91. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Hoopes) to Secretary of Defense McNamara 1
- JCS Paper on US Military Actions Regarding the Strait of Tiran2—Preliminary ISA Comments
Attached is the subject JCS paper which was received in ISA at 9 p.m. Saturday3 evening. Time has not permitted a comprehensive review of the document. The following comments represent first impressions of Colonel Jordan and myself:
- The JCS paper responds to a request which assumed a very narrow time frame for US military reaction to the announced blockade of the Strait of Tiran—i.e., when the request was made, we were operating on the assumption that a probe would probably be required before 1 June, if we were to hold Israel from pre-emptive military action. The paper accordingly concentrates on courses of action based on forces immediately on the scene, and makes only passing reference to possible augmentation. It states that augmentation is not feasible before 20 June, but confines definition of such augmentation to “a balanced task force”.
- Even within the limits defined by the assumed time frame, the paper seems unduly pessimistic with respect to the chances of success and the attendant risks. It believes there is a “high probability” that the probe force would come under attack by the UAR, and it lays emphasis on the vulnerability of the probe force. In this regard, it makes the surprising statement that US destroyers cannot “out-gun” the UAR shore [Page 172] batteries; and it seems to discount the possibility of supporting the force with long-range ASW aircraft based on Cyprus and with tactical air cover from Sixth Fleet carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean (ISA understands that carrier aircraft have the range to reach the Strait of Tiran area and remain on station for 30–40 minutes. It would be possible to avoid UAR airspace by overflying Israel and the Gulf of Aqaba).
- The paper (in paragraph 4d. of the covering memorandum) probably underestimates the US ability to restrain an Israeli attack on the UAR, in the context of a US–UK probing action; similarly, it appears to exaggerate the likelihood of a UAR attack on Israel as a consequence of such a US–UK probe.
- On the other hand, the paper seems quite correct in stating that the immediately available probe force in the Red Sea area is weak and that action dependent primarily on it would carry heavier risks of both (a) UAR defiance and (b) damage to force, than if a larger, stronger, and more balanced force could be assembled.
The situation remains fluid and fast moving. But in view of the new prospect that the US may have succeeded in restraining an Israeli attack for at least the time required to consult Congress, pursue possibilities at the UN, and develop adherents to a maritime declaration, I recommend that you consult with General Wheeler, Mr. Vance and others with respect to
- more detailed plans for the formation and deployment of an “augmented” force that could be in position in 2–3 weeks;
- the prospects for strengthening the immediately available probe force by providing airborne ASW, carrier-based air cover from the Sixth Fleet, and land-based air cover from CONUS;
- a more precise scenario for the activation of a probe of the Strait of Tiran—e.g., whose merchant ship? escorted or unescorted? US reaction to a UAR attempt to prevent passage by military attack? by lesser means? the role of Israeli military forces, if any? etc.; and
- the timing and modalities of joint military planning with the UK and others. Should the Israelis be included at some point?
- Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 72 A 2468, Middle East, 381.3. Secret. A stamped notation of June 14 on the memorandum indicates that McNamara saw it. McNamara’s handwritten comments read as follows: “Possible Arab reactions: Nationalization of oil firms, Closing of Suez Canal, Denial of com & mil overflts, Banning of U.S. ships in Arab ports, Closing of Wheelus AB.”↩
- A JCS memorandum for McNamara on “U.S. Military Actions Regarding UAR Blockade of the Straits of Tiran,” JCSM–301–67, May 27, states that McNamara’s office had requested JCS examination of early U.S.-British military actions that might be taken to test UAR intentions with respect to free passage through the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba. The paper discusses four possible courses of action involving probes of the Strait of Tiran by U.S. forces or U.S. and British forces, either using forces east of Suez or augmenting them with Mediterranean forces. It concluded that all the courses of action considered entailed serious risks and could easily escalate the current situation into a full-scale Arab-Israeli conflict or U.S.-UAR confrontation, and that U.S. action should not be undertaken unless the U.S. Government was prepared “to respond appropriately.” (Ibid.)↩
- May 27.↩