118. Editorial Note

On May 22, 1970, President Nixon met with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban in the Oval Office from 11:31 a.m. to 12:19 p.m. Also present were Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco, Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin, and Israeli Minister Shlomo Argov. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to a record of the conversation prepared by Argov, Nixon began the meeting by expressing his “sorrow and condolences” over the attack on an Israeli school bus earlier in the morning, describing the perpetrators as “savages” who were “out of control.” Nixon then moved the discussion to the issue of arms supplies and said: “The Prime Minister wrote me a letter some time ago [see footnote 3, Document 101] and we have very much in mind the Prime Minister’s concern. I spoke to Rogers about it and we have a clear understanding of the matter. We have it under consideration and are studying intensively the intelligence reports. We, and I personally, will do what is necessary. The immediate thing is to get the ‘stuff’ over there.” The important thing is the planes; and you will get them without fanfare.”

[Page 393]

After a further exchange with Eban about the delivery of planes and tanks to Israel, Nixon asked about the Soviet Union’s military involvement in the Sinai Peninsula. Rabin replied: “The situation facing us was a very difficult one, the Russians had effectively driven us out of Egypt. We stand on the Canal and will defend it no matter what. We have to stand and the Russians are probing us to see if we will. They are making an attempt to push us by introducing SA–II and SA–III missiles in the area. We are anxious not to engage the Russians. Therefore we are trying to prevent installation of these missiles by not allowing them to complete any construction. We know that once they begin to doubt our resolution to stand on the Canal they will try to push us out. They have already tried to reach the Suez Canal twice. We should make clear to them that here we stay. It is therefore essential to make sure first of all that we have the tools to make them realize that we mean it . . . They must know that if they come we will defend ourselves.”

Nixon responded by telling Rabin: “I told you before to give it to them and to hit them as hard as you can. Every time I hear that you go at them, penetrate into their territory, I am delighted. As far as they are concerned, go ahead and hit them. The trouble is the rest of the Arabs. I very strongly believe that you are right, they are testing both you and us and we have to enable you to deter them. We can also talk directly to the Russians. It has been some time since we did so. They are testing us, no doubt, but we ought to play it so we don’t lose everything (in M.E.).” He went on to say: “We want to help you without hurting ourselves. The hell with oil! We can get it from somewhere else. We have to retain the other decent people in the Middle East.”

The President concluded the meeting with an appeal to the Israelis to begin political discussions with the Arabs. “We can’t go down the road of inevitable military escalation,” he said. “We have to have your assurances on the political initiatives which we shall take. We have a problem here in terms of public opinion which won’t accept just mindless escalation.” He went on to say: “We have to show the efforts we are making and we have to have your commitment. We are not conditioning anything, we only need your assistance in order to overcome the difficulties that may arise when we go to Congress for support and the money . . . It isn’t a question of resources or Soviets. We need to work on both fronts and have to show that we are doing so.” Nixon added that he knew that certain people were describing Nasser’s May 1 speech as “conciliatory” but commented, “Hell, no!” The fact remains, Nixon explained, that “there was the need to satisfy people’s sensitivities and public opinion.” (Israel State Archive, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 6720/11)