475. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1


  • Nasty Situation on Israel-Jordan Border and Your Talk with Eban Next Tuesday

Terrorist incidents on the Israeli occupied West Bank have increased in the last couple of weeks. Sunday,2 the Israelis asked us urgently to pass a message to King Hussein requesting a meeting of Jordanian and Israeli commanders to coordinate efforts to stop infiltration across the Jordan River.3

Hussein came back and asked that the Israelis clarify what they thought such a meeting would achieve since Jordan was already making a maximum effort to stop infiltrators. His prime minister persuaded him that he shouldn’t allow this sort of contact because the Israelis would exploit it. At the same time, he told us that the Israelis could have all the contact they wanted and at higher levels if we could just get a UN resolution passed for Jordan to operate under.4

The Israelis consider Hussein’s answer evasive and claim they know he’s allowing the terrorists to operate openly in Jordan. They’ve answered that they have nothing more to say to Hussein. Publicly they’ve indicated they may have no choice but to strike at the roots of terrorism.

This sounds ominously like the noises that preceded Israel’s raid on Jordan last November and last May’s mobilization. We’ve asked Arthur Goldberg to tell Eban they’d be making a terrible mistake to strike at anyone now.5

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I pass this along because (a) it could lead to new fighting (20% likelihood) and (b) it sets the backdrop for your talk with Eban next Tuesday.6

We think Israel is pursuing a policy that’s more likely to lead to another explosion than to a peace settlement. While we appreciate their desire to let time make the Arabs more realistic, once the UN gets a mediator in the field they are going to have to show some give in their position or kill all chances for a settlement.

You will have more formal advice from Secretary Rusk before you see Eban. But the tentative judgment is that you’ll want to consider being pretty stern with him. Unless we are fairly tough, he’ll go home thinking we buy their line. The attached7 is to give you a picture of what a tough line might look like since you might like to mull over the line you want to take.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VII. Secret. A handwritten notation on the memorandum indicates it was received at 6 p.m.
  2. October 15.
  3. Telegram 1158 from Tel Aviv, October 15, reported that Bitan had asked an Embassy officer for U.S. assistance to convey a message in the Prime Minister’s name to Amman suggesting that the Jordanians designate a senior military commander to meet as soon as possible with a senior Israeli commander to discuss ways in which Israel and Jordan could coordinate their efforts to prevent Fatah crossings of the Jordan River. Bitan pointed to incidents that morning and the previous day and said he did not have to dwell on the dangers of “escalation, et cetera.” He expressed the hope that something could be done “before nightfall.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)
  4. Telegram 1893 from Jordan, October 16, reported the King’s reply. (Ibid.)
  5. Telegram 55494 to USUN, October 17, conveyed instructions to Goldberg. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB–ISR/UN) Telegram 1567 from USUN, October 20, reported that in a conversation with Rafael, Goldberg had urged against Israeli retaliatory action against Jordan. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB–ISR) Telegram 54810 to Tel Aviv, October 16, records a similar conversation between Davies and the Israeli Counselor. (Ibid.)
  6. October 24.
  7. The attachment, dated October 17, headed “Possible Line With Eban,” is not printed.