29. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, July 21, 19581


  • Situation in the Middle East


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

The Israel Ambassador said that his Prime Minister had asked him to say that Mr. Ben Gurion understood the great issues which the Secretary and the President faced, that they had his sympathy, and that he was sure that the decision itself to assist Lebanon was right. If things went wrong it would be because too much was lost before or not done after the decision was taken. The decision itself had been right. Its chief significance was proof that the U.S. was faithful to its commitments. It was useful to make this clear at a time when the prospects of atomic war had cast some doubt in the world as to the [Page 68] validity of military commitments. The currency of a U.S. commitment had appreciated. Mr. Eban was surprised at the attitude of some countries who based their own security on U.S. commitments.

Mr. Eban said he believed that the reaction of the Soviets and Nasser proved there were already some results to the U.S. action. A limit had been placed to their expansionist possibilities. The Khrushchev letter2 had been basically defensive with undercurrents of alarm. It had shown respect for U.S. resistance to Soviet designs. Mr. Eban said that Israel could confirm that Nasser’s trip to Moscow was at his own initiative.3 Information available to the Israelis indicated that while he was aboard ship he reacted unexpectedly to the U.S. action and felt that he had better be careful with regard to Iraq, the Sudan and Libya. The effect of the U.S. decision to assist Lebanon had created in Iraq its present caution towards oil interests, etc. While the Iraqi attitude was suspicious, it was worth examining. There was a tendency toward alarm in the United Nations and the Free World. There should be no despair. The dust has not yet settled.

Mr. Eban urged that there be no precipitate withdrawal from the U.S. and U.K. positions in Lebanon and Jordan. The dignity and prestige of the U.S. were involved. Even those who doubted the wisdom of the U.S. entry into Lebanon would agree in the unwisdom of precipitate withdrawal. The Japanese resolution4 demonstrated this. Deliberation and care were needed. On the balance sheet to be drawn up by future historians, we would have a clear view.

Mr. Eban asked what would happen next?: (1) Stability should be given to the positions which the West has undertaken. (2) The need arises to help Jordan and Lebanon in some aspects of their national life such as social and economic programs. (3) Constant pressure on Nasser should predominate in policies of the West.

The Israelis had hoped that a basis would be established for action in Iraq. The lack of opposition to the new regime there demonstrated only that Arabs are apathetic politically. Other danger points included Iran where the Soviets had possibilities in Azerbaijan and with the Tudeh Party, the Persian Gulf principalities, Libya where the British action had been warranted,5 and the Sudan where the Prime Minister had shown great courage. Nasser must come to terms with the rights of other states. This was felt not only in Iran and Pakistan but even Prime Minister Nkrumah was of this view.

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Mr. Eban continued that he had not projected Israel too much into this review. Israel did not intend to do so specifically now. The short range reaction in Israel had been one of relief. The arrival of U.S. and U.K. forces in Lebanon and Jordan plus the presence of UNEF meant that there was almost the complete absence of hostility between Israel and the Arab world.

As to the long term which would perhaps be not too long (the U.S.–U.K. positions could not be maintained indefinitely), there would arise in Israel problems of the deepest solemnity. The U.S. and U.K. forces would return to their homes but Israel remained in the Middle East. Vehement nationalism was being exacerbated by the presence of these forces and Israel would be its natural target. Israel territory had made the British action in Jordan possible. All knew this including the Soviets. The Yugoslavs had protested. The Indians had expressed their disapproval. The Egyptians had said they had noted this for the future. Israel had taken risks. It was a matter of time before the USSR would call it to account. Israel would be left alone amidst augmented xenophobia. This could happen even before the withdrawal of U.S.–U.K. forces. Israel therefore wanted the U.S. to know that a problem of its basic security arose and that the U.S. and U.K. had incurred a new and special responsibility. Israel believed that it was necessary to give clarity to Western intentions in the area. There was no longer any virtue in concealment. The Lebanese situation had shown that lack of precision in defining commitments did not avoid the necessity of having to fulfill them. Definition of commitments was a matter of moral duty and political prudence. This was especially so if there were to be great power discussion of the Middle East at which the powers would define their vital interests in this area. One of these should be the independence and integrity of Israel.

