Draft of Letter to Jordan From President Johnson Criticizing Israel for its Raid
(November 23, 1966)
CAP 661033. Memorandum for the President.
Subject: Message to King Hussein.
Our next step in defusing the Jordan-Israel crisis is to bolster King Hussein. He is under great pressure both from the Palestinian elements in his population and from the junior army officers who charge that he has not provided adequately for Jordan's defense. Demonstrations have spread to all the major centers in West Jordan. He has asked us for substantial amounts of military equipment to help him demonstrate that he has moved to prevent a repeat of the mauling Israel gave Jordan's forces on November 13. Some of his advisors tell him that only attacking Israel will win the popular support necessary to save his regime.
From our point of view either of the extreme approaches Jordan officials are talking about amounts to suicide. An attack on Israel could result in nothing but a severe Jordanian defeat. Expanding the army to the extent the King is talking about would be economic suicide because the Jordanian budget--already heavily subsidized by us--could not stand the additional $20 million a year in normal support maintenance costs we estimate would be required.
The King may still choose to commit suicide. He has told Ambassador Burns that a point may come when he would rather go down fighting his enemies rather than his own people. However, our job is to (a) do what we can to help him through this tense period and (b) to restore balance to his thinking. We are convinced--and we now have Eshkol's own assurances--that Israel has not changed its policy toward Jordan as the King seems to believe. With the gradual restoration of calm, we hope to turn his thinking to modest efforts to better control his borders.
The following message, approved by Under Secretary Katzenbach, from you to the King is designed to help him over the current crisis.
It expresses our sympathy to Hussein, makes clear our sharp disapproval of Israel's action and reaffirms our interest in the peace, security, and economic progress of Jordan. It seeks to allay his fears that this major raid represents a change in Israel's policy toward the West Bank by indicating you have good reason to believe it highly unlikely that the events he fears will in fact occur. (We have the firmest assurances from Israel to this effect.) It makes clear that the Israelis are fully aware that a repeat performance will have the gravest consequences for U.S.-Israeli relations.
I believe we now have the Israelis focussing on better control of the borders--the most necessary immediate step in launching a period of quiet in Israel-Jordan relations. It will be more difficult to get Hussein concentrating on this problem rather than making unrealistic calls on us to make Jordan and Israel militarily equal. We will also have to help him parry thrusts again from the USSR and UAR, who are standing in the wings waiting to jump in with offers of new equipment as they were when you approved our plane sale. However, this message is the first step in that direction.
Words of sympathy are small comfort when lives have been needlessly destroyed. I do, however, want to convey to Your Majesty a sense of the sorrow and concern the military action by Israel in the Hebron area has raised in me and in this country generally. My disapproval of this action has been made known to the Government of Israel in the strongest terms. Our support of condemnation of this action by the Security Council and Ambassador Goldberg's statement during the Security Council hearings demonstrate the depth of my feelings and those of our country.
This action has placed Your Majesty in a difficult position. I am certain that with your demonstrated courage, wisdom and moderation, your difficulties will be overcome. For our part, I assure you that this government maintains its interest in the peace and security of Jordan and in the economic progress and well-being of its people. I have ordered an urgent review of measures which the United States Government could take to assist you during this difficult period./2/ We will continue to be in touch with your government on this question.
/2/On another copy of CAP 661033, this sentence is revised in an unknown handwriting to read as follows: "I have ordered an urgent review of measures which the United States Government could take to assist in settling these difficulties." (Ibid., Special Head of State Correspondence File, Jordan)
Finally Ambassador Burns has informed me of Your Majesty's concern that Israel's policies have changed and that Israel now intends to occupy territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River. While I can understand the reasons for this concern, I have good reason to believe it highly unlikely that the events you fear will in fact occur. In this connection my government's opposition to the use of force to alter armistice lines or borders in the Near East has been made unmistakably clear to all parties concerned.
The strong private representations we have made in Israel as well as our forthright public statements make clear that should Israel adopt the policies you fear it would have the gravest consequences for United States-Israel relations./3/ There is no doubt in my mind that our position is fully understood and appreciated by the Israelis.
/3/On the copy of CAP 661033 cited in footnote 2 above, the sentence ends after the word "consequences" and the words "for United States-Israel relations" are crossed out.
/4/Neither option is checked. A handwritten note states, "Been cleared with revisions." The message, with the revisions indicated in footnotes 2 and 3 above, was sent in telegram 90603 to Amman, November 23. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 32-1 ISR-JORDAN) Burns reported in telegram 1237 from Amman, November 24, that he delivered the message that morning to the King, who was "clearly pleased." (Ibid.)
Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 15. Secret. A handwritten note reads, "Sent 4:40 p.m."
Source: Schwar, Harriet Dashiell (Ed.). Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.