339. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rusk 1
- The Current Situation in the UAR and its Bearing on UAR Approaches to the US and France
The Situation in the UAR
General. We believe that Nasser remains in control in Egypt and that he has not become a figurehead for a real governing group. Nasser’s control, however, is threatened by a variety of conflicting forces and factions within and outside the UARG. He is seeking ways out of his predicament and apparently hopes to convince France and perhaps the United States that he deserves bailing out. INR has used all available sources in this analysis, but reliable information is very scanty. Two of our primary sources have been the alleged Egyptian note to the French Government of 20 June2 and the overtures made by Salah Nasir.3 These are separately analyzed and commented upon in Part II of this memorandum.
Military. There appears to be fairly serious disaffection in the military. Figures given by various sources on the number of military officers dismissed ranges from 200 to 750; the truth probably lies somewhere between two figures. Many of those dismissed probably have been ousted not because of “incompetence,” but because their loyalty to the [Page 600] regime was suspect; this would explain why some of them are reported to have been put under house arrest. These developments tend to support earlier reports of disaffection among the military; they lend credibility to reports that the military pressured Nasser into his June 9 resignation. The military appears to be the only center of effective opposition to Nasser. There is a report that there has been considerable resistance within the army to purge of these “incompetents.”
There are also reports of popular resentment against the military and their performance. This resentment appears to be fed by the stories told by the defeated troops returning from the front.
Civilian Administration. A good source has reported that as of June 20 Cairo was confused and disorganized and that the whole machinery of government was dislocated. Nasser’s reorganization of the government on June 19 probably was done to halt this trend by bringing the government machinery more directly under his control. Nasser now appears to be trying to cope simultaneously with disaffection in the army, rising discontent among the public and the administration, momentous foreign and Arab policy problems, and staggering economic ones. To judge from reports, the load is becoming almost too great for him to cope with and he is grasping at straws. Nasser’s subordination of the UAR’s pressing economic needs to his political objectives has put the UAR economy in a parlous state. His closing of the Suez Canal, his urging the Arab states to break relations with the US and the UK, and his inciting the Arab oil producing states to cut off oil to the US and the UK are designed to force the West and the world community to pressure Israel to give up the gains it has made since June 5. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that these measures are hurting the UAR much more than they are damaging Nasser’s intended targets and they are beginning seriously to threaten his regime. The USSR, apparently, is unable and/or unwilling to take up the economic slack. Therefore, Nasser may feel that he may have to make some concessions to the West in order to get the necessary economic aid.
Forces of the Left and the Right. The setback seems to have caused a reaction against socialism in at least some quarters in the UAR. It probably is connected with the feeling that the USSR has let the UAR down. This reaction probably has emanated from middle-class elements and from similar elements in the armed forces. They probably are opposed to ’Ali Sabri and his Arab Socialist Union forces. The coloration of the government formed by Nasser on June 19 appears to show a desire on the part of Nasser to soften criticism from these rightist elements. It probably was designed also to attract support from the US.
On the other hand, there reportedly have been arrests of rightist elements in the administration and in the army, indicating that the ASU, ’Ali Sabri and his associates are still able to act against their rivals. The [Page 601] rightists apparently had been attempting to arouse into action the anti-revolutionary and anti-communist forces in the UAR. The USSR apparently is trying to pressure Nasser into letting it carry the ball for the Arabs in the international arena. The Soviets undoubtedly feel that he bungled the job as he bungled the military confrontation with Israel. The USSR probably is resupplying the UAR with arms more in hope of keeping up their credit with the UAR military than with Nasser. Yet to abdicate to anyone else the political role of championing the Arabs against Israel would be unbearable for Nasser. Furthermore, Nasser seems to feel that the Soviets would not be above selling him out, and he probably suspects that they may have Algeria and Syria in mind as replacements for the UAR. The Egyptian communist leadership appears to believe that it is now in a position to exert more influence on UAR policies. This leadership is reported to be advocating the UAR’s maintaining a violent anti-Western line and keeping pressure on the Arab oil-producing countries to deny oil to the West. To this end, it is likely that Soviet propaganda will continue to allege collusion between Israel on the one hand and the West and its regional allies on the other. The Soviet aim, however, would probably not be to provoke renewed Arab–Israeli hostilities.
