17. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State 1

705. In conversation yesterday Embassy counselor asked Sapir, Minister of Commerce and Industry whether provision being made for Jordan diversion plan in budget fiscal year beginning April 1. Sapir replied provision would be made and while no exact figure yet decided it would be magnitude 3 to 5 million Israel pounds. White then inquired why in view of fact this sum so negligible relative to total cost irrigation scheme and fact that with Israel’s financial burden immigration and defense no real prospect completing project without American aid GOI felt it necessary to proceed with work at Bnat Yaacov this spring.

Sapir said answer simple. In autumn 1953 at time original Bnat Yaacov controversy Lavon and other members of government argued [Page 25] strongly Israel should continue digging in DZ because Jordan water essential to Israel’s development; Western powers would not go beyond Security Council condemnation and Arab States not strong enough to intervene militarily. Moderate school of thought prevailed at time and Israel had entered into Johnston negotiations as alternative means solving its water problem. With long delay and if there is failure obtain Arab agreement moderates no longer have case and Lavon and others will be in position to argue convincingly no further delay possible because Israel position must be consolidated through completing canal in DZ even though complete execution project may require many years. Otherwise in few more months Arabs will be militarily strong enough to prevent work and Israel will be deprived forever its vital water supply. At close of conversation Sapir who is a moderate and one of Israel negotiators with Johnston group indicated he likewise saw no alternative to resumption of work at Bnat Yaacov.

Thus it seems to Embassy that date it becomes clear to GOI that “Johnston plan is dead” and decision to go ahead with Bnat Yaacov is likely to be most important “day of decision” in Israel foreign policy.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.85322/1–1256. Confidential. Received at 1:38 p.m., January 13. Repeated to London, Paris, Cairo, and Damascus.