208. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

860. (Following based on memo conversation uncleared by Acting Secretary.)2Eban called his request Acting Secretary March 9. Handed letter from Israel Foreign Minister to Secretary3 expressing appreciation for Secretary’s efforts, discussing Aqaba and Gaza, expressing hope for quieting period, and hope US–Israel cooperation in other fields could now be resumed.

Israel hoped US would quickly exemplify its intention to exercise its rights in Gulf Aqaba and send US flag vessel through Straits Tiran. Phleger suggested that Israel approach US shipowners on commercial basis with cargo for delivery to Eilat. If shipowner then asked USG concerning its attitude, we could reply along lines Secretary’s March 5 press conference.4

Acting Secretary said we had real concern re desirability stationing UNEF on both sides armistice line. While, contrary to press reports, Lodge had not expressed himself on this issue in March 8 GA,5 preferring that it not arise as matter of contention, we thought it might be necessary station UNEF on both sides line in order keep UN force in Gaza area.

Eban remarked UNSYG wished proceed area shortly plan next stage in administration Gaza which would follow present military stage. Israel wanted UNSYG put off discussion of next stage which raised difficult juridical questions. Present stage should be fully crystallized through use UNEF civil affairs officers and UNRWA. Eban had discussed this with others and now thought UNSYG saw wisdom of going slowly in matter. He therefore hoped UNSYG would not soon [Page 395] make trip. Acting Secretary pointed out US interest in arrangement for Suez Canal and that UNSYG would have make decision about proceeding to area to discuss Suez problem as well as Gaza.

Phleger pointed out section of Armistice Agreement which forbade passage of war vessels within three miles of coastline of other party. We thought would be unwise if Israel attempted move war vessels through Straits Tiran (as Israel reportedly considering). This prohibition would also apply to warships in waters in area of Suez Canal. Mr. Eban said he would have take up this matter. It presented possibility that Israel warships presently stationed at Eilat would be bottled up in Gulf Aqaba. Israel had no intention bringing any more warships into Aqaba. Acting Secretary said there were reports Israel intended bring its warships out. He hoped Israel would not do so since such an act would have unfortunate psychological or practical repercussions as well as raise legal questions.

Eban stressed necessity of urgently raising through test case question of passage of Israel ship through Suez Canal. Citing Egyptian press reports that Egyptian officials still intended exclude Israel vessels, said question should be raised the very day Canal opened. Phleger said we interested in creating at least interim arrangement for use of Canal. Bases for our proposals are 1888 Convention and Six Principles. He thought it would be unwise to precipitate issue Israel shipping at least until we obtained interim arrangement. Eban said Israel would not precipitate issue before interim arrangement had been reached.

Eban referred to matters held in abeyance between two Governments and sought speedy action on FY 1957 economic aid; PL 480 transactions; return of US technicians to Israel; lifting of passport restrictions on tourists; Israel ExImbank loan application.

Acting Secretary said we would give Israel request serious consideration. One of factors had to be our own judgment regarding possibility of resumption hostilities. Risk of hostilities would be inevitable if there were test cases which might precipitate reaction. Eban said Israel would do nothing without consulting US. Only matter on which he had consulted US on today had been passage of US ship through Aqaba. He had merely mentioned Egyptian attitude on Canal.

Acting Secretary stated we disturbed at Ben Gurion’s recent remark to Lawson that Armistice Agreement was “dead letter”. It was pointed out that whole premise of US positions on Aqaba and Suez had been November 2 UNGA resolution and SC 1951 interpretation of Armistice Agreements as foreclosing rights of belligerency.6 Important [Page 396] that Israel not attempt to denounce Armistice Agreement but live up to it and insist Egypt do likewise. Eban said Prime Minister’s statement had been political and not legal. Shiloah indicated Israelis were working on statement meet US point. Perhaps Israel could re-examine matter now that it was in fact complying with agreement.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/3–957. Confidential. Drafted by Bergus and approved by Rountree who initialed for Herter. Also sent to Cairo, USUN, and to Secretary Dulles in Canberra; pouched to London, Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Jidda, and Amman.
  2. Eban and Shiloah met with Herter, Phleger, Rountree, Wilcox, and Bergus at 10:30 a.m. on March 9. A memorandum of that conversation by Bergus is ibid., 684A.86/3–957, attached to a covering note from Herter to Goodpaster. See footnote 4, Document 203.
  3. Document 200.
  4. The transcript of Dulles’ press conference of March 5 is printed in Department of State Bulletin, March 25, 1957, pp. 482–489. Excerpts from the press conference pertaining to the Middle East are printed in United States Policy in the Middle East, September 1956–June 1957, pp. 333–342.
  5. For text of Lodge’s statement of March 8, see Department of State Bulletin, April 1, 1957, pp. 543–544, and United States Policy in the Middle East, September 1956–July 1957, pp. 345–346.
  6. Reference is to the Security Council resolution of September 1, 1951, which called on Egypt to end restrictions on commercial ships passing through the Suez Canal. (U.N. doc. S/2322)