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

203943. You are instructed to proceed at once whatever the hour or the circumstances to deliver the following message from the President to the Prime Minister2 even if the Cabinet is sitting.3

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“Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I have just this afternoon received a most important and private message from the Soviet Union. I am sharing its contents with you on a personal and intimate basis. It should under no circumstances become public.

The Soviets tell me that they have information that you are preparing to take military action against your Arab neighbors, and provoke a conflict which would be fraught with great consequences. They emphasize their commitment to restraint on all sides and the Soviet view that solutions must be found without a military conflict. They tell us that they know the Arabs do not wish a military conflict. The message adds, however, that if Israel begins military action, the Soviets will give aid to the countries attacked. This message also makes clear the Soviet view that the Soviet Union, the Arab peoples and the people of Israel are not interested in a conflict.4 The Soviet Union appeals to us to take all measures to insure that there be no military conflict. They state that they will undertake measures in the same direction.

Mr. Eban will be reporting to you fully on my talk with him, and on our interest in the safety and vital concerns of Israel.

As your friend, I repeat even more strongly what I said yesterday to Mr. Eban. Israel just must not take any preemptive military action5 and thereby make itself responsible for the initiation of hostilities.6

In my reply to the Soviets I shall of course take up your and our common views about the international character of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Strait of Tiran.

Yours faithfully,

Lyndon B. Johnson”

If any explanation is necessary, you should add that the British and we are proceeding urgently to prepare the military aspects of the international naval escort plan, and that other nations are responding vigorously to the idea. The Dutch and Canadians have already joined, even before a text was presented to them. With that assurance of international determination to make every effort to keep the straits open to the [Page 164]flags of all nations, unilateral action on the part of Israel would be irresponsible and catastrophic.

Rusk
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Top Secret; Flash; Nodis; Literally Eyes Only for Ambassadors. Drafted by Eugene Rostow, cleared by Walt Rostow, and approved by Secretary Rusk. Repeated to London and USUN.
  2. Walt Rostow sent the draft message to the President at the LBJ Ranch in CAP 67455, May 27, noting that it had been cleared by Rusk and McNamara. Johnson's revisions are indicated in an attached note by Assistant to the President Jim Jones, who informed Walt Rostow. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II) Rostow relayed them to Rusk by telephone. (Notes of telephone conversation, May 27, 7:40 p.m.; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls)
  3. Barbour reported in telegram 3822 from Tel Aviv, May 28, that he had delivered the message at 6 a.m. He also reported that the atmosphere prevailing the day before, that a decision on a military initiative was only hours away, had been dispelled. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II)
  4. This is a slightly revised version of a sentence added by the President.
  5. In the draft, the first part of this sentence read: “It is essential that Israel not take any preemptive military action”.
  6. The President eliminated a sentence at this point in the draft that read: “Preemptive actions by Israel would make it impossible for the friends of Israel to stand at your side.” Jim Jones' note states that if Walt Rostow and Rusk felt something like this was necessary, the President suggested, “Without exception our Congressional leaders have made it clear that preemptive actions would find no support here.” Jones stated that if something like that was used, the President wanted to talk about it first.