10. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, February 27, 1958, 11:30 a.m.1

SUBJECT

  • Arab Unions (Part 2 of 3)

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Yaacov Herzog, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • The Secretary
  • NEAWilliam M. Rountree
  • NEDonald C. Bergus

Mr. Eban said that Israel was preoccupied with the implications of both the Arab unions. Its position remained one of reserve. The Secretary asked what Israel’s position was with regard to recognition of these unions. Mr. Eban replied that the question, of course, did not arise in connection with Israel. Israel felt, however, that other United Nations members should recognize these voluntary unions.

Israel felt that the Egyptian-Syrian Union (United Arab Republic) had a precarious future. It lacked contiguity and cultural unity. The spoken Arabic of Egypt was not intelligible to Syrians and vice versa. [Page 25]Once the present crisis passed, Syrian separatism would reemerge. The Iraq-Jordan Union (Arab Federation) on the other hand had the advantages of contiguity, economic logic and a common policy of resistance to Communism.

These developments had certain Israel aspects which Prime Minister Ben Gurion had asked Mr. Eban to discuss with the Secretary in concrete terms.

Mr. Eban continued that if all four of these states were peaceloving, Israel would welcome these acts of voluntary union. They were, however, all four anti-Israel. Therefore, Israel had anxieties with regard to its security. The West was concerned as to the unions’ effect on stability in the area. If the Iraq–Jordan Federation was the only alternative to Jordan’s being swallowed up by Egypt then what had happened was the lesser evil from both viewpoints.

The motive behind Syria’s uniting with Egypt had been an anti-Soviet one but Israel thought that Soviet influence would dominate Nasser’s policies from the very outset of the union. The Secretary asked if Mr. Eban felt that we should reappraise our policies toward Nasser in the hope of gaining influence with the United Arab Republic. Mr. Eban replied that evidence would be needed of the worth of such an effort before it would be wise to embark upon it. In his concrete acts, Nasser remained more responsive to the USSR than to the West. Mr. Eban cited the Egyptian economic agreement with the USSR, the Afro-Asian Conference in Cairo, the Sudan border dispute, Algeria and the press reports that Nasser had publicly attacked the Arab Federation. If Nasser valued better relations with the West, he should demonstrate this by taking concrete steps. Mr. Eban returned to his presentation by saying that since Israel stood between Egypt and Syria and since the Egyptians were already talking of the need for contiguity between the two segments of the UAR, Israel thought it would be salutary for the U.S. to reemphasize, perhaps publicly, that U.S. policy supported the independence and sovereignty of the State of Israel.

Mr. Eban repeated that the Iraq–Jordan Federation was the lesser evil. In it, however, there were elements which affected Israel which should be clarified. Israel felt that it had a right that Iraq army forces should not go west of the Jordan River.

The legal basis for this right was Article 6 of the Israel–Jordan Armistice Agreement2 which mentioned the fact that Jordan forces were replacing Iraq forces and that Jordan accepted responsibility for all Iraq forces in Palestine. The Armistice Agreement was therefore [Page 26]based on the absence of Iraq forces from what had been Palestine. The reentry of Iraq forces could take away the present equilibrium. Mr. Eban had discussed this question with the United Nations Secretary General on the previous day. The Secretary General seemed disposed to take up this matter with the Iraqis in his forthcoming visit to Baghdad if leading members of the United Nations felt it would be useful. Israel asked the U.S. to urge that Iraq forces do not enter the area west of the Jordan River. If this were made impossible by reason of the merger of Jordan and Iraq forces then Iraq should undertake not to change the total equilibrium of forces contemplated in the Armistice Agreement. Furthermore, since Iraq was in a sense becoming a neighbor of Israel’s, the Iraqis should be invited to cooperate to maintain tranquility along frontiers.

