25. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

198916. Ambassador Harman called urgently on Under Secretary Rostow morning May 20.

Harman said GOI pleased to note reaffirmation 1957 agreement re status Gulf of Aqaba.2 GOI considers this most solid agreement between governments within framework U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. GOI has also noted U.S. injunction Israel not move unless Egyptians take [Page 35] action to close straits. Under Secretary replied there is no disagreement on gravity of situation. 1957 understanding valid but should be read in context President’s letter re consultation. Should Egyptians block passage of Israeli shipping, we should consult as to measures to be taken.
Ambassador Harman reported “disturbing conversation” between FonMin Eban and Soviet Ambassador. Latter asserted terror incidents on Syrian border work of CIA, adding “We have warned you. You are responsible. You are responding to provocation by CIA.” Harman said this raised possibility we may be getting double talk from Soviets. Supporting this, he noted Syrian press and radio trumpeting Soviet Novostny Agency statement that Soviets stood behind Syria and would support if Israel attacked. Ambassador thought it important to get to the Soviets since they and the Syrians now were “pointing the finger.” Situation raised possibility of Soviet-Syrian-Egyptian collusion. He also stressed great importance of prompt public and diplomatic reaffirmation USG support of Israel against aggression. Under Secretary replied that request will be at forefront our considerations.
Under Secretary asked whether Israel knew French view on the validity of the Tripartite Declaration. Harman replied the French were taking serious view of situation and intervening in Cairo. Under Secretary said it would be useful if Israel could clarify French position for if situation becomes bad, Tripartite planning would be useful. Ambassador Harman indicated that while Israel had liaison with French military, there had been no joint planning.
Ambassador Harman reverted to importance Israel ascribed to right of passage through Gulf of Aqaba, noting that the British, French, and Canadians had been involved with us in 1957 assurances. Stressed importance U.S. policy remaining diplomatically apparent.
Harman said U.S. DefAtts briefed yesterday in Israel on danger posed Israel by UAR deployments which now clearly taking form offensive posture. This had required precautionary measures on Israel’s part.
Ambassador Harman said Ambassador Barbour had been asked to see whether U.S. destroyer which had departed Gulf of Aqaba after visit Jordan could not reenter and visit Eilat. Davies (NEA) who present said ship was unarmed flagship COMIDEASTFOR and now in Yenbo. Department believed that given furor raised by PriMin Eshkol’s remarks re role Sixth Fleet, unscheduled appearance U.S. naval unit might well aggravate situation.3
Ambassador noted Israeli intelligence reports UAR forces had gas and troops equipped with gas masks. Asked for urgent response Israel’s request purchase 20,000 masks.4 He noted that when gas first used Yemen, Golda Meir remarked that if Nasser gets to point of using gas on Arab brothers, we must expect the worst.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Davies, cleared by Popper, and approved by Under Secretary Rostow. Also sent priority to Cairo, Moscow, and USUN.
  2. Reference is apparently to Harman’s May 18 conversations with Rostow and Battle; see Document 15.
  3. Telegram 198809 to Tel Aviv, May 20, states that the Department had given careful consideration to Bitan’s request for a U.S. destroyer visit to Eilat but had concluded that it would not contribute to a lessening of tension. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR)
  4. A May 19 memorandum from NSC Executive Secretary Bromley K. Smith to Walt Rostow states that Eugene Rostow had called to report that he had given Department of State approval to the shipment of 20,000 gas masks; the shipment was to be processed over the weekend. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. I)