385. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Bundy) to President Johnson1


  • The Middle East as we Approach the Weekend

I foresee no major action issue before Monday2 so this memo is for information—and a little advance notice for things that may come up for decision next week.

Walt passed me your message of approval on our plan to reply to Hussein.3 I will ask Nick to have another look at the question of the lawyer, but I think our second thoughts will be the same as our first—that the advantage of having a lawyer we can talk to outweighs the risk of guilt by association.

The Israelis are now telling us that they are not ready for serious talks (though they can handle opening feelers), and it looks as if it would take a little time to get this thing going in any event.

Arthur Goldberg tells me that the most recent effort to get an agreed resolution on substance has run up against an Arab stone wall. It was a good game to play out, and I think he handled it extremely well in the face of Israeli worries which were both foolish and foolishly expressed. He is talking this afternoon with the Russians about a procedural resolution, and it is conceivable that the General Assembly may wind up today—although its capacity for continued existence should not be underrated. (He has just called to say he and Gromyko agreed on a procedural resolution and the General Assembly will wind up today.)4
As you may remember, we have a tentative plan (as we told the oil men, Nickerson and Rambin) to make a new statement after the General Assembly. If you agree, I think the best time for such a statement would be early next week, perhaps in the context of a press conference if you plan to have one. The State Department and I will be drafting over the weekend and we will hope to have a fresh draft for you on Monday.

With the end of the Assembly, we shall also wish to look again at the arms registration proposal. As you may remember, the first step in that scenario will probably be a letter to the Secretary General. The Department is slowly making progress toward acceptance of your decision for a plan which could include a unilateral U.S. decision to register shipments if others will not play ball. We all feel strongly that no move should be made until the General Assembly is out of our hair, and there are other diplomatic subtleties in the draft scenario, but it does look as if we will have such a scenario for your consideration early next week.

One element in this problem that you can judge better than the rest of us is whether an arms registration initiative limited to the Middle East would help or hurt in the arms sale row on the Hill. Some think that it might simply lead Reuss or McCarthy to try to extend the principle worldwide. Others think it would show us moving in a useful direction on a specific problem. Dean Rusk holds the latter view, but he and I agree that your judgment is best on this question, and you do not have to decide it until you see the full scenario and the opening shot to the Secretary General next week.

The next really tough issue may be arms for Israel. Wally Barbour reports that their losses are more serious than they are telling us on other channels, and there are some intelligence reports which suggest that Nasser or the Syrians may be tempted into some act of folly like a sudden air attack some time in the next weeks. We think the odds are against such an action, and still more strongly against any real Arab victory, but we all remember the lessons of May and June, and if the Israelis really come in hard for early airplanes, we would be right up against the hard set of bargaining questions which I have mentioned before.

The immediate problem is to get a clear fix on the situation (as well as our own available supplies). The Israelis still seem less concerned than some of our own people. Rusk and McNamara will be concerting a recommendation to you on this in the next few days. It may take the form of a proposal that we let the Israelis send a top air officer over here some time after Bob’s military assistance testimony.

As a matter of information, I might add that the Israelis are now telling us that they could not support any U.S. arms shipment to Jordan in the current mood of their country. If and when we send the Israelis [Page 709] some stuff, we shall at a minimum have to move them off this new hard line.

Finally, I should report that there are a number of other signs of hardening Israeli positions up and down the line. Their intemperate reaction to Goldberg’s skillful round with Gromyko, their edginess about the Jordanian negotiations, their increasing interest in solutions that would not return the West Bank to Jordan, and the evidence of political jockeying among their leaders (each tougher than the other) make me think that the time is coming for American words and actions which will have at least a constructive effect in knocking you off the top of the Israeli polls. The trick will be to achieve that result without any parallel impact at home.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, U.S. Position-Discussion. No classification marking. Sent through and initialed by Walt Rostow. A handwritten notation on the memorandum indicates it was received at 4:45 p.m., and the President saw it.
  2. July 24.
  3. See footnote 1, Document 382.
  4. On the evening of July 21, the General Assembly adopted the draft resolution introduced by Austria, Finland, and Sweden, by a vote of 63 to 26 with 27 abstentions, with the United States voting in favor. Resolution 2256 (ES–V) asked the Secretary-General to forward to the Security Council the records of the fifth emergency special session to facilitate the Council’s resumption of its consideration of the Middle East situation, and decided to adjourn the fifth emergency special session temporarily and to authorize the President of the General Assembly to reconvene it as and when necessary. The text is printed in the Department of State Bulletin, August 14, 1967, p. 218. Rusk commented to Goldberg in a telephone conversation the next day that it was an extraordinary result that the United States and the Soviet Union voted together against the Arabs, with Israel abstaining. Goldberg thought they were “off stride in the Kremlin”, and Rusk thought “we came out of this very well”. (Notes of telephone conversation July 22, 9:43 a.m.; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls)