60. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Russell) to the Secretary of State1
- Robert Anderson’s Meeting with Ambassador Eban and Reuven Shiloah
Mr. Robert Anderson gave me the following account of his luncheon meeting yesterday with Eban and Shiloah, Ambassador and Minister, respectively, of the Israel Embassy:
Eban had a much more relaxed attitude than at any previous meeting with Anderson. His general attitude was one of “I told you so”, although he did not push it.
Eban said he had left his meeting with the Secretary in March following the Anderson visit to the Middle East with the following impressions:
- As a result of the Anderson mission and other developments the U.S. felt it had to make a reappraisal with respect to the reliability and objectives of Col. Nasser and that such a reappraisal was underway;
- The reappraisal would be evolutionary and not precipitous and would become most apparent in connection with the ultimate decision on the Aswan Dam;
- The U.S. was convinced that Israel’s arms strength should be increased but it was preferable that the arms should be provided by other nations than the U.S.
This impression of the Secretary’s thinking had been an important factor in guiding the Israel Government since March. With respect to the third point, however, Ben Gurion had been extremely skeptical about the requirement that Israel should obtain its arms from non-U.S. sources. He felt we were being naive and that there [Page 137] was more benefit for Israel and the U.S. if the arms could come directly from the U.S. This skepticism has now reached a point of crisis. The IG was being told that as a result of the U.S. decision on the Aswan Dam and the Suez Canal crisis, matters were improving for the IG. As a matter of fact, however, things were not improving. Canada was being asked to delay on providing the F–86’s. A favorable action of which the IG had felt sure was now in doubt. They understood our theory that the providing of arms to Israel should not appear to the Arab world to be in retaliation to Nasser’s actions but they were apprehensive that the delay might become prolonged.
Eban said the IG felt that developments in the Middle East had vindicated them in their analysis and this vindication should have a historical significance and lesson both with respect to future U.S. policy toward Egypt and U.S. cooperation with Israel.
Eban said the IG applauds the London decision to hold a conference on the Suez but it is important to understand that the calling of the conference is not an achievement in itself. The important thing is what comes out of it. It will, in fact, turn out to be a retrogressive step if there is any slackening in the West’s attitude toward Nasser or if anything is done to help Nasser save face.
Eban said that while it might logically be assumed that Nasser did not intend to attack Israel in the near future, Nasser had proven to be a most illogical person and that since he is illogical, Israel has to assume that he might decide to attack at any time. There should, therefore, be no further delay in the receipt of planes by Israel from Canada and France.
Eban believed that it would help in achieving success at the forthcoming London conference and would help to diminish Nasser’s standing if there were to be official conversations and even public discussion about the possibility of a link through Israel between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The IG has made studies of the engineering feasibility and the cost of such a canal through Israel. It would cost less than the Aswan Dam. Eban will have those studies within the next week and will furnish them to Anderson. An alternative to a canal would be a pipeline through the Negev. Anderson told Eban he thought the matter should be carefully thought out before anything was said about it as a possibility. If it turned out to be utterly impractical, the proposal would be a propaganda boomerang.
Eban said that the IG had received assurances from “the powers” that if an international authority were set up pursuant to the London meetings, the IG would be guaranteed right of passage. Anderson queried Eban particularly on this and Eban reiterated that [Page 138] the IG had been given such assurances though he did not specify where, when or by whom.
Eban’s final point, which he emphasized especially, was that recent developments ought to bring the U.S. to a realization that the whole cold war battlefront is in the Middle East; that we cannot rely on Nasser, on the North African complex, on Cyprus, or on Syria. The only country upon which the West can rely is Israel. Because of our recent policies toward Israel, it is not now in a position to be of much help if we should find we had to place primary reliance on them. It is time for highly secret discussions between the U.S. and the IG with respect to what the West needs and what Israel could provide in the way of making it the Western stronghold that it should be. The U.S. should, therefore, take immediate steps to put Israel in a position to be a bastion of strength. Eban said that the IG had made similar proposals in 1950–51 to Secretary Marshall. He assumed that these proposals were in the Department’s files2 and suggested Anderson might like to have them gotten out and take a look at them.
Eban said that the IG was making a serious study of the pattern of the Egyptian Government and was coming to the conclusion that it was closely following the Soviet model. There was a striking resemblance in the reduction of the group holding power from eleven to three, in the type of leading personalities, and otherwise.
Mr. Anderson expressed his gratification that the IG had remained quiet during the furor over the Suez and said he thought it would be greatly to Israel’s advantage to keep quiet during the coming period. Eban said that this had been a policy decision on the part of the IG and that if Anderson had no objection, he would like to transmit to Ben Gurion Anderson’s expression of approval. Anderson said he would have no objection providing it was made clear that he was speaking purely as a private citizen.
Source: Department of State, NEA files: Lot 59 D 518, Omega—Memos, etc. for July 1 to August 31, 1956. Top Secret—Omega. A covering memorandum from Russell to Dulles, dated August 6, which notes that Shiloah had asked for another secret meeting, reads in part:
“It can be assumed that they wish to raise, in addition to the Suez Canal problem, the line they developed with Robert Anderson (attached memorandum of conversation.)
“It is already obvious that the Israel Government will attempt to exploit the present situation in the Eastern Mediterranean to achieve as many as possible of its own objectives. It seems equally clear that any general fusion of the Palestine issue with the Canal issue at this time would only operate to further complicate both questions. This latter comment is, of course, without prejudice to the possibility that the necessities of dealing with Nasser might later require coordination of measures by the Western powers and by Israel.” Russell recommended that Dulles see Eban and Shiloah and give them his view “as to the position Israel can most usefully take at the present time.” The memorandum indicates that Dulles approved the meeting with the Israelis; see Document 75.↩
- Reference is presumably to a memorandum from Israeli Foreign Minister Sharett to Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, transmitted under cover of a letter dated December 23, 1950 (see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. V, p. 1077). In this memorandum the Israeli Government stressed the potential contribution which Israel could make to American security in the Near East and used this rationale as a basis for additional requests for arms and matériel. Israeli officials continued to discuss this matter with U.S. officials during 1951. See ibid., 1951, vol. V, pp. 913 ff.↩