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.

John A. McKesson2



Background of the Unified Plan

Recognizing the explosive potential of this problem, the United States acted through Ambassador Eric Johnston during 1953–55 to prepare a comprehensive plan for Jordan waters development that would protect the interests of the Jordan riparian states: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. In 1955 virtual agreement was reached on Johnston’s “Unified Plan”, but one or two small allocational problems were left hanging. Efforts to tie these up lapsed in October 1955 when the Arab League Council shelved the Plan, despite approval by Arab technicians, on grounds that its ratification would be tantamount to recognition of Israel.

After 1955, the United States changed field. Instead of making further efforts to win general agreement on the Unified Plan, we quietly provided “piecemeal” aid to the riparians for national water structures, in each instance in exchange for assurances that these did not conflict with the Plan. In the period 1955 to date we provided some $50 million to Israel and $13 million to Jordan.

[Page 765]

The Maqarin Dam

As of 1961, the major structural component of the Unified Plan remaining to be initiated was a storage dam and Maqarin on the upper reaches of the Jordan’s major tributary, the Yarmuk, which constitutes the border between Jordan and Syria. Convinced of the merits of proceeding with as much implementation of the Unified Plan as we could get; aware that Jordanian farmers might suffer if the Israelis began upstream diversion before compensatory structures had been built to help Jordan; sensitive to the $50-13 million imbalance in the United States assistance to the Israel and Arab sides, respectively; and anxious to involve an international agency in the Jordan waters problem to serve as a technical escape valve in anticipation of the day when Israel would begin diversion; we privately told King Hussein in September 1961 that we would look favorably on his going ahead with the Maqarin Dam and would assist him in finding international financing for the dam which we estimated would cost $65–85 million. Subsequently, we encouraged IBRD interest. In March 1962, we stimulated an unofficial visit to Jordan by Sir William Iliff, then IBRD Vice President. On Jordanian request, Iliff tentatively acknowledged that the Bank might play a partial role in Maqarin, but he insisted on a full engineering survey as prerequisite.

Regrettably, the Jordanians were compelled to make haste slowly. Syria’s consent had to be sought, since the dam abuts on Syrian territory. King Hussein displayed considerable skill in winning this consent in the face of constant risk that he might be accused of implementing the Unified Plan, but it was not until May 1963 that Jordan, with the help of a loan from Kuwait, was able to conclude a feasibility and engineering contract with a Yugoslav firm.4 We understand the engineering design will not be completed until the spring of 1965. Nevertheless, we have recently reminded the IBRD of our hope that it will display a sympathetic interest in this project.

[Page 766]

Assurances of Support to Israel

Concurrently with these efforts to help Jordan catch up, the United States on June 13, 1962, pledged support of Israel’s diversion provided the diversion stayed within Unified Plan allocations. A number of steps were initiated to make this support effective and dissuade the Arabs from making diversion a casus belli.

Preparations to Support Israel

1. Israel Statements

In July 1962, we suggested to the Israelis that they begin to use the following four themes in occasional public references to this problem: (1) belief in the desirability of unified, equitable development of the Jordan waters in a manner benefiting all riparians; (2) willingness to discuss unified development with other riparians at any time; (3) Israel’s intention to hold its withdrawals to a level which will protect traditional usages and rights of Jewish and Arab in-basin users even though international agreement on unified development has not yet been reached; and (4) willingness at any time to accept international observation of its Jordan water usage provided the Arabs do likewise. All were designed to cast Israel’s actions as “on the side of the angels” and facilitate our support. Israel has used three of the themes but balked at the fourth, which is fundamental to the Unified Plan. We think such a statement is quite important in presenting an appearance of virtue, particularly since the Arabs will tend to suspect United States statements that Israel is staying within Plan allocations.

2. Criddle Survey

Concerned over the fact that with completion of Maqarin still four to five years in the future Jordan would suffer when Israel began extensive withdrawals upstream, both we and the Israelis began thinking of measures that might minimize Jordan’s problems. (Israel’s concern presumably stems from recognition that a genuinely aggrieved Jordan might provide the Arabs with good grounds in international law either to call for suspension of Israel’s diversion or for damage payments.) In May 1963 the Israelis came to us unofficially with some interesting proposals about what Jordan might do. In June-July, we sent Mr. Wayne Criddle, an internationally respected hydrologist who had worked with Ambassador Johnston from the beginning, on an unpublicized trip to Jordan and Israel with the twofold purpose of (1) providing the United States with firm technical assurance that Israel’s intended actions were consistent with the Plan, and (2) evaluating Israel’s suggestions for remedial measures in Jordan.

[Page 767]

3. Criddle Report

Mr. Criddle’s report confirms that Israel is so far within Unified Plan confines. First test of Israel’s withdrawal system will begin early in 1964. First sustained withdrawals will take place in early summer 1964 but remain at a low level for at least a year thereafter. Equally important, the report built on the Israeli suggestions of May in pointing to several ways in which Jordan could improve its situation in the interim before completion of Maqarin if it could count on scheduled Israeli releases, from Lake Tiberias, of water allocated to Jordan under the Unified Plan.

4. Criddle Report Implementation

We propose to put Criddle’s suggestions quietly to Jordan (a) at the highest level by an Ambassador Macomber-King Hussein approach, and (b) thereafter by asking Criddle to sell Jordanian technicians on his ideas. Mr. Criddle is, in fact, already corresponding with the Jordanian technicians to this purpose. Before going to the Jordanians officially, however, it has been essential to take up with the Israelis the one or two small loose ends concerning allocations which have been unresolved since 1955, as these directly affect the amount of water Jordan was given to understand it would receive under the Plan. On October 10, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jernegan opened talks with Israel Ambassador Herman. We hope to complete these in a month and then go to King Hussein. If we are successful, the result will be to increase Jordan’s all-important vested interest in a quiet acquiescence in Israel’s diversion and lessen the chances that Jordan, denominated under the Unified Plan as primary rightful beneficiary of the Jordan water resources, will add its voice to Arab opposition to Israel’s plans.

5. Other Preparations

Given (a) Israel’s private official assurance to us that it will stay within the Unified Plan, (b) Mr. Criddle’s technical confirmation that this is presently the case, (c) Israel public statements that put its intentions in an internationally unexceptionable light, (d) measures afoot to protect Jordan, including Maqarin construction with IBRD and, as necessary, United States and other Free World financial help, (e) studies showing the consistency of Israel’s actions with established international water practice and law, (f) rebuttals for expected Arab arguments, we will have the firmest possible base for representations to the Arabs (and in appropriate world capitals to win support) to show the futility of efforts to stop Israel. The converse of this will be encouragement of the Arabs to proceed with early utilization of their equitable shares of the waters. Premature representations, however, might well exacerbate the anticipated Arab reactions. The just concluded Istanbul Conference of Near East Chiefs of Mission has concurred in our general approach.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Israel, 11/1/63–11/6/63. Secret.
  2. Additional documentation is in Department of State, Central File POL 33–1 ISR-JORDAN.
  3. McKesson signed for Read above Read’s typed signature.
  4. Secret.
  5. 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.]