Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs ( Berry )1


Subject: Border tension between Israel and Syria.

Participants: Moshe Keren, Counselor, Embassy of Israel
Miss Esther Herlitz, First Secretary, Embassy of Israel
NEA—Mr. Berry
NE—Mr. Waldo

Dr. Keren, Counselor of the Embassy of Israel, and Miss Esther Herlitz, First Secretary, called on me this morning, at my request, in connection with recent incidents in the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel. Mr. Waldo gave an account of the background of the case and listed the events that had occurred.

I told the Counselor that we had discussed the present problem with General Riley, who is in a hospital in New York, and were in effect backing up his position. I understood that General Riley was discussing the matter with the Israelis and the Syrians in New York.

I told the Counselor and Miss Herlitz that the Department was generally sympathetic to the Israel program for draining and developing the Hule area. We thought such a program would be helpful to the Israelis and also to the Syrians, since it would eliminate malaria from the area. I said we felt that the Syrians had no reason to object to Israel’s activities there.

I told the Counselor, further, that we were aware that the drainage of the Hule area was dependent upon certain engineering operations by the Israelis in the demilitarized zone south of Lake Hule. It seemed logical to us that these operations would have to be undertaken. At the same time, we felt that the Israelis could afford to use patience in negotiating with the Syrians, through the Mixed Armistice Commission, a solution of the problem raised by the engineering activities. We understood that these operations resulted in the dispossession of certain Arab landowners and that the Syrians were protesting on their behalf. It also appeared that the Israelis had taken actions in the area which were not fully in accord with the Armistice Agreement and which contributed to instability in the area.

I informed the Israel representatives that we had been much concerned over the increasing number of incidents occurring recently along the Israel frontiers. We hoped that the situation would improve. Otherwise, the continuance of such incidents could have a most deleterious effect on the Department’s attitude, and I could not predict what [Page 612] turn this might take. We therefore hoped that the Israelis would use patience and work out this problem in the demilitarized zone through cooperation with the Mixed Armistice Commission. Like the Israelis, the Department was hopeful regarding a settlement of the outstanding problems between Israel and the Arab states. A repetition of incidents like that now occurring in the Hule area could only prejudice possibilities for a peaceful settlement.

The Israel representatives said it was their understanding that Colonel Ramati and Colonel Bossavy of the Mixed Armistice Commission had reached some agreement in an exchange of letters,2 but did not pursue this point. They promised to report our views to the Israel Foreign Office.3

  1. Memorandum drafted by Mr. Waldo.
  2. Information on activities of the Israel-Syria MAC at the end of March is in U.N. Docs. S/2067 and S/2084.
  3. In telegram 407 to Tel Aviv (353 to Damascus), March 31, the Department summarized the representations made to the Israeli representatives the previous day and continued:

    “Syrian Min also was requested call same day. We expressed appreciation for moderation shown in Huleh area by Syrian Govt and hoped this moderate attitude would continue. We thought Israel project Huleh area useful … and hoped Syrians wld work out peaceful solution problem in cooperation MAC. We also hoped Syrians wld not take up matter in SC at this time.” (684A.85/2–1251)