Nasser is struggling with the burden of having to fight on many different fronts, both internal and external. He probably has become suspicious and distrustful of many of the members of his old guard who, he feels, have failed him. But at the same time he is in extremis, and probably is inclined to let them do what they can to salvage the situation. We do not believe that Nasser as yet has become a figurehead. For one thing, we cannot identify any leader or group of leaders who would be manipulating Nasser and who might have been behind the note to the French Government. (See Part II) Such a group probably would have its nucleus in the armed forces, and there might be leftist as well as rightist groups of this nature. In the absence of better intelligence on conditions in the armed forces, we cannot say to what degree organized anti–Nasser trends exist.
The Authors of the Documents
These documents appear to fall into two groups: 1) Those that emanate from GID Director Salah Nasir, either explicitly or inferentially. It seems likely, as observed in the commentaries on them, that the “Director” and the “friend” refer to Salah Nasir himself; 2) The document of June 18 that was submitted to the French on June 20 by the UAR Embassy in Paris. It is less clear who the people behind this document are.[Page 602]
Salah Nasir’s Orientation
The documents attributable to Salah Nasir show an evolution in his attitude from June 9 to June 27 as follows:
From June 9 through 23 Salah Nasir was afraid for his own position, presumably as a result of the purges and the arrests of “rightists” being carried out in both military and civilian circles in the UAR. The source of a TDCS reporting events as of June 20 claimed that Salah Nasir himself had been dismissed and put under house arrest. While incorrect, the report is indicative of the type of rumors that were circulating and of the general atmosphere of uncertainty.
Salah Nasir’s main concern on the policy side was that the US should assume a more pro-Arab position in the UN, etc., to prevent the USSR from monopolizing the role of champion of the Arabs in their dispute with Israel. This could well reflect the concern of Nasser himself, who clearly has been worried over this prospect. Salah Nasir may have been delegated by President Nasser to lay the groundwork for an improvement in US–UAR relations.
On June 24 there was a decided shift in Salah Nasir’s line. In the aide-mémoire given to Secretary Rusk by Fanfani on that date, and in Salah Nasir’s June 25 conversation with [name not declassified], Salah Nasir reiterates that he is talking to [name not declassified] with Nasser’s knowledge, but that Nasser did not know of his approach to the US through the Italians. Salah Nasir now gives the clear impression that he is talking less as a spokesman for Nasser and more on his own initiative. The subject of Salah Nasir’s proposals shifts from that of asking for a pro-Arab stance by the US to a presentation of the concessions that Salah was willing to make in order to get a Western pledge of 30–year economic aid to the UAR. On June 25, Salah Nasir admitted that he couldn’t go to Rome to meet with a US plenipotentiary if Nasser refused, but said that if Nasser didn’t approve the trip, he (Salah) wanted to continue the discussions with [name not declassified]—apparently whether Nasser agreed or not. For the first time, Salah Nasir expressed disdain for President Nasser.
On June 26 (in the report [1 line of source text not declassified]) there is the first clear indication of a seditious attitude by Salah Nasir. The report states that Salah Nasir, supported by the dismissed Marshal Amir, is determined to take extreme anti–Nasser action in favor of the West. Nasser could be got rid of and the transition carried out by Zakariya Muhi al-Din, Salah Nasir, and their friends behind the scenes. This group, he claimed, had the armed forces and the intelligence services solidly in their hands. On the same day, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reported that Salah Nasir had said that President Nasser “flinched” at the idea of de facto recognition of Israel presented [Page 603] to him as a necessary step by Salah Nasir. This suggests that the conditions for the negotiations were not dictated by Nasser, but were left to Salah Nasir to draw up. However, Nasser didn’t object to pursuing the negotiations. The [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] report stated that Salah Nasir, Zakariya Muhi al-Din, and ’Amir wanted to use the proposed negotiations as a first step to unseat Nasser.