Mr. Eban referred to the tension which was created in the area by talk of the forthcoming destruction of Israel. It was ironic that more of this sort of talk came from Iraq and Jordan than from other quarters. The Secretary felt that there was a reason for this which he was sure was well known to Israel. Iraq and Jordan were accused of being under Western influence. It was a fact that British and American counsel were heeded more by Iraq and Jordan than by Egypt and Syria. They, therefore, felt it necessary to talk to offset this. The talk, however, did not in fact offset this. The Secretary did not feel that this was really a cause for Israel to be frightened. Mr. Eban said that Israel was not frightened but merely wished to point out that this talk would increase tension.

Prime Minister Ben Gurion had said that if the U.S. found it useful it was empowered to inform Iraq that it had nothing to fear from Israel. Iraq for its part should take into account Israel’s security interests especially with regard to the equilibrium along the armistice line. These were matters in which substance was of the greatest importance and formal understandings were not needed. The Secretary inquired whether the armistice agreement delineated an area of equilibrium. Mr. Eban replied that it did not. There were some sectors in which the armistice agreement said that no arms should be introduced and others where only limited armaments could be brought. The Israelis felt these bound Iraq.

Mr. Eban said these developments brought forth questions relating not only to the security of Israel but regional security. The Soviets had been quiescent in the face of these developments. Neither had taken place as a result of Soviet initiative. Mr. Eban referred to earlier correspondence between the Secretary and Prime Minister Ben Gurion in which it had been said that it would be fruitful to continue discussions as to ways and means of dealing with the Soviet menace. Israel had no suggestions to put forward at this time. If some were developed, they would be communicated. If the Arab Federation strengthened [Page 27]its relations with the West, it would be on the basis of fear of Communism. There could be an affinity between them and Israel on this point. Such could also be the situation with regard to Lebanon. Perhaps it might be possible, without raising the question of peace settlements, for there to be de facto cooperation among these countries through the U.S. on such questions as relieving tension and improving the frontier situation. Mr. Eban put this forward as a general reflection and had no specific recommendations to make.

The Secretary said that the question of the U.S. adhering to the Baghdad Pact had arisen. We were de facto members of it and had given Pact members the benefit of the Eisenhower Doctrine.3 Would Israel have any views as to whether the U.S. should join it by treaty? Mr. Eban said that he had not had an expression of his Government’s views on this point since the two Arab unions had come into being. However, in the past, his Government had felt that there were at least four reasons why it would not be wise for the U.S. to adhere to the Baghdad Pact. They were: 1) the Pact divided the Middle East and excluded Israel. U.S. adherence to it would replace the present catholicity of the U.S. position and reduce it to one of partisanship; 2) U.S. adherence to the Pact would not add anything in terms of material strength to the area; 3) it would serve to provoke the USSR without adding anything to Western strength; 4) it would result in the U.S. having a contractual relationship with the Arabs but none with Israel. There would be an imbalance. If the U.S. had a treaty with the Arabs it would need a treaty with Israel.

Mr. Eban said he would inquire whether these still represented the views of his Government. He asked if the Secretary’s question had implied that the U.S. was moving toward adherence. The Secretary said that it had not. He continued to believe for a variety of reasons, including some of those put forth by Mr. Eban, that our present relationship was better. The question, however, kept recurring. Mr. Eban referred to the fact that each of the members had a “King Charles’ head” as far as intra-area problems were concerned—Palestine, Kashmir, Cyprus, etc. The U.S. would be expected to take different attitudes on these questions if it formally allied itself with Pact members. The Secretary commented that Nuri Said did not appear to be a friend of Israel.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Secret. Drafted by Bergus. See also supra and infra.
  2. For text of the Israel–Jordan Armistice Agreement, signed at Rhodes, April 3, 1949, see United Nations, Official Records of the Security Council Fourth Year, Special Supplement No. 1.
  3. For text of the Middle East Resolution (Eisenhower Doctrine), approved by the House and Senate on March 7, 1957, and by the President on March 9, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1957, pp. 829–831.