17. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1
882. Reference: Deptel 698.2 I saw Foreign Minister at her office Jerusalem yesterday afternoon to set forth in detail US views Israel naval vessels in Gulf of Aqaba as directed reference telegram. Mrs. Meir heard me out calmly and discussed situation quietly but with evident firmness and authority. She already had report from Herzog of conversation with Rountree same subject (Deptel 702)3 and was prepared with lengthy justification for GOI refusal accede our request for removal vessels.
Admitting that US and Israeli interests in ME and in world are generally coincident, Mrs. Meir noted somewhat wryly that pro-western Arab States, whose attitude concerned US, did not act any differently vis-à-vis Israel than Arab States less well disposed toward west. She doubted that any action to “appease” Arab States would change their attitude toward Israel. Referring to recent difficulties on Syrian and Jordan borders, Foreign Minister asked if she could possibly go to families of two boys killed (April 4) in Lashish area of Jordan border and say their deaths really not so bad since they were killed by “friends of our friends.” Had US Ambassador in Amman gone to Hussein to protest this sort of senseless killing? Had even Hammarskjold said anything to Syrians on Hula shootings which after all was violation GAA? (At this point I said we had approached Syrians as we had GOI.) In sum, with all due respect for US, Mrs. Meir did not feel US took sufficiently effective action in support of US charter when Arabs obviously infringed its terms; therefore, how much could reasonably be asked of Israel in effort appease these states.
On specific question presence Israel naval vessels in Gulf of Aqaba, Foreign Minister said question is simply who is threatened by their presence (GOI answer is no one) implying that advent of pilgrim season is not effective factor in situation, she said Saud allegedly expects large numbers Moslem pilgrims but past experience indicates only 2,000 or 3,000 will pass through Straits of Tiran. Regardless of number, Israel would be glad to help rather than hinder them. [Page 40] Last year (Embtels 1364, May 25, and 1411, June 11),4GOI asked US convey assurances Saud that Israel would not only hinder passage pilgrims but assist their travel in any way possible (although Rountree indicated to Herzog this message not delivered). GOI still prepared to promise not only Saud but USG to (1) respect safety all pilgrims passing through Straits and (2) provide any desired services (water, food, repairs, rest, et cetera) at Eilat. Therefore, presence naval vessels in no way threatened pilgrim traffic. It must be evident to Saud and to anyone else, said Mrs. Meir, that Israel “would have to be mad” to attack pilgrims whether with these vessels or by any other means. Saud obviously did not believe in threat to pilgrim traffic and is merely continuing his efforts to destroy Israel by whatever means available.
Mrs. Meir said removal of vessels in any case offered practical difficulties for Israel. Could they be removed through Suez Canal, or must they go half way around the world? If they were removed, is there a US guarantee to Israel that no attack on Israel in the Eilat/Tiran area would occur? She emphasized strongly that these vessels were in Eilat solely for defensive purposes and stated flatly they would not be used unless Israel were attacked. Eilat and freedom of passage Tiran Straits constituted vital Israel interest and Israel had “right” to protection offered by vessels.
At this point, I asked if GOI military authorities satisfied vessels contributed to effective defense and stated Israel had no submarines while Egypt obtained them from USSR and more recently from Poland. I suggested that vessels might in any case need refitting in near future and would have to be removed since no facilities available Eilat. Mrs. Meir shrugged off suggestion with statement such matters fell in province Defense Minister. She added flatly that GOI must retain vessels at Eilat into since “no one guarantees safety of Israel except Israel”.
I asked if “some assurances” from Arab countries that they would not take advantage of conciliatory GOI removal vessels would make difference. Mrs. Meir noted GOI up to now unsuccessful in obtaining “simple thing” like assurances of free world interest in inviolability Israel boundaries. She wondered, therefore, if US prepared guarantee Israel security in Eilat/Tiran area. As for “assurances” from Arabs, these were not very valuable. After all, who believed Nasser when he said he would not use his new submarines to attack Israel? If Arab States want to sit down with Israel and negotiate non-aggression pact—that was one thing. Mere “assurances” did not suffice. Private guarantees by US also had drawbacks. In view of GOI what is required [Page 41] in situation is that US go to Arab “friends” and tell them facts of life and “demand guarantees” as price for continued US support. GOI feels Arab motivation is simple blackmail of US which continues at expense Israel (tree planting, etc.) without noticeable benefit to Israel or US.
Avner, Director US Division, subsequently added that Foreign Minister may not have sufficiently emphasized point that GOI doubts usefulness of acceding to US request because it convinced that Saud impossible to satisfy. In their view, both US and GOI interests would be ill-served by action which would only encourage Saud raise new demands in relation Tiran Straits.5
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 980.74/4–858. Secret.↩
- See footnote 2, supra.↩
- Telegram 702, April 4, reported briefly on Rountree’s conversation with Herzog. (Department of State, Central Files, 980.74/4–458)↩
- Dated May 30 and June 12, 1957, both telegrams noted that Israel had guaranteed safe passage for pilgrims going to Mecca. (Ibid., 886A.413/5–3057 and 886A.413/6–1257)↩
- On April 10, the Department instructed the Embassy in Tel Aviv to state to Meir, at a suitable opportunity, that the United States greatly regretted the Israeli Government’s negative attitude. (Telegram 714 to Tel Aviv; ibid., 980.74/4–858)↩