181. Message From Robert B. Anderson to the Secretary of State, at New Delhi1

No. 121

I met with B-G, Sharett, Kollek and Herzog 9 March from 0900 to past 1200.2


I outlined conversation with Nasr making particularly the points that we had continued to seek a personal meeting with representatives of the IG and Egypt through a suggestion that IG appoint a private person for this purpose. That Nasr had considered this suggestion but again declined due to reasons of endangering his government and personal regime. That Nasr continued to be willing to negotiate with Israel through U.S. representatives. That we had done our very best to secure negotiations directly as desired by the IG and would now proceed to lay documents before the respective governments for their consideration if the IG would approve such procedure. That the interest of our government in peace continued and we felt that every effort toward achieving settlement agreeable to the respective sides must be continued.

That we would continue to work for direct negotiations but since we could not foresee immediate results the only alternative toward continuation seemed to lie in an intermediary presenting suggestions working towards bringing the points of view together.

That I had discussed with Nasr the JVP and had urged him to work toward approval at the earliest possible time, suggesting the next meeting of the Arab League Council. That Nasr doubted that the JVP could be approached at this time due to the instability in Syria and current developments in Jordan.

I reiterated the sincere and continuing desire of the President to exhaust every possibility for securing settlement which he regards as essential to the best interest of the people in countries involved as well as the Free World, that the IG must accept the conscientious thought and effort of the Secretary of State concerning the arms problem under consideration. That the Secretary had been exceedingly frank and honest in his approach. That the arms question was not a foreclosed one but that our government and the Secretary in particular was concerned with the best interest of Israel in terms of survival and its being accepted in the family of nations surrounded by vastly superior Arab populations. That I wanted to place special [Page 334] emphasis upon the conscientious thought and careful weighing of both the long-term and short-range objectives by the Secretary.
B-G made the following points:
From the beginning he had little faith in our being able to secure a settlement but had hoped for a “miracle”. Particularly since the mission had been conceived and directed by the President. That he had tried to accept Nasr’s declaration of peaceful intention and good faith but continued to fear that Nasr could not control his own forces, had become the subject of his own propaganda effort, was essentially preoccupied with endeavoring to establish his prestige in other countries and despite his declarations of good intentions had refused to issue a cease fire order although during recent weeks he had been appealed to by this mission, Hammarskjold and Burns. That he now had increasing doubts as to Nasr’s own sincerity and thought he would follow whatever course of action seemed best suited to achieve his own purposes of Arab leadership.
B-G stated that efforts in behalf of this mission could be continued “if we wanted to continue them” but that he had now to be concerned with one single thing and that was the defenses and security of his own people. That during recent weeks he and Sharett had deliberately “set their faces against” Cabinet consideration of their position as regards military capability, and that now this became a necessity. That this consideration would take place within “two or three days after my return to the U.S.” That at that time they would look forward to an answer from us concerning arms and that if no answer was forthcoming immediately they would regard it as a negative answer.
B-G was concerned with statements made at the President’s Wed press conference3 (the text of which I have not seen and which B-G knew about through newspaper reports) stating the President’s statement indicated a negative attitude on furnishing arms to Israel. He says it is in contrast to the President’s statement of Nov 9.4 I told him that we had not seen the text of the President’s press conference and I was unable to comment but that the attitude of the President continued as I had described it.
B-G stated that he wanted to point out there was no validity to the argument that Israel could not absorb arms. That while the population of Egypt was vastly superior to Israel, the IG nevertheless has as many available men for arms as Egypt due to factors of health, mental ability and literacy. That he believed Egypt had now acquired about all the arms it could assimilate and that the converse was true of Israel. That Israel could defend itself with much less arms than Egypt required. For example, Sharett stated that if Egypt had 200 MIGs, Israel would need between 75 and 100.
B-G stated he could not believe that we could now morally decline Israel’s arms request.
