591. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, November 19, 19561


  • Israel


  • Mr. Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Zev Argaman, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • G—Mr. Robert Murphy
  • NE—Mr. Donald C. Bergus

Mr. Eban referred to the wish of the Israel Foreign Minister to pay a courtesy call on the Acting Secretary. He noted that the Acting Secretary had been unable to receive her on November 16 or 20.2 He stated that Mrs. Meir would be available to visit Washington at the end of this week or the beginning of next and that she would be remaining in the United States until the middle of December.

The Israel Delegation in New York had had many discussions with Western European Foreign Ministers and their representatives. Israel was encouraged by their feeling on Nasserism. Israel felt it essential that Western unity be restored. The longer the present situation continued, the worse it would become.

There had been much public discussion about justification for Israel’s action. Everything which Israel had discovered since that action demonstrated its value. Great arms stocks had been discovered in Sinai and Gaza, weapons of the most modern categories had been found, orders to Egyptian troops indicating that their ultimate mission was to destroy Israel had come to hand. A supply of very deadly poison, presumably for use in Israel wells, had been found in Gaza. Interrogation of prisoners had revealed not only Soviet philosophies but also Nazi doctrines. There had been copies of “Mein Kampf” in Arabic everywhere which probably reflected the efforts of Nasser’s Nazi German aides. The Egyptian order of battle had been offensive. Had Israel sustained an assault later, world opinion might have been more favorable, but the military risk would have been much greater. Israel had been justified in what it had done.

[Page 1159]

Mr. Murphy asked how far Israel had intended to go in Egypt. Mr. Eban replied that Israel’s objective had been not territory but security. Mr. Eban admitted that the question would be debated in history for a long time, that Israel was distressed at the divergence between the United States and Israel; but felt that the issue now at hand was a solution to the problem. Israel felt that a great mistake had been made by a majority of the members of the United Nations when it faced an eclipse of Nasserism, when his military power was broken and Arab solidarity had been shown to be a myth. There were echoes of Israel’s views in the Arab states and strong feelings along these lines in Western Europe. The United Nations had put Nasser back on his feet. This might have been a case where the end would have justified the means.

Mr. Murphy pointed out that among other things there had been a tactical problem in the United Nations. Had there been no United States resolution there might well have been a USSR resolution on the subject. The other statements made by Mr. Eban raised the whole issue of “preventive war” as a justifiable course of international conduct.

Mr. Eban wondered how far we could go in relying on the United Nations as the only and exclusive guide. If the United States made this the only criterion, then the West was at a disadvantage. The United Nations could curb the use of force by free countries but not by the USSR and probably the Arabs. Therefore the USSR had a monopoly of force. The numerical composition of the General Assembly was such that it would not adopt a resolution opposed by the USSR, the Arabs and their Asian friends. Mr. Murphy stated that the General Assembly had passed a resolution on Hungary. The USSR had profited by Near Eastern developments. He mentioned Nehru’s developing views on Hungary in response to Indian public opinion on the subject.

Mr. Eban said that the General Assembly would not uphold European, Commonwealth, Mediterranean, or Israel interests. The United Nations Charter had been used to defend the chief violator of the Charter. Mr. Argaman uttered the aphorism about he who comes into equity must come with clean hands. Mr. Murphy commented that as he understood the law both intent and act were factors in leading to a judgment. In this instance it appeared that the only action had been Israeli.

Mr. Eban said that the main problem now was the implementation of the cease-fire and withdrawal resolutions. All depended on the manner of implementation. If the United Nations entered the picture and Israel withdrew then Nasser returned to his previous positions, there would be a new explosion. It was possible to avoid this if implementation were carefully handled. Had Israel withdrawn [Page 1160] from Sinai prematurely, the United Nations force would not now be in Egypt. Mr. Eban understood that the Security General was grateful for this.

Mr. Eban would begin his negotiations with the Secretary General on November 20. Israel was prepared to leave the Sinai Peninsula if the United Nations forces occupied keypoints preparatory to a UN-Egyptian agreement for demilitarization of the Peninsula without prejudice to Egyptian sovereignty. With respect to Tiran and the adjoining area, the Israel action had succeeded in opening an international waterway. Israel would pose three alternatives: either leave Israel in Tiran, leave the islands empty, or place a United Nations force there. The same principle applied to Gaza. Gaza could not be demilitarized but all Israel could say was that nothing would be less prudent than to bring Nasser back to Gaza.

