45. Briefing Notes for Director of Central Intelligence Helms for Use at a White House Meeting1
[Omitted here are pages 1–10 unrelated to the Middle East.][Page 75]
THE MIDDLE EAST
- The situation in the Middle East took a very serious turn last
night, although there is no evidence that either Israel or the Arab
nations really want a war.
- The trouble is that—except for the smaller nations like Jordan and Lebanon—neither do they want peace very badly.
- Now Nasir has
announced that he is closing the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli
shipping, and he must know that to the Israelis, this ranks
as a casus belli.
- [1 line of source text not declassified] an Egyptian coast artillery unit has been sent to take over positions being given up by the United Nations Emergency Force at the mouth of the Gulf, where the shipping channel lies within easy artillery range.
- [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
- The crisis has arisen from the persistent raids by Palestinian
terrorists, supported by Jordan, into Israel.
The Israelis trounced the Syrians in an air battle on April 7. There have been 14 terrorist incidents since then. The Israelis, concerned because the raids are showing growing capabilities, have renewed their standard warnings of retaliation.
1. [4–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
- The Syrians, chronic believers in an aggressive U.S.-Zionist conspiracy, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. The Egyptians, embarrassed because they had not helped the Syrians in April, then made a big show of marching into Sinai, partly to show good faith, partly in hopes of deterring the Israelis.
- Egyptian intentions are not yet clear. [4–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
- Our knowledge of the movements of non-bloc shipping is incomplete. [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
- At least one British and one Panamanian ship are on their way in, but we think they are bound for Aqaba, in Jordan.
- There is also one Soviet ship due to leave Aqaba. Another, now in the Mediterranean, is also bound there. We doubt that the Egyptians will bother them.
- Most important, we believe that one or more tankers must be en route from the Persian Gulf ports to Eilat because this is how petroleum reaches Israel. We have not yet identified any such tankers yet, however.
- Now the Egyptians have about 50,000 men, 71 aircraft, and 500 tanks in Sinai on or near the Israeli border. This falls short of figures claimed [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] but it is still twice as many tanks, three times the air strength, and 20,000 more men than Egypt has normally had there.
- The Israelis in turn are convinced that they are facing a new
situation, with UAR forces beefed up
and the UNEF safety mechanism
withdrawn. They have carried out at least 40 to 50 percent
mobilization as a protective measure, and are re-assessing their
security requirements. Today, Levi
Eshkol called an emergency meeting of the national
- As I remarked earlier, we have considered that the Israelis probably rate any attempt to interfere with shipping to their southern port of Eilat as a cause for war.
- They have also been quite firm in the warning that any new terrorism involving Israeli loss of life will bring some form of retaliation against the Arabs.
- We believe Tel Aviv will not accept any attempt to impose a U.N. presence or controls on Israel.
- The Soviet attitude is of the utmost importance to the Arabs at
present, [1 line of source text not
- [2 lines of source text not declassified] The Arabs, [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] they must maintain the line in their propaganda that the Soviets will somehow come to their aid.
- The Soviets face real difficulties; they don’t want a full-blown war, particularly one which could well bring U.S. commitments into play, [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] than come down unequivocally on the side of peace. Unrest and tension are and have been exceptionally useful to the Soviets in their attempt to erode Western influence in the Middle East.
- The private Soviet line was probably given to Ambassador Thompson in Moscow last Friday when Thompson told Dobrynin he hoped that the Soviets were exerting as much pressure in Syria as we were in Israel. Dobrynin answered: “I think we can match you.”
- Even with restraining Soviet pressures, the danger lies in the
fact that the leaders on each side are being moved by the chain of
events, rather than controlling those events at this point.
- The Israelis, for example, feel that they must now patrol by land and air into Sinai, and there is a hint of fatalism in the Arab moves which is clearly expressed in Nasir’s aggressive announcement about the Gulf of Aqaba.
- Under the circumstances, war can now come from accident, incident, or miscalculation.