178. Memorandum of Discussion at the 279th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, March 8, 19561

Present at the 279th meeting of the Council were the following: The President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Acting Secretary of State; the Acting Secretary of Defense; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General (for Items 1 and 2); the Special Assistant to the President for Disarmament; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Director, U.S. Information Agency; the Chairman, Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security (for Items 1 and 2); the Deputy Director, Bureau of the Budget; General Thomas D. White for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; Special Assistants to the President Anderson and Jackson; the Special Counsel to the President (for Item 1); the Deputy Assistant to the President; the NSC Representative on Internal Security (for Items 1 and 2); the White House Staff Secretary; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.

[Here follows discussion of items 1 and 2.]

3. Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security

The Director of Central Intelligence indicated that he would deal first with the situation in the Near East. The Watch Committee,2 he said, met yesterday and had since given us their judgment as to the prospects for hostilities between the Arabs and the Israelis. They concluded that Arab-Israeli hostilities could break out without further prior warning. On the other hand, they concluded that no decision to launch such hostilities had yet been made by either side. Finally, they pointed out that hostilities could, of course, arise from miscalculation by either side… .

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Mr. Dulles then said he would outline the factors which had lately intensified the danger of hostilities in the Middle East. There was, first of all, the border incidents. Secondly, there was the Israeli claim that one of their aircraft had been shot down over Israeli territory by the Syrians.3 Thirdly, there were fresh incidents on the borders between Egypt and Israel. Fourthly, there were the recent developments in Jordan leading to the dismissal of General Glubb… . Colonel Nasser has repeatedly claimed that he knew nothing in advance of the proposal to dismiss General Glubb. Since there was no apparent point in his lying to us, Mr. Dulles concluded that the dismissal was the independent decision of the Jordanian King. Fifteen other high British officers of the Arab Legion will probably now be withdrawn by the British Government. Yet another fifty British officers are under contract to the Government of Jordan, and they cannot be recalled unless the treaty between the UK and Jordan is violated or annulled. In any event, the result of the dismissal of General Glubb has been to disorganize the Arab Legion, which was the best Arab fighting force in the Middle East.

Mr. Dulles went on to point out that these developments had had a most profound effect in Great Britain. There had been a debate on the subject in Parliament yesterday. Sir Anthony Eden had managed to win it, but the going had been very tough… .

The fifth point to explain the intensification of unrest in the Middle East was the general decline of British and U.S. prestige in the area.

Mr. Dulles next went on to give the National Security Council a statement of the most recent items of armament delivered by the Soviet bloc to Egypt. He also pointed out that the delivery of such bloc arms to Syria had now begun.

Mr. Dulles then turned to the problem of Colonel Nasser. The latter’s attitude had suddenly changed in the course of the last few days, perhaps as a result of the Cairo conference between him, King Saud, and the President of Syria.4 In any case, his attitude with respect to cooperation to preserve the peace had stiffened, and he seemed to be playing now for time. Nasser may well now picture himself as the leader of all the Arab nations.

On the other hand, the Israelis see time slipping away and ever less likelihood of any decision with respect to the division of the waters of the Jordan River. There were widespread feelings of helplessness and despair in Israel. At the recent debate in the [Page 330] Knesset (parliament), the right-wing element had urged preventive war at once. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion had opposed this view and managed to secure a rather lukewarm vote of support. Nevertheless, Israel was undergoing a slow mobilization.

[Here follows discussion of French North Africa.]

The National Security Council: 5

Noted and discussed an oral briefing by the Director of Central Intelligence on the subject, with specific reference to the situation in the Middle East and in French North Africa.

[Here follows discussion of Southeast Asia and Thailand.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Gleason on March 9.
  2. The Watch Committee of the Intelligence Advisory Committee of the National Security Council was charged with the responsibility of providing the U.S. Government with the earliest possible warning of hostile action on the part of the Soviet Union or its allies which would endanger the national security of the United States. The Deputy Director of Central Intelligence acted as the committee’s chairman, and membership was restricted to senior representatives from the Departments of State, Army, Navy, and the Air Force as well as from the Joint Intelligence Group, the CIA, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  3. On March 5, Syrian machinegunners had shot down an Israeli plane in the frontier area, and, the following day, Syria had lodged a complaint with the Mixed Armistice Commission, which accused the Israelis of having violated Syrian air space.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 142.
  5. The following paragraph constitutes NSC Action No. 1525. (Record of Actions by the National Security Council at its 279th Meeting held on March 8, and approved by the President on March 9; Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, NSC Records of Action)