Just to keep thoughts flowing to you, attached are two papers which add
up to a debate:
The first is an argument for letting Israel go. The second is an argument
for avoiding Israeli involvement at all costs.
ARAB–ISRAEL: WHERE WE ARE AND WHERE WE’RE GOING
What has happened. In the two weeks since
Nasser mobilized we have
reversed the policy of 20 years. Instead of staking our bets on an
evenhanded relationship with the Arabs-moderate and radical
alike-and the Israelis, we are now committed to a course that will
more likely than not lead us into a head-on clash with a temporarily
united Arab world. Whereas we relied on Israel to hold its own
militarily and built our influence with Arab moderates to Israel’s
benefit, today we are acting as if we can only protect Israel by
confronting the Arab world and surrendering our influence with the
moderates to Nasser.
What else we could have done. By not stopping
an Israeli strike as early as 21 May when Egyptian positions were
still fluid, we would probably have witnessed a limited Arab defeat
and then had to move the international machinery in to restore
peace. Israel’s reputation would have suffered and long-range
prospects for reconciliation would have been set back. But assuming
she held her own, we would not have been linked with Israel and she
would have brought to bear the only counter that the US or anyone
else has yet found to the war of national liberation-force.
Nasser as a dominating
force would have been physically weakened, and the moderate
governments might have been freed to ignore him and concentrate on
their own development in association with us.
Why we held Israel back. As a humane
government, we are naturally inclined to choose peace over the
unknowns of war. Though we have ourselves chosen force to stop
aggression in Vietnam, we argued strongly against pre-emptive war on
the basis of our own decision not to use this device against the
USSR and because world opinion
would not permit us to come to the aid of an aggressor.
The price we have paid. It seems that the
UAR has won all the chips to
date, but Israel may really be the big winner. For twenty years
Israel has sought a special relationship-even a private security
guarantee-with us. We have steadfastly refused in order to preserve
our other interests in the Middle East. We argued that our policy
worked to Israel’s best interest too. Now we are committed to side
with Israel and, in opening the Straits of Tiran, even to wage war
on the Arabs. In short, we have chosen sides-not with the
constructive Arabs and Israel but with Israel alone against all the
Arabs. Whoever is the bigger winner, we are the sure loser. If we
follow our present course, we stand to lose economically (see the
Task Force’s rundown of the “economic vulnerabilities”) and to
suffer substantial Soviet gains. If we back away from Israel, we’re
a paper tiger. In building a new Middle East along the regional
lines in your vision, the closer we get to Israel, the longer we
delay our constructive contribution to make that vision a reality.
Need we pay that price. When we committed
ourselves last week to open the Straits for Israel, we did so
believing that Nasser might
back down or, at least, would not tangle with militarily escorted
vessels. Instead, in his Sunday press conference and other
conversations, he has made it clear he is not trying to open any
doors behind him. To the contrary, he made clearer than ever his
determination to close the Straits to Israeli flag vessels and oil
tankers headed for Eilat. Ambassador Yost warns vividly that we can no longer count on
Nasser to back down.
While Nasser may not shoot at
a destroyer escort, he is lining up the other Arab countries to
retaliate against all blockade runners by closing off oil supply,
nationalizing property, closing bases, boycotting commerce, closing
ports to shipping, etc. If we follow our present course, it is hard
to see how we can make good our commitment without paying a
tremendous price in the Arab world-unless Nasser backs off, and he shows no
sign of doing that.
The other choice. Events may show that other
maritime powers are not willing to join the regatta. Congress at
that point may not support our opening the Straits alone. Or a major
terrorist incident may open the whole situation up again by shifting
attention from the Straits to a new front. If any of these happen, I
would enter the strongest plea to stop and think about whether we
shouldn’t put the brakes on a little.
The other choice is still to let the Israelis do
this job themselves.
Eshkol himself says he’ll have
to go this route within a week or two if we can’t produce. He’s
correct that we don’t have any right to hold him back longer while
his enemy gets stronger unless we’re willing to take on the Arabs
ourselves. Pretty soon we’ll have Soviet warships in the Red Sea. We
ought to consider admitting that we have failed and allow fighting
I know this may fly in the face of the President’s own feelings about
Israel. But the question is whether we can help Israel more in the
long run by alienating ourselves from the Arab world or by backing
off just enough to keep our hand in there.