U.S. Seeks to Break Cycle of Violence

(March 29, 1968)


This memorandum from Harold Saunders of the National Security Council to Presidential Assistant Walt Rostow discusses the cycle of violence which invariably follows terrorist attacks, and explores options to quell the terrorism.


SUBJECT1

Next Step with Israel-Jordan

The problem in a nutshell is this:

-We agree that terrorism is a threat Israel has to do something about.

-We think Israel's effort to end terrorism by military attacks won't work. If they keep going down this track, we see only a rising spiral of attack and counter-attack ending in all Arabs at the summit rejecting a political solution and committing themselves to a guerrilla war against Israel. There's evidence now that the Israelis are beginning to think this way too, although they feel they must respond to terrorism somehow and don't yet see an alternative.

-The only persons who can stop terrorism from Jordanian territory are the Jordanian government. The problem, therefore, is to convince Hussein to stop it or--if he's already convinced but unable--to create conditions which strengthen his hand enough to crack down. We disagree with the Israelis that their military attacks strengthen his hand.

-The alternative we see is to get Jarring's peace talks on the road. If Hussein can show he's getting somewhere his way, maybe it's not too late for him to call the terrorists off, or stop them by force.

-One of the main obstacles to getting Jarring's negotiations started is Israeli inflexibility. One of the main reasons for Israeli inflexibility is the fact that the Cabinet has not taken a formal position on the terms for a peace settlement; Eshkol fears breaking up his coalition but we have assurance that they'll make up their minds the moment there's a glimmer of Arab willingness to talk.

-The difficulty with this is that the Arabs aren't likely to talk until somebody assures them there's a workable deal possible at the end of the track. This is what all the haggling over whether Israel accepts the UN resolution is about.

What all this adds up to is the conclusion of some of us that we should now urge Eshkol to bite the bullet and make the limited move necessary to give the Arabs the assurance they're looking for. Eshkol would give away nothing of substance; he would risk a Cabinet crisis, possibly for limited gains. But the risk of doing nothing looks a lot worse to us.

The alternative is to let force play itself out. The argument for is that only the Israelis will decide to bite the bullet when the pressure of terrorism builds up. The argument against is that we're in a worse position every time Israel strikes back and there's a real danger of the UN Security Council voting sanctions against Israel-with us having to decide whether to vote for, abstain or veto. More important, Israel is in a worse position if we don't stop the guerrilla spiral before the Arabs commit themselves to it.

The debate was brought to a head today in State when Luke Battle tried to clear a response from the President to Eshkol's last message. Arthur Goldberg felt it was too tough for the President. Luke, while fully understanding the President's concerns, feels that any message we send ought to lay out what we see as the serious consequences of Israel's current course.


1 Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East, Vol. 6/65-3/68. Secret. Rostow sent this memorandum to the President on March 30 undercover of a brief memorandum recommending that the President read it. Rostow noted a third possibility not mentioned by Saunders that could alter developments significant in the Middle East: the fall of Nasser; but Rostow added: "I don't believe a U.S. policy can be based on that hoe." (Ibid.)


Source: "Memorandum from Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to Presidental Assistant Rostow," in Smith, Louis J. (Ed.). Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.