24. Telegram 160323 From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1 2


  • TWA Hijacking


  • A.Tel Aviv 3588 B. State 159327
We share Embassy Tel Aviv’s concern that Israeli patience with our efforts to obtain release of two Israeli passengers may be running out (Ref A). Dept. officer received same impression from Israeli Counselor Raviv in September 18 conversation (para 4, Ref. B). Following is recapitulation our thinking.
We share Israeli outrage at continued illegal detention of two passengers. GOI has been fully informed of various measures we have employed in effort obtain their release. In employing these measures we have sought to avoid any appearance of coercion since it our considered opinion that this would be counterproductive. Syrian regime cannot afford publicly to appear to be submitting to American [Page 2] or Israeli pressures.
In any case, USG has little leverage at its disposal for use against Syrians. We do not rpt not know what Embassy has in mind when it advocates “hardhitting campaign” and “strong action against Syria in every way possible regardless of consequences”. Even if such action were feasible, we question whether it would have desired results.
Proposal we do something prevent Syrian election to Security Council is non-starter. Given fact that elections to SC are by secret ballot, that UN membership normally accepts regional choice, that Syria has Asian group endorsement, and that there are no rival candidates for seat Syria seeks, we see no way to prevent Syria’s election or to use Syrian candidacy as bargaining counter in connection release of TWA passengers.
We understand that Syrians are embarrassed by presence of Israelis who thrust on them by PFLP and disapprove of hijacking. [Page 3] But Syrian regime is shaky aid evidently fears domestic—particularly Palestinian—repercussions if it relinquishes passengers without face-saving quid pro quo.
With above in mind, we have come to reluctant conclusion that the most promising method of getting the two passengers released would be via an Israeli offer of some quid pro quo. Experienced observers such as ICRC reps and Italian and other third party diplomats—all of whom have been in close touch with responsible Syrian officials—concur this assessment. FYI. IATA DirGen also concurs. End FYI. We trust Israelis will give further thought to this possibility.
Meanwhile, we are continuing our efforts. We have again broached matter to Soviets, and we are considering a quiet but direct initiative with Syrian representative in New York next week. Precipitate Israeli action would almost certainly damage prospects for success.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, AV 12 US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Seelye and April Glaspie (NEA/ARN) on September 19; cleared by Jones, Wahl, Loy, Davies and Lloyd; and approved by Sisco.
  2. While sharing Embassy Tel Aviv’s concern that the Israelis might be losing patience over TWA Flight 840, the Department of State emphasized that it had little leverage to use with the Syrians. The Department rejected suggestions to be more aggressive with Syria by attempting to prevent its election to the UN Security Council, concluding that the prisoner/hostage swap would be the best way to end the crisis.