98. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State 1
3857. 1. In hour long meeting at his request Eban reviewed to me developments to date and Israelis’ current concerns and ideas as to next steps.
2. He said Cabinet decision on May 28 not to go it alone had been taken decisively in closely balanced situation largely on basis message received by Prime Minister that morning and on his (Eban’s) report his conversation Washington. Cabinet fully persuaded by his report of wisdom playing out diplomatic hand including the Security Council on understanding that effective enforcement capabilities to assure assertion of right to free and innocent passage through the Straits would be marshalled during same period. The relatively few additional politicians such as the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee to which he had also been able to make his classified exposition had also welcomed US position. However, Eban sensed that the widespread uninformed public here is becoming increasingly uneasy as to just where Israel stands in the diplomatic arena. Consequently, while he does not advocate any public revelation results his Washington conversations he would appreciate it if anything could be done in the background, perhaps off the record with the press in the United States, to re-emphasize determination displayed by President in latter’s May 23 statement.
3. Turning to the Security Council, Eban said he could not urge too strongly that we avoid any resolution on the legal rights of free and innocent passage through the Straits. He said he had discussed this with Ambassador Goldberg on his way back to Israel. In Eban’s view, any effort discuss such a resolution would inevitably give opponents opportunity to becloud and weaken essential impression of world support such legal rights. He strongly urged that instead we follow 1957 General Assembly procedure of tabling a declaration by those powers willing to agree on legal validity of rights. He added a general resolution by the Security Council in favor of peace and tranquility would be acceptable provided its negotiation did not unduly protract Security Council deliberations. He emphasized that situation still so delicate that time is very limited. Eban said he considering going to New York for Security Council meeting. He would like to put Israeli case personally. However, he had not yet made up his mind. He feels such trip might be [Page 181] misinterpreted here publicly as suggesting too much Israeli reliance on UN which in present circumstance would weaken government’s control of internal situation. In this connection, in line with request made to him in Washington that GOI use its efforts to enlist support of others, Ambassador Comay, formerly Israeli rep to United Nations, is embarking on visit several countries this morning. However, since GOI not fully informed as to exact state of play of consultations between US, UK and other governments and does not wish to cross any wires they are instructing Ambassador Harman to ascertain in Washington our ideas as to where and how Comay could make most useful contribution. Meanwhile, he is proceeding to the Netherlands since the Netherlands have already been in direct touch with GOI.
4. GOI does not of course anticipate that Security Council will be able to do anything effective to open Straits. It is relying on US–UK plan for international force to provide decisive capability.
5. Eban then remarked that crucial as the Straits issue is, even perhaps a more dangerous situation exists as a result of the confrontation of large Israeli and Egyptian forces in the Sinai. Incidents there so far have been minor but a major clash could set off a conflagration at any time. In view of GOI best hope avoiding conflict that front is Soviets if they could persuade Nasser of necessity diminish tension by thinning out his concentrations. GOI would be more than happy to make parallel pullback. Eban hopes US going to bat with Sovs to this end.
6. Finally, Eban noted, while US and GOI intelligence estimates still considerably at variance but nevertheless Israelis prepared accept our conclusion that Egyptian attack not imminent, it impossible to rule out completely continued danger of full scale surprise attack by Nasser. It consequently essential everything possible be done to assure optimum US-Israeli posture in such an event. US had agreed to increase liaison in intelligence field, which being done. He had also discussed in Washington desirability of direct military liaison for contingency planning purposes and he wished reiterate importance GOI attaches to this matter.
7. Eban presented foregoing in measured non-emotional terms. It was remarked to me later by official also present that obviously Prime Minister and Eban have staked everything on assurances of support he obtained in Washington and there is considerable apprehension here that they may be optimistic in believing Nasser will give us time to follow scenario on which we have embarked. Same official also commented however that despite personal misgivings Chief of Staff Rabin is displaying firmest determination hold the hawks in line and strictly subject to political, that is Prime Minister’s, orders.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II. Top Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received at 7:05 a.m.↩