352. Memorandum From the Department of State Executive Secretary (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0
- Jordan Waters
There have recently been increased public rumblings of Arab opposition to Israel’s imminent diversion of Jordan waters.1 Despite the threats, however, it is far too soon to predict with certainty how far the Arabs will attempt to proceed in practice with their long-standing announced determination to stop Israel at all costs.
On present balance, we think there is a somewhat better than even chance the Arabs will not initiate military action over this issue. Some action in the United Nations seeking to inhibit the Israelis is more likely. The UAR, which is pivotal, does not wish war with Israel now. Certainly Lebanon does not, even though President Chehab fears all the Arabs might be drawn into military action by the slightest misstep of one. Particularly if we succeed in our current efforts to ensure Jordan’s utilization of its allocation of Jordan water, the latter will have a national interest in moderation.
Syria, and to a lesser extent Iraq, will be the problems. The temptation to externalize domestic problems and embarrass Nasser, the sense of support that impetuous Syrian military elements will derive from the Syro-Iraqi military union, even the impact of Baathi ideology itself, will create a real danger of Syria’s stepping over the brink regardless of the counsels of the United States and other states. The Syrian tactic might be a limited military action in the hope of impelling either support by the other Arabs or a prompt United Nations intervention to forestall Israel reprisal. In the latter case, Syria would then be free to make a maximum propaganda uproar internationally and in the United Nations in an effort to halt Israel’s action. To deal with this and prevent escalation of any limited conflict, we consider strengthening of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) peace machinery to be of utmost importance. The UNTSO Chief of Staff, General Bull, has made recommendations to this purpose and is expected to report to the Secretary General in December on his progress in implementing these. At the [Page 764] same time firm reaffirmation of United States intentions to prevent or put a stop to any aggression and of our belief that Israeli diversion is consistent with the rights of other riparians, generally, and the 1955 Unified Plan, specifically, should be made to Arab leaders periodically in the hope of deterring them from any foolhardy ventures. If military action and reaction can be forestalled, the success of our support of Israel in any United Nations consideration of the diversion should be manageable, particularly in light of the preparatory measures already taken or under way.
There is enclosed a more detailed study of past, present, and contemplated United States actions regarding the Jordan waters problem.
- Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Israel, 11/1/63–11/6/63. Secret.↩
- Additional documentation is in Department of State, Central File POL 33–1 ISR-JORDAN.↩
- McKesson signed for Read above Read’s typed signature.↩
- The proper height and storage capacity of Maqarin was a difficult point between the Arabs and Ambassador Johnston throughout the 1953–55 negotiations. The Arabs sought to maximize the amount of water stored under their own control in the upper Yarmuk, preferring this to storage for their account but under Israel control in Lake Tiberias. Johnston held that Lake Tiberias was the natural and most economical storage available. In the end, he proposed a compromise whereby equal amounts of Arab waters would be stored at Maqarin and in Tiberias. The Jordanian-Yugoslav engineering design contract stipulates a dam far larger than agreed to in 1955. Were Jordan, by construction of this, to move outside Unified Plan confines, the web of assurances we hold would be ruptured, and Israel might consider itself no longer bound to Unified Plan limitations. In the end, it would thus be Jordanian farmer users who might suffer. We are preparing a further approach to Hussein to get Jordan back on the reservation in terms of the size of this dam. [Footnote in the source text.]↩