15. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Posts1

197665. 1. During call by Israeli Ambassador Harman on Under Secretary Rostow and Assistant Secretary Battle afternoon May 18, Rostow reported he had just called in Soviet Charge (a) to apprise him of rumors being spread by Syria in Middle East that Syria had unlimited Soviet political and military support and (b) to state we “assumed” and “hoped” this not true. Soviet Charge indicated he doubted rumors were true.2

2. Re reports SYG would order UNEF withdrawal, Harman suggested every effort should be made to play for time by (a) stressing logistical problems involved and (b) raising legal questions-e.g. need to consult members UNEF Advisory Commission per earlier Hammarskjold position.

3. Rostow agreed delaying tactics desirable; problem was that, despite valid question whether SYG has authority withdraw UNEF, he might simply announce decision to do so. Hopeful sign was that SYG reportedly anxious go to Middle East and now awaiting Cairo reaction this proposal.

4. Harman summarized Israeli intelligence re UAR buildup in Sinai along lines Tel Aviv’s 3639,3 adding that there had also been reinforcement UAR air power in Sinai. Harman indicated GOI now revising earlier estimate that UAR military moves were only for show; such concentration of troops near Israeli borders required GOI take precautionary measures. In summary Harman said key elements in situation were (a) need to preserve UNEF and exert pressure on Cairo to withdraw UAR forces, (b) effect of UAR buildup on Syrians and (c) Soviet role, which he considered most important of all. Expressing appreciation [Page 25] for USG approach to Soviets, Harman urged we continue pressing USSR.

5. Rostow said he hoped report was not true that UAR had moved troops to Sharm el-Shaikh. Even if this was the case, however, it would be mistake to initiate any action against such deployment of Egyptian troops on Egyptian soil. Rostow emphasized USG would not wish to see Gulf of Aqaba closed but nothing should be done until and unless this was attempted. (Rostow made it clear in previous discussions that no action should be taken without prior consultation.)

6. In subsequent conversation with Battle, Harman stated there had been USG-GOI agreement, at time Gulf opened to Israel, with respect to grave consequences of any future interference with Israeli shipping.4 Battle emphasized that important thing was not to assume interference would occur as result presence UAR troops at Sharm el-Shaikh; these two aspects of problem should be kept separate.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Drafted by Atherton and cleared by Eugene Rostow. Sent to Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amman, Baghdad, Damascus, Jidda, Beirut, Kuwait, Dhahran, London, USUN, Paris, Jerusalem, Moscow, and CINCSTRIKE/CINCMEAFSA.
  2. Telegram 197661 to Moscow, May 18, informed the Embassy of Rostow’s conversation with Soviet Charge Tcherniakov and suggested “making same point in low key in Moscow.” (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB–ISR) Ambassador Thompson reported in telegram 5016 from Moscow, May 19, that he told Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during a brief luncheon discussion that day that the United States was using its influence to calm the situation and hoped the Soviets were exercising as much pressure in Syria as the United States was in Israel. Dobrynin replied, “I think we can match you.” (Ibid., POL ARAB–ISR)
  3. See footnote 5, Document 13.
  4. See Document 36.