336. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, June 11, 19571


  • Israel Warships in Gulf of Aqaba2


  • Mr. Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Yohanan Meroz, Counselor, Embassy of Israel
  • The Under Secretary
  • NEDonald C. Bergus

The Under Secretary said he had asked Mr. Eban to call for the purpose of talking about the communications sent to the United Nations by Saudi Arabia on the subject of the movement of Israel warships in the Gulf of Aqaba.3 Mr. Eban said that in a written statement addressed to the United Nations on the previous day, Israel had denied these reports.4 The Israel warships had remained in port at Eilath save for a training trip sometime in May. Israel had stated that the warships were under instructions to keep well out of Saudi Arabian waters. Israel had also said that it would not interfere with the pilgrimage.

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The Under Secretary said that the Saudis seemed particularly concerned about the pilgrimage which would shortly be taking place. He hoped that the Israelis could give assurance that there was no basis for this concern.

Mr. Eban replied that in the letter sent on the previous day to the Security Council, he had said that there had been no firing. News about the movement of an Israel merchant vessel through the Gulf had been censored. Israel was perplexed as to the basis of Saudi concern. The Saudis must know that they were not being bombarded as they claimed. Israel would be “off its head” to do such a thing at a time when they were trying to develop the Gulf as an avenue of peaceful commerce. Evidently the Saudis felt that they must keep this matter alive. Mr. Eban would like to assure the Under Secretary that there had been no exchanges of fire. The Israelis had told their ships to keep clear of territorial waters.

The Under Secretary read a news report from Jerusalem describing maneuvers of Israel destroyers and aircraft. Mr. Eban thought that this had taken place in the Mediterranean. Israel had no destroyers in the Gulf of Aqaba. Mr. Eban said that the United States could convey to the Saudi Arabian Government that Israel would continue to respect Saudi territorial waters.

The Under Secretary hoped that Israel had no intention of trying the Straits with a warship. Mr. Eban said he would check this but he did not think there was such an intention. The Under Secretary mentioned the existence of several channels through the Straits, including two which ran close to Saudi territory. Mr. Eban said he had been told that the safest channel was that which ran close to Egyptian territory.

Mr. Eban posed what he considered a related question: Was there any truth in reports that Saudi Arabia was actively seeking to acquire destroyers and other naval vessels under its military arrangements with the United States? There had been questions in the British House of Commons to this effect. The Under Secretary said that this was the first he had heard of such a report which he was inclined to doubt.

Mr. Eban said that he would convey to his Government United States sensitivity on the Israel warship question. The Under Secretary said that we would assume that Israel continued to pursue a policy of avoiding warlike acts or undue publicity on movements of merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aqaba. The present breathing spell in the area seemed to be working in the right direction.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 980.74/6–1157. Confidential. Drafted by Bergus.
  2. In a memorandum to Acting Secretary Herter dated June 7, Rountree reviewed past Saudi accusations and Israeli disclaimers concerning the presence of Israeli warships in the Gulf of Aqaba and noted that the United States had no substantiation of the Saudi Arabian reports regarding warship maneuvers, although the United States did have reports of Israeli Naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean. Rountree recommended that Herter “speak strongly to Ambassador Eban, emphasizing the grave concern of the United States over this continuing problem”. (Ibid., 974.7301/6–757)
  3. Dated June 5; U.N. doc. S/3835.
  4. U.N. doc. S/3838.