193. Telegram From the Consulate General at Jerusalem to the Department of State1
380. General Burns has commented substantially as follows with respect Deptel 196:2 As regards likelihood major hostilities attitudes of Israel and Egypt should prove conclusively with other Arab States in secondary role.
Statement recently made in Knesset by Ben Gurion to effect “while Israel would not start war she would fight through to victory if attacked”3 appears valid as presentation Israeli position at present time. That position could change on short notice since Ben Gurion is impulsive and army leaders such as Dayan etc. are believed likely to press for policy of force in dealing with Arabs …. Despite such considerations Burns’ appreciation is Israel will not herself initiate large scale aggression but should be expected to react vigorously to any aggressive action of neighbors.
Egyptians now cocky and feel confident of themselves but improbable that responsible officers really believe Egypt ready for war. On basis discussion with General Amer and other Egyptian [Page 358] officials Burns has not gained impression Nasser and his associates seriously contemplate taking offensive this year. Egyptians have done little to discourage firing incidents along Gaza strip however apparently wishing to maintain state of tension for political reasons. These incidents nevertheless represent continuing danger since they could get out of hand and lead to hostilities of larger scope. Danger of serious trouble in El Auja area does not appear very great although of course the separation of forces envisaged by armistice agreement no longer exists.
While Burns has no specific information re equipment or present state of training of Egyptian armed forces or of technical ability of their high command he doubts they have yet had time to absorb into their forces arms received from Soviet bloc. He therefore considers it unlikely they will initiate war this summer. In any event it would seem foolish of them to do so.
Removal of restraining influence of British officers from Arab legion4 obviously constitutes an added threat to peace but still too early to formulate predictions re ultimate effect. Border incidents of last few days would appear to justify fears of resurgence of shooting episode along Jordan frontier with added possibility Arab Legion may be sooner or later committed in course of such incidents to ill-considered retaliatory action.
Most dangerous single threat to peace is however to be found in project at Banat Yacub. On one hand there appears practically no likelihood Arab states will accept Johnston plan within next few months; on other, Israelis have indicated they will not wait much longer. Syrians may now believe that they can block Israel’s use of Jordan River simply by leaving matters in status quo indefinitely. Should Israelis insist on resuming work in D/Z it would probably be unavoidable to bring issue before Security Council. This should delay reaction of Syria and obtain indication of attitude of other powers toward Israel’s legitimate need to utilize Jordan waters.
Number of danger spots in area together with uncompromising attitudes of parties directly concerned makes outbreak of hostilities distinctly possible. US is in position to influence Israel toward maintaining policy of restraint by applying pressure on Israeli Government when required plus firm indication of sanctions Israel might expect should she determine upon attack against Arab states.
To summarize Burns considers major hostilities this year as within realm of possible but accumulation of dangerous factors does [Page 359] not appear sufficient at present time to warrant conclusion that outbreak is probable.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/3–1456. Secret; Limit Distribution. Received at 3:18 p.m.↩
- The Department, on March 6, requested Cole to “approach General Burns and seek his personal views on present Israel-Arab tension and general appreciation of situation in light recent incidents and Glubb dismissal. We desire particularly his estimate likelihood outbreak major hostilities.” (Telegram 196 to Jerusalem; Ibid., 684A.86/3–656)↩
- Ben Gurion made this statement on March 6.↩
- On March 5, the British Government, in the wake of King Hussein’s dismissal of Lieutenant General Sir John Glubb, recalled 15 top officers from service with the Arab Legion.↩