226. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Hoopes) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1
- Fundamental Problems Relating to an Armistice/Political Settlement in the Near East
While the political and military situations remain highly fluid, making comment upon them necessarily speculative, I believe we can now see the outlines of several central problems and opportunities. What follows here is a distillation of current thinking in ISA, and of certain views expressed in recent discussions of the Interdepartmental Control Group. My purpose is to provide you with an interim assessment, in terms of three or four factors that will, I believe, underlie the wide range of problems and papers you are likely to be addressing.
Whether the Middle East is on the verge of a fresh start (based upon Arab acceptance of Israeli legitimacy) turns vitally on (1) whether Nasser survives politically and (2) whether the Soviets attempt resuscitation of Nasser personally or a successor regime. The destruction of Nasser as an effective Pan-Arabist is fundamental to our hopes for gaining a reasonably quick settlement and for thus avoiding a protracted political impasse with all its dangers of further military action, polarization of the US behind Israel, or both. With Nasser removed (or discredited to the point where the Soviets deny him support), the Middle [Page 384] East would probably be relieved, for some years, of the intense and effective extremism that has been constantly stimulated by the Nasser charisma and the UAR political propaganda apparatus. With those removed or seriously discredited, reasonable dealings with individual Arab states on the basis of practical mutual interest would be far more likely for Israel, and also for the US.
Assistant Secretary Battle’s best assessment at the moment is that Nasser has less than a 50–50 chance of political survival. He thinks the nature of the succession depends on whether the group around him holds together. If it does, the successor will come from one of the top military leaders; if the Army splits, the successor regime will be faction-ridden and much weaker. A period of political chaos and impotence might follow. Battle estimates that the Soviets will probably not be willing to recapitalize Nasser on the scale required for his genuine resurrection; but he thinks they might encourage any UAR regime to oppose Israeli claims through lower scale assistance, while seeking a new Arab instrument through which to work. The most likely new instrument is Iraq, which has rather interestingly kept its political and military forces intact and relatively uncommitted during the current fighting.
ISA believes it is quite clear that the Israelis will hold fast to all of the territory gained during their remarkable military victory and will yield this up only in exchange for a political settlement which is far more substantial and basic than the armistice agreements under which they have been living since 1948. At a minimum, their demands will be assured access to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez Canal and an absolute guarantee of established frontiers. This last requirement clearly implies peace treaties (as opposed to an armistice) either guaranteed by the four major powers or resting on continued Israeli military dominance.
If Nasser is politically destroyed, it is possible that an agreement embodying most of Israel’s demands can be achieved in a reasonably short time. However, it seems more likely that any UAR regime (with or without Nasser) will try hard to drag out negotiations and especially to refuse the signing of an actual peace treaty. If there is no prompt settlement, we thus face either further Israeli military action against the UAR designed to assure the destruction of any intransigent regime, or a protracted period of inconclusive political maneuver during which the Israeli armed forces hold their ground. In either case, but particularly in the latter, Israeli stamina will depend importantly on large infusions of economic aid and military resupply; the US will be under great pressure, generated by our real interest in creating the preconditions for a fresh start in the Middle East and by our domestic political situation—to provide this.
Our principal hope of avoiding this kind of situation lies in achieving Soviet cooperation. We would want them to press the UAR into a [Page 385] basic settlement embodying most of Israel’s demands (or at least to avoid the kind of salvage operation that would encourage intransigence). The likelihood, however, is that the Soviets will not cooperate. They will probably continue to espouse the Arab cause in an effort further to polarize the political situation, putting the US behind Israel and the USSR behind the Arab world. The way to keep them from such a spoiling operation lies (1) in persuading them of the real dangers to world peace of a continuing military conflict, (2) clear indications that other Arab countries are not enthusiastic about being rearmed by the USSR, and (3) quick political settlements between Israel and other Arab states (e.g., Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia). Realization of the latter two courses are by no means out of the question. Soviet prestige is being severely damaged by the UAR debacle and the more moderate countries may find it prudent to acknowledge a new relationship with Israel. The US could be a vital influence in either case, pointing out the benefits of a new stability on the one hand, and working to moderate Israeli demands on the other.
With respect to the outcome in Jordan, there is great doubt as to Hussein’s ability to survive politically. If he should be forced to flee (which seems at the moment less likely than it did yesterday; there is apparently an effective Israeli-Jordanian cease-fire), this could mean the end of Jordan as a national entity. If Hussein departs, Deputy Under Secretary Kohler believes it quite possible that Saudi Arabia and Iraq would move in to carve up the Jordanian territory east of the Jordan River. If this happened, it would mean a drastic realignment of national boundaries in the Middle East and would greatly strengthen an Israeli claim to retention of the territory on the West Bank (which has now been gained by military means).
The Soviets are continuing military resupply to the UAR. We might usefully test the Soviet attitude on Arab support generally by probing them on the matter of continued arms aid, for it would be in the US interest to achieve an arms limitation agreement with respect to the Middle East (with UK and France also participating). This is true, in my judgment, because neither Nasser nor any likely successor regime could long resist a settlement with Israel if it did not have assurances of substantial economic and military aid from outside. Thus a Soviet agreement to arms restraint would be a signal that they were liquidating their UAR investment. The UAR would then have to settle essentially on Israeli terms in order to remove Israeli troops from the Sinai, etc. If, on the other hand, the Soviets continue to supply arms to the UAR (and perhaps also to Syria and Iraq), it will be difficult for the United States to avoid becoming a major military supplier of Israel and more closely identified with Israeli goals.[Page 386]
If there is a protracted period of uncertainty following the heavy fighting (characterized by far-reaching Israeli demands and Arab refusal to meet them), serious breakdown of social organization could occur in parts of the Middle East (especially in the remnant of Jordan and perhaps also in the UAR). This would be aggravated if the oil-producing countries felt compelled to withhold oil (their principal source of revenue) for political reasons. The situation might require a new effort, by the US or an international body, to organize relief services—food, medicines, the handling of prisoners and refugees, etc. Several alternative approaches are being considered by the State Department. While such an enterprise would be essentially humanitarian, it could be a powerful means of restoring US influence and good standing among the Arabs. On that reasoning, an organization with the US clearly in the lead would be desirable.
- Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 72 A 2468, Middle East, 092. Secret. A notation on the memorandum indicates it was seen by the Secretary of Defense on June 9.↩