124. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Conversation between Major General Meir Amit and Secretary McNamara—late afternoon, 1 June 19672
In response to a question from Secretary McNamara regarding Russian knowledge of the blockade of the Straits of Tiran, Gen. Amit stated that he doubted if the Russians knew of this in advance but were not reluctant to seize the opportunity to take advantage of it. Gen. Amit [Page 224] then went on to describe the situation as he sees it which is to the effect that the blockade of Tiran is window dressing. He believes a grand design, which he termed the “Domino Effect,” has now developed. That is, that the UAR, with Russian backing, hopes to roll up the whole of the Middle East all the way to the borders of Russia, to include Iran, under Arab domination. While this whole matter is close to and vital for Israel, the long range effect would be deeply inimical to U.S. interests. Gen. Amit would not go so far as to say he believed that this grand design lay behind the original move of the UAR but he feels strongly that it now exists as an opportunity being seized by the Russians, whatever the origin of the present confrontation. He indicated his view that the U.S. is already damned in the eyes of the Arabs no matter what we do.
Gen. Amit expressed the view that the U.S. could demonstrate its commitment to its interests in the Middle East very cheaply by doing the following:
Providing the necessary weapons and economic support over the long term to Israel. (In this connection he stressed that it is too late now for any additional weapons to have any immediate effect on the crisis.)
U.S. clearly demonstrate its political backing of Israel.
U.S. isolate the area from Russian intervention.
Gen. Amit stressed that time is very much against Israel. 10 days ago Israel could have contained the situation but as time goes on and the Arabs get more deeply entrenched, the problem becomes increasingly difficult for Israel. He stated Israel has now mobilized 100,000 people and this hurts the economy. He pointed out that it is impossible to keep the entire nation mobilized for long and still maintain its economic viability.
Gen. Amit indicated that one of the great worries of Israel is the possibility of a pre-emptive air attack by the UAR which would cripple the Israeli Air Force and result in loss of air superiority which would be vital to Israeli success if hostilities break out.
Returning to the issue of the Straits of Tiran, Gen. Amit said that while they are not crucial, loss of free passage has become a political symbol and that therefore we must go through the motions of solving that problem.
Gen. Amit, returning to his main theme, stressed his opinion that it is a U.S. problem as much as an Israeli problem, and maybe even more so, and that he feels extreme measures are needed quickly. He stressed that his remarks were entirely informal, off the record and should not be regarded as an official representation or request of the Israeli Government. He was simply taking advantage of the opportunity to insure that the highest American authorities understand the picture as the Israelis see it.
He informed the Secretary that there were no differences between the U.S. and the Israelis on the military intelligence picture or its interpretation. He added that the Russian story of a planned attack against Syria was a sheer fabrication.
Gen. Amit asked the Secretary whether naval action in the Straits of Tiran is contemplated soon. The Secretary responded by saying that this was just one of a number of possibilities which are under consideration by the U.S. Mr. McNamara asked Gen. Amit how many casualties he thought he would incur in an attack in the Sinai. Gen. Amit indicated that this was a tough question to answer, stating that it would depend a great deal on who hit first. He said that such a fight would be much more severe and difficult than the last one because the Egyptians have a well balanced defense of 6 Divisions in 3 lines, the most interior line to Egypt being held by the 4th Armored Division. Amit indicated that without air superiority this would be a tough defense to crack but that with it he thought the Israelis could do the job with somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 casualties. He stated in connection with the matter of air superiority that the loss of Israeli air fields would inevitably involve the U.S. physically in the conflict if Israel were to have any chance.
In closing the meeting Mr. McNamara thanked Gen. Amit for his candid discussion and indicated that he, the Secretary, would be seeing the President shortly and would convey Amit’s views to him. Amit stressed that he did not want this conversation to become wide-spread knowledge and took notice of the fact that the undersigned had been taking notes throughout. Mr. McNamara assured Gen. Amit that the information would not go beyond him and the top senior officials of the government who needed to know. On the way back to the hotel I showed Gen. Amit my notes, indicated they would be incorporated in a Memorandum for Record and that he need have no fear of wide dissemination. He expressed satisfaction with the entire interview and wondered aloud if he shouldn’t have tried to see the President also. I told him such a move would be entirely out of the question, totally inappropriate, and that the President was quite well aware of Amit’s visit and would receive from the Secretary all of the information Amit had conveyed. He then wondered whether he should stay around town a little longer to see what happens even though the Secretary of Defense had previously indicated this would serve no purpose. I urged him to get a night’s sleep and go back to Israel as soon as possible because he would be needed more there than here.
Rufus Taylor
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy
Deputy Director of Central Intelligence
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 77–0075, Memoranda of Conversations Between Secretary McNamara and Heads of State (Other than NATO). Top Secret; Personal and Eyes Only for the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence. Prepared on June 2. A copy was sent to the Director of Central Intelligence and a stamped notation on the memorandum indicates McNamara saw it on June 2.
  2. Amit visited Washington May 31–June 2. At a conference on the Six-Day War held June 3–5, 1992, he stated that he had three objectives in this mission: first, to compare notes on the situation, second, to find out whether any action was being planned to reopen the Strait of Tiran, and third, “to tell the Americans, I, Meir Amit, am going to recommend that our government strike, and I wanted to sense what would be their response, their attitude toward that.” (Parker, Richard B., ed., The Six-Day War: A Retrospective, (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 1996), p. 139)

    Amit said that he met with McNamara for 40 minutes and told him three things: first, a short description of the military situation, second, the impact of the Israeli mobilization on Israel’s economy and the fact that it could not be sustained for a long period, and third, “I told him that I’m personally going to recommend that we take action, because there’s no way out, and please don’t react. He told me it was all right, the president knows that you are here and I have a direct line to the president.” He said McNamara asked only two questions: how long a war would last, to which Amit replied, “Seven days,” and how many casualties Israel would sustain. Amit said, “Here I became a diplomat. I said less than in 1948, when we had 6,000.” (Ibid., p. 140)