368. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

175. Re Deptel 146.2 Ben Gurion, whom I saw at his Tel Aviv office within hour receipt reference telegram, said he could gladly give assurances requested, if USG meant that it wished to be assured Israel had no intention of initiating trouble with Syria, and expressed warm gratitude for Secretary’s desire to exchange views on Syria. He made following points.


He shares US concern with Syrian developments, for it is impossible, he said, “to distinguish between Syria and Russia.” Israel is ultimate target of weapons which USSR is pouring into Syria although theoretical case can be made that they are threat to Lebanon or other Arab states. He would be most anxious to know what USG would do if Israel is attacked by Russia through Syria.

He said Soviet press, which never is without purpose, has been sinister recently in its attacks on Israel. He cited, as examples, reports that Eilat had been relinquished to US as base and that France and Israel were preparing attack against Syria.

He also cited remark which this government appears to regard as particularly ominous made by Soviet Ambassador Abramov to Mapam MK Hazan to effect Israeli cities had not yet experienced bombing attacks (cf. Eban’s letter to Under Secretary Herter July 25, 1957).3

He said what is called for is bold move by US of sort which had checkmated Soviets in recent case of Sixth Fleet’s approach to eastern Mediterranean bolstering Jordan, and earlier US declaration in support of Formosa.
He was mildly reproachful in noting that Syria receives vast quantities of arms from Russia which pose greater threat to Israel than to anyone else. While US is supplying arms to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Israel is still boycotted, apparently under November 2 UN resolution,4 though “why I have no idea”.
He studied penultimate sentence in Secretary’s letter5 at length and read it carefully aloud, asking if I could supply interpretative details. I replied that at present we had nothing more than letter itself. I could only assume USG hoped GOI did not consider that situation in Syria required it to undertake some sort of counter action. When he asked why USG would think Israel wanted to start trouble, I said I had no indication Washington believed that to be case but there was always fear that, unless extreme caution exercised, minor border disturbances would lead to broader consequences. USG obviously hopes nothing will be done to complicate already extremely precarious situation. Ben Gurion said Israel is doing and will continue to do everything in its power to avoid providing excuse for an attack on Israel by Soviets through Syria. Recent GOI request to UNTSO to establish observation posts on Israeli side of Syrian frontier had been just such precaution. If Israel were attacked, that would be a different thing, but “you can assure Secretary, if what is meant by this sentence is possibility of clash provoked by Israel, such thought has not entered our minds”.
He reiterated his gratitude for Secretary’s offer to exchange views and said he would particularly welcome indications of what we had in mind as “constructive solution”.

Comment: Fluency with which Ben Gurion spoke immediately after reading letter probably indicates he gave me distillation GOI’s thinking as developed through several days constant preoccupation with recent affairs its northern neighbor. Our conversation was in even, unexcited tempo, but he frequently repeated “we are worried, very worried”. He indicated we could expect formal reply to Secretary’s letter in near future when he has had opportunity discuss subject with Eban, who was waiting in anteroom as I left after our 20-minute conversation.

We agreed that to newspaper inquiries, we would reply I had called at my request for discussion current matters of mutual interest. If asked whether Syria had been discussed, I would say that [Page 650] both of our countries were naturally interested in recent Syrian developments.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783.00/8–2257. Top Secret; Niact. Received at 6:25 p.m. Rountree was notified concerning the telegram at 8:15 p.m. A copy of telegram 175, in the Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DullesHerter Series, was initialed by Eisenhower.
  2. Document 365.
  3. Not found in Department of State files.
  4. Reference is to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 997 (ES–I) adopted at an emergency session of the General Assembly which had begun on November 1, 1956.
  5. See Document 365.