395. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0
Nasser’s annual Port Said speech (celebrating 1956 “victory” at Suez) is worthy of note.1
Despite the usual bluster about Israel—“from Yemen to Palestine”—Nasser in fact says quite clearly that to fight now over the Jordan waters would be folly.2 As he puts it, “The Palestine of 1948 can never be repeated.” Why overbid when we know we can’t win. When the Arab chiefs of staff meet, those from the other Arab states admit this privately, but then publicly they make bellicose noises. We Egyptians will not go in for this doubletalk. And the matter is one for the top political leaders, not the military, to decide. So let’s have an Arab summit.
Here Nasser says his line will be: “We will not overbid. I am not ashamed to say that I cannot fight if I feel I cannot really. If I cannot fight and then go out and fight, I will only lead you to a disaster. Shall I bring my country to disaster? Shall I gamble with my country? Impossible.”
As a footnote, note corollary article (Cairo 1431)3 by Nasser’s mouthpiece Haikal, who says even if the Arabs could lick Israel, the latter wouldn’t be alone. The US and UK would surely intervene. After all, we have gotten a few things across!
While Nasser is obviously trying to prevent other Arabs from branding UAR a coward, the line he’s chosen shows he’s the one major Arab leader who may make sense. But he too can succumb to hysteria, so we’ll need all the leverage we have to keep him on a course of restraint. Ergo, we’d be mad to use up such leverage as we have over Yemen, or to throw it away prematurely via the Gruening Amendment. The Near East will be quite a test of our policy (and nerves) in ‘64.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, UAR, Vol. 1. Secret. Copies were sent to Harriman and Feldman.↩
- The Embassy in Cairo transmitted a summary of the speech in telegram 1412, December 24. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 UAR) Nasser’s speech included a call for an Arab summit meeting to deal with Israel’s forthcoming diversion of the Jordan waters. Additional documentation relating to the proposed Arab summit, held January 13–17, 1964, in Cairo, is ibid., POL 7 UAR.↩
- In a separate note to Bundy on December 30, Komer expressed his concern that Arab frustration over inability to defeat Israel militarily might lead the Arab states to take action against the the West’s Near Eastern oil supply. He also expressed his doubts about Department of State optimism that Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia would not go along with this. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, UAR, Vol. 1)↩
- Dated December 30. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 UAR)↩