121. Information Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

As you know from the press, the Israelis last night mounted a major raid on the Arab terrorist bases on the east bank of the Jordan River.

Your message got to Eshkol2 after the attack had been launched (8:45 p.m. EST last evening), and he responded by assuring you that this would be a limited raid and that Israeli forces would withdraw as soon as they had accomplished their mission of “preventing additional sabotage activities and disarming the terrorists.” Eshkol has just (5:50 a.m. EST) phoned Barbour to say that Israeli troops are now in the process of withdrawing. Eshkol says he will respond more fully to your message.

Three action items face us today:

State will probably postpone signing the new Israeli PL480 agreement, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today. We lay ourselves open to Israeli resentment for “applying pressure,” but I don’t see how we could sign this today. State would say everybody is “too busy” today and avoid any implication our delay is punitive.3
State is considering issuing early a statement built around the theme that “further violence cannot bring peace to the Middle East” and expressing our “concern and dismay” at Israeli military action.4 We can hardly remain silent, and we would be as careful as possible about domestic Jewish opinion. The British have already publicly urged withdrawal behind the June cease-fire lines.
We have no indication yet that there will be a UN Security Council meeting, but this is a clear possibility.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Jordan, Vol. V, Memos, 3/68–1/69. Secret.
  2. See Document 119.
  3. The Israeli Embassy was informed on March 21 that Assistant Secretary Battle was “preoccupied” with the events of the last 24 hours and that the scheduled signing of the P.L. 480 agreement would have to be postponed. (Telegram 134000 to Tel Aviv, March 21; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, AID (US) 15-8 ISR)
  4. A statement along these lines was released by the Department on March 21. The text was transmitted to posts in the Middle East and Europe in circular telegram 133989, March 21. (Ibid., POL 27 ARAB-ISR)
  5. The Security Council adopted a resolution on March 24 condemning the Israeli raid on Jordan. (UN doc. S/RES/248 (1968))