218. Memorandum From the Acting Executive Director of the International Development Advisory Board (Barnes) to Oliver L. Troxel, Jr., of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs1
On analysis, Nasser’s suggestions, as outlined in Cairo’s 1841 of March 14,2 are wholly impractical so far as achieving the original objectives of the Jordan Valley Plan are concerned.
Presumably, his proposal seeks to avoid the political embarrassment of an accommodation with Israel on the water question. In [Page 402] view of his previous indications of a thorough understanding of the project based on briefings by Mohammad Selim, his suggestions can only be regarded as a deliberate effort to stall an Arab decision.
His proposal in no way eliminates the necessity for some kind of agreement with Israel on particular elements of the Plan unless, of course, the Arabs are willing to sacrifice not 100 Mcm’s but nearly 200 Mcm’s of water for Jordan. Nasser is certainly aware that 300 Mcm’s of storage capacity in Tiberias is crucial to the Arab interests. How does he propose to secure this storage space with necessary arrangements for input and offtake without Israeli agreement? He is equally aware all of the water of the Yarmuk would be insufficient to irrigate Jordan’s west ghor lands—agriculturally and politically a most important area.
Even if the United States were willing to play along with the wholly uneconomic Yarmuk-only ideas (which presumably it is not), there would still be a shortage of 100 Mcm’s of water unless it were obtained through agreement with Israel. Nasser must also know that any unilateral deal with Israel would necessarily involve a major diversion at Banat Yacov. If he believes that Syria could be pressured into withdrawing its objections to this diversion in some unilateral framework, how much easier it would be for Syria to accept the diversion as part of a valley plan.
These are only some of the more obvious fallacies in Nasser’s proposal. I do not believe for a moment that he has advanced them seriously or believes that they offer any real solution of the problem. I should interpret them as a deliberate effort to lead us around Robin Hood’s barn and suggest that they be dealt with in that light.
Nor do I doubt for a moment that it is entirely within Nasser’s power, if he wishes, to bring about a situation which would enable Syria to act favorably on the proposal. A mere expression by the Arab League to the effect that the Plan is technically and economically sound and not incompatible with Arab policy would almost automatically remove the public opinion barriers to which Nasser refers. There is strong reason to believe that Jordan and Lebanon are both inclined toward the project, that Iraq will speak up for it, and that Libya will not be opposed. The other four states—Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt are certainly controllable by Nasser if he wishes to handle them.
It appears to me that the water plan, along with other U.S. interests in the Middle East, is getting no more than political lip-service from Nasser.