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


  • Your Talk with Eban—5:30 p.m. Today

Our original plan was to tell Eban frankly that we’ve been disturbed by Israeli actions that make Israel look as if it is being so hard-nosed that it doesn’t care whether it kills chances for a peace settlement or not. While we had no intention of lowering the boom and provoking a sharp reaction, we did not want Eban to go away feeling that our silence amounted to a blank check.

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With Secretary Rusk yesterday, Eban turned aside discussion of thorny issues and talked out the clock. He made just about the same pitch to Secretary Rusk as he had to me.2 While Eban did most of the talking, the Secretary did manage to put across the following: We understand Israel’s desire to maintain a common front, but this depends on our knowing where that front is. Israel has gone its own way, consulting us little. The Secretary also made clear that our support for secure permanent frontiers doesn’t mean we support territorial changes. (Memcon at Tab A of the attached.)3

Nick Katzenbach this morning was able to take the offensive. He argued against too great Israeli rigidity on the mechanics of negotiation. He pressed Israel’s obligation to assure Hussein that Israel wanted to live in peace with Jordan, since some of Israel’s acts since the war left doubt in Jordanian minds. He pointed out that Israel’s position on boundaries creates the impression that Israel feels free to keep everything it has conquered. He reminded Eban of Arab interests in Jerusalem. (Memcon at Tab B of the attached.)4

The one surprise in this morning’s meeting was a message for you from Eshkol (Tab C of the attached).5 This is designed to undergird Eban’s presentation with a formal statement of Israel’s position, which boils down to this: (1) Israel needs arms to take care of itself; (2) Israel hopes we can convince the Sovs that they must not continue to fan the flames of tension; (3) Israel wants the kind of security it believes only direct negotiations with the Arabs will provide. The best tack until you’ve had a chance to study the message is probably just to say you’ve read it. You might want to say we’re studying the arms requests urgently.

Nick’s memo to you is attached.6 He suggests you say you’re familiar with Eban’s earlier talks and see no need to go over the same grounds and then make these points:

Nobody knows better than we how hard it is to make peace. We also know it takes a lot of restraint to avoid escalation.
But, as you said on 19 June, we can’t afford to lose this real opportunity to build a permanent peace. Hard as it is, we have to find the way to peace this time.

This is where Nick’s recommendation stops. If you feel you can go a step further, I’d recommend adding this: We don’t kid ourselves about what the Arabs are trying to do (make Israel withdraw without paying the price of a permanent settlement). But we’re frankly afraid Israel will take such a hard position that it will kill chances for a settlement. We don’t believe time is indefinitely on the side of Israel or of peace.

We’d hate to see the discussion get bogged down in a debate over the merits of Israeli retaliation for the sinking of their destroyer,7 but we do want to make a clear record of urging restraint as Nick did this morning. We do not know whether the shelling along the Suez Canal today will satisfy the Israelis or not. But we feel strongly that any systematic retaliation will only make peace negotiations harder.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Israel, 7/1/67–2/28/68. Secret. A handwritten “L” on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. For Eban’s conversation with Rostow, see Document 482.
  3. The attachment, not printed, is a draft of telegram 58735 to Tel Aviv, October 24. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)
  4. The attachment, not printed, is a draft of telegram 58955 to Tel Aviv, October 24. (Ibid.)
  5. The message from Eshkol was transmitted in an October 23 note from Harman to Rusk, sent to the President with an undated memorandum from Katzenbach stating that it had been handed to him that morning by Eban. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Israel, 7/1/67–2/28/68)
  6. Dated October 24; attached but not printed.
  7. Israeli forces shelled Egyptian refineries and installations at Suez on October 24. A memorandum Rostow sent to the President at 5 p.m. on October 24 informed him of this and commented, “This gives you a chance not only to lean on Eban on the necessity of their struggling for peace, but letting it be known quietly that that was your message to him: there is no future for Israel or the Middle East in this kind of mutual violation of the cease-fire.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VII)