95. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 67486. Gene Black came in today to present his impressions and recommendations after being thoroughly briefed by Luke Battle and his people.

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If we do nothing about Aqaba there will certainly be a war. The Israelis will fight if Nasser seizes their ships. Therefore, he sees no alternative to the kind of plan we are organizing.
It is important that we get the declaration of the maritime powers out as soon as possible. Nasser must realize the strength and universality of the principle that is being applied to Aqaba and of the opinion that supports that principle.
He talked with U Thant, who was pessimistic about anything helpful happening in the UN. It might buy us two or three weeks; but we can’t wait that long for the declaration. It must be agreed by as many maritime countries as possible.
The declaration must, of course, be backed by naval and military power. It would be foolish to try to enforce this universal principle by ourselves. We would have trouble with both Congress and the country. On the other hand, he thinks that the Congressional leadership would support us if we were with others.
He agrees that a Congressional resolution will probably be required at some stage. It must be strong—but not too strong—against the background of the Tonkin Gulf.
U Thant reports that Nasser says he will take any ship in Aqaba except a “tanker or one flying an Israeli flag.” Black thinks this will be wholly unacceptable to Israel.
Ultimately—down the road—is this question: How do we get Nasser to go back on his word? What will he do? Is there any way for him to save face? If not, we shall have to face issues like the canceling of oil contracts; the closing of the Suez Canal; etc.
Incidentally, Nasser told U Thant he would “never take” any American wheat.
Black also reports U Thant’s view that the crisis must be solved, in the end, “through Moscow.”
Black will keep in touch with the situation and let us have any further thoughts.

FYI. A draft of the proposed declaration will be in your hands tomorrow. If and when you approve it, State has cranked up with the British to seek support fast. It is their hope that more than 20 powers will accept it. The number putting in ships, if required, will, of course, be less.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Histories, Middle East Crisis, 5/12–6/19/67, Vol. 2. Secret. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 6:37 p.m. A handwritten “L” on the telegram indicates that it was seen by the President.