551. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, November 7, 1956, 6:15 p.m.1

SUBJECT

  • Withdrawal of Israel Forces from Egyptian Territory

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Reuven Shiloah, Minister, Israel Chargé d’Affaires
  • Mr. Yohanan Meroz, First Secretary, Israel Embassy
  • The Acting Secretary
  • NEA—Mr. William M. Rountree
  • NE—Mr. Donald C. Bergus

The Acting Secretary received the Israel representatives at 6:15 p.m. The Acting Secretary stated that we had transmitted a message to the Israel Prime Minister from the President. He handed copies of the message to the Israel representatives for their information.2

The Acting Secretary said that he looked upon this as the most important meeting which he had had with representatives of Israel. A part of the world with which we were all concerned was in flames. He had discussed this matter with the Secretary, in the hospital, and the Secretary had added emphasis to what the Acting Secretary was about to say. The Acting Secretary wished to underline the gravity of the situation which the Free World faced today.

The Acting Secretary viewed the present situation in the Near East not only as it affected the various countries in the area, but as it affected world peace. There was evidence, of which the Israel representatives must be aware, that the Soviets were exploiting this situation in a manner which might bring major consequences of a disastrous nature particularly to the Near East but which could spread out. We felt that in such a situation Israel would be one of the first countries to be swallowed up. Right at this moment refusal by Israel to withdraw its troops as requested would lay it open to the charge that it was gravely endangering world peace and rendering it difficult or impossible for the United Nations to accomplish its purposes. The United Nations was the greatest hope, perhaps the only hope for area and world peace. The United States felt that the only way in which this matter could be approached was through the United Nations.

[Page 1066]

The Acting Secretary feared that the failure of Israel to comply with the General Assembly resolutions and withdraw forces from Egyptian territory would place Israel in a position, in the eyes of the vast majority of United Nations members, of flouting world opinion. This was particularly so with respect to public opinion in the United States with an inevitable effect upon governmental and private aid so freely given heretofore by the United States. It was possible that in those circumstances a movement would develop for the suspension or expulsion of Israel from the United Nations.

It was virtually inevitable that if Israel should refuse to comply, a resolution would be proposed and adopted calling for strict sanctions against Israel.

In reply, Mr. Shiloah said he would not presume to anticipate his Prime Minister’s reaction. He would convey the Acting Secretary’s message with great faithfulness. There was no doubt in his mind as to the points made by the Acting Secretary and he was sure that there would be no doubt in his Government’s mind.

Mr. Shiloah wished to ask one or two questions. The most important thing was what was intended after a withdrawal. In the Secretary’s last talk with Mr. Eban, the Secretary had said that we could not return to the status quo ante. The Acting Secretary pointed out that the United States had introduced into the General Assembly a resolution calling for a commission of a group of people with the authority of the United Nations behind them charged to bring the Palestine problem to a solution. We would not wish to prejudice the studies of that Commission by comment at this time. The Commission might later ask for the views of the United States. We felt that the Palestine problem was inextricably in the United Nations and that we would have to work there.

Mr. Rountree said he wished to underline the Secretary’s statement to Mr. Eban that we must find some way to solve these problems. We intended to pursue the two resolutions which we had placed before the United Nations. The first thing was to stop the fighting and bring about a withdrawal to the armistice lines. The peace of the world was endangered. Mr. Shiloah would recall the impression, and Mr. Rountree believed that it was the honest impression, which Mr. Eban and Mr. Shiloah had conveyed to Mr. Rountree on October 29 that Israel forces would not attack. That meeting had been interrupted with the news that Israel had moved into Egypt. Mr. Rountree referred to the assurances of the Israel Prime Minister that Israel did not seek territorial gains which had been conveyed to the Secretary on October 30. Therefore the Israel statements that they would not withdraw their forces came as a great shock to the United States. Withdrawal of Israel forces was perhaps the most important single element affecting the outcome of [Page 1067]peace or war. Israel should conform with the overwhelming wishes of the United Nations.

Mr. Shiloah said he wished to comment. Mr. Eban had transmitted the message from the Israel Prime Minister to the Secretary with the full authority of the Israel Government. With regard to defensive precautions taken by the Israel forces, Mr. Shiloah thought that he could show the United States Government what it had discovered since its military operations in Sinai. This material proved that without the Israel military operation there would have been another one which would have occurred the same week involving all the Arab countries. Israel had in its possession genuine documents which implicated Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. These had followed the signature of the Syria-Jordan-Egypt defense pact in Amman in October.3 In this case there would not have been the existing relatively localized crisis but the whole area would be in flames. This was not an excuse or an argument. Mr. Shiloah referred to an earlier request for Mr. Eban to call on the Acting Secretary. The Acting Secretary pointed out that by the time the Israel request was received, plans had already been made to ask the Israel Ambassador to call to receive our expressions of concern.

The Acting Secretary indicated that he had a very pressing schedule in the next few days. He suggested that Mr. Eban make arrangements to call on Mr. Rountree.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/11–756. Confidential. Drafted by Bergus on November 8. A summary of the major points made by Hoover to Shiloah at this meeting was transmitted to Tel Aviv in telegram 255, November 7. (Ibid., 684A.86/11–756)
  2. Supra.
  3. October 24. See Document 372.