220. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Egypt 1

3030. Eyes only Ambassador. FYI French Minister Defense informed Chargé March 112 that in concert with British he is making preparations to provide air cover for Israelis in case they find it necessary reoccupy Gaza. He stated Soviet pilots flying Egyptian planes could not be permitted bomb Israel. He felt certain that if Nasser sent Governor with Egyptian forces into Gaza, Israel would act.

Acting Secretary tonight discussed foregoing with French Ambassador and British Charge emphasizing US concern.3 He stated any indication to Israel of such support might lead Israel to take precipitate action in circumstances not warranting employment force. UK-French representatives disclaimed knowledge any military planning and undertook seek information soonest. From this and other conversations it clear both strongly of opinion that implementation of Nasser’s decision to send in military Governor even with token administration group would bring about situation in which Israelis would act, at least in French opinion justifiably. They emphasized that Nasser should be told that implementation decision would entail grave risks.

As you know, US position is that administration Gaza should be within framework legal situation arising from Armistice Agreement and that consequently participation by Egyptians in administration would not necessarily bring about situation which would justify Israeli reaction. Nevertheless, it has been our strong hope that Egyptians would refrain from exercising rights re Gaza leaving exclusively to UNEF administration pending definitive settlement re strip or some final agreement between parties. End FYI.

We believe present situation extremely grave. We concerned that Nasser for prestige reasons might proceed with implementation plan to send Egyptians back into Gaza on basis miscalculation seriousness this move and world reaction thereto. You should therefore seek urgently to see Nasser notwithstanding approach based Deptel 2993 (report of which we have not yet had time to receive)4 to emphasize [Page 415] this fact. In so doing you should make it clear purpose of démarche is not to define US attitude on legal situation or rights of Egypt but to state President Eisenhower’s deep concern lest Nasser has grossly miscalculated dangers involved in such action. Statement February 22 by Secretary General made with acquiescence of Egypt provided firm hope that following Israeli withdrawal quieting period would be provided without the situation being inflamed by Egyptian acts re Gaza which, however justifiable from the legal standpoint, would be considered as provocative. US has diligently sought to restore peace and effect withdrawal forces occupying Egyptian territory and Gaza. In context this role which the President feels has resulted in enormous benefit to Egypt, he earnestly expresses the view that Egypt should act with utmost caution in this explosive matter.

In communicating above to Nasser you may want to indicate that the sooner outstanding difficulties with the UN are satisfactorily adjusted the sooner will we be able to discuss resumption normal economic relations including possible assistance programs.

Subsequently, the British Foreign Office assured the U.S. Embassy in London that British involvement in a plan to provide air cover for the Israelis was “absolute nonsense”. (Telegram 4857 from London, March 14; ibid., 684A.86/3–1457) The French Foreign Ministry disavowed the Defense Minister’s remarks and accused Bourgès-Maunoury of taking “mere military planning exercises and perhaps his own desires for fact”. (Telegram 4763 from Paris, March 15; ibid., 684A.86/3–1557)

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/3–1357. Top Secret; Niact. Drafted by Rountree, cleared in draft with Eisenhower and Herter, and approved by Rountree who signed for Herter. Repeated Niact to Tel Aviv and USUN.
  2. French Defense Minister Bourgès-Maunoury conveyed this information to Chargé Charles W. Yost on March 13. Yost informed the Department of State of the conversation in telegram 4706 from Paris, March 13. (Ibid., 684A.86/3–1357)
  3. A memorandum of that conversation by Sisco is ibid., 674.84A/3–1357.
  4. Hare spoke with Nasser on the night of March 13 pursuant to instructions in telegram 2993, Document 214. Hare transmitted a report on the conversation to the Department of State in telegram 2887, Document 217.