118. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

SUBJECT

  • Urgent Message to Eshkol

The Israelis are mobilizing on the Jordanian border. Wally Barbour has seen Eshkol, and Nick Katzenbach called in Rabin to make a strong pitch against an attack on Jordan. Barbour believes the final Israeli decision has not yet been made, and holds out the possibility they may decide to stop with a show of force. He gives us less than an even chance of holding them back.

This quick Israeli action grows out of rapidly mounting concern over continuing Arab terrorism. They just don’t believe Hussein has made a real effort to damp down on terrorists. We surmise that they have been debating whether to hit him again—even harder than on February 15—or to try to solve the problem some other way. We suspect the argument within the Israeli government has been pretty evenly matched. Then when an Israeli school bus hit a mine Monday and two Israeli soldiers were killed in similar sabotage incidents, the pressure for retaliation became all but irresistible.

Hussein has asked for our help in holding the Israelis off. He fears a major Israeli attack could be the end of him and kill the Jarring mission. [Page 241] It would surely make our position miserable, especially if Israel decides to occupy additional territory on the East Bank.

Nick Katzenbach recommends you approve the attached message2 to be sent immediately from you to Eshkol. I wish there were something stronger we could do, but short of making specific threats I cannot think what it might be. I doubt it would add much to what we are already doing for you to talk with Rabin. I recommend you approve.3

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence File, Israel, 3/1/68-7/3/68. Secret.
  2. See Document 119.
  3. The President checked the approval line.