59. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

5125. 1. From the way the Soviets are handing the Middle East crisis, I conclude that they were well aware of Egyptian plans and probably not averse to the Egyptian action in stirring up this affair. I have considerable doubts however that this included the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba. The omission of reference to this action in the official Soviet statement, the fact that a high Foreign Office official alleged that he did not know of it at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, and the fact that that this would [Page 99] not fit in with what I would conceive to be Soviet strategy, lead to this conclusion. I am convinced that the Soviets would not want to become militarily physically involved in a Middle East war. If we and the British and perhaps others force the opening of the Gulf, the consequent damage to Nasser’s prestige, as well as the demonstration of Soviet impotence to render other than moral support, make this a stupid move from the Soviet point of view unless, of course, they are convinced that Nasser can get away with it. On the other hand, I do not think that if war had started without this move the Soviets would have been too concerned about their ability to stay clear and yet make appropriate noises which they could exploit whenever a settlement was reached. Even if the Israelis should clobber their Arab neighbors, the Soviets might calculate that the hatred this would engender for the West would enable them to reestablish their position in the Arab world.

2. Unless Nasser is hell bent upon having a fight, it seems natural to suppose that he has some demand which he hopes to achieve in return for a retreat on the Gulf, and in this connection the thesis put forward by the Moroccan Ambassador (USUN 5422)2 would seem to be most plausible. With UN troops on the Israeli-Syrian border, Nasser would achieve some protection for Syria which is in his and Soviet interests, but also would reduce the possibility of the Syrians stirring up a crisis at a time which might be inconvenient to him.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Priority. Repeated to USUN, Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Paris. Received at 1:18 p.m. A copy was sent to the President on May 26 at 11:30 a.m. with a memorandum from Walt Rostow noting that it was Ambassador Thompson’s assessment of the Middle East crisis. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis)
  2. Telegram 5422 from USUN, May 24. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR)