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

97086. Tosec 257. London for Assistant Secretary Sisco. Subject: Possible Israel Action Against Lebanon.

1. In wake Lod Airport attack2 and indications possible Israeli reprisal against Lebanon we confront familiar dilemma: whether or not to seek to deter retaliation which could have salutary inhibiting effect on fedayeen and GOL in short run but, given Lebanese circumstances, could also have more far-reaching destabilizing effect in Lebanon with strains on U.S.-Lebanese relations and (as in case of 1968 raid) with ultimate strengthening of fedayeen position in Lebanon. On one hand fact is Israel makes its own decisions and on previous occasions our direct appeals for them to stay their hand have rarely if ever seemed to have effect. Our own feeling is that such appeals for restraint have more often than not aroused Israeli resentment that we were trying to close off a legitimate option and were more sympathetic to Arab than to Israeli concerns. The higher the emotional temperature the more likely this counterproductive emotional reaction will be evoked. On other hand failure by us to indicate we believe further violence could have broader destabilizing political effects in area may well be construed by Israelis as U.S. acquiescence to any action they may choose to take. It clearly not in our interest that this be their understanding.

2. With foregoing considerations in mind we are inclined to think that most effective tack would be low key but unmistakable signal as regards our concerns about Israeli retaliation against Lebanon. Circumstances may favor such an approach now. We slightly encouraged that Knesset debate has been postponed and hope this indicates GOI wants to give time for emotions to cool.

3. We therefore think, unless you have serious reservations, that you should speak to GOI along following lines at high level at earliest opportunity. As we informed GOI we have gone in strongly to Leba[Page 1011]nese Government. We note that in letter to Security Council Lebanese Government has expressed disapproval such acts of violence and said it was not implicated in any way in the matter. We have since been informed by Lebanese that GOL is planning to move to restrict activities of PFLP. We were not given details as to precisely what GOL would do, but they have said they will keep us advised. In our conversations with Lebanese, while making clear to them we cannot speak for GOI, we have expressed our judgment that their own actions vis-à-vis PFLP will be factor GOI will weigh in considering how to respond to Lod Airport killings.3 In our view, initial Lebanese response has been so far so good. While doubt obviously remains how effectively GOL will move against PFLP, we believe that they can best do so in atmosphere free of further violence and will be watching closely for evidence of how GOL plans to proceed.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 609, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. X. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Stackhouse and Atherton, cleared by Seelye and Davies, and approved by Irwin. Repeated Priority to Beirut, USUN, and London for the Secretary.
  2. On May 31, three Japanese guerrillas fired on a crowd of roughly 250 to 300 people in the Tel Aviv airport, killing 25 and wounding 72. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed sole responsibility for the attack, timing it to coincide with the anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 as well as retaliating for the IDF killing of two Arab guerrillas who had hijacked an airplane to Tel Aviv earlier in the month. (New York Times, May 31, 1972, pp. 1 and 27)
  3. On June 2, the Embassy in Tel Aviv replied: “Embassy does have serious reservations concerning procedure outlined para 3 reftel. As Department notes, we have already informed GOI, and Eban acknowledged to Ambassador, that we have weighed in strongly with GOL. We have also told GOI initial GOL response was ‘positive.’ Among other points Department proposes to make to Israelis now, however, there are several which we feel will only excite argument and convince Israelis that we do not take sufficiently grave view of role which GOL permits terrorist organizations in Lebanon.” (Telegram 3501 from Tel Aviv, June 2; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 609, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. X)
  4. Sisco met with Rabin on June 23 to inform him that U.S. officials had “told Lebanon it should not expect support in Security Council from us if it proceeds with its decision in principle to take recent incidents there.” The Assistant Secretary added that they had “declined the Lebanese request that we press Israel for release prisoners taken June 21 but we had said we would inquire what Israeli intentions were re these prisoners.” Sisco then asked Rabin for more information regarding Israel’s patrolling policy on the Lebanese border. The Israeli Ambassador said, “Israeli policy would continue as long as Lebanese territory used as fedayeen base against Israel,” defending Israeli patrolling actions as “necessary to forestall fedayeen attacks.” As for the prisoners, Rabin said that Israel “wanted package deal covering all Arab and Israeli POWs and was in touch with ICRC.” (Telegram 114024 to Tel Aviv, June 24; ibid., Box 1168, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks, June 1–30, 1972)