Upon being pressed as to whether they would consider continued negotiations through an intermediary by means of laying [Page 335] prepared documents before their respective sides or otherwise, B-G and Sharett both stated that they felt such an exercise would be a “mockery” until such time as they had assured their own defenses.
B-G said he wanted to speak particularly about the tripartite guarantee which he described as “useless”. So far as Britain was concerned he expressed a complete lack of confidence that they would be willing to join Israel against either Egypt or Jordan. That so far as U.S. and France was concerned he had some misgivings but even if we would join Israel against Egypt our aid would come too late.
B-G made unmistakably clear that his next objective will be to reappraise his situation with his Cabinet and that he no longer will be motivated by hopes resulting from this mission. He also stated that he felt the mission had worked adversely to Israel’s interest by providing additional time for Egypt.
He stated that the problem was no longer one of securing peace in the near future but of avoiding war and that the latter in his judgment could only be achieved by building up sufficient strength in Israel to deter aggression.
Sharett asked to amplify B-G’s statement. That he did not believe in Nasr’s good faith. That he believed Egypt capable of either direct aggression or provocation. That he felt one of three courses would develop:
A direct offensive by Egypt;
Provocation through raids and continued border incidents which would provoke Israel to attack;
Sending military or suicide squads into Israel so as to create fear in the population, making work and progress impossible. He said quite clearly that the latter action would not be tolerated and if necessary would be ended by force. He emphasized at the end of our conference that any of the above would mean war.
I asked B-G and Sharett for their own calculated assessment as to likelihood of war in the near future resulting from one of the conditions which Sharett outlined. They both agreed that they felt this was a most likely course of action.
Sharett stated that he now felt that Israel was entitled to an emphatic yes or no on the question of arms and that his government would press for it.
I emphasized most strongly that the consideration of this question had been undertaken and would continue to be considered in the best of faith with the best interest of Israel in mind and that we hoped his country would approach the problem not from the sole selfish interest of the problem involving Egypt and Israel but as well from the viewpoint of the international responsibilities of the U.S., its partners in NATO, its dependence upon the resources of the [Page 336] Middle East and that ultimately all of these responsibilities become in part the responsibility of Israel as well as the U.S.
Sharett stated that after the beginning of this mission they had cooperated through statements, desisted from work at Banat Yaacov and refrained from returning Egyptian fire, etc. That Egypt had secured additional arms, consolidated her military planning with Saudi Arabia and Syria, continued to fire on the border and continued to make anti-Israeli statements etc. These factors he urged worked to Israel’s disadvantage and imposed additional moral responsibilities.
It is clear, and Sharett stated categorically, that this mission could no longer be taken into their own calculations with regard to their military position vis-à-vis Egypt. That they would have to reassess their whole position in the light of settlement not likely being achievable in the near future and in the light of either a decision being made concerning arms within a short time or their taking a lack of decision as a negative answer. They would reconsider their position concerning diversion of the Jordan waters because their internal policies could not be dictated by Egyptian desires or bluff.
The conference closed with my urging that they not take precipitate or quick action and that they have an appreciation for our national responsibilities to NATO and the Free World and that all of our actions be assessed and discussed with us in the context of our working as sincerely as possible in the long range interest of Israel.
B-G said as we left that he felt confident that his position was understood and that his government and Israel had the goodwill of the President and Secretary of State.
We plan to return to Athens arriving there midnight 9 Mar.5
Drafted 1400, 9 Mar.
  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha—Anderson Talks w/BG & Nasser. Incoming Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956. Part II. Secret. Also transmitted to Washington for Hoover.
  2. The memorandum of this conversation is not printed. (Ibid., Meetings with Israeli Officials. January 1956–March 1956)
  3. For the transcript of the President’s press conference on March 7, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956, pp. 286–299.
  4. See the editorial note, vol. XIV, p. 725.
  5. In Message 13 to Anderson at Rome, March 13, Hoover remarked, in reference to this meeting, “You have stated our position most accurately and forcefully to both sides and in a way that I know will leave lasting helpful impression.” (Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Alpha—Anderson Talks w/BG & Nasser. Outgoing Telegrams—Jan.–March 1956)