208. Telegram From Bromley Smith of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 81447. Looking at the situation in Tel Aviv, Barbour concludes: 1) we should not be in a hurry to press the Israelis for their ideas on a settlement; 2) our prospects are not hopeless if the UN Security Council gets involved in another round of debate on the Arab-Israeli problem; 3) there is a good chance that Amb. Jarring’s efforts can be kept alive on the present basis at least until fall when the Foreign Ministers meet; and 4) a US or US-UK initiative to stimulate proposals from Israel will not minimize increased Soviet penetration in the Middle East.

Barbour suggests that if we feel something must be done, either alone or with the British, we should limit ourselves to a genuine exploration with the Israelis of the whole situation and solicit their ideas as to useful further steps.

Barbour’s reasoning is explained in his cable2 which follows:

I have not commented on US-UK talks since in my view reports thereof have indicated a healthy skepticism on our part as to probability and desirability of our taking initiatives at this time with regard to the Jarring Mission. I am also skeptical whether we need be as apprehensive as the British about the consequences of a further SC round if it cannot be avoided, and, in addition, perhaps more importantly, whether if we decided on a joint US-UK effort to stimulate substantive proposals, we are in fact in a position to succeed in that endeavor. Furthermore, I wonder to what extent such a course will serve to minimize increased Soviet penetration in the area.
While obviously a further SC exercise could get intense and might be detrimental and retrogressive, it seems to me that although it could be better, the Israeli position, so far, is supportable on its merits. They have, at our urging, accepted the November resolution and have been endeavoring to get their defeated adversaries into some kind of substantive discussion which has been resisted by the latter on the ground that they wish an advance commitment that Israel will eventually withdraw to unrealistic (June 4) lines. There is also considerable supplementary public evidence at least that the Arab tactic only masks a real intention to do nothing politically toward a peaceful settlement. Eban tells me that Jarring in his latest conversation with Riad heard [Page 402] the latter give startlingly frank exposition why Nasser is too weak internally to do anything. In addition Jarring told Eban that he does not wish to submit the report at the end of July, promised on his behalf by the Secretary General, and if he does so he will not place blame for lack of progress on any party.
As to desirability, or more accurately feasibility, of our pressing Israelis for further indication substantive ideas on settlement, it seems to me unlikely in the extreme that any Israeli thoughts we might be able to evoke will not, as bargaining positions, fall far short of the goals set by the Arabs and therefore tend to harden Arab attitudes. Furthermore, while our total capabilities of exercising pressure and influence on the Israelis are theoretically limitless and overwhelming, I question whether as a practical matter we would or should exert such maximum measures as probably would be necessary to achieve a halfway step which might or might not move the parties toward an ultimate solution.
Soviet penetration into the Middle East is, of course, our major concern. However, I doubt that a unilateral or bilateral US-UK initiative could be expected to deter effectively Soviet current activities. I am inclined reluctantly to the theory that in the absence of a genuine US-Soviet detente affecting the area, which seems highly unlikely, there is not much room for maneuver on our part to influence a minimization of Soviet involvement. Rather this would seem likely to come about by the Soviets’ own realization that they may be over-extending themselves, for example, in Egypt, or a longer range realization by the peoples experiencing Soviet tutelage that such tutelage has features they could better do without.
However, the foregoing is a prologue to the central question which you ask, that is, an assessment of the impact of such US initiative on the Israeli domestic political situation.3 Most fundamental in Israeli thinking as I see it at the moment is the existence of a large body of the public which would be prepared to accept a compromise to the political solution involving major concessions to the Arabs. There is also a more vocal series of minority groups which would resist concessions to the end. But the whole spectrum of Israeli political public life is unanimously apprehensive of initial Israeli concessions in the absence of any indication that they would be matched by Arab willingness to conclude binding peace. This is based on the same security considerations which have been of paramount concern to all Israelis for twenty years and created a climate of fear and apprehension prior to June 5, 1967. Also fundamental is the fact that Israel is a democracy with a government headed at present by an individual who, although decisive enough on occasion, is not a world, or even Israeli, figure enjoying the charisma of [Page 403] Ben-Gurion, who in his long heyday could take personal decisions and subsequently maneuver the democratic process to a ratification thereof. Also the American relationship and support of Israel, not only that of the Jewish community in the US, but the broader understanding by the whole American body politic, is the one practical and sustaining psychological prop on which Israelis consciously or unconsciously lean. Despite any reassurances we could give them as to our motives therefore, US initiatives would at least arouse major apprehensions.
Therefore, assuming as I think you rightly do, that a serious and forceful US effort as outlined would increase tensions within the GOI, I offer the following specific comments on your specific questions:
There would [be] no doubt a “Cabinet crisis” with the probable departure from the coalition government of the right wing Gahal members and less likely a revolt by the religious party. However, the Labor alignment, while shaky within itself, is now so close to a majority that Eshkol would probably weather the storm, more especially since there is no leadership alternative to him at the current time, including Dayan.
As to present timing, Dayan has no public organizational base, despite his very widespread popular support. An American initiative might well provide the issue he may be looking for on which to challenge Eshkol, but whether this would or would not be the result, the dispute between the two would not necessarily affect the receptivity to US Government initiative.
Given the widespread popular apprehensions I would only assume that any concessions made by Eshkol to resolve Cabinet divisions in the light of US initiatives would be in the direction of concessions by Labor towards greater rigidity rather than the contrary.
Eshkol is currently bound firmly by the November 67 Cabinet position on direct negotiations and supplemental Knesset pronouncements. However, the government in this parliamentary system can theoretically reverse such decisions and by a narrow majority the Prime Minister might win if he sought an alteration in those directives. However, binding as these decisions are they do not specify direct negotiations in the first instance and in fact Eban has made clear in recent months that Rhodes procedure which the GOI advocates would include indirect talks at the outset. The controlling issue is rather that the ultimate settlement must be by agreement, i.e. contractual and not by some outside guarantees, acquiescence etc.
As to the Israeli request for F-4 Phantoms, I am quite clear that a favorable decision on the Israeli request would have an effect on the fundamental US-Israeli relationship referred to above. It would certainly strengthen the confidence throughout Israel in US preparedness to assist in the vital field of security and would diminish the arguments of substantial sections of opinion who question whether our anxiety to [Page 404] improve our position among the Arabs will not dictate US policies prejudicing the Israeli estimate of their security capabilities. Conversely further delay can do nothing but adversely affect our relationship. Any concept that we could expect the Israelis to make political concessions affecting their security in return for military hardware, including Phantoms, is in my view erroneous.
The conclusion I draw from the above, unfortunately largely negative estimate, is that at this time we should not be in a hurry to endeavor to press the Israelis for specific delineation of substantive positions, our prospects if the SC gets involved in another round are not hopeless, and that we have a good chance Jarring’s efforts can be continued and kept alive on the present basis until the Foreign Ministers presumably meet in New York in the fall. We should, therefore, resist British nervousness to the maximum extent possible. However, if your appraisal is that something must be done now, or the British are so determined on their course that there is no dissuading them, I strongly urge instead of our coming forth unilaterally or bilaterally with specific suggestions, we limit ourselves to a genuine exploration with the Israelis of the whole situation as we both now see it and solicit any ideas they may have as to useful further steps to be taken.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. X, Cables and Memos, 6/68-11/68. Secret. Repeated to Walt Rostow at the LBJ Ranch.
  2. Telegram 4329 from Tel Aviv, July 1, which is quoted below. (National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 ARAB-ISR)
  3. See Document 202.