233. Memorandum From President Nixon to Secretary of State Rogers 1

Following up on our discussion a few days ago on the Mideast2 I would like to pass on to you a few observations on our policy in that area which reflect not only my views as to the current situation but also cover some episodes of the past.

I have always supported the State of Israel, as a Congressman, Senator, as Vice President, during the years I was out of office, and as President. My support, however, has in no way been influenced by the Jewish political lobby in the United States. On the contrary, I have made it clear time and time and again to friends in the Jewish community that under no circumstances would I take a position on aid to Israel which I felt would be in conflict with the national security interests of the United States.

I think as a result of the enormous influence of the Jewish lobby in the United States—not only through its financial contributions to Congressmen and Senators but even more because of its enormous influence through the media—we have often subordinated U.S. security interests to the interests of Israel.

There was one glaring exception for which we have to take responsibility in the Eisenhower Administration. In 1956, just before the election, we took a position against the Israelis, British and French which brought an end to that comic opera war.3 Clearly apart from what effect this action may have had on the nations in the Mideast it had a devastating effect on the British and French. From that time on, they ceased to be major powers in the world and have simply lost their stomach for playing a major role in world affairs. This was a glaring error and at sometime in the future I will have to admit publicly that the little part [Page 857] that I played in supporting it during the campaign was a mistake, (although, of course, as you know, I had no other choice running as a candidate for Vice President with no policy responsibilities.)

On the other side of the coin, the Aswan Dam decision by Dulles 4 was a mistake. Here again, in a moment of pique, he infuriated Nasser and to a certain extent may have contributed to the tragic events of 1956.

Except for the 1956 incident, however, United States’ policy has gone overboard in support of the State of Israel against their neighbors. Some of those decisions perhaps have been justified on humanitarian grounds. After all, the Jews were horribly persecuted during World War II and it was the responsibility of all decent people to go an extra mile to rectify that blot on the conscience of mankind. But speaking in humanitarian terms we have almost totally closed our eyes to the terrible condition of Arab refugees. When I was on a brief African trip in 1957 I stepped into this problem without knowing what a sensitive nerve I would be hitting. I did not visit Israel or Egypt on that occasion, but I reported when I returned that leaders in Morocco and Tunisia, the most pro-Western of the Arab countries, had expressed concern about the plight of the refugees. The whole Jewish community in this country jumped down my throat and probably have never forgiven me for mentioning the issue.

These historical references will put my present policy into perspective. It can be summarized quite bluntly as follows:

1. The interests of the United States must be our only consideration in the policy decisions we make with regard to the Mideast.

2. Under absolutely no circumstances are political considerations in this country to affect any decisions I make. I say this not for what many think is the very obvious reason that I get at most 8 to 10 percent of the Jewish votes, but because the stakes for this Nation’s peace in the future are too great for us to make decisions abroad based on the political power of a small but very powerful and influential minority at home.

3. There are times when the national security interests of the United States will be served by siding with Israel. For example, where the Soviet Union is obviously siding with Israel’s neighbors it serves our interest to see that Israel is able to not only defend itself but to deter further Soviet encroachments in the area. This is what has influenced me in coming down hard on the side of Israel in maintaining the bal[Page 858]ance of power in the area at a time when Soviet influence in Egypt and other countries surrounding Israel has been particularly strong.

4. On the other hand, where on analysis the question becomes primarily one of the interests of Israel and the interest of Israel’s neighbors, Egypt, Jordan et al, then we should have a totally even-handed policy. As a matter of fact, the interest of the United States will be served in this case by tilting the policy, if it is to be tilted at all, on the side of 100 million Arabs rather than on the side of two million Israelis. However, I believe that an even-handed policy is, on balance, the best one for us to pursue as far as our own interests are concerned.

5. It is quite apparent that the Israeli leaders have diddled us along through the 1970 election and now are planning to follow the same tactics through the 1972 elections. The statement in the memorandum from the Quaker group that they were just waiting until after ’72 when they got a Democratic Administration is a very good indication of what their deepest feelings are. They will be expected to continue to say that they consider RN to be their best friend, that he is a great supporter of Israel, and we will have many well-intentioned Republican supporters in the Jewish community, like Max Fisher,5 who will be coming in and telling us that we’re going to get 35 to 40 percent of the Jewish vote because of the confidence Israeli leaders in their private conversations have indicated in RN. This, of course, is all hogwash. They know that I will put the interest of the United States first and they want somebody in the Presidency who will put the interest of Israel first.

6. Under these circumstances, it is essential that no more aid programs for Israel be approved until they agree to some kind of interim action on Suez or some other issue. I shall be interested in what recommendations you have in this respect. It is vitally important that we all recognize that time is of the essence. In the month of June or July at the latest the Israeli leaders must bite the bullet as to whether they want more U.S. aid at the price of being reasonable on an interim agreement or whether they want to go it alone.

7. You should put this proposition to them very hard in your conversations. They will, of course, immediately assume that they can come to me and get me to override you because of the political considerations that will be coming up in 1972. They are already working very hard on John Mitchell in this respect. This memorandum is your assurance that while on the merits I might reach a different conclusion on a recommendation that comes from State on this problem I will never be influenced one iota by political considerations.

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In sum, I am convinced that unless we get some kind of a settlement now with the Israelis on the Suez or some other issue, we aren’t going to get any kind of settlement until after the ’72 elections. By that time, even though the Israelis don’t think this can happen, the Soviet will have had no other choice but to build up the armed strength of Israel’s neighbors to the point that another Mideast war will be inevitable. As far as Sadat is concerned, he obviously does not want to have a Soviet presence in Egypt. On the other hand, if his policy of conciliation fails, he will either have to go along with a new program of accepting Soviet aid or lose his head, either politically or physically.

I do not want you to report to me on the day-to-day negotiations you undertake. Just keep me posted when a major decision has to be made. You can also have in mind that by my being somewhat detached from the negotiating procedure you will have me in a position where when the time is ripe I may be able to be the “persuader” in getting Israel to accept what is a reasonable settlement and one which is in the interest of the United States.

Good luck!

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office Files of William Rogers, Entry 5439, Lot 73D443, Box 25, WPR-President Nixon. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Haldeman referred to this memorandum in his diary when recording a conversation that he had with Kissinger on June 1. He wrote: “What really is bothering him [Kissinger] is he thinks Rogers is engaged in secret negotiations, that the P[resident] knows about it and isn’t telling Henry. So he asked me to ask the P what he sent to Rogers last week via military aide, which the P mentioned to Rogers on the phone while both Henry and I were in there, and also the direct question: is Rogers conducting a secret negotiation that K[issinger] doesn’t know about. Henry says if he is, then he, Henry, will have to quit, that he can’t tolerate something of that sort.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, June 1, 1971)
  2. Rogers and Nixon discussed the Middle East during a meeting in the Oval Office on May 19 from 9:05 to 10:14 a.m.For a transcript of the portions of the conversation relating to the Middle East, see Document 227.
  3. Nixon was Vice President at the time of the invasion of the Suez Canal Zone.
  4. Reference is to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s decision, in response to Egypt’s approach to the Soviet Union, to tell Egypt’s Foreign Minister in July 1956 that the United States would no longer fund the Aswan Dam project, prompting Nasser to nationalize the Canal at the end of the month.
  5. An oil and real estate magnate who advised Republican Presidents on the Middle East and Jewish issues.