26. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, June 30, 19581


  • U.S.-Israel Relations and the Situation in the Near East


  • Mr. Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel
  • Mr. Ya’acov Herzog, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • The Secretary
  • NEStuart W. Rockwell
  • NEDonald C. Bergus

Mr. Eban reported that he would leave Washington in a week’s time for two months of leave and consultation in Israel. His Government would wish to review the broad spectrum of U.S.–Israel relations. Mr. Eban felt these were on the whole satisfactory and had been so since the discussions leading up to the Israel withdrawal from Gaza and Sharm el Sheikh. There were three basic matters which Mr. Eban would like to mention.

Yarmuk Project: Mr. Eban referred to the Israel memorandum of April 2, 19582 on this subject. He stressed that even though the Yarmuk project might adversely affect Israel’s interests, Israel’s primary objective was to maintain a balance in development of Jordan Valley waters with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In Israel’s presentation for FY 1959 DLF assistance, there would be a proposal for a small project which would not involve work in the demilitarized zone nor an Israel offtake of water in excess of the quantities allotted during the Eric Johnston discussions. He hoped the U.S. would look with sympathy on that request.
Arms Supplies: Israel was aware of the U.S. intention to supply modern jet fighters to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Israel would not oppose any assistance to maintain Lebanese independence and integrity. Israel’s attitude with regard to Jordan and Iraq was not the same, but Israel did not contemplate making a statement on this point nor submitting a dramatic request to the U.S. for similar assistance. Israel procured most of its arms in Europe. What was needed from the U.S. were primarily replacement items. Specifically, Israel wished 200 halftracks; 50 anti-tank recoilless rifles; 50 anti-aircraft machine guns, .50 caliber; and 50 Browning machine guns, .50 caliber.
Jerusalem: Mr. Eban referred to the recent representations which the U.S. had made to the Government of Ghana on the subject of Jerusalem. Ghana had now indicated that it intended to establish its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv. The Government of Israel hoped that the U.S. would in the future take the view that it was for the nations intending to establish diplomatic relations with Israel to decide for themselves where their mission should be located. Mr. Eban referred to a recent indication by Chief Justice Warren that he would avoid taking part in any ceremonies in Jerusalem during his forthcoming trip to Israel.3 Mr. Eban hoped there was no inhibition on U.S. officials’ participating in academic discussions at the Hebrew University there.

Mr. Eban then turned to the general situation in the Near East and referred to the memorandum on this subject which he had submitted to the Secretary on June 27.4 He wished to add that he believed many Near East governments shared Israel’s view of the threat to the area posed by Nasser’s aspirations to hegemony which the USSR supported. He thought the U.S. should resist this threat of domination.

Mr. Eban had noted in public discussion of the Lebanese situation a tendency to count up the risks and obstacles to Western intervention. He believed that when these risks were analyzed they paled into insignificance compared to the risk of allowing a free democratic government to be subverted. He felt that the Arabs would respect the West’s helping its friends, especially if the effort were successful. Furthermore, it should be possible for Western forces which intervened in Lebanon to disengage once a free election for a President were held. He thought, however, that some sort of U.S. military presence in Lebanon, such as a military mission, on a continuing basis would be a stabilizing influence. Mr. Eban felt that a majority within the U.S. would favor the dispatch of a United Nations force to Lebanon, if Lebanon requested it. We should not accept the principle that nothing could be done legally except through the United Nations. It was possible for nations to take action within the Charter of the United Nations which did not involve the use of United Nations machinery. Mr. Eban did not think that the Lebanese were using all their assets in the present crisis. Israeli intelligence indicated that UAR infiltration may have slowed down but there were already enough infiltrees in the country to risk overthrowing the government.

Mr. Eban spoke of the Secretary’s forthcoming trip to Paris5 and said that the advent of De Gaulle to power had caused no lessening in the relationship between Israel and France which was stabilizing influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

[Page 62]

The Secretary replied that he was unaware of the status of the Yarmuk project but understood that we were preparing a reply to the Israel memorandum. Mr. Rockwell confirmed that a considered reply was almost ready. We believed the effects of the project on Israel’s rights would not present the negative character the Israelis envisaged. As regards the Israel desire for an expression from us that we would look with sympathy on the Israel application to the DLF, a complicating factor was that Congressional action on FY 1959 foreign aid was not yet completed. Mr. Eban and Mr. Herzog indicated that the Israelis would probably wait until FY 1959 was well along before requesting DLF assistance for an Israel project in the Jordan Valley. They said it would be a small one and would be presented in the context of a list of projects for other areas.

As for the Israel request for arms, Mr. Rockwell said that we had never been a major supplier of arms to Israel and had no desire to become one. We were happy that Israel was procuring its arms elsewhere. We understood, for example, that Israel was already getting 100 half-tracks in the United Kingdom. Perhaps it could get the other 100 there as well. As regards the recoilless rifles, Mr. Rockwell pointed out that this was not a replacement but a new item. The Secretary stated that where there was a clear case of a U.S. replacement item needed by the Israelis, with no alternative source of supply available, it would seem reasonable to supply it.

