108. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

206657. Memcon Between Ambassador Harman and Under Secretary Rostow.

At his request Ambassador Harman called on Under Secretary Rostow afternoon May 31.

Mr. Rostow opened the conversation by showing Ambassador Harman a copy of the joint maritime declaration2 and asking for his comments. After reviewing the draft, Ambassador Harman said he did not like the reference to the SC because it could conceivably stall the whole problem in the SC indefinitely. Mr. Rostow reminded the Ambassador of the US purpose in first seeking to resolve this problem through the UN. Ambassador Harman also asked why there was no reference to the 1958 convention on the Law of the Sea. Mr. Rostow explained that we had considered including a specific reference to the convention but had decided not to as many states had not signed. He thought the last paragraph of declaration putting the issue in the context of 1957, was more important.
Ambassador Harman inquired about the French position on this question. His own feeling was that signing a declaration was one thing but that he doubted whether the French would participate in the naval exercise.
Ambassador Harman then pressed the Under Secretary what US next step would be, asking specifically how long we would drag out the action in the SC. Mr. Rostow replied that Ambassador Goldberg was pressing hard for the disposition of his motion and that the US was standing firm on paragraph 14 of the SG report which raised the question of belligerency.
Mr. Rostow said that in his opinion Nasser would be inclined to hold on to what he has and not take any more risks, concentrating on the moderate Arab States rather than Israel, if he could hold to his victory at Sharm al-Sheikh. The issue of how to test the announced blockade was crucial in getting back to the status quo ante.
Ambassador Harman then asked when and what test would we use to force the Strait. Mr. Rostow replied that we were discussing two sets of plans: (1) possibility of sending unescorted ship through the Strait and (2) question of sending escorted ship through the Strait. He indicated that the question of force was a difficult one. Who uses force first and in what way would it be used could determine many aspects of the outcome. We were studying this one very carefully. In all our planning, however, the doctrine of the measured response applies. He reiterated to the Ambassador that our policy still ad referendum was to have the international community take on the question of the Gulf of Aqaba and hence separate it from the Arab-Israeli conflict. He reiterated the advice that GOI should not strike first.
Mr. Rostow said that we were joining HMG in proposing the maritime declaration overnight and moving ahead on Congressional consultations.
After a brief discussion of the situation in Jordan, Ambassador Harman pointed out that it was his Government’s understanding that the planes USG had recently provided to Jordan were for training and defense against Syria and would not be used against Israel. Under the present circumstances the Israeli Government would expect that these planes be withdrawn.
Ambassador Harman then made a presentation of the problems his Government was facing. While it was rational to suppose that Nasser might refrain from attacking Israel, and concentrate on oil and the moderate Arab States, no one should underestimate the wave of irrational passion sweeping through the Arab world. From the Israeli point of view the military situation was worsening every day. Referring to the Gulf of Aqaba, Ambassador said that from May 22 USG had been asking the Israeli Government to refrain from unilateral action whereas it would have been logical from their point of view to have tested the blockade quickly and then exercised their right of self-defense. Now the Israelis had given the USG ten days and only today had he been informed that a final decision on the draft declaration had been made. Meantime, Israel faces a mounting array of force and there is no indication that Nasser intends to stay where he is. Nasser started off by referring to the status quo ante prior to 1956 and to Israel this means two things, the resumption of terrorist attacks and a blockade. To Israel a blockade was an act of belligerence. More alarming, however, was the fact that after a few days Nasser began to refer to the status quo ante prior to 1948. Nasser has made a military pact with Jordan. Iraqis are moving into Jordan and are being airlifted to Egypt. All this has strategic significance. Ambassador said that frankly his Government was not reassured by USG view of the situation which was taken from many [Page 200] thousands of miles away. Nobody can be sure what Nasser would do. Mr. Rostow reminded the Ambassador that the USG had assured Eban three times that if Israel did not act alone it would not be alone.3 The real question was what Nasser was doing and there is no sign yet that he was bent on enforcing his announced blockade. Harman said there was a simple explanation for that. No ships had come through the Gulf to Eilat since May 23. Rostow asked him to check this statement. Our information was that at least two ships had passed through for Eilat recently.
Ambassador then raised the question of liaison between USG and GOI military. If Nasser decided to strike it would be a quick strike, perhaps only 5 or 6 minutes flying time separated the opposing air forces. He said USG must appreciate that with this buildup continuing every day GOI was becoming more and more nervous. He reminded the Under Secretary that the US was still talking about an ad referendum scenario whereas Israel could be attacked at any moment. His Government had clear indications that Nasser had been disappointed when Israel did not strike first last week. They had no telephone number to call, no code for plane recognition, no way of getting in touch with the Sixth Fleet.
On instructions Harman again asked for a military liaison arrangement with the USG. This arrangement could be kept secret and this is what the Prime Minister was talking about in his recent letter to the President. Harman said he must convey his Government’s real sense of urgency. Mr. Rostow replied that USG was conscious of its responsibilities and that he would raise question of military liaison with appropriate USG officials.4
Ambassador Harman then informed the Department that he would make three immediate requests: (a) One Hawk battery and 100 missiles to be flown to Israel immediately; (b) 140 M60 tanks. (The 140 M–48A1’s previously purchased were being upgraded and this work would not be finished for another year.); (c) 24 A–4E Skyhawks for immediate delivery with ground equipment, armaments and operating parts for 5,000 flying hours. GOI also needed 10 chief petty officers to assist them in establishing a crash program to train 10F to use these planes. Mr. Rostow said he would inform DOD immediately. The requests would of course be presented in detail in the normal way to the DOD.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Grey and Eugene Rostow and approved by Eugene Rostow. Also sent to Cairo and USUN.
  2. See Document 112.
  3. Reference is to the President’s statement to Eban; see Document 77.
  4. The minutes of the June 3 meeting of the Control Group state that the group discussed this request and agreed that it would be kept under daily review. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Office of the Executive Secretariat, Middle East Crisis Files, 1967, Entry 5190, Box 17, Minutes/Decisions of the Control Group, Folder 1)