375. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State 1
Beirut,December 31, 1968, 1008Z.
15382. Subj: Israeli attack on Beirut Airport.
- FonMin Hajj Hussein Oweini called me in afternoon Dec 30 to have a “completely frank discussion” of consequences of Israeli attack [Page 746] on Beirut International Airport. Speaking as “friend of US” (which he is), he wished me to know that, unfortunately, incident has created serious obstable in path traditional US-Lebanese friendship, one which can only be removed by subsequent US actions. Lebanon realizes Israel acted without prior knowledge of US but Lebanese are convinced Israelis would not have embarked on raid if they had not been confident repercussions would not be great and would not risk loss of US support. Therefore, it particularly important that Israel sustain more than just verbal condemnation which would soon gather dust with other UN resolutions. Lebanon calls upon US to use its influence in Tel Aviv to assure that Israel is made to understand that she must pay for her crime.
- Arabs cannot accept that US has insufficient influence with Israelis since US is responsible for sustaining existence of Israel through constant material support. The US will be in most difficult position in Arab world if it does not now act to restrain Israelis and redress the wrong against Lebanon. Arab public opinion, both in Lebanon and outside, is turning more and more against the US and our friends in Arab governments are diminishing.
- Hajj Hussein reiterated fervently that Government of Lebanon is in no way responsible for Fedayeen attack on El Al plane in Athens. Everyone, he pointed out, can enter and leave Lebanon freely. The two commandos were not Lebanese, were not trained in Lebanon, and were not recently residing in Lebanon. They merely transited Beirut on way to Athens, like hundreds of other travelers daily in Lebanon’s open society.
- Arabs cannot accept that Israeli raid was result of Athens incident; rather it came because Lebanon is weakest of Arab countries and has an open undefended airport. What hurts is fact that Israelis used “US arms and equipment,” provided them for use in self-defense, for opposite purpose of aggression against friend of US. Unfortunately, announcement US decision sell Phantom aircraft to Israel inextricably viewed by Arabs as giving Israelis added confidence attack her weak neighbor to north. Hajj Hussein implored US reconsider decision supply Israel with Phantoms which would only be used to attack weaker Arab neighbors and sustain her position in occupied lands. Arabs cannot accept view that Israeli possession Phantoms would impede extension Soviet influence in Middle East, he added. On contrary, Arabs will now have to turn to Soviets for comparable support.
- Hajj Hussein noted that whole world called upon Israel withdraw from Arab territories in November 22 Security Council resolution. This action produced no results because Israel, feeling it has US support, defies UN. Therefore, mere Security Council resolution condemning Israel and calling for compensation not enough unless US willing oblige Israeli compliance.
- Hajj Hussein expressed gratitude for quick US response following raid in protesting Israeli action, and promising support for Lebanon in Security Council. He also expressed GOL’s gratitude for many US offers of material assistance to Lebanese airlines.
- I assured Hajj Hussein I would convey fully his views to Washington. After reiterating US support for Lebanon in UN and points made to PM Yafi Dec 29 (Beirut’s 15327),2 I stressed fact that when Israel feels its security is at stake, it acts first in manner it considers in its own interests and only consults others later. I also expressed opinion that US public will be shocked by Israel action, as was USG.
- Comment: Hajj Hussein, who is a genuine and loyal friend of the US, was making a heartfelt plea for the US to take action both in SC deliberations and with Israelis which will enable it to keep its remaining friends and influence in Arab countries. His parting remark was that he would never feel ashamed of his friendship for the United States, but he (and other like-thinking Arabs) would now have to be sustained by some more tangible manifestations of US interest in the Arab world than a slap on the Israeli wrist after the Khaldeh Airport attack.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Confidential. Repeated to Amman, Jidda, Kuwait, London, Tel Aviv, USUN, and DIA.↩
- Telegram 15327 from Beirut, December 29, reported on a meeting between Ambassador Porter and Prime Minister Yafi in which Yafi protested the December 28 Israeli attack on the Beirut airport. (Ibid.)↩