13. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

3648. Ref: State 1965412 and Tel Aviv 3640.3

FonMin Eban gave me at 1700 hrs reply to President’s message from Prime Minister Eshkol. Eban added series amplifying comments on PriMin’s behalf contained my immediately following telegram.4

Text Eshkol reply as follows:

“Jerusalem, May 18, 1967

Dear Mr. President,

I have received your personal message of May 18, 1967.

I agree with you that the situation is tense and I welcome your readiness for close and continuous consultation. Foreign Minister Eban gave detailed information to Ambassador Barbour today5 andour representatives are exchanging ideas with yours in Washington and at United Nations headquarters.

I should like to summarize my main conclusions:

  • First: The primary link in the chain of tension is the Syrian policy of terrorist infiltration and sabotage. From Under Secretary Rostow’s conversation with Ambassador Harman,6 I am glad to learn that your government and mine are agreed on this. You are correct, Mr. President, in [Page 20] stating that we are having our patience tried to the limits. There have been 15 attempts at murder and sabotage in the past six weeks. We have not reacted. This in itself proves that there is no lack of temperance and responsibility on our part. On the other hand, the problem is not solved indefinitely by inaction. We cannot always rely on the stroke of fortune which has so far prevented the terrorist acts from taking the toll of life and injury intended by the perpetrators. Although many acts have been committed from Lebanon and Jordan, our present conviction is that Syria is responsible and is attempting to embroil other Arab states. We are alive to this stratagem and shall not cooperate with it.

    My first conclusion, therefore, is that every effort should be made to emphasize, proclaim and condemn Syrian responsibility for these terrorist acts, in order to deter their continuation.

  • Second: The Egyptian build-up of armor and infantry in Sinai, to the extent so far of approximately four divisions including 600 tanks, is greater than ever before, and has no objective justification. Egypt knows that there is no foundation for reports of troop concentration against Syria. Yet even after receiving information on this subject from UN and other sources, the UAR has increased its troop concentration. This naturally forces me to undertake precautionary reinforcement in the south. One of the dangers that we face is that the Egyptian troop concentration may encourage Syria to resume terroristic acts under the false impression of immunity.

    The only way of avoiding the effects of an escalating reciprocal build-up is for Egypt to return to the previous posture in Sinai. This would immediately affect our own decisions and arrangements.

    I urge the full application of international influence to secure the end of abnormal troop concentrations.

  • Third: It would be very unfortunate if the UN authorities were to give an impression of irresolution in connection with the presence of the UNEF in Sinai. It is not the function of the United Nations to move out of the way in order to facilitate warlike acts. I hope that the Secretary General will insist that he cannot affect the status quo concerning the UN force in Sinai without a mandate from the General Assembly. There is ample legal basis for this.

    I must point out that Israel was a party to the arrangement which led in March 1957 to the stationing of the UNEF. At United States initiative, we took far-reaching measures in exchange for the UNEF arrangement.7

  • Fourth: There may be an impression in Cairo and Damascus that Soviet support for Egypt and Syria is assured, and that therefore they have no need of restraint. This factor would be an emphatic clarification by the United States to the Soviet Union of the American commitment to Israel’s independence and integrity and the American will and capacity to defend stability in the Middle East. I can hardly exaggerate the importance and urgency of such an approach to the USSR. It is one of the central keys to the improvement of the situation.
  • Five: In this connection, Mr. President, I am solemnly bound to refer to the specific American commitment so often reiterated to us between May 1961 and August 1966. I especially remember our own conversations in June 1964.8 Your note of May 18 does not explicitly refer to the commitment by the United States to act both inside and outside the UN in support of Israel’s integrity and independence. I understand that you do not wish to be committed without consultation. But with a massive build-up on our southern frontier linked with a terrorist campaign from the north and Soviet support of the governments responsible for the tension, there is surely an urgent need to reaffirm the American commitment to Israel’s security with a view to its implementation should the need arise.

In view of the magnitude of the issues involved, I have felt at liberty to speak with frankness on five problems in all of which I believe that the United States is in a position to make a vital contribution to the avoidance of dangers and the reinforcement of peace.

Signed Levi Eshkol.”

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Nodis. Received at 4:30 p.m. Walt Rostow sent a copy to the President with a May 19 8:30 a.m. covering memorandum. Johnson wrote on the memorandum: “Get meeting set up.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. VII)
  2. Document 8.
  3. Telegram 3640 from Tel Aviv, May 18, reported that Ambassador Barbour had delivered the message conveyed in telegram 196541 (Document 8) to Foreign Minister Eban, since he already had a meeting scheduled with Eban at the latter’s request. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR)
  4. Document 14.
  5. Barbour reported his conversation with Eban in telegram 3639, May 18. Eban stated the Israeli view that if the UAR were to order UNEF off its soil, it would be necessary to reconvene the UN General Assembly. He warned that if the UAR military buildup were to continue, there would be a buildup on the Israeli side as well and urged U.S. efforts to convince the Soviets that it was in their interest to diffuse the tension. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR)
  6. Circular telegram 196738, May 17, summarized Rostow’s conversation with Harman that afternoon. Harman stated that the nub of the problem was Syrian support of terrorism and urged public reiteration of U.S. opposition to terrorism. Rostow stressed the importance of Israel’s taking no military action without consultation with the U.S. Government, “since such action would involve us all.” (Ibid.)
  7. Extensive documentation on the negotiations leading to the creation of UNEF under General Assembly resolution 1000(ES–I), November 5, 1956, and the replacement of Israeli troops by UNEF troops in Sinai and Gaza, completed March 8, 1957, is in Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, volumes XVI and XVII.
  8. Concerning the conversations between Johnson and Eshkol, June 1–2, see ibid., 1964–1968, vol. XVIII, Documents 65 and 66.