36. Letter From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Rostow) to the Israeli Ambassador (Harman)1

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

This will acknowledge your letter to me, delivered on May 20.2 I think it useful to review our conversation of May 18 in light of our several discussions over the last few days and President Johnson’s messages to Prime Minister Eshkol of May 18, 1967,3 and May 21, 1967,4 well as the United States Memorandum of February 11, 1957.5

In our view, as I said to you in our talks on the subject, the problem of the Gulf of Aqaba, like other aspects of the situation, is governed by the policy set forth in the President’s letters to Prime Minister Eshkol.

The United States’ position is that the present grave problem should be handled in a peaceful manner, preferably through the United Nations. We understand and appreciate the calm and deliberate way in which your government is reacting to this latest crisis.

We share your concern about reports that United Arab Republic troops have taken up positions at Sharm-el-Sheikh. You will recall that [Page 63] I pointed out that the presence of United Arab Republic troops on United Arab Republic territory is not in itself illegal.

The United States’ position on the international status of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Strait of Tiran is set forth in this government’s memorandum of February 11, 1957, made public on February 17, and quoted in Ambassador Lodge’s statement in the General Assembly on March 1. 1957. I am enclosing a copy of this memorandum for your convenience.6

Should there be any attempt to interfere with free and innocent passage through the Strait or in the Gulf, the United States Government would wish to consult immediately with the Government of Israel, and with the other governments which took the same view in 1957, about steps to keep the Gulf open. We would expect the Government of Israel to work together with those governments to bring this matter to the immediate attention of the United Nations Security Council.

My Government is proceeding in this matter, as the President made clear in his letter to Prime Minister Eshkol of May 18, on the basis that Israel will take no unilateral military action at any time. Military operations at this time, in our view, may well lead to general hostilities in the area. We are convinced that the issue of the Strait of Tiran must be handled as an international matter.7

Yours sincerely,

Eugene V. Rostow 8
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–2 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Eugene Rostow, Meeker, and Rostow’s Staff Assistant Robert T. Grey, and cleared by Rusk, Walt Rostow, Goldberg, Battle, Meeker, and Popper. A May 20 letter from Eugene Rostow was sent to Walt Rostow on May 21 with a covering memorandum from Department of State Deputy Executive Secretary John P. Walsh requesting that it be brought to the attention of the President. Walt Rostow sent it to the President for his approval with a covering memorandum of May 21. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. I) The letter printed here is a revised version of the May 20 letter, which was not sent. The text of the letter printed here was transmitted to the Embassy in Tel Aviv in telegram 199930, May 23. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Middle East Crisis Files, E. 5190, Box 6, Arab-Israeli Crisis, Chron, Tel Aviv)
  2. Harman’s undated letter to Rostow stated that in their May 18 conversation (see Document 15), Rostow had informed Harman that the U.S. Government was fully aware of the “nature of the agreements between our two Governments in 1957 relating to Sharm-el-Sheikh and the straits”, was still “motivated by these commitments”, and regarded the straits as an international waterway. He stated that Foreign Minister Eban and Prime Minister Eshkol welcomed Rostow’s “assurances” regarding the “reaffirmation of the agreement between our two countries”, and that he was therefore instructed to inform Rostow that Israel would not move against the Egyptian forces in Sharm-el-Sheikh unless and until the Egyptians took action to close the straits. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–2 ARAB–ISR)
  3. For text of Johnson’s message of May 17, delivered on May 18, see Document 8.
  4. For text of Johnson’s message of May 21, see Document 30.
  5. See Document 32 and footnote 6 thereto.
  6. The attachment is headed “Memorandum of February 11, 1957.” The text consists of the portion of the published version of the aide-mémoire quoted in Document 32.
  7. The last three sentences in the May 20 version of Rostow’s letter read as follows: “My Government will expect Israel to take no unilateral military action to open the Straits until all peaceful means have been fully utilized. It further believes that since military activities at this particular point would be very likely to open up general hostilities in the area, the issue of the Strait of Tiran should be handled as an international matter. In this effort, Israel will have the full support of the United States.”
  8. Printed from a copy that indicates Rostow signed the original.