82. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State 1

3808. Ref: State 2037962 and 203752.3

1.
Eshkol in continuous session with colleagues and military. FonOff rep called me in great urgency 1100 hours to ask if I had report Eban conversation with President. No report received by GOI. In view obvious agitation of caller I judged situation critical and called at Defense Ministry at once where I conveyed to Levavi (Director General FonOff) who immediately informed Eshkol substance reftels re conversations with President and UnSec Rostow.
2.
Believe this helpful. However, Israelis took occasion embark on emotional, evidently sincere, exposition their thesis that evidence available to them conclusive that Nasser has “crossed his Rubicon” and surprise aerial attack expected any moment. My remonstrances that our most careful and equally authoritative assessment is to contrary were [Page 156]met by argument we behind times and essential intelligence this regard had been received in last few hours. They talked in terms of surprise air strike knocking out Israeli airfields and rendering their response ineffective. They said they had intercepts of Egyptian messages to confirm situation as they see it. Also frightened by fact four MIGs overflew Israel yesterday and Israeli Airforce not able intercept.
3.
Levavi also read translation note received last evening from Soviet Ambassador advising caution and saying Soviets not want war Middle East. But, Israelis added, this not what Egyptian War Minister Moscow telling Cairo. Note seemed to me mild in tone and sound in content. I asked if Soviet Ambassador indicated similar message sent Nasser and they said he had said he did not know. I said I would think similar message probably has been sent Nasser.
4.
Clearly, Israeli military pressing very hard for authority to take preemptive action and probably threatening Eshkol with dire military consequences for Israel if he does not do so. I emphasized again and again in strongest terms I could muster President’s statement to Eban that “they would not be alone unless they decide to go alone.” Also said essential at minimum they await Eban’s arrival with full report before taking any action. They gave impression Eshkol will do so.
5.
Broadest impact this session with me is that GOI cannot be convinced Nasser will not strike first. If he does, Israelis have no secondary response capability and they think they likely be lost. Crunch in government decision is what specifically we prepared do in event they eschew initiative and rely on our intervention if Egyptian attack occurs.
6.
Levavi said in most earnest voice that, in his view, immediate despatch covertly of U.S. military officer to talk in terms U.S. estimates and capabilities directly with Israeli military might succeed in lessening IDF apprehensions to acceptable degree. In circumstances, if at all possible, I urge that we send such an officer. Eban may be able provide voice of reason on his arrival but I am convinced GOI situation so closely balanced as of moment that this additional exercise worth the effort.
Barbour
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II. Top Secret; Flash; Nodis. Received at 8:23 a.m.
  2. See footnotes 2, 5, and 6, Document 81.
  3. Telegram 203752 to Tel Aviv, May 26, summarized Eugene Rostow’s May 25 conversation with Eban after the latter’s meeting with Rusk. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR) See footnote 2, Document 64.