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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Telegram Expressing Reservations About High-Level Contacts with Israel

(January 1, 1965)

Though the conventional wisdom is that the United States has always had a close alliance with Israel, the truth is this was not the case at all during the Johnson Administration. This remarkable document makes clear that Israel was seeking this type of relationship, but the State Department did not want the U.S. too closely identified with Israel and specifically recommended avoiding high-level meetings.

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

Washington, January 1, 1965, 5:57 p.m.

558. Embtel 661.2 In approach parallel to your talk with Prime Minister Eshkol reported reftel, Deputy Prime Minister Eban recalled to Secretary December 53 that during Eshkol visit to Washington4 it was agreed would be desirable keep in closer touch and there should be regular exchanges of views on political and military matters about every six months. Subsequently, this understanding extended to nine month periods. Eban stated rapid pace events in Middle East, some of which seriously affected Israel's security led GOI contemplate two types of meetings: 1) general review involving Israel Foreign Minister that would occur with public knowledge, and 2) concurrent informal, military talks that would not become public knowledge.

Secretary said he would discuss proposal with President and be in touch with Ambassador Harman.

FYI: We fully recognize that informal consultations will have to be held now and then with Israel. However, Israel's insistence upon periodic high-level meetings causes us concern. While consistent with Israel objective promote public identification with US, meetings not necessarily in interest either Israel or US. Moreover, there is no "agreement" on holding meetings. Israeli officials including Eshkol proposed them but President did not express specific agreement and consensus US officials was that occasional ad hoc meetings as needed might be desirable. We have noted repeated Israeli efforts parlay consensus into formal agreement. Since Eshkol visit, about ten such meetings have occurred.

We also concerned about any proposal for formal, high-level meeting. This sort of publicized consultation was not suggested by anyone here last June, and in fact is contrary to spirit of informal quiet consultations proposed by Israelis themselves. Fanfare would inevitably attend formal, high-level meeting proposed March 1965 and inspire speculation and anticipation of portentous results facts do not warrant. This could well come at a time when US relations with Arabs over UAC and other matters in critical phase. Military meeting would seem unnecessary in view numerous recent discussions between high-level US and Israeli civilian and military officials over past months. Meetings would 1) reduce our ability help improve Israel's position in Near East by moving us one more step toward joint consultations and contingency planning we oppose, 2) give Arabs evidence to support their contention we backing Israel against them, and 3) accomplish nothing that lower-level, informal, political discussion could not better achieve. End FYI.

You should inform appropriate high-level GOI officials Department informing Israel Ambassador we believe formal meetings at foreign minister level unwise in general and not really envisaged by Israelis or us last June. If, however, GA still in session next March and Israeli Foreign Minister present, Secretary would of course be glad to meet with her again. As for other political talks we suggest that Talbot visit Israel when he is in area next spring. We also accept in principle that, if we have specific military topics which we agree should be discussed, then another round of quiet military talks could be arranged at an appropriate time after the political discussions envisaged above.5



1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 ISR-US. Secret. Drafted by Russell; cleared by Davies, Komer, Talbot, Harriman, and Solbert; and approved by Rusk.

2 Telegram 661 from Tel Aviv, December 8, reported that Eshkol had raised the matter of Israel-U.S. political talks with Barbour and had proposed a 2 or 3-day high-level meeting in March 1965. (Ibid.)

3 Rusk and Eban met in New York, where both were attending the U.N. General Assembly. Memoranda of their conversation are ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2448.

4 See Documents 65-70.

5 Barbour informed Eshkol of the Department's attitude toward the Israeli proposal on January 4, and Talbot spoke along the same lines to Harman on January 12. (Telegram 765 from Tel Aviv, January 5, and telegram 632 to Tel Aviv, January 26; both in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 ISR-US)

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.