80. Memorandum From Eugene R. Black to President Johnson 1
- Reconnaissance in the Middle East
I have met with the Heads of State in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. I saw all Prime, Foreign and Finance Ministers. I met with leaders in public and private sectors plus officials of the USG and other US nationals residing in these countries.
I emphasized that I was on a “private trip” through the area. However, I told the leaders that I would be seeing you upon my return to Washington and therefore would appreciate their candid expressions concerning:
- The current stand of this government on the Arab-Israeli question.
- The posture of the individual and/or his government towards the USG.
My soundings may be summarized as follows:
- The prevailing mood in the Arab states is one of bitter frustration. It is at the moment a negative and destructive mood and therefore a dangerous one.
- I am personally deeply discouraged by the reactions I received on
the trip and feel violence lurks just beneath the surface. [Page 161]
- All the principals in the Arab states referred to the USG policy in the Middle East as the “No Policy.” (non-existent policy.) From the socio-economic-political points of view this region is in turmoil and the USG position is at a nadir.
- Israel on the other hand is strong, resilient and enjoying the fruits of victory. Israel is far ahead of her neighbors on all fronts—especially the personal motivation quotient which has made this small state a remarkable example of “self help.”
- The Arab world is far from monolithic. A degree of political solidarity was achieved at Khartoum, however this was short-lived and the old divisions and some new ones are evident. This disarray is leading directly into the hands of the USSR. (See J.)
- The Arabs hold the USG as the scapegoat. Note: No one of importance any longer believes the USG intervened directly in the war but everyone—including the most pro-western (Feisal-Hussein) believes the USG does and can control Israel and Israeli policy.
- Nasser, Feisal, Hussein, Emir of Kuwait and Crown Prince Jaber of Kuwait (Jaber is real power in Kuwait) feel that there is a widespread revulsion among all classes against what seems to them a complete identification of the USG with Israel. Each have specific grievances. The grip of each of the above remains strong with their rule appearing to be highly personal.
- The “Refugee Problem” in Jordan is appalling. There is nothing that I have seen in any country on this globe which is as tragic as the destitute condition these hundreds of thousands of persons are living in and under. I visited a number of camps in the Valley and was shocked at the bitterness expressed by old and particularly young refugees against the USG. (See Recommendation Number 2.)
- Old Jerusalem is an “open sore” with all Arabs in all Arab states. GOI’s posture on this is inflammatory. Mayor Kolleck seems an able administrator. However, there are numerous complaints from the Arabs re the Israeli occupation-both in Jerusalem as well as on the West Bank. The shut down of the commercial banks has caused hardship and is a festering problem. Border incidents are up markedly and the action by the GOI is directed at and into the refugee camps. GOI Chief of Staff Bar Lev admits this is ugly but a necessary measure in order to stop provocative acts by Arabs.
- The attitude throughout area towards the “Jarring Mission” is one of doom. Little hope is given for a meaningful solution that will provide the so-called “lasting peace.” Note: I met with Jarring in Cairo and he gave me impression he, too, was most discouraged. I fervently pray that this Mission will be successful because if it fails the reaction would/could be disastrous.
- Israel—I met with all the leaders. I will not report on this section as I feel you must be fully cognizant of the positions and posture [Page 162] of the GOI after the visit by Eshkol in January. In short, their attitudes represent the “other side of the coin.”
- USSR has substantially rebuilt her position in Arab world by rearming Egypt, Syria and Iraq.
- The USSR naval buildup in eastern Mediterranean is new factor and a dangerous one.
- The strategic aim of USSR is to thrust south through the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The USSR is actively working at establishing and maintaining a “presence” in Yemen and South Arabia (Aden). The closing of the Canal is a major deterrent to this scheme.
- The USSR buildup is patently political. It is designed to capitalize on the continued USG association with Israel in the eyes of the Arabs and the weakness of the UK.
- All Arabs spoke of their concern about the increasing Russian “presence”. The flow of “technicians” and “advisors” into region is alarming even to Nasser. This is, of course, anathema to Kuwait, Feisal and Hussein.
Suez Canal—Estimates vary from man to man.
- M. Younes who is Minister in charge stated Canal could be open in 50-60 days to free the 15 ships. However, to be fully open for business it would require 4-6 months. General Dayan disagrees with this and believes Canal could be open much sooner.
- Plans are being studied by Egypt to deepen/widen Canal to handle 200,000 ton tankers. Also authorities studying feasibility of constructing 42 inch pipeline from Suez to Port Said.
- Shooting incident on January 30 was ugly and bad omen for early opening of Canal. I visited Ismailia and saw UAR boat which had been fired on. Also saw damage to city which is extensive.
- The Arab world is desperately in need of high level attention by the President and the USG. Time is of the essence in making some positive forward gesture.
- Israel is far ahead of her neighbors on all fronts.
- The UK withdrawal from the Gulf is alarming. The vacuum must be filled before the USSR gains the advantage.
- You appoint a high level, experienced and internationally
prominent US citizen to act as a “Personal Representative of the
President of the USA” or a “Special Ambassador” to the Arab States.
- This person would not undercut the existing USG Ambassadors but would complement the USG team.
- The Representative should make periodic “hand holding” missions to the area and review with each Head of State their individual [Page 163] problems. This would be a manifest example of good faith and intentions of USG.
- Dispatch at an early opportunity, if available, Ambassador Graham Martin (Secretary Rusk’s Special Assistant for Refugee Affairs) to the area. Time is short on the “human bomb” with these hundreds of thousands of homeless, helpless people. Action is needed immediately on this problem—perhaps (hopefully) the action would be independent of UNRWA which is now a bureaucracy within a bureaucracy. If Martin not available then someone of his caliber.
- Kuwait: Booming—in spite of heavy losses due to devaluation.
- Saudi Arabia: Continues to develop but a critical shortage of trained manpower has slowed the implementation of the development programs. These programs also being slowed due to large financial assistance being given to Egypt and Jordan.
- Egypt: Taking a nose-dive. USSR seems ready to provide assistance. However, situation appears hopeless. UAR is highly dependent on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Libya for financial assistance.
- Jordan: In a state of flux due to occupation of West Bank. USG’s decision to give GOJ military assistance was very wise and timely.
- Israel: In relatively A-1 condition although naturally GOI suffered financially from war.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. I, 6/65-3/68. No classification marking. Rostow sent copies of this memorandum to Rusk and Katzenbach on February 23 at the President’s request. (Ibid.)↩