The Orientation of the Authors of the Proposal Presented to the French on June 20
This proposal, which is dated June 18, contains the same general elements as those in the note purportedly drafted by an unidentified group of high UAR military and civilian officials on June 18 and presented by the UAR Embassy to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 20. These common features are 1) Recognition of Israel, 2) Free passage for Israel through the Strait of Tiran, 3) Request for economic aid, and 4) Request that negotiations be conducted with a personal emissary of Presidents Johnson and De Gaulle respectively and not through normal diplomatic channels. However, there are also differences. Salah Nasir’s proposals, which include Israeli compensation to Arab civilians, are noticeably less liberal than those contained in the June 18 note submitted to the French. Furthermore, the authors of the June 18 note designate Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal, the influential editor of the Cairo daily al-Ahram, as the person to deal with the personal emissary whom it requests De Gaulle to send. Salah Nasir, on the other hand, talking to Brommel on June 23, specifically rejected Haykal as “an opportunist with little influence” and designated himself as negotiator with the Americans. This fact suggests that someone other than Salah Nasir is speaking for the authors of the June 18 note to the French.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that both the Paris note and Salah Nasir’s proposal go back to a single inspiration. This inspiration probably is President Nasser himself. The Yugoslav correspondent Milenkovic, writing in the Belgrade paper Borba (Belgrade tel. 3704, June 23, 1967 LOU), after the formation of the new UAR Government on June 19, noted that there was a realization in Cairo that only through negotiations and “crucial concessions” to Israel on the subjects of navigation and recognition could Israel be induced to give up its territorial gains made at the UAR’s expense. There probably was also a realization, both before and after Podgorny’s visit of June 22, that the UAR could not get from the USSR the economic aid it desperately needed; this aid could come only from the US or France, and concessions would have to be made to them also.[Page 604]
Nasser, however, appears to have realized that he could not hope to get the required aid in his own name. Therefore, he may have delegated one group to deal with the French, as he had delegated Salah Nasir to deal with the Americans. This hypothesis would explain his long delay in deciding whether to sanction Salah Nasir’s trip to Rome to talk with a US representative—Nasser was waiting to see the results of the approach to De Gaulle.
The anti-Nasser sentiments expressed in the case of the approaches to the US and France probably should be received with caution. They may have been designed, along with the effusive promise of pro-Western policy orientation, to “sweeten” the proposals in the eyes of the recipients. The note to the French does not talk of getting rid of Nasser; this idea is expressed only by the source who gave the copy of the note to Guest, and even then (as in the case of Salah Nasir) it is postponed into the future. Furthermore, the note stresses that Haykal, with whom the French representative was to negotiate, is a “confidant of President Nasser.” Haykal is not known to have defected from Nasser. Salah Nasir’s anti–Nasser attitude may have similarly been designed for its effect on the US. We have only his word that he has a group—including ’Amir and Zakariya Muhi al-Din—behind him. He gives the impression of being mainly concerned with the preservation of his own position. It is clear that he has some kind of a mandate from Nasser to negotiate with the Americans, and he undoubtedly is convinced that his position will be a lot safer if he is able to extract aid from the US.
Any aid extended to the UAR as a result of these approaches to France and the US probably would tend to perpetuate Nasser in power, We do not yet seem to have a clearly-identifiable group of anti-Nasserists who appear capable of taking and continuing the exercise of power. Nasser is an extremely adroit manipulator of men and their ambitions, and as long as he remains at the top it is difficult to believe that he could be a mere figurehead controlled by some group behind the scenes. Nagib learned this to his disadvantage some thirteen years ago. As long as Nasser or any other rulers of the UAR are in a position to play the USSR off against the US, it is unlikely that they would recognize Israel, although they might hold out to the West the prospect that they would do so in return for Western support. Nasser and others in the UAR may now also feel they can make Soviet control of the UAR a main issue in their bargaining for aid from the West. Even if the West supplies the aid, however, the UAR would still have to play ball with the Soviets because it is utterly dependent on them for arms and the High Dam. Hence, any talk of orienting the UAR’s policy completely toward the West would seem quite unrealistic.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15 UAR. Top Secret; Nodis. No drafting information appears on the memorandum.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 311.↩
- A message received on June 24 stated that the “director,” who was presumed to be head of UAR intelligence Salah Nasr, was ready to fly to Rome to meet with a presidential emissary for negotiations on the basis of “de facto” recognition of Israel, Israeli withdrawal to the June 4 borders, guarantee of the borders by a UN force, free passage in the Strait of Tiran, compensation for civilian damages in Arab countries during the war, and a pledge by the United States and other Western countries for a 30–year plan of economic development for the UAR. The U.S. reply stated that Ambassador to Italy G. Frederick Reinhardt would be willing to meet in Rome for discussions. (Telegram 215944 to Rome, June 24; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. VII) A subsequent message stated that Salah Nasr had persuaded President Nasser to allow negotiations with the United States to proceed, on condition that they be handled by Fawzi and Rusk. (Memorandum to Katzenbach and Walt Rostow, July 5; ibid.) Further documentation concerning these overtures is ibid. and in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL UAR–US.↩