219. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

1511. Embtel 1485;2 Deptels 11813 and 1184.4 Israel-Syrian incidents. During conversation yesterday principally devoted to another subject Prime Minister raised question of developments on Syrian border with particular reference to the previous day’s Syrian firing on Israeli fishing boat on Lake Tiberias (Embtel 1507).5 He noted this as further instance of Syrian attack on innocent Israeli individuals of which sporadic firing exchange involving Israeli territory the day before is part of pattern. He asked what the U.S. attitude is to such firing. I replied that we had never concealed our disapproval of Syrian attacks on Israeli fishermen and presumably would feel the same way in this instance.

However, I went on that since he had raised the question of the Israeli-Syrian frontier I could not allow the opportunity to pass to reiterate my government’s previous expressions of strong disapproval over the Israeli attack on Syrian tractors on May 13. I referred to my conversation with Levavi reported Embtel 1485 which I said I hoped had been repeated to the Prime Minister. I also mentioned that Talbot had spoken in similar firm terms to Harman in Washington. I further said that I hoped there would be no Israeli misunderstanding of U.S. position in regard to such Israeli actions and repeated that if such actions lead to security council consideration the U.S. will not be able to support Israel.

Prime Minister acknowledged his understanding of U.S. attitude. He continued with familiar line that Israelis would be in a worse position to counter Arab diversion after diversion projects completed than they are now in attempting persuade the Arabs of folly and dangers of carrying out their diversion plans. I endeavored again to rebut this reasoning along usual U.S. line emphasizing that it by no means certain Arabs will complete diversion and particularly that these [Page 466] Israeli attacks involve risk out of proportion to dangers to Israel from diversion schemes at present underway or in prospect. As expected, Prime Minister was not sold by these arguments although he obviously does not entirely dismiss them. He said he recognizes risks but aside from indicating to Arabs strength of Israeli determination in matter he believes May 13 incident may have served useful purpose of demonstrating Israeli capability of interdicting diversion works by measures short of full-scale war. He also thought it might be welcomed by Lebanese in that Syria instead of Lebanon was Israeli target.

These points of course are not new, the Prime Minister having advanced them on various previous occasions. It is clear, however, that he still holds to his thinking tenaciously and will be dissuaded if at all only with difficulty.

Subsequently Argov (acting head of U.S. Dept, FonOff) referred to Talbot’s conversation with Harman, reported Deptel 1184, particularly connection Talbot made between such Israeli initiatives and GOI-U.S. military talks. Argov sought to argue that these two separate matters. I responded that Talbot’s meaning seemed quite clearly to contrary and commented that in any event it obvious that relations between states must be considered as a whole and it impossible to treat issues in isolation without reference to generality of each state’s concerns.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 ISR–SYR. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Telegram 1485 from Tel Aviv, May 20, reported that in a conversation May 19 with Israeli Foreign Office Director General Levavi, Barbour indicated strong U.S. disapproval of Israeli actions in the May 13 incident on the Syrian border. (Ibid.)
  3. Telegram 1181 to Tel Aviv, May 18, instructed the Embassy to inform the Israeli Foreign Ministry the next day of strong U.S. disapproval of Israeli actions in the May 13 incident, to reiterate U.S. opposition to the use of force in the water diversion dispute, and to state that if incidents such as the May 13 incident were to be taken to the United Nations, the United States would not support Israel. (Ibid.)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 216.
  5. Dated May 24. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 ISR–SYR)