221. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, March 28, 1956, 3 p.m.1


  • Recent Middle East Developments


  • U.S. Government
    • The Secretary
    • The Under Secretary
    • Mr. AllenNEA
    • Mr. Russell—S
  • Israel Government
    • Ambassador Eban
    • Minister Shiloah

Ambassador Eban called at the Secretary’s request. The Secretary said he had handed Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s letter of March 162 to the President while he was at White Sulphur Springs. The President had read it carefully and in due course will make a reply. The Secretary said he would suggest that Eban not press the proposal which the Prime Minister had made that Eban see the President. Such a meeting would become known and the various Arab ambassadors would want to present their points of view also to the President. The Secretary said the Prime Minister can count on President Eisenhower being fully aware of the Israel Government’s position. Indeed, the letter itself was an eloquent statement of it.

The Secretary said that following the negative results, for the time being at least, of the Anderson mission, we are re-examining our policies toward the Middle East. That re-examination is based on the premise that Nasser may no longer be entitled to the preferential treatment he has been getting on the anticipation that he would cooperate in achieving an Arab-Israel settlement. What the practical results of this re-examination may be cannot be disclosed at this time. In fact, it is not yet completed. The Secretary said he wished the Israel Government, however, to know that it was going on. He said that he doubted that it would lead to a position of identity of the U.S. with Israel in antagonism to the Arabs as a whole. Such a position would not be to the real interest of Israel. It is our hope to devise and follow policies that will lead to an increase of U.S. weight in the Arab world as a whole.

The Secretary said that with respect to the Israel Government’s request to purchase arms from the U.S., he hoped that it would look to its customary sources in Europe and that it would not look to the [Page 406] U.S. for arms which it could get from European countries. The Secretary said we had taken a sympathetic attitude toward the Israel request to the French Government to purchase Mysteres and we might be able to do more along that line.

The Secretary said he wished to urge in the strongest possible terms that Israel not take action in commencing construction at Banat Yaacov which could lead to an outbreak of hostilities. He understood that the Israel Government has applied to the Export-Import Bank for a $75,000,000 loan for construction of water development along the coastal plain.3 Without making any commitment with respect to the action which the Bank would take or the amount of any loan which might be made, the Department would take a sympathetic point of view as far as the political aspect of the question was concerned. If such a loan could be granted, it should permit the Israel Government to utilize its construction resources without undertaking the work at Banat Yaacov at this time. Action at the latter point would be particularly unfortunate at a time when our policies toward the area were in the process of review.

Ambassador Eban said that recent developments have borne out the Israel Government’s diagnosis of Nasser’s goals. It is clear that a settlement with Israel is low on Nasser’s list. The collapse of the Anderson mission only serves to highlight Israel’s sense of insecurity. Egypt’s acquisition and absorption of arms is proceeding at a disturbingly fast rate. It takes about seven months to train a MIG pilot and it is worthy of note that North Korea attacked seven months after it first received Russian MIGs. With respect to the Secretary’s suggestion that Israel look to its customary sources of supply for military equipment, Ambassador Eban said that it was hard to envisage Israel getting any substantial amount of arms unless the U.S took part. The world knows of Israel’s application to the U.S. The November 16th application4 was filed on the basis of the Secretary’s statement to Sharett in Geneva5 that the U.S. would “give sympathetic consideration” to any application made by Israel. The Israel Government’s experience in Europe was that unless there is U.S. action other countries hesitate to provide arms to Israel. The French had informed the Israelis they could not act again in furnishing Mysteres if they were to be acting alone. Ambassador Eban said that if the position of the U.S. is that it is sympathetic in principle with Israel’s plight but wants Israel to look to Europe for its arms: (1) the Israel Government would like to have an indication of that given to the European countries; and, (2) the Israel Government [Page 407] would press now especially for 24 F86’s and some and-tank guns from the U.S. If these requests could be granted, the matter would be resolved as far as the Israel Government is concerned, at least for the moment. The Secretary said that the latter request could not be met at the moment, at least while this Government is in the process of reviewing its policies. Ambassador Eban inquired whether that meant there would be no action at all on the Israel Government’s request and the Secretary replied that it was not possible to give an answer on that now. The Secretary said that he wished to re-emphasize our belief that we have influences in the Arab world, which, if properly asserted, could help in achieving security and peace for Israel. Until those influences have been proved to be of no value, we do not wish to throw them away. It seems obvious that a clear-cut alliance between Israel and the U.S. would not be in Israel’s long-term interest. Ambassador Eban commented that Israel did not aspire to that.

The Secretary said that he was aware that the Israel Government had forecast the failure of the Anderson mission. While the primary responsibility for its failure rested with Nasser, it had to be noted that the Israel Government had not given complete cooperation. With the issues at stake as grave as they are, this Government must make its own evaluation and analysis. The Secretary said that the Israelis might think our assets in the Arab world useless but we must use our own best judgment. We do not believe we can afford to assume we have no influence with the Arab countries, or even with Egypt. We have tried to play it one way. We can try another. We believe we are serving not only the best interests of this country, but those of Israel.

Ambassador Eban said that with respect to construction at Banat Yaacov, it would be important for Israel to know whether it would have the backing of the US in diverting water from the Jordan after the necessary construction outside of the demilitarized zone was completed. The Secretary said that we would go quite a ways to meet that problem. He was not in any way suggesting any permanent renunciation by Israel of its rights in the Jordan. He suggested that this problem be taken up more in detail when Ambassador Johnson returns in about ten days. In the meantime, he said, the Department would be formulating some written suggestions as to how the matter might be dealt with.

Ambassador Eban said that with respect to the Secretary’s statement that Israel had not cooperated fully with the Anderson mission, the Israel Government had made clear its full willingness to approach the problem of a settlement on the basis of a direct meeting; it had felt that it was justified in not agreeing to the method of an intermediary because that approach had been tried in [Page 408] connection with the Jordan Valley Development negotiations and had not, as yet, succeeded. He said that Prime Minister Ben Gurion had, all during the time of the Anderson mission, been preoccupied with the problem of arms. If that matter were adequately dealt with, he felt there may be a good possibility of Israel approaching the problem of a settlement at that time through an intermediary.

Ambassador Eban said he hoped that the Department would consider taking action on some one or more of the items in the November 16th list. The Secretary said that we would give consideration to that request.

Ambassador Eban inquired whether there was anything to the reports that the United States would be giving more explicit expression to its responsibilities under the Tripartite Declaration. Mr. Hoover said that in considering that whole question it had been decided to move under U.N. procedures before taking any action pursuant to the Tripartite Declaration. Ambassador Eban said that one of the Israel Government’s problems is that the people of Israel do not believe that Israel can rely upon the United States actually taking military action even if there should be an outbreak of hostilities. He said that the discussion in the Security Council over the past few days on the U.S. proposal6 had confirmed Israel’s fears that the Soviets would support any Arab position and could, therefore, be expected to veto any Security Council action designed to stem Arab aggression. Ambassador Eban said that Israel feels that it is falling seriously behind in the arms situation and that it cannot rely upon outside assistance in the event of aggression; it is, therefore, in an alarming position. The Secretary said that he agreed that the situation was serious and that the Israel Government could be assured that we were taking it seriously. If we do not agree on methods, it does not mean that we do not have the same objectives.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 780.00/3–2856. Top Secret; Limited Distribution. Drafted on March 30 by Russell. The time of the meeting is from Dulles’ Appointment Book. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)
  2. Document 201.
  3. See Document 194.
  4. See the memorandum of conversation, vol. XIV, p. 773.
  5. See Secto 90, ibid., p. 683.
  6. See Document 206.