136. Memorandum From Nathaniel Davis of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • A Scenario of the Soviet Role

From the bits and pieces of Intelligence we have been receiving on the Soviet role in this crisis, it might be useful to set down the following “scenario.” It’s a guess, but I think it is about as probable as any other hypothesis.

The understandings reached during Gromyko’s trip in late March were probably general in nature, and not an “attack plan.”

In early May, it is probable that Soviet agents actually picked up intelligence reports of a planned Israeli raid into Syria. I would not be surprised if the reports were at least partly true. The Israeli have made such raids before; they have been under heavy provocation; and they maintain pretty good security (so we might well not know about a planned raid).

Intelligence being an uncertain business, the Soviet agents may not have known the scale of the raid and may have exaggerated its scope and purpose.

Apparently the Soviets warned the Syrians. Whether they deliberately magnified the threat is hard to say. They bear neither the Israeli nor ourselves any great love, and there may well have been some element of deliberate exaggeration. However, this was not necessarily a calculated incitement to conflict—made out of whole cloth and responsive to a global design. The Soviets did accompany their warnings of Israeli action with advice toward restraint.

The Syrians and the UAR were also quite ready to exaggerate what the Soviets said and feed on their own fears and ambitions.

There is still no evidence that Nasser consulted with the Soviets or got their agreement to close the straits. In fact, the Soviets have still taken no position on the straits issue.

Like everybody else, the Soviets know that Nasser is two strikes ahead—with the withdrawal of UNEF and the strait now effectively closed for almost two weeks. They are in a position where it is extremely difficult to back out of a position of supporting their friends across [Page 259] the board. Whatever the situation before, they have the strongest interest in maintaining the status quo and consolidating the victory. About the only negative influence from the point of view of their self-interest is the danger that things will really get out of hand. However, they increasingly realize how close to out-of-hand things are. We understand from New York that Fedorenko now is taking things more seriously.

I doubt that the Soviets are much more confident than we are in their ability to call the shots and control their friends. That’s not very confident.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. III. Top Secret; Nodis.