5. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

801. Yaacov Herzog and his principal assistant, Pinhas Eliav, called Embassy political officer to Jerusalem today to hear elaboration case for United States undertaking to assure unimpeded transit Gulf of Aqaba which Ben Gurion broached to me December 30 (Embtel 786).2

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According to them, passage through Straits is one legitimate gain Gaza–Sinai campaign which Israel public will not see relinquished without violent protest. Even more than demilitarization of Gaza strip, it stands as definite improvement over their lot ante bellum, holding out hope of accelerated economic development, increased access to world commerce and natural route to establishment profitable relations with Africa and Asia counter-balancing to some extent Arab boycott. Its possession compensates in large part for continued denial of transit of Suez which they still very earnestly want but have minimum expectation of obtaining in present framework of negotiation with Egypt, United States and UN.

They told political officer they thought it significant Egypt to this point has been singularly quiet about asserting any right to renewed occupancy Sharm al Sheikh at Gulf’s mouth. They profess to interpret this silence to mean that even Egyptians have not effrontery to lay territorial claim to Gulf.

They warned that continued silence of West and UN on freedom of transit will embolden Egypt to make claim rather than to let it go by default. In circumstances they urge United States take advantage Egypt’s apparent state of indecision to make public statement to effect United States is pleased to see increasing traffic of truly international complexion through Straits and would view with displeasure any effort to impede this developing traffic.

Political officer asked Ministry officials if they felt there was heavy pressure on them to leave Straits and they replied negatively but said in view of Arabs’ voracious appetites, they thought it was dangerous to let question slide indefinitely.

Comment: It is Embassy’s view that freedom of passage through Aqaba has required tremendous political importance here that even Ben Gurion might not survive storm that would break with IDF withdrawal unless he were able to make convincing case that he had effective guarantees Straits would remain open to Israel commerce.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.84A/1–457. Confidential. Repeated to Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Beirut, Paris, London, USUN, and Jerusalem.
  2. Document 3.