There was a great debate going on in Israel with respect to the ultimate disposition of Gaza. The territory was too small to be attractive but the security aspects of the problem might well be overriding. Mr. Murphy asked if Israel wanted United Nations forces in Sinai. Mr. Eban replied yes, to be followed by demilitarization. Mr. Murphy said that it seemed to him that this proposal would have to be imposed on the Egyptians. Mr. Eban said that would depend on what the Egyptians wanted to gain from the present situation. Israel understood that if it asserted a claim to Gaza it would undertake a great responsibility. Israel had stated that it did not want the Egyptians to return. Israel thought that it wanted Gaza, certainly with its original population. The problem of the refugees there would have to be solved in terms of Israel and other capabilities to absorb them. Mr. Pearson of Canada and some Western European representatives had indicated understanding of Israel’s position on Gaza.

Mr. Murphy inquired if Israel was in a position to give the facts concerning Soviet equipment captured. Mr. Eban said that Israel was writing a report on the subject and that he had told Mr. Allen Dulles that Israel would provide information. Israel had the idea that the USSR had been preparing to fight for the Canal. Returning to his forthcoming discussions with the Secretary General, Mr. Eban said that he felt Israel’s desiderata could be negotiated within the terms of the UNGA resolutions. A fourth point was the Anglo-French position on the Suez Canal; the British and French were interested in what would come in their place.

Mr. Murphy said that we had been encouraged by the apparent willingness of Egypt to accept a United Nations force to occupy the Canal zone and clear the Canal. He hoped that this would give an opportunity to relax the blockade of the Canal.

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Mr. Eban turned to the United Nations draft resolution of November 3 on Palestine.3 He felt that the resolution should make room for the concept of a negotiated settlement. He admitted that negotiations might not be the only way to a settlement but felt that they should not be excluded. He wondered whether the resolution would be passed. The Arabs would oppose it, the USSR might, and then others in Asia and Africa would also oppose it. If it failed of passage then there would be a serious setback. The United States might have to amend this resolution to refer to previous UNGA resolutions. Mr. Eban indicated that this possibility would be distasteful to him.

Mr. Murphy said he had not seen the results of any canvass of United Nations delegations. There was tentatively some hope that the resolution could be passed. Some delegations would doubtless be influenced by developments in the area. Some momentum had to be initiated. Perhaps if the Suez resolution went through first then progress could be made on the Palestine resolution. The United States was not wedded to the present resolution, but felt that we must get away from the present fragile condition where fighting could resume. The problems posed by the Near East crisis were bigger than Nasser.

Mr. Eban said that views varied on statements made by the President and others as to possible United States reactions to Soviet moves in the area. Mr. Eban felt that we had created some uncertainty in the Russian mind. Mr. Murphy said that it was difficult to gage Moscow thinking because of certain indications of instability in the judgment of the men in power there.

Mr. Eban said that Israel would enter the Hungarian debate in the General Assembly. The Soviets could not be more abusive to Israel than they had already been. In the long run, the United States could not hope to compete with the USSR in winning Arab favor. Mr. Eban inquired if a policy had developed with respect to FY 1957 economic assistance to Israel. The Israelis had been informed by ICA that they were ready to proceed once the Department approved.

Mr. Murphy pointed out that current economic aid plans for the Near East were in suspense until we could see how the situation in the area developed. It was much in the mind of the President that if a long-term solution to Near East problems could be achieved that the United States would want to make an important contribution to such a solution.

Mr. Eban mentioned El Al Israel Airline’s difficulty in obtaining United States export licenses for spare parts, and the cessation of [Page 1162] USSR oil deliveries to Israel. He said that while the major problems affecting the area were important, he did not feel that pressures on Israel were a constructive way of achieving solutions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/11–1956. Secret. Drafted by Bergus on November 26.
  2. Hoover had disapproved a memorandum dated November 15 from Rountree, which had recommended that Hoover receive Meir for 15 minutes at his convenience. A note, dated November 19, attached to that memorandum indicates that the recommendation was disapproved “in view of our action regarding Lloyd and Pineau visits” and because of Hoover’s heavy schedule. (Ibid., NEA/NE Files: Lot 58 D 398, Memos to the Secretary thru S/S June–Dec)
  3. Reference is to the U.S. draft resolution on Palestine tabled in the General Assembly on November 3; see Document 485.