518. Memorandum From John Foster and Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Mid-East Terrorism

Jim Critchfield2 is right in saying that terrorism increased markedly a week ago. However, it has been quiet again for the last three days.

By and large, there were few incidents during the summer. They began to increase at the end of September, and since 1 October there have been 22. The situation was serious enough by late October that the Israelis asked us to arrange a meeting between the Israeli and Jordanian military to discuss ways to stop infiltration. Hussein’s advisers talked him out of it, to the Israelis’ disgust. The most serious incidents took place in the few days after 3 November, and on 7 November the Israelis wrote a note to the UNSC. Those incidents followed a week of relative quiet, which may have resulted from caution after the previous week’s sinking of the Elath and shelling of the Suez refinery.

There are several possible explanations for this pattern:

The increase could just be part of the Arabs picking themselves up after the war and getting back to business, rather than the result of any particular decision in Damascus. After the war, the Arabs were so disorganized that they could mount only minor operations, and they weren’t sure what they ought to be attacking. By September, they had recovered enough and the political situation had solidified enough to make conditions ripe for terrorism. On top of that, Arabs viewed the Israeli line as hardening and became increasingly disillusioned with the continuing stalemate.
The increase could be the hard-liners’ answer to Khartoum. Having failed to persuade their brethren to continue the fight, they may have decided that this was their only recourse.
The Soviets may or may not have relaxed restraint. We have no clear recent evidence either of a strong restraining influence or of incitement. Nat Davis has confirmed his view in talking with State and CIA [Page 1022] colleagues that the Soviets are unlikely to see their interests served by renewed hostilities at this time. While they no doubt see the risks in renewed terrorism, they have not acted very strongly to enforce restraint and have tended to underestimate the dangers from this sort of thing. Vinogradov in Cairo and the Soviet naval visits don’t contribute to restraint.

Our view is that Hussein himself is doing his best to stop the terrorists who move across Jordan from Syria. The Israelis disagree and say that Hussein could not possibly be unaware of Jordanian military complicity. They cite such events as Jordanian artillery joining in one Jordan River fight between Israelis and terrorists, while we think the Jordanians were probably just replying to anti-terrorist shells that landed in Jordan. There is no question, however, that individual Jordanians are becoming involved, so this may be another case of the King not being in complete control. Officials, soldiers, police and people along the infiltration routes are becoming less and less inclined to interfere with the terrorists.

The Israelis have assured us that they won’t retaliate in present circumstances but the British military attaché thinks a raid is imminent. What the Israelis do will depend partly on whether they think Hussein is being cooperative in reaching a political settlement and on how much they think we’re backing him. I shouldn’t think they’d do anything while the UNSC is still in session. No Israelis have been killed recently, and this has helped keep the Israeli popular cry for revenge manageable.

Our view is that #2 above is the most likely explanation. This is consistent with all the Khartoum and post-Khartoum evidence, and so far we lack any convincing evidence of a specific Soviet decision or encouragement. The Syrians have never needed encouragement in this field, and the Soviets have never been remarkably successful in restraining them, even when Moscow tried.


  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Saunders Memos. Secret. A handwritten note on the memorandum reads: “For 2:00 p.m. meeting.” Rostow sent a copy to Eugene Rostow with a covering memorandum of the same date.
  2. James H. Critchfield, Chief of the Near East and South Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations, Central Intelligence Agency.