Israel had also to increase its defensive capacity. Israel looked for aid in filling gaps in its capabilities in the fields of anti-tank, antisubmarine warfare and aviation. Mr. Eban did not wish to outline details at this time which raised problems not only of availabilities but also of relief of the burdens of the defense establishment on Israel. His immediate suggestion was that these matters be discussed at the functional level. There had for a long time been such contact. Israel understood that there should be no publicity as the reaction in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq would be hostile.

Israel had just completed a 16 inch pipeline from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The Government of Iran was aware of this fact and although this had not been made public it was clearly interested. The next step would be the expansion of the line from a 16 inch to a 32 inch. This was beyond Israel’s capabilities. Israel would need a sympathetic [Page 70] attitude on the part of the U.S. and perhaps some assistance. Such a pipeline could bring important economic pressure to bear on Nasser and pro-Nasser elements.

Israel felt that more coordination on security policies was needed between it and the West. Israel could contribute to such a process particularly in the field of intelligence. Israel intelligence on the coup in Iraq had been no better than that of anybody else. The Israelis had noticed the plans that had been made against the regime in Jordan. The closer the Arab states were to Israel the better Israel’s intelligence. The final matter was that of cohesion among the remaining friendly states in the Middle East. In the Arab world, the U.S. position has been reduced to beachheads in Lebanon, Jordan and the Persian Gulf. It would be useful if cooperation were encouraged between Israel and the other nations of the area, such as Turkey, Iran and the Sudan.

Mr. Eban concluded by acknowledging that the problems he had outlined were too broad to expect an immediate answer.

The Secretary expressed appreciation for Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s expression of sympathy. We knew that these were difficult times and welcomed the recognition of the heavy weight which lay upon us. As to the decision to respond to the Lebanese appeal, Mr. Eban had correctly diagnosed our reason. Our purpose alone was to make it apparent that we were ready and able to respond quickly to an appeal arising out of a suddenly created grave situation. Had we not acted, many other countries would have been tempted to revise their opinion of us. We did not go into Lebanon to solve the problems of the Middle East. We recognized this might even make them worse. When we weighed the implications of non-action however, we looked around the world and found that they would be unacceptable, that we would be considered afraid to act. The foundation of the Free World would have been gravely corroded. We would not solve the problems of the Middle East or Nasser’s Pan-Arabism. We hoped the result of our action would be to bring a measure of prudence to the Soviet Union and Nasser. We were shocked by reports that the Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad radios were calling for the assassination of King Hussein.

The U.S. did not intend a precipitate withdrawal from Lebanon.

The Secretary could not speak for the U.K. The U.K. position in Jordan was precarious. While we had been consulted prior to entering that country, we had given them no opinion. The position there is clearer internationally, since there is no conflict within the United Nations and no fighting within the country. At the same time they faced a very difficult logistics problem as well as a grave risk of violence. It was not easy to see a comfortable future in Jordan. The British action had been courageous and the Secretary hoped that it would work out.

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The Japanese resolution would not be the basis of our withdrawing but would permit an action which might create a satisfactory basis of withdrawal. This would depend on what was done. The resolution merely authorized the Secretary General to do certain things which could be adequate. We remained the judge as to the adequacy.

We had authorized Mr. Murphy to discuss the economic rehabilitation of Lebanon once the present crisis were resolved. Jordan was a more difficult problem. [31/2 lines of source text not declassified]

As to Iraq, we agreed with the Israel estimate that the present regime did not enjoy popularity but only acceptance. Such enthusiasm as it had was among younger elements and was not widespread. [1 line of source text not declassified] One did not have to accept what had happened as being permanent. There was an impression of mounting discontent. The elements controlling Iraq were building up a respectable front, a front probably more respectable than their back. After all for the present they were dependent on a market for their petroleum. Assurance of the Western petroleum supply presupposed access to the resources of Saudi Arabia/Kuwait and Iran. The Western positions in those countries were not as assured as we would like. The Sheikh of Kuwait was in Damascus. There had been previous talks of a Kuwait-Iraq Union and this could be revived. This development could be serious, in fact catastrophic to the U.K. They hoped to prevent it and thought they would. We were not certain as to what could be done. There were many Iraqi workers in Kuwait. The situation was unclear. The Secretary had discussed the problem with Selwyn Lloyd. [3 lines of source text not declassified]

