Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Mr. Berle: We have given very careful consideration to your suggestions regarding possible action with Ibn Saud with a view to preventing outbreaks in Palestine. As we see it the situation is as follows:

At the present time the British are supposed to have 20,000–30,000 troops in Palestine. This should be sufficient to prevent any outbreaks between the Arab and Jewish populations. The dangerous period would come if the Axis powers succeed in reaching Suez and then push on to Palestine, driving the British before them. In the event of such an operation there would probably be a period of two or three days before the Germans had consolidated their positions when attacks upon Jews by Arabs would be likely to take place. Unless there is an immediate break-through in Egypt, therefore, it would not seem that the Jews are in imminent danger. However, it must be admitted that such danger may not be far off. The question is how Ibn Saud can best be used to avert a possible massacre in Palestine. It is our view that a political approach such as you had in mind would take some time to prepare. It would presumably involve discussions with the British, whose interests are directly affected, and it would of course also be necessary to consider what reactions and repercussions such a proposal might have upon other Arab leaders, for example, those of Egypt, Palestine, Trans-Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Our preliminary view is that this political proposal has so many possible repercussions which could not be foreseen that it would be rather dangerous to follow at this time. Furthermore, if our understanding is correct that you envisaged that Ibn Saud should offer physical protection to the Jews in Palestine, there are these considerations: First, he is in an extremely weakened economic position at the present time and it is doubtful whether he would have the forces to accomplish any such task. This is entirely aside from the question whether he could, as the outstanding leader in the Arab world, assume the job of protecting the Jews without losing face with his coreligionists in the neighboring Arab countries. Moreover, in order to reach Palestine it would be necessary for Ibn Saud to march across Trans-Jordan, which, as you will recall, is governed by the Emir Abdullah, a member of the Hashimite family, with whom the Sauds have long been at enmity. In these circumstances we would suggest an approach along the following lines:

I believe that a message from the President to Ibn Saud transmitted through our Legation at Cairo would be the first step. In such a [Page 604] message I would propose that the President appeal to Ibn Saud’s sense of chivalry to use his influence with his coreligionists in Palestine toward preventing any widespread massacres. We would be justified in making such an approach because of the large number of American nationals of the Jewish race actually living in Palestine. In this message we could point that it would be a tragedy for the Arab world if the Arab race should permit outbreaks in Palestine against defenseless Jews. This theme could be enlarged upon and developed, and I am attaching hereto a rough draft of such a message.14

In this same message I believe we could also inform Ibn Saud that the unsatisfactory economic conditions in his country have been brought to our attention and that we are examining what steps we may be able to take to be of assistance to him. We could then consider within the next few days whether it would be desirable and feasible to extend Ibn Saud assistance under the terms of the Lend-Lease Act, possibly in conjunction with the proposal which Mr. James Moffett recently made to the President.15 This proposal, you will recall, involved the purchase of petroleum products from Saudi Arabia for the use of the Navy. The funds paid for this petroleum would be turned over to Ibn Saud at the same time the British would be requested to increase the subsidy which they are now paying to him.

A further possibility exists in the matter of according immediate aid to Ibn Saud. You will recall that one of the ships, the S. S. Kassandra, bearing supplies to Greece was stopped in the Mediterranean just at the time of the Greek collapse and brought back to Port Said. The Red Cross is now considering what should be done with these supplies. I have no doubt that many of them would be of immediate value and usefulness to Ibn Saud. In addition two or three more Red Cross shipments are now en route, originally being intended for Greece. Our Legation at Cairo has proposed that these vessels put in at Aden and await instructions. No doubt some of the supplies on these vessels could also be released to Ibn Saud. I might add that these supplies were, according to my understanding, purchased with the funds appropriated by Congress for relief abroad and they are therefore presumably at the disposition of this Government.

It seems to me that these two lines of approach to Ibn Saud, one appealing to his sense of chivalry, honor and justice, and the other intended to assist in solving his present desperate economic situation, would afford a realistic method of obtaining his great influence in preventing a catastrophe in Palestine.

Wallace Murray
  1. Not printed. No indication has been found in Department files of further action on this draft.
  2. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 624 ff.