137. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Hoopes) to Secretary of Defense McNamara 1



  • Middle East Situation

Attached is the paper on the question of tailoring the traffic pattern in the Strait of Tiran.2 This was addressed by the Control Group (Rostow, Vance, Kohler) yesterday evening. I sent you a copy earlier yesterday, but I feel it is now important (following our telephone conversation of this morning) to re-emphasize several significant points in it.

As indicated on page 2, the basic difficulty in organizing a controlled series of probes is the general unavailability of appropriate shipping. Only tankers present a test case, but these will be hard to come by unless the US takes positive action (through charter or other means) to [Page 260] arrange for a group of ships of appropriate registries. The options have been further narrowed by the Israeli position that it cannot permit even the peaceful refusal of an Israeli-owned ship at the Strait without having immediate recourse to military retaliation. Moreover, increasing doubt is being expressed by people like Walter Levy, the reputable oil consultant to the State Department, that the Shah of Iran will be able politically to go on supplying oil to Israel. Levy strongly recommended at the Control Group meeting yesterday evening that we should avoid pressing the Shah to include his oil in a test tanker, but should try to find oil from another source—e.g., Indonesia. This judgment was challenged, and attempts to have Iran stand firm will be quickly made, through Ambassador Meyer in Teheran and through Mr. Harriman (who will see the Shah in Europe over this weekend).3 But if Levy is reflecting the political reality in Iran, this would further circumscribe and delay even an unescorted test probe.

I refer you also to page 5 (paragraph 4) and the judgment that even the successful passage of an unescorted US flag tanker would set in motion Cairo’s propaganda media, denouncing us as the enemy of the Arabs and as Israel’s protector. The CIA judgment (expressed on page 6),4 which is addressed to the political consequences of a passage by a ship under US naval escort, is also highly relevant. If true, Nasser could severely damage the United States and West Europe, politically and economically, without firing a shot.

I attach particular importance to the conclusion reached by the Working Group (on page 6) that, given the present atmosphere in the Arab world and the effectiveness of Arab and Soviet propaganda, it would not be possible to present a Western blockade running (particularly if armed escort were involved) as simply an assertion of a recognized international right. Those propaganda media would almost certainly [Page 261] succeed in branding the US as the ally and protector of Israel against the Arabs. On this judgment, we could not avoid a damaging political polarization in the event that we organize and attempt to use a naval task force (whether US or multilateral).

One reason why I am pessimistic about the number and quality of likely adherents to a maritime declaration is that many of the potentials are now beginning to believe that even such a declaration on their part would lead to serious discrimination against their Middle Eastern interests by Nasser-directed Arab actions. Their judgment in this respect acknowledges Nasser’s political power. As you know, the French are extremely cool to both the declaration and the naval escort, the Canadians have made quite clear that they will not participate in a naval force and that even their adherence to a declaration depends on the adherence of several others and on a “balanced program” designed to resolve the crisis without violence. The British Cabinet gives increasing evidence of softening its position, as it contemplates the UK’s severe economic vulnerabilities in the Middle East (oil revenues, passage through Suez, and the fact that Saudi and Kuwaiti deposits in London represent two-thirds of the UK’s sterling balance).

It is increasingly my conviction (as I believe it is Mr. Vance’s) that we must put our major efforts into seeking a political settlement based on compromise, and should be extremely cautious about pinning our hopes on a broadly supported maritime declaration and especially about getting publicly committed to a naval escort force. It is possible that the indication in yesterday’s Cairo press that oil may not be a “strategic” commodity in the UAR view is an important ingredient of such a political compromise.

A further significant development yesterday was King Hussein’s request for the removal of the US training detachment in Jordan, followed almost immediately by his request for the removal of the five F–104 aircraft.5 Last evening he also made known his decision to withdraw the Jordanian aviation cadets from the pilot training programs in the US. The full implications of these acts are not yet clear, but it does seem evident that Nasser has required him at least to delimit sharply [Page 262] his politico-military relations with the US as a condition of their new defense pact. UAR-Jordan amity remains, however, very fragile.

Townsend Hoopes
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 72 A 2468, Middle East, 381.3. Secret; No Release. A stamped notation on the memorandum, dated June 14, indicates that McNamara saw it.
  2. The attachment, a June 1 memorandum from Hoopes to the Middle East Control Group, recorded a May 31 meeting of the Military Contingency Working Group that considered the feasibility of testing the UAR blockade by unescorted ships. The working group also decided to continue military supply shipments to Near East countries under existing commitments, but to make no new commitments. A copy of Hoopes’ memorandum is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Office of the Executive Secretariat, Middle East Crisis Files, 1967, Entry 5190, Box 18, Control Group Data, Vol. I, Folder 1.
  3. For Harriman’s conversations with the Shah, see telegrams 19869 and 19914 from Paris, June 5 and 6 in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXII, Documents 207 and 208.
  4. The reference is to a quotation in Hoopes’ memorandum from a May 31 CIA report (not found). It estimates that if a U.S. ship were escorted through the Strait of Tiran by a U.S. naval vessel, ignoring all challenges, UAR forces would let them through under protest. It continues: “We do not believe that Cairo wishes to make any direct encounter with US military power. Indeed the UAR may see a US naval challenge of the blockade as serving their interests, as the political consequences of such a move would be far-reaching. The UAR would formally accuse the US of acting as Israel’s military ally to commit aggression against the Arabs. It would expand and intensify its propaganda and diplomatic efforts against special US positions throughout the Arab world. In particular it would seek to harass US oil operations and urge the nationalization of US oil properties in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and Libya. During the present super-heated and emotional climate prevailing in the Arab world, US interests in the area would almost certainly suffer considerably.”
  5. In a meeting with Ambassador Burns on May 31, King Hussein requested withdrawal of a small USAF detachment stationed in Jordan to provide training on F–104 aircraft to Jordanian pilots. Burns reported the meeting in telegram 3929 from Amman (cited in footnote 2, Document 107). Circular telegram 206650, June 1, states that the Jordanian Government had requested withdrawal of the USAF aircraft as well. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR) The USAF personnel and aircraft were in Jordan to provide training to Jordanian pilots for 18 F–104 aircraft Jordan was purchasing, which were scheduled to begin arriving in July 1967. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVIII, Document 373, footnote 3.