Exchange of Letters between President Reagan and Prime Minister Begin

(June 6, 1982)


A day after Ambassador Argov was shot in London, President Reagan sent a message to Mr. Begin expressing deep shock at the outrage and calling for restraint. The message came too late to prevent the Cabinet decision [to invade Lebanon]. On 6 June the President again requested that Mr. Begin would do what he could to "avoid military steps that could lead to a widening of the conflict. " He suggested that Ambassador Habib proceed to the Middle East again and resume his mission. This message was delivered to Mr. Begin by U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis at 06.30. The Ambassador also requested that Israel agree to a cease fire at 09.00 and told Mr. Begin that the P. L. 0. had already agreed to a cease fire. This equation was rejected at once by Mr. Begin. In his reply he explained the need for the military operation and stated that "the army has been instructed to push back the terrorists to a distance of forty kilometers to the north. " He also said that Israel did not covet Lebanese territory and reiterated the cabinet wording that Israel wished to sign a "peace treaty with a free, independent Lebanon that will preserve its territorial integrity." No mention was made of the resumption of the Habib mission. Text:


June 6, 1982

His Excellency Menachem Begin
Prime Minister of the State of Israel
Jerusalem

Dear Menachem:

Following the abominable shooting of Ambassador Argov and the subsequent escalation of violence, I am sure that you are aware of our efforts with the interested parties in Europe and the Middle East to urge that no further actions be taken against Israel that could only worsen the situation. As we continue our efforts, I hope you will give the most serious consideration to the message Ambassador Lewis conveyed to you late Saturday evening and will do what you can to avoid military steps that could lead to a widening of the conflict and even greater Israeli casualties.

Secretary Haig and I will be consulting with Ambassador Habib today. Following those discussions, if the situation permits, we will ask him to proceed on his mission to the area as scheduled. I hope you will agree on the need to work together to bring about those conditions which, over time, will recreate a stable and secure Lebanon and ultimately lead to security on Israel's northern border.

I pray our efforts will succeed to ensure that the situation does not go beyond the violence of recent hours. As you know, the security of Israel remains of the utmost concern to me.

With warm regards,
Ronald Reagan

 

Jerusalem, June 6, 1982

Dear Mr. President, Dear Friend,

I thank you for your letter of June 4. Your words of sympathy, friendship and understanding touched me deeply.

I am in permanent contact with the surgeon - a wonderful man - who operated on Ambassador Argov. His last call from London came yesterday evening; the good doctor informed me that he still cannot make a definite prognosis. It seems already clear, however, that if the Ambassador survives the assassination attempt he will be left paralyzed. Nothing can be determined as yet about how his intellectual faculties will function.

Very early this morning, Mr. President, I received your second letter dated June 6, for which I thank you. I feel it is my duty, in answering it, to describe to you the real situation.

For the last seventy-two hours, twenty-three of our towns, townships and villages in Galilee have been under the constant shelling of Soviet-supplied heavy artillery and Katyusha rockets by the "P.L.O." terrorists. Tens of thousands of men, women and children remain day and night in shelters. We have suffered casualties. The terrorists are aiming their guns exclusively at the civilian population. There are many military targets in the area; these are completely "immune". The purpose of the enemy is to kill - to kill Jews; men, women and children. Is there a nation in the world that would tolerate such, a situation which, after the cessation of hostilities agreement, has repeated itself time and again?

The question is clearly answered in the most recent action of the United Kingdom which is now waging a full-fledged war eight thousand miles from its shores in the name of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Mr. President, the bloodthirsty aggressor against us is on our doorstep. Do we not have "the inherent right to self-defense?" Does not Article 51 of the Charter apply to us? Is the Jewish State an exception to all the rules applying to all other nations? The answer to these questions is enshrined in the questions themselves.

Mr. President, the Government of Israel decided to do its best to put an end to this intolerable situation. The army has been instructed to push back the terrorists to a distance of forty kilometers to the north so that all our civilians in the region of Galilee will be set free of the permanent threat to their lives.

We do not covet one inch of Lebanese territory. We wish to sign a peace treaty with a free, independent Lebanon that will preserve its territorial integrity. But it is our duty to make sure that our citizens and their families can live peacefully and carry on their daily lives without the lurking permanent threat of sudden death.

I do hope, Mr. President, that you will take into consideration the unique situation in which we find ourselves as a result of the repeated aggression against us perpetrated by a Soviet-promoted terrorist organization bent on shedding the blood of our people in the Land and abroad.

We shall do our sacred duty. So help us God.

Yours respectfully and sincerely,
Menachem


Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry