101. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 67504. Evron came in to see me at 3:00 p.m. with these points.

A message from Eshkol to you will probably come in tomorrow.
The Finney story2 was deeply upsetting in Israel. The government was forced to say: we know of no such proposal; we are against any such proposal.
He said you made extremely clear to Eban your political problems and the implications of those problems for timing. From letters that came in the Israeli pouch today, it is clear that they also have acute problems of timing. I asked how long they could sit still before there is show down on the Aqaba issue. He said about 10 days.
As for tests in the Gulf as to which kind of ships Nasser would turn back. He felt them extremely dangerous unless we were prepared to back our play promptly. It would be politically and psychologically most disheartening to a have a series of tests in which the ships were turned back by the Egyptians. It would also commit Nasser more deeply each time. Therefore, he was against tests until we had mounted the force to make innocent passage stick as a principle.
He said that Prime Minister Eshkol was likely to express to you his “disappointment” that we had not picked up the suggestion of Eban for some sort of military liaison. He said the Israeli record of security in matters of this kind was excellent—citing a secret visit of the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army to the Sixth Fleet. Such liaison need not be permanent but merely for the duration of this particular crisis. Without such liaison, we might get into a situation of conflict without even knowing the aircraft signals on both sides which could produce a first-class disaster.
I asked him if he thought Nasser was interested in fighting Israel or only in picking up political capital in the Middle East at the expense of Hussein and Feisal. He said for the first time in his life he believes that Nasser on balance wants to fight Israel.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II. Secret. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 4:28 p.m. A handwritten “L” on an attached note by Jim Jones, May 30, 7:35 p.m., indicates the President saw it. Another attached note indicates that Rostow sent copies to Rusk and McNamara.
  2. An article in the May 30 New York Times by John W. Finney, attributed to Congressional sources, reported that the Johnson administration was considering a possible compromise solution to the Middle East crisis under which the Gulf of Aqaba would be open to all non-Israeli ships, including those carrying cargoes to Israel, until an international convention on the Strait of Tiran could be negotiated. The note by Jim Jones cited in footnote 1 states: “Rostow says both he and Rusk have talked to Finney and Tom Wicker about the injustice and inaccuracy of the story today. Walt does not know what the NY Times will do about it however. Jim.” It continues: “George Christian talked to Max Frankel who agreed that the story should not have been printed.”