As for Iran, we had already taken steps to bolster up the situation there and given heart to the Shah and his Government. The Secretary was departing for London on July 27 to remain just for two days. Ironically, we had always opposed Iraq’s entry into the Baghdad Pact. That was the reason why the Secretary had been against our adhering.

There were similar strains in Libya and the Sudan. The Secretary expressed his admiration for the courage of the Sudan Prime Minister. The Secretary’s impression was that we had not been asked to send assistance. Mr. Rockwell confirmed that the Prime Minister’s question had been limited to what our attitude would be if the Sudan were attacked by Egypt. The Secretary commented this would not be the method the UAR would use. It would be more likely assassination. Our moral beliefs precluded action of this type on our part. Mr. Eban commented that it was regrettable that there was no international law on this subject. The Secretary said there were some good United Nations resolutions, including the “Peace Through Deeds” one.6

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The Secretary turned to Israel and said the short range effect of our action had been to relieve the situation in the area. The long range effects would be more serious depending on how events evolve. Our action with respect to Lebanon should give Israel confidence that we would respond in similar circumstances to an Israel appeal. The Secretary had no clear opinion as to whether it was desirable to seek to express this in new words at the moment. It would be hard to write out. Sometimes an undefined relationship was somewhat more dependable.

If there should be a meeting at which there would be a definition of vital interests we would not agree to the exclusion of Israel. This would be unthinkable.

The Secretary understood Mr. Eban would present a memorandum with respect to Israel’s arms requests. We would look at it with an open mind and the past would not necessarily decide the future. The Secretary would not depart from this formulation at this time or go beyond saying that we would give the matter a fresh look.

When Mr. Eban had talked about consultations, the Secretary assumed that military consultations were meant. Mr. Eban said that he would be making some procedural suggestions on this point. The Secretary continued that we valued Israel intelligence. We felt that ours was reasonably good also. Mr. Eban should formulate his proposal which we would study. The aspect of immediate concern to us was whether efforts would be made to engage our forces. This could turn the area into a violent seething situation. So far, discretion had been evident in Lebanon, but he was not sure the situation would remain placid. The Secretary referred to reports that Fedayeen were being sent into Lebanon. If there were elements desiring to make the situation worse they had the capabilities to do so. We appreciated Israel’s acquiescence in the airlift of oil to Jordan. We were trying to find alternatives but the matter was very difficult. The problem was complicated by the lack of storage facilities at the Gulf of Aqaba. The Secretary and Mr. Eban both hoped that alternatives could be found because the political implications in Jordan and elsewhere were not good.

Mr. Eban said his Government would be grateful for anything the Secretary could say to the Iranians and Turks in London. The Secretary noted that he had recently spoken to the Shah about Israel and he had been sympathetic. The conversation concluded with a brief discussion of the proposed 32 inch pipeline from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean. The Israel representatives said that it could be constructed in six months at a cost of $40 to $50 million. Such a line could carry one-fourth of Europe’s oil supply.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Secret. Drafted by Bergus on July 22. A summary of the conversation was transmitted to Tel Aviv in telegram 61, July 21. (Ibid., Central Files, 780.00/7–2158)
  2. For text of Khrushchev’s letter, July 19, see Department of State Bulletin, August 11, 1958, pp. 231–233.
  3. Nasser visited Moscow on July 19.
  4. For text of the Japanese resolution, July 18, see U.N. Doc. S/4055.
  5. On May 5, the United Kingdom announced that it had reached agreement with Libya on financial assistance to strengthen the Libyan Army and Navy.
  6. For text of this resolution, November 18, 1950, see U.N. General Assembly, Official Records, Fifth Session, Supplement No. 20, pp. 13–14.