Mr. Rockwell said that with respect to Jerusalem we were pursuing a policy based on the view that the international interest in Jerusalem made it appropriate for us to draw this interest to the attention of nations contemplating the establishment of diplomatic missions in Israel. The Secretary asked if we had volunteered our views to the Government of Ghana. Mr. Rockwell replied that we had. Mr. Rockwell pointed out that this was in keeping with a policy which the Secretary had reviewed about a year ago in connection with the transfer of the Cuban Legation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and its subsequent return to Tel Aviv. The Secretary thought we might look into this general question again. He said that he was responsible for Chief Justice Warren’s intimation that he would prefer to avoid Jerusalem on his visit to Israel. The Secretary had had the impression that the ceremonies in Jerusalem in which the Chief Justice was to participate were in fact in connection with the celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of Israel’s independence. In the light of this the Secretary felt that for the Chief Justice to appear in Jerusalem would not be consistent with the President’s policy on this matter.

The Secretary said that on the general situation in the Near East he had read Mr. Eban’s memorandum with great interest. The situation there was very difficult. The Secretary had spoken to Foreign [Page 63] Minister Malik of Lebanon that morning6 and said that armed intervention in Lebanon might be the lesser of two evils. Nonetheless, it was a great evil. He thought perhaps Mr. Eban exaggerated when he said the difficulties of armed intervention “paled into insignificance” when compared to the other alternative. The difficulties, while not equal, were at least comparable. Armed intervention from the West would intensify anti-Western sentiment in the area and would weaken the position of Jordan and Iraq if not of Lebanon itself. We should be thinking as to how we could resolve the situation without that step. The Secretary did not think a compromise between President Chamoun and Nasser or President Chamoun and the rebels would be acceptable. This would be a setback and Lebanon would be taken over in two bites instead of one.

The problem with regard to the Presidential succession in Lebanon was a difficult one and should be faced up to. From the standpoint of United Nations members, it created embarrassment and a reluctance to see the U.S. do anything. There was considerable comment that all we were doing was helping Chamoun obtain a second term. This issue, therefore, needed clarification.

Our intelligence agreed with Israel’s in that we thought there may have been a suspension of active UAR assistance to the rebels. How significant this was in view of what was already there and how long the rebels could hold out we did not know. In any event, the Secretary General at the moment felt that he had accomplished what he set out to do and would oppose more being done now by the United Nations.

The Secretary agreed with Mr. Eban’s statement with regard to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.7 Action taken under it would not require prior United Nations action. The Secretary had had quite a bit to do with putting this article into the Charter, and his purpose had been to allow for collective security actions in situations where the United Nations itself was unable to provide such security. We could not, however, be indifferent to the opinions of other nations, particularly our allies. We had been discussing this problem in NATO where at first there had been a generally negative reaction but we hoped some process of education was taking place. Free World opinion with respect to further action was not at the moment very propitious, what with the Secretary General leading the cause against it.

There was no warrant for any impression that we had abandoned or renounced the possibility of intervention in Lebanon. We had not been intimidated by threats from the USSR. As a matter of fact, we felt that our relative power position vis-à-vis the USSR precluded their [Page 64] ability to intimidate us. We did feel, however, that military intervention by the West would be an unfortunate development and we hoped to maintain Lebanon in a pro-Western position without this coming to pass.

Mr. Eban commented that Mr. Hammarskjold’s success had resulted primarily from the fact that the threat of Western military intervention had strengthened his hand with Nasser. He felt that this prospect should be kept as a “hovering influence.” He further indicated that additional United Nations presence such as a UNEF would be helpful. The Secretary felt that this should be explored but not today because of Hammarskjold’s present state of mind. It would be necessary to let some time elapse, perhaps, to convince the Secretary General that his success had not been quite as complete as he presently felt. As of today, however, the Secretary doubted that one could get seven votes in the Council for a United Nations force.

Mr. Herzog wondered whether there was not a danger that the Lebanese Government would meanwhile suddenly be toppled. The Secretary said this could not be excluded and there were many rumors of impending coups and the like. If the deterioration continued, further Security Council action would be needed. Perhaps, if only a Soviet veto prevented a unanimous vote for a United Nations force, there would be no point in going to the General Assembly. The facts in the Lebanese situation were complicated and many members of the General Assembly tended to find excuses for taking no action that might lead to difficulty.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.84A/6–3058. Secret. Drafted by Bergus on July 1.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 14.
  3. Memoranda of Rountree’s conversations with Dulles on this question and Dulles’ conversation with Warren, all on June 7, are in the Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers.
  4. See supra.
  5. Dulles visited Paris July 3–6.
  6. For a memorandum of Dulles’ conversation with Malik, see vol. XI, p. 185.
  7. Article 51 states that nothing in the Charter impairs the right of a member to individual or collective defense in case of an armed attack.