. Document obtained by Dr. Jordan Baev; translated and edited by Dr. Momchil Metodiev and Kalin Kanchev]

[1]Todorov, Stanko (1920 B 1996) - Member of Politburo CC BCP (1962-1988), Deputy Prime Minister (1962-1971), Prime Minister (1971-1981), Chairman of the Bulgarian Parliament (1981-1989).

[2]Zhivkov, Todor (1911 - 1998) First Secretary (1954 B 1981), Secretary General (1981 - 1989) of the CC BCP, Prime Minister (1962 - 1971), Chairman of the State Council of Bulgaria (1971 - 1989). Under home arrest (1990 - 1996).

[3]Chou Enlai (1889 1976) - Prime minister of PR of China (1949 1976).

[4]Nasser, Gammal Abdel (1918 1970) - Prime minister (1954 1956), and President (1956 1958) of Egypt and President of the United Arab Republic (1958 - 1970).

[5]Dayan, Moshe (1915 1981) - Defense Minister (1967 - 1974), and foreign minister (1977 - 1979) of Israel

[6]Tito, Josip Broz (1892-1980) Secretary General of the Yugoslav Communist Party (1937-1980), President of Yugoslavia (1953 - 1980).

[7]Johnson, Lindon B. (1908-1973) - The 36th President of the United States (1963-1969)

[8]De Gaulle, Gen. Charles Andre Joseph Marie (1890 1970) - Prime Minister of the provisional government (1944 1946), Prime Minister (1958), and President (1959 1969) of France.

[9]Boumedienne, Houari [Mohammed Ben Brahim Boukharouba] (1927 - 1978) One of the leaders of FLN, Defense Minister (1962 - 1965), and President (1965 - 1978) of Algeria.

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