Historian’s Statement

Office of the Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs
United States Department of State
May 8, 2001

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968. This volume, part of the ongoing official record of American foreign policy, presents the record of the Johnson administration’s efforts to cope with the aftermath of the June 1967 War. The volume’s account of developments opens in the wake of the adoption on November 22, 1967, of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which sought to establish a framework for settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. U.S. policy objectives at that point were to participate in efforts to salvage an enduring peace out of the war while limiting the flow of arms to the area and discouraging Israel from adding the dangerous element of nuclear arms into the mix. The documentation published in the volume illustrates that by the time that President Lyndon Johnson briefed his successor on foreign policy developments in November 1968, the record of U.S. policy in the Middle East following the 1967 war consisted of a series of unrealized objectives, which left the new administration with daunting prospects.

The United Nations mediation effort launched in November 1967 with strong U.S. support continued throughout the waning months of the Johnson administration but accomplished very little, despite the sustained efforts of UN Special Representative Gunnar Jarring. The Jarring mission served to confirm that the June War had intensified mutual suspicion between Israel and its Arab neighbors. As prospects for the overall peace settlement promoted by the Jarring mission dimmed, U.S. officials sought to foster an agreement between Israel and Jordan. A series of secret exchanges between senior Israeli and Jordanian officials proved to be equally inconclusive.

While the Johnson administration was attempting to promote a peace settlement, it was also trying to reduce tensions in the area, which it saw as leading to an arms race. At the end of 1967 the United States was attempting to hold the line against a fresh infusion of weapons into the area. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, was pouring a steady stream of weapons into the region to offset Arab losses during the war. The Israeli Government worried that the end result of the Israeli victory might be Arab military superiority unless the United States increased the flow of weapons to Israel. Jordan, the lone Arab combatant that looked to the West for military supplies, also pressed the United States to offset its heavy losses. To shore up Israeli security, and to prevent Soviet influence from supplanting that of the United States in Amman, the Johnson administration agreed during 1968 to new weapons programs for Israel and Jordan, including the introduction of a major new weapon into the area — the F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber — which President Johnson ultimately decided to sell to Israel. The volume documents the tense negotiations over the sale of the Phantoms, during which U.S. officials sought to tie the sale to Israeli agreement to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel rejected the effort as an infringement of its sovereignty and viewed its potential for nuclear capability as a brake on Arab aggression, which should not be discarded lightly.

Like most other Arab states, the United Arab Republic broke relations with the United States during the 1967 war on the specious grounds that U.S. military forces had been actively involved on Israel’s side during the fighting. There is documentation in the volume on the U.S. response to hints from President Gamal Adbel Nasser that he would have liked to reestablish relations as a counterbalance to Soviet influence in Cairo. The United States and the United Arab Republic differed, however, on what would make a rapprochement possible, and relations remained broken. U.S. influence in the Arab world waned as the Arab states perceived the United States as Israel’s major supporter. The decline in U.S. influence in Arab capitals reduced the prospects for promoting a peace settlement in the Middle East. Those prospects were grim at the end of 1968, as terrorists tested Israeli resolve, and Israel and the United Arab Republic engaged in what became a war of attrition.

Foreign Relations 1964–1968, Volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968

The Office of the Historian has prepared a summary of the volume. For further information, contact David S. Patterson, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663-1127; fax: (202) 663-1289; e-mail: history@state.gov. The texts of the volume, the summary, and this press release will soon be available on the Office’s Web site: www.state.gov/r/pa/ho. Copies of volume XX can be purchased from the Government Printing Office.