109. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

As instructed, I had Evron in this afternoon at 5:30. I explained to him your concern at the language used with respect to the U.S. commitment in Prime Minister Eshkol’s message of yesterday. I went over again your talking paper which, I reminded him, was your formal communication to which the rest of what you said was an elaboration. He said he understood what I had told him; but he was deeply concerned.

The reason was this. He went up to New York to meet Minister Sapir, who has just arrived in the U.S. to raise money for Israel. Sapir told him that after Eban reported, the Cabinet voted on war or delay, and split 9 to 9.

The Prime Minister then cabled Harman and asked Harman his and Evron’s personal assessment of the President’s intentions.

Harman and Evron then said that it was their personal assessment that President Johnson intended to see this through even if, in the end, the United States was the only nation standing beside Israel. They did not for one moment imply that this is what you told Eban. They merely took on their shoulders the “heavy burden” of giving to their Government their assessment of the feelings and intentions of the President of the United States.

Evron added that for some reason he—Evron—is regarded in Israel as a hawk. Sapir told him that it was this personal assessment which tipped the balance.

Evron wanted me to be extremely clear that:

  • —he in no way attributed his judgment to what the President told Eban;
  • —he and Harman held themselves alone responsible for making this assessment of President Johnson.

He said he told me this story to understand what the effects might be of a message from Washington which appeared to be a “backing away” from what the President told Eban.

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He then asked me: “Has the President’s attitude changed since he saw Eban?” I said I did not believe that the President’s attitude had changed since that time. What the President was reacting to was language in a communication between Chiefs of Government which was inexact. The President felt that it was extremely important for the Government of Israel fully to understand the constitutional setting in which the President had to make his dispositions. The whole context of the talk with Eban was the limitations which the President had to face in implementing his policy stated on May 23.

He then said, “Am I wrong in assessing the President’s personal determination as I did?” I said that, as a government servant, it would be wrong for me to communicate that kind of judgment. I said, “You have known President Johnson for a long time and have a right to make your own assessment.”

With tears in his eyes, he said: “So much hinges on that man.”

I told him that our reaction to Prime Minister Eshkol’s formulation would be conveyed more formally; but that I wished him to understand the kind of difficulty it posed for the President.

He then went on to make three observations:

  • —the first soundings taken by their ambassadors in Scandinavia, Canada, etc., were not hopeful, although this may not be the last word;
  • —in their contacts with the Congress they believe support is building for a strong stand by the United States not confined to former doves. He said that in this matter Nasser was doing their work for them;
  • —finally, he said that Israel expects war. They do not expect to attack, but to be attacked. They are grateful for the swiftness with which the Pentagon is now dealing with the pipeline; but Harman will be in to see the Secretary of State with requests for an additional Hawk battalion for air defense and some other urgent military assistance. He hopes that we shall be able to respond.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, President’s Appointment File, June 1967, Middle East Crisis. Secret. Rostow sent a copy to McNamara with a note saying that the President wanted him to have it. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 72 A 2468, Israel 091.112) He also sent a copy to Rusk. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ISR–US)