30. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel 1

198955. Please deliver following reply from President to Prime Minister Eshkol’s May 18 letter (Tel Aviv 3648).2

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

Thank you for your prompt and detailed reply to my message of May 18.

Ambassador Barbour has informed me of your assurances, conveyed through Mr. Bitan yesterday, that the measures your Government is taking are precautionary in nature and that you will continue to do all you can to avoid further deterioration of the present grave situation on your borders.3 By continuing to display steady nerves you can, I am convinced make a major contribution to the avoidance of hostilities.

I fully agree that, for tranquillity to return, there is an urgent need for the cessation of terrorism and the reversal of military movements of the type we have witnessed during the past week. We and our friends have done all we can to make this amply clear in both Cairo and Damascus.

As you know, we have also been in touch with the Soviet Government and are somewhat encouraged by the tone of their reaction to our approaches. I am confident they are under no illusions about the firmness of our commitment to support appropriate measures in the United Nations, or outside,4 to counter aggression or the threat of [Page 47]aggression in the Middle East. As you so well know, that commitment was made publicly by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy as well as myself, and by the British, French and United States governments in their Tripartite Declaration in 1950. I can assure you that I hope all parties concerned will act firmly and in unison to meet any challenges to the peace.5 We have suggested to your Ambassador that you consult, as we are doing, with the other two governments with respect to these assurances.

So far as a United Nations presence on the boundary between Israel and the United Arab Republic is concerned, we strongly objected, as you know, to the Secretary General’s decision with regard to the status of the UNEF in Sinai. We continue to regard a United Nations presence in the area as important and desirable.

I have been giving serious thought to the question of what further steps we might take to ease the situation and am giving most urgent consideration to your suggestion to Ambassador Barbour that a public statement by me would have a calming effect. In making this decision, I am weighing the possible bearing of such a statement now on Secretary General Thant’s visit to Cairo. I am sure you will agree that nothing should be said or done at this time which might complicate or distract attention from the efforts of the Secretary General. In the meantime the problems discussed in your letter to me are occupying the attention of the highest officials of this government and will continue to do so until they are resolved.

With personal regards,

Sincerely,

Lyndon B. Johnson 6

Rusk
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Atherton; cleared by Battle, Eugene Rostow, and Walt Rostow; and approved by Eugene Rostow for Rusk with revisions. The President’s handwritten revisions appear on a draft copy sent to him with a May 21 memorandum from Walt Rostow noting that it had been cleared with Rusk. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. I)
  2. Document 13. Telegram 198954 to Tel Aviv, May 21, instructed Barbour in delivering the letter to stress the need to do everything possible to restore and maintain the effectiveness of the United Nations in the area. The purpose of this, it noted, was to help moderate Israeli opposition to any UN observation or peacekeeping activity on Israel’s side of the Armstice Line. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ISR–US)
  3. Barbour reported the conversation in telegram 3681 from Tel Aviv, May 19. (Ibid., POL ARAB–ISR)
  4. Johnson substituted the words “or outside” for “or to take other action on our own”.
  5. Before Johnson’s revisions, the previous two sentences read: “As you know, that commitment, which has been made publicly by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy as well as myself, and by the British, French and United States governments in their Tripartite Declaration in 1950, definitely includes Israel. I can assure you that it remains firm so far as we are concerned.”
  6. Barbour reported in telegram 3712 from Tel Aviv, May 22, that he had delivered the message to Bitan that day. He had stated that the United States felt it necessary to do everything possible to restore and maintain UN effectiveness in the area and had taken issue with Israeli opposition to a UN presence on the Israeli side of the border. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR) Foreign Minister Eban’s reaction had been “strongly negative” when Barbour raised this possibility on May 21. (Telegram 3692 from Tel Aviv, May 21; ibid.) Eugene Rostow and Battle both pressed Harman on this point in a May 22 meeting. (Telegram 198964 to Tel Aviv, May 21; ibid.)