128. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Arab Republic to the Department of State 1

8362. SecState for Battle from Yost.

There is unanimity among observers I have seen here that UARG at this point cannot and will not relax position on closure Tiran Straits except as result overwhelming application of military force. Opinion in other Arab countries seems practically unanimous in backing UAR on this issue.
While this may appear in US as “aggression”, it is seen here as entirely legitimate restoration 1956 status quo which was upset by Israeli aggression. In light UAR “belligerency”, moreover, legal case is at least open to doubt.
As consequence I have reluctantly come to conclusion that there is no prospect for success our present tactic of mobilizing maritime powers to reopen Straits, except by exercise military force which would be out of proportion to real US interests at stake and would have most damaging repercussions on US position throughout Arab world. If we pursue this tactic much further, I am afraid we may find ourselves in same dead end as British and French in 1956.
Proposed declaration by maritime powers would have no effect on UAR stand nor would show of naval strength in neighborhood, though latter would increase Arab agitation, reinforce Arab unity and provoke anti-US demonstrations. Actual use of sufficient military force could presumably open Straits but force would have to be maintained there indefinitely and political consequences would be as indicated above.
While I realize very great importance Israel attaches to keeping Straits open, I cannot believe this is vital to Israel’s existence, especially recalling that Straits were closed prior to 1957.2 Gain to Nasser’s prestige resulting from this victory will be unfortunate and troublesome but [Page 232] post facto attempts by either great powers or Israel to reverse it are more likely to prolong than to curtail his currently resurrected leadership of Arab world.
I would have thought more productive tactic would be henceforth to concentrate on limiting damage, primarily by finding means acceptable to both parties of strengthening UNTSO machinery all along Israeli frontiers but particularly on Israel-UAR line. If some action on Tiran necessary, complaint could be presented to ICJ and interim arrangements made to supply Israel with oil through other ports. I would presume Israel would expect and should receive renewed assurances of US support in case its existence or integrity is threatened.
If stability is to be preserved in area over long run, it will also be important that US endeavor within reasonable limits to maintain contact and some measure cooperation with UAR. Pressure tactics, such as fleet movements or blocking IMF action and bank credits, will have precisely contrary effect, throw UAR even more into Soviet arms and make future aggressive action vis-à-vis Israel more likely.
There can be no assurance that Arab appetites, whetted by unexpected and intoxicating show of unity, will not soon demand further satisfaction, despite Riad statement to me UAR has no such present intention. However, I am convinced we would have much better prospect obtaining world and perhaps even some Arab support against more obvious and brutal threat to Israeli security than closure Straits is generally conceived to be. Either overt or covert sanctions are at this time more likely to provoke than to discourage more aggressive Arab policy.
Believe I have felt pulse here as fully as may be feasible or useful in near future and that, unless Department wished me to undertake some negotiation, I might plan to return to Washington to report in two or three days.3 I should probably see Riad once more before leaving but Ambassador Nolte now has easy access to him and will be fully capable henceforth of carrying on.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to USUN for Goldberg. Received at 7:45 a.m. and passed to the White House at 9:17 a.m.
  2. Riad said this to Yost during a conversation the previous evening, which Yost reported in telegram 8349 from Cairo, June 2. Riad told Yost that the UAR had no alternative but to fight anyone who tried to force passage of the Strait of Tiran, but that if oil was kept away from the strait, there would be no problem. Yost said he had heard apprehension expressed that the UAR would not only insist on closing the strait but would proceed to other demands also unacceptable to Israel. Riad replied that the refugee problem was the underlying cause of difficulty but that the UAR had no other demands. (Ibid.)
  3. Battle authorized Yost’s return in telegram 207517 to Cairo, June 2. He commented that while Riad’s apparent desire to prevent further deterioration of U.S.-UAR relations was reassuring, “he gives us little room in which to work”, since there were issues at stake involving long-held U.S. policies. (Ibid.)
  4. During Yost’s June 1 meeting with Riad (see footnote 2 above), he expressed the hope that Nolte might have an early opportunity to present his credentials. Riad replied that Nasser was extremely busy, but he asked Yost to tell Nolte that he should carry on business as if he had already presented credentials and should feel free to call on Riad at any time.