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

187681. For Ambassador.

1. We believe reported agreement between Lebanese Government and guerrilla leadership2 likely to result as a minimum in some greater freedom of action for the fedayeen. This, of course, carries with it risk that Israelis will feel obliged to take early counter measures as warning to Lebanese Government and to guerrillas themselves. We assume you will continue to counsel restraint.

2. We doubt this will be sufficient, however, and believe more drastic effort on our part may be necessary to persuade Israelis to adjust themselves to new situation in Lebanon in ways designed avoid to extent possible further political deterioration there. We have accordingly been giving thought to what further we might say to Israelis with respect to lessons to be drawn from current Lebanese crisis. In this connection, we feel that events have borne out our somber predictions that Israeli policy of large scale military retaliation against two remaining moderate regimes, Jordan and Lebanon, while militarily successful, would be in long run a political disaster. You will have noted that in Richardson-Rabin conversation last Friday,3 we made point that we thought at the time that Beirut airport attack4 was a mistake and would be a real beginning of political deterioration in Lebanon. Events since then have, in our judgment, tended to confirm this conclusion. We do not disagree with Rabin’s assertion to Under Secretary that fedayeen [Page 214] would have become increasing problem in Lebanon even in absence Beirut raid. This misses point, however, that Beirut raid in our view gave fedayeen boost and seriously hampered GOL’s ability to cope politically with fedayeen problem when it subsequently began assume major proportions.

3. We believe principal lessons to be drawn from current Lebanese crisis are two-fold: (A) that U.S. must continue to make major efforts to try to achieve a political settlement despite continued expressed opposition of Israelis; and (B) that, as was indicated to Rabin, Israelis must do some hard thinking and reassess their policy of the past months of quote seven-fold unquote retaliation on Jordanian and Lebanese soil. It may be that guerrilla movement has picked up such steam politically and militarily that trend will not be reversible. We are struck by the fact, however, that neither UAR nor Soviets seem interested in pushing present crisis to ultimate challenge. We feel, therefore, that there may still be room to maneuver in this situation.

4. We would like to have any thoughts that you may have regarding the above as well as your judgment regarding USG approach to GOI along following lines:

A. For some time we have expressed grave doubts to GOI about wisdom of its policy of large scale retaliation in response to fedayeen activities mounted from Lebanon and Jordan. We believe that latest political crisis in Lebanon has demonstrated that such policy can only contribute to political chain reaction threatening very existence of moderate regimes and thereby over long run US as well as Israeli interests.

B. Hard reality is that, in absence of political settlement, moderate regimes have no alternative to tolerating certain level of fedayeen activity from their territory if they are to survive. In our view, agreement between Lebanese Government and fedayeen is irreversible and only question is extent to which GOI can counter and limit fedayeen activities, not whether it can prevent them entirely.

C. In interest of preserving regimes with whom Israel can eventually make peace when opportunity presents itself, we believe GOI must make fundamental reassessment of its entire doctrine of how to deal with this problem as it relates to Lebanon and Jordan. We urge Israelis in particular to reassess political implications of their actions, giving greater weight to these than has been case in past where they have tended to concentrate on military success or failure of a given action.

D. We appreciate fully that Israel cannot remain passive and react in no way to fedayeen attacks across its borders, particularly when they take toll of innocent civilian lives. What we are urging, however, is that Israelis adopt new doctrine based on premise they must live with certain level of fedayeen attacks from Lebanon and Jordan and that, so far as these 2 countries are concerned, they limit their military response [Page 215] first to defensive actions to reduce infiltration and secondly to responding in kind and only in a measured way. In other words, we urge that they adopt self-denying doctrine to extent of avoiding escalating counter actions and cross border initiatives in the form of air and commando strikes, which have been successful militarily but have resulted in strengthening fedayeen politically at expense of both Jordanian and Lebanese Governmental leadership.

E. We think Israelis should make conscious revision of their retaliation doctrine along foregoing lines and should so advise Hussein and Helou through contacts available to them, making clear that while they understand that fedayeen activities cannot be stopped completely and will have to be countered from time to time, they will exercise extra measure of restraint so long as Hussein and Helou reciprocate by pursuing vigorously efforts to limit fedayeen operations from their territory to maximum extent possible.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 605, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. III. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Sisco and Atherton, cleared in NEA/ARN, and approved by Rogers. Repeated to Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Jidda, London, Moscow, Paris, Jerusalem, and USUN.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 60.
  3. October 31. No record was found.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 1.
  5. In telegram 4202 from Tel Aviv, November 7, Barbour replied: “Appreciate Department’s concern about the undesirable consequences of Israeli military responses to fedayeen across ceasefire (or armistice) line attacks. I believe however that a generalized approach such as that suggested in reftel [telegram 187681 to Tel Aviv] is not likely to have more effect than the continued reiteration of counsels of restraint by us at all levels both here and in Washington.” The Ambassador concluded: “In sum, I think it is a misnomer to speak of general Israeli policy of retaliation or to tailor our démarches to the GOI as if such a policy did exist. Our approaches had better be particular ones designed for the particular circumstances. For present, therefore, I believe our best chance to promote Israeli restraint will be for us to keep in close touch with GOI and exchange with them to fullest extent possible information and opinions on situation in Lebanon.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 604, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. II)