538. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Yaacov Herzog, Director General of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office
  • Avraham Harman, Ambassador of Israel
  • Ephraim Evron, Minister of the Israeli Embassy
  • Walt W. Rostow
  • Harold H. Saunders

Herzog said he felt we could be on the road to peace in the Middle East provided three conditions were met: (1) that the Arabs be left in no doubt about the strength of Israel’s military forces; (2) that the US continue to make clear to the Soviet Union that it will not tolerate further [Page 1057] Soviet penetration in the Middle East; and (3) that the Arabs not be given the false hope of UN or other intervention on their behalf to force a settlement on Israel.

Herzog recalled his discussion with Mr. Rostow last March and noted that the June war may turn out to be the milestone in blunting the latest Soviet thrust into the Middle East. The Egyptians are backing out of Yemen and pose less of a threat in Aden. The Arabs are disillusioned with Soviet commitments. If the US stands firm in New York against the Soviet UN resolution, the Arabs will realize further that only the US has the power and influence to bring about a reasonable settlement.

Mr. Rostow said he did not disagree seriously with specific points Dr. Herzog had made, but said he would prefer a somewhat different formulation. Mr. Rostow said that, while the US obviously has an important role to play in the Middle East, what will really determine the future shape of the Middle East is more in Israel’s hands than in ours. The moderates (we define them as those leaders who have rejected nationalist adventures and turned their attention to internal development) have gained ground in the Middle East over the past several years. Whether or not they continue on their course or are consumed in building for another round of Arab-Israeli fighting will depend on Israel’s posture in the coming months. If these moderates find that they have no resource but to give in to popular pressures and prepare for another round of fighting, the door will be further opened to Soviet penetration. If, on the other hand, the moderates appear to have a reasonable chance of reaching an accommodation with Israel, the chances of their surviving and prospering increase markedly. This is in Israel’s hands, not in ours.

Mr. Rostow went on to cite our experience in dealing with the Soviet Union elsewhere. We had found in the Berlin crisis, in Cuba and in Vietnam, that the way some of these problems get isolated is not by any direct US–USSR confrontation, but in the end by the local forces which build up around the problem area. In Latin America, for instance, Castro has been all but isolated because Latin Americans have turned their attention to bigger regional issues and have found hope in them rather than in going Castro’s route.

When the conversation turned to the meaning of the Soviet introduction of its own resolution in the United Nations Security Council, Ambassador Harman suggested that the main Soviet motivation was to spoil the possibility of a settlement process getting under way and to keep the pot simmering in the Middle East. Mr. Rostow countered by saying that, although his mind remained open, two points kept him from accepting that view categorically: (1) If there is no possibility of a settlement, the Soviet Union would have to count on picking up the bill for UAR survival; (2) The USSR would have to assume that there might [Page 1058] well be another round of fighting if there is no settlement, because of the rising trend of terrorism and likelihood of Israeli retaliation. Moscow should have learned in May and June that it can not control these forces in the Middle East and shouldn’t count on being able to keep the pot just simmering without boiling over. The USSR is traditionally uncomfortable in situations it does not control.

The Israelis concluded the conversation by reiterating the importance of our resisting any Soviet efforts to pass their resolution or using it to dilute the British resolution.2

Harold H. Saunders 3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Saunders Files, Israel, 11/1/67–2/29/68. Secret. Filed with a covering memorandum of November 24 from Saunders to Walt Rostow that summarized a portion of a conversation among Herzog, Davies, Atherton, Evron, and Saunders during lunch. Davies and Saunders pressed Herzog about Israeli attitudes toward a settlement, saying they saw two Israeli policies: one prepared to accept a compromise to get a settlement, and one that appeared designed to scuttle all chances of a settlement by hardening Israel’s terms while paving the way for Israeli settlement of the captured territories. Herzog replied that the Israeli Government was deeply divided, and no one would know where the balance lay until the Cabinet had to accept or reject a specific proposal. He said his own guess was that in that moment of truth, desire for a peace settlement would be “overriding” and that those willing to gamble on a reasonable settlement would win over those who would rather bet on the physical security that they felt the current borders provided. Copies of the memorandum of conversation were sent to McGeorge Bundy, Nathaniel Davis, and Roy Atherton.
  2. A conversation the afternoon of November 21 between Herzog and Harman and Battle is recorded in part in a memorandum of conversation and in telegram 72855 to Tel Aviv, November 22. Telegram 72855 states Battle raised the subject of recent Israel-Jordan shooting incidents, noting that in the U.S. view, they were disturbing and inherently dangerous, and that the Israeli posture before the world was “placed in jeopardy by such acts as shelling of refugee village and escalating to use of aircraft.” He expressed the hope that Israel and Jordan would agree to accept UN military observers along the Jordan-Israel cease-fire line. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR) Further documentation related to these incidents and U.S. expressions of concern about them is ibid.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.