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

192092. Subject: Israeli Strategy re Fedayeen. Ref: Tel Aviv 6807.2

1. Appreciate your full report of meeting with Eban. Believe after our talks with Israelis there and here they understand well our reservations re their fedayeen strategy as expressed in air attacks October 15.3 We have no desire therefore to prolong this exchange unnecessarily. Eban made several points to you in course his comments, however, that do not accord with our view of past history and present facts. Lest our silence be misconstrued, you should, in manner you deem most appropriate, register with GOI following points:

2. We are sure that Israel is doing all it can to avoid civilian casualties in its actions against fedayeen targets in Lebanon. But fact is on every such occasion in recent months, including according to our best information Oct 15 raids, there have been civilian casualties. We have greatest respect for Israeli intelligence but it like intelligence of any country can be wrong. It was unaware for example that tents used by fedayeen were on Sept 8 occupied by children many of whom were casualties. (Beirut 9696).4 We gather it was unaware in Oct 15 action that fedayeen at Mazyef were absent on leave at time of raid.

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3. Eban’s remarks suggest that principal reason for Hussein’s crackdown on fedayeen was Israeli pressure on fedayeen in Jordan. While undoubtedly Israeli policies had part in Hussein’s finally grasping nettle, proximate and probably decisive factor in our view was direct threat fedayeen posed to very existence of Hashemite regime. Lebanese situation is very different—we believe crucially different—from that of Jordan, in number of respects, and it is risky to draw parallels.

4. Eban claims the Lebanese have backtracked on efforts to get fedayeen out of villages. As Israelis know from our exchanges on this subject, our info is that fedayeen have been ejected from and still being kept out of villages.

5. If Lebanon is still bound by Cairo Agreement5 then it is an agreement reinterpreted from the original. What seems more important to us is not rpt not what overall framework of Lebanese-fedayeen agreement is called, but what actual Lebanese army restrictions are being carried out against fedayeen on the ground. By Israel’s own account the Lebanon border has been free of fedayeen incursions for over a month. This is tangible evidence that Cairo Agreement, as originally understood, is not rpt not being fulfilled.

6. Eban asserts that Lebanon is only real base that terrorists now have, and that it is only place where terrorists are free to train and prepare actions. We are in basic disagreement with centrality which GOI accords to Lebanon in problem of terrorism. We believe it overlooks support of all kinds terrorists are receiving from other Arab countries, support without which fedayeen movement would be severely crippled. Eban told Secretary Sept 22 that without Arab governments’ support terrorist organizations could not be effective. He spoke of evidence of massive links of terrorist organizations to Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and certain North African states. We agree with this evaluation, which puts Lebanon in proper perspective, and believe it is still valid.

7. Eban states that if fedayeen currently not shooting at Israelis this is not important because they are training to shoot. With due regard for Israel’s perception of its own security we cannot agree that quiet along Israel’s ceasefire lines is unimportant. It is a positive contribution to area stability and to atmosphere for diplomatic efforts for peace. Of almost equal importance it reflects a prudent and perhaps a constructive attitude on part of Israel’s neighbors, in present instance particularly on part of Lebanon.

8. In sum, we agree with Israel that ideal situation would be complete elimination of fedayeen presence and activities on their territories [Page 1067] by all Arab governments. And we think some of Israel’s earlier reactions to fedayeen incursions have had salutary effect on GOL determination to prevent such incursions. Where we diverge from GOI analysis is over latter’s view that military strikes at fedayeen in Lebanon, even in absence of fedayeen attacks across border, can seriously inhibit terrorist actions in third countries or be carried out in ways that neither cause innocent civilian casualties nor have adverse political repercussions in Lebanon which in long run are counter to broader U.S. and we believe, Israeli interests.

9. On related subject, we note recent comments attributed to “Tel Aviv military sources” by CBS correspondent Wasserthile Oct 16 that Israel does not preclude striking against countries further removed which give support to fedayeen, including Libya. We deplore Libyan attitude re fedayeen activities as much as does GOI. We feel, however, that we must make clear to GOI our very real concern that any military action it might take against Libya—however justified Israel might consider it in light Libyan policies—could trigger emotional mob reactions that would place large American community in Libya in serious physical jeopardy.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 610, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. XI. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Stackhouse and Atherton, cleared in draft in INR/RNA/NE and AF/N, and approved by Sisco. Repeated to Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Tripoli, and USUN.
  2. In telegram 6807 from Tel Aviv, October 17, the Embassy reported Barbour’s meeting with Eban, during which the Israeli Foreign Minister explained his government’s thinking behind its recent air raid strategy against fedayeen installations in Lebanon and Syria. Eban said that “Israel will not be limited in its response and will act if it gets information about preparations at a fedayeen base. Israel does not accept logic that Israelis should let fedayeen train because they had not attacked across Israeli border for one month. Just as governments everywhere should act promptly against nests of hijackers and other terrorists abroad, so Israel should not wait if it can act to prevent future casualties on its own side and especially if Israeli action can be taken without causing civilian casualties.” (Ibid.)
  3. On October 16, Sisco met with Rabin to discuss Israel’s air raids of the previous day. The Assistant Secretary said that, while the United States “understood the objective to be that such raids were intended to ‘encourage’ GOL to take more effective steps in controlling the guerillas,” he wanted to share U.S. “misgivings” about the October 15 strikes. He said that the United States considered the actions “ill-advised” and that “we urge Israel to try and enlarge its exchanges with the Lebanese authorities through appropriate channels,” adding that, “in the absence of prior incidents or border crossings,” such raids were “more likely to undermine the ability of the GOL to take effective action.” Finally, Sisco wanted to emphasize that the United States did not raise this issue on behalf of Lebanon but at its own initiative to share its concern with Israel. (Telegram 188750 to Tel Aviv, October 16; ibid.)
  4. Not found.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 60.
  6. Barbour presented the Department’s views to Elizur on the morning of October 23. (Telegram 6918 from Tel Aviv, October 24; ibid.)