47. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

99998. State 97760, Dhahran 464.2 Tiran.

Ambassador requested deliver following personal message in written form from Secretary to FonMin Eban re Tiran problem:

“Dear Mr. Minister:

As you know, the continued presence of Israeli troops on the island of Tiran was one of the matters we discussed during the President’s recent cordial discussions with Prime Minister Eshkol in Texas.3

We noted to the Prime Minister the desirability that Israel provide public indications of its willingness to reach understandings with the Arabs and suggested that withdrawal of your troops from Tiran would be one example of what we had in mind. The Prime Minister expressed understanding of this view but indicated that it would be difficult for your government to contemplate withdrawal from Tiran in the absence of assurances regarding the consequences of this act for Israel.

Encouraged by these exchanges, I subsequently instructed the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia to explore this question further with King Faisal. Our Ambassador had a frank and detailed discussion of this subject with His Majesty on January 13. The King’s comments made clear: (a) that he regards Tiran Island as part of Saudi territory, and [Page 107] that, for example, his government has granted a concession covering the island; and (b) that he has no plan to militarize Tiran or to use it to impede freedom of navigation into Tiran Strait.

I am greatly encouraged by His Majesty’s position. On the basis of his assurances to our Ambassador, I believe that the problems the Israeli side foresaw if your government withdrew will not arise. Specifically, I would expect neither alienation of this portion of Saudi territory, its militarization nor its use in any way to interfere with freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran. I would therefore hope that your government would now consider that its troops can be withdrawn from the island without incurring adverse consequences for Israel.

As we have earlier indicated to your government, such action will remove a serious embarrassment in our own relations with the Saudi authorities. I therefore look forward to receiving a favorable response from your government. It will, of course, be immediately communicated to King Faisal and will, I am sure, have a useful and helpful impact.4

Sincerely yours, Dean Rusk

Since much of good effect of forthcoming Israeli position on Tiran would be vitiated by public disclosure of King Faisal’s attitude, we assume that FonMin will agree that this aspect should receive no publicity. For record, we will take a similar line with Saudis when conveying Israeli decision.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-6 TIRAN. Secret; Exdis. Drafted on January 16 in NEA/ARP by Brewer; cleared by Atherton, Battle, and in the White House by Saunders; and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Jidda.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. See Documents 3941.
  4. In a conversation with Battle on February 5, Ambassador Harman stated that Foreign Minister Eban was prepared to take up the issue of Tiran Island with the Israeli Cabinet but first needed a U.S. response to a number of “clarifications.” Harman asked if the United States could obtain Saudi Arabian acknowledgment that the Straits of Tiran was an international waterway. Israel also asked whether the United States could obtain from Saudi Arabia a “binding written undertaking” that Tiran Island would remain permanently uninhabited. Israel also asked whether the United States would underwrite any such Saudi undertakings by making them a matter of U.S. “responsibility and commitment” as regards Israel. Harman indicated that he was instructed to stress the need for “absolute precision” in these assurances. (Telegram 111432 to Tel Aviv, February 7; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-6 TIRAN) Ambassador Eilts in Jidda assessed the Israeli response to Secretary Rusk’s letter as “very disappointing,” and noted that Israel was proposing conditions that King Faisal could not accept. Eilts felt that the Israeli conditions raised the question of whether Israel had any intention of leaving Tiran unless forced out. (Telegram 2776 from Jidda, February 10; ibid.)