262. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Yitzhak Rabin, Ambassador of Israel
- Shlomo Argov, Minister of Israel
- W. W. Rostow
- Harold H. Saunders
Ambassador Rabin came in this afternoon to discuss Israel’s concerns about the Soviet memo to the US on the Middle East.2
Rabin began by presenting the Israeli view, for which he says there is evidence from a “very reliable” intelligence source, that Nasser and [Page 518] the Soviet leaders had made the following deal when Nasser was recently in the USSR:
- The USSR would build Nasser’s armed forces into an effective military machine. This would involve the shipment of additional military equipment (Rabin mentioned 100 new aircraft, 550 new tanks, 100 more Soviet pilots-the same numbers he had used with Secretary Rusk reported in State 2418393 and then rattled off a number of additional items and quantities). Rabin admitted that he could not say how long the delivery period would be—“it might be a year and a half, it might be four years.” He acknowledged that Egyptian absorptive capacity would control the timing of these shipments, but he maintained that the Soviets were committed to this arrangement and were working hard at training.
- In return, Nasser agreed to follow the USSR’s political strategy. The Soviets will try for a political solution-not peace, but a political settlement which involves return to June 4 boundaries, and leaving unsettled the issues of passage through the Canal, the refugees, and Jerusalem. All these are issues designed to perpetuate tension between Arabs and Israelis which the USSR can exploit. The Soviets have agreed to back the Arab guerilla movements and to a limited Egyptian increase of tension along the Suez Canal. They have done this to heat up the area and to worry the US. At the same time they have come to the US with their notion of a political settlement, which Rabin said bore no relationship to either the Israeli or the US concept of a lasting peace. Rabin said, “There is no peace in it.” This is the Soviet design and Nasser has subscribed to it.
Mr. Rostow said he wasn’t at all sure the Egyptians were in any position to follow a coherent strategy, but he agreed that the Ambassador had outlined a serious hypothesis which we would look at carefully. However, he had two outstanding reservations:
- We have no collateral evidence to confirm that this deal was made. We have received the Israeli information but Israel had not shared its evidence with us so that we could make our own judgment. It is a serious matter for the US to accept as a working hypothesis one for which it has no independent evidence whatsoever. In response, Rabin said it is very difficult to share intelligence sources, but indicated that this information came from a highly reliable source. (Comment: From his hedging, it appeared that he might be referring both to intercept and to an agent in Cairo.) At another point, however, he admitted that there was some Israeli deduction involved too.
- The Israeli hypothesis seemed internally consistent until it came to one point in the Soviet memo-the suggestion of a four-power guarantee. If the Soviet aim is to perpetuate tension in the Middle East, it [Page 519] seems highly unlikely that the Soviet Union would invite the US to guarantee whatever settlement develops. The Soviet Union is fully aware that the US keeps constitutionally accepted commitments. Vietnam has proved that. If the Soviets were not serious about a final settlement, the last thing they would want would be a US commitment to make the details of a settlement stick.
Moving to a related point, Mr. Rostow as much as said that it is preposterous for the Israelis to think that we have bought the Soviet proposal lock, stock and barrel. He acknowledged that the Soviet document proposed return to the situation of June 4, 1967. He recalled that the US had fought that position in New York and everywhere else since the second day of the June war. The President had reiterated our position just two weeks ago, and there was no question of our moving away from that policy. However, that was not to say that a Soviet document contained nothing worth looking at.
There was one item in the Soviet proposal which especially interested the Israelis—the Soviet suggestion of a four-power guarantee. Mr. Rostow said that if he were an Israeli, he would think very seriously about the advantages of a guarantee backed by the Congress of the US. From the Israeli point of view, this would be infinitely better than some treaty signed by an Arab leader. Nobody can guarantee that the Congress would go along with such a proposal, but it is worth thinking about. Mr. Rostow added that there are other points of flexibility in the Soviet document, though he reiterated that, of course, the basic proposal was a non-starter.
The discussion then turned to the process of peace-making. Rabin said that Israel wants the Egyptians to define what it means by peace. By Israeli definition, peace is “reconciliation, open borders, and recognition.” Mr. Rostow said that the problem is for each side to define its objectives in a negotiating process of some sort.
For instance, rather than complaining about the fact that the US was looking at a document the USSR had given it, he would like to see the Israelis produce a document of their own. They had not. As far as Mr. Rostow could tell, there were no serious boundary problems between Israel and the UAR, although we could not say so with any confidence because the Israelis had not told us what their position is. Rabin indicated that Israel would have boundary problems with the UAR, but he did not elaborate.
The conversation turned to Jordan, and Mr. Rostow said that any settlement with Jordan would involve much more than a peace treaty because Jordan and Israel would have to live in economic intimacy if there were peace. Jerusalem is the sticking point. Mr. Rostow reminded the Ambassador that General Tzur had defined the problem this way: “We can’t give Hussein enough in Jerusalem for him to live with.” Rabin said that Israel would give Hussein a role in the Moslem Holy [Page 520] Places. He said that they had even considered building an overpass or a tunnel to give the Jordanians unhampered access to Jerusalem. Mr. Rostow said that wasn’t good enough. If there was going to be a peace settlement, they would have to show more imagination than that.