383. Memorandum of a Conversation, Ambassador Eban’s Residence, Washington, October 12, 1957, 3:30 p.m.1


  • Arab-Israel Problems


  • Acting Secretary Herter
  • NEAWilliam M. Rountree
  • Mrs. Golda Meir, Foreign Minister of Israel
  • Mr. Abba Eban, Israeli Ambassador
  • Mr. Hertzog
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Mrs. Meir, a few days previously, had a meeting with the Secretary when the latter’s time was extremely limited.2 She desired to continue conversations begun with the Secretary, and the Ambassador had therefore invited the Under Secretary and Mr. Rountree to his residence for this private meeting.

Mrs. Meir said that she had discovered in her conversation with the Secretary no differences in our respective evaluations of the seriousness of the Syrian situation. She desired to discuss further what might be done; to review where Israel stood with respect to present tensions; and see how to prevent a Soviet take-over in Syria and indeed in the Middle East. She referred again to her conversations with Gromyko, and mentioned her concern over his unfriendly, indeed “threatening” attitude. She felt that Israel and the U.S. should talk about these matters in a concrete fashion because “what is good for Israel is good for the area and what is good for the area is good for Israel”.

Mrs. Meir indicated that her particular interest was in finding out whether Mr. Gromyko had been told, and whether the U.S. would be willing to tell the Soviets publicly, that the U.S. would not tolerate any aggression against Israel. She said that what she desired was along the lines of the statement made by us with respect to Turkey.3 Secondly she wanted to know what could be done by the U.S. to strengthen Israel to face the threat of Soviet-supported Arab armies.

Mrs. Meir and the Ambassador took the position that while Israel would not quarrel with the Secretary’s estimate that at the present time Israel had the military capability to defend itself against the Arab forces, Israel was in fact weak in certain essential respects. For example, Israel did not have adequate bomber strength to serve as an effective deterrent to possible Arab air raids against Israel. Secondly, Israel had no defense against submarines, notwithstanding the serious threat which Egyptian, and now Syrian, submarines posed for the Israeli shipping lifeline. Mrs. Meir said that she assumed that the U.S. would come to the assistance of Israel if it should be attacked but it was imperative that the Israelis be helped to take care of themselves during the critical period after a possible attack and before the arrival of outside assistance.

In the discussion Mrs. Meir also raised the question of NATO’s interest in the Middle East and a possible relationship between NATO and the “security problems of the Middle East countries which had associated themselves with the Eisenhower Doctrine”.

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In response to Mrs. Meir’s comments and questions, the Acting Secretary said that while he was not present during the Secretary’s meeting with Gromyko he had no doubt that the Secretary had made clear to Gromyko the determination of the U.S. to stand by its policies with respect to the independence and integrity of the Middle East countries. He did not know whether Israel had been mentioned by name in this particular conversation, but the U.S. had from time to time made its position clear. He observed there were special considerations relating to the U.S. statement regarding Turkey, which was in response specifically to Khrushchev’s interview with Reston.4 He avoided any indication of willingness to make a special statement at this junction regarding Israel.

Mr. Herter commented generally regarding the distinction between acquiring defensive type weapons, such as anti-aircraft guns, and military equipment which is clearly identified with offensive purposes, such as bombers. He did not respond directly to Mrs. Meir’s request for American assistance to Israel in obtaining arms. He noted Israel’s success in obtaining substantial quantities of equipment, including modern aircraft, from France. (Mrs. Meir observed that the Israeli Air Force required the most modern types of aircraft in order to cope with the MIG 19’s which were now in Syria. Questioned further on this point, she said that Israel’s intelligence services were “certain” Syria now had MIG 19’s and promised to seek further specific information which the Embassy would pass to Mr. Rountree).

In a further general discussion of Arab-Israel problems, Mr. Herter said that there were three points, two of which were relatively minor, where he thought a different Israeli attitude might be most constructive and helpful in dealing with more important issues. The first of these was the question of immigration. Repeated statements, whether from Israelis or from prominent Zionists in this country, that Israel was prepared to take a very greatly increased number of immigrants into the country produced an effect of alarm that such expansion of the Israeli population would have to be accompanied by territorial expansion and lent weight to the fears expressed by Israel’s neighbors that she had territorial designs beyond her present boundaries. In addition, he mentioned the desirability of Israel accepting UNEF forces on its side of the Gaza frontier. He also referred to the tree planting episode, and mentioned the very sharp emotional reaction of the Jordanians to this affair which had had a political importance far outweighing any material value to Israel of a few trees.

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Mrs. Meir responded by stating that it was impossible for her or for any of the leaders in Israel to change their policy with regard to immigration since the whole purpose in the creation of the State of Israel was to find a homeland for the Jewish peoples who were not happily settled elsewhere. However, she did state that she had repeated publicly over and over again that Israel had no further territorial ambitions but that no one seemed to pay any attention to such statements. With regard to the second point, Mrs. Meir responded by stating again in emotional terms Israel’s reasons for not wanting United Nations forces in Israel, adding nothing new to arguments which she had previously made. She ridiculed the Jordanian complaint regarding the tree planting, and said that the Jordanians themselves had built a road in the same area which was contrary to the agreement but to which the Israelis had not objected. Her suggestion was that we advise the Jordanians to “cut out this nonsense about these trivial matters which could cause no harm whatsoever to Jordan.”

At the close of the discussion Mrs. Meir expressed the hope that the Acting Secretary would give further thought to the questions which she had raised, and that they could be discussed further at an early date with the Ambassador.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/10–1257. Secret. Drafted by Rountree. On October 11, Rountree forwarded to Dulles a briefing memorandum for preparation for this meeting. (Ibid., 780.00/10–1157)
  2. The memorandum of conversation is not printed. (Ibid., 780.00/10–857)
  3. For text of the October 10 statement, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1957, pp. 1045–1046.
  4. James Reston of The New York Times interviewed Khrushchev on October 7; the interview was published on October 10.