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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Assessment of the Tension Between Israel and the Arabs

(April 13, 1967)

This report assesses the tension between Israel and its Arab neightbors, noting that the Arabs and Israelis are no closer to resolving their fundamental differencces than previously. The report also discusses how the Soviet Union is involved in the Middle East conflict, and which side the country would support were a full-fledged war to occur.


The Problem

To estimate present attitudes and future trends in the Arab-Israeli problem over the next two or three years.


A. The Arabs and Israelis are no closer to a solution of their fundamental differences than they ever were.

B. Rivalries and disputes among the Arabs reduce their chances of doing anything significant about their quarrel with Israel; these rivalries also create some danger of precipitating crises from which large-scale Arab-Israeli hostilities could develop.

C. The Israelis seem likely to continue existing policies, including occasional retaliatory action; they would resort to force on a large scale only if they felt their security seriously endangered.

D. The Soviet leaders almost certainly view the Arab-Israeli dispute as promoting their interests. But they do not wish to see it develop into armed conflict. While continuing to supply arms to their Arab friends, they probably wish to keep the arms race from getting out of hand.

E. If and when the Arabs come to believe that the Israelis are at the point of deploying strategic missiles,/2/ a phase of sharply increased Arab-Israeli tensions will probably arise. This is likely to occur within the next two to three years. In this event, the Egyptians would probably press the Soviets for help.

/2/In the context of an Arab-Israeli conflict, strategic missiles would be those capable of striking the major population centers or military installations of the enemy, i.e., missiles with a range roughly between 100 and 500 miles. [Footnote in the source text.]

F. To such an appeal the Soviet leaders would probably feel that they had to respond in some way. They would probably pledge to help Egypt or other Arab states if attacked and would probably provide token technical aid on the Egyptian missile program. They might go so far as to provide a missile system, but we believe they would not supply nuclear warheads or assist in the development of a nuclear weapons program.

G. Although periods of increased tension in the Arab-Israeli dispute will occur from time to time, both sides appear to appreciate that large-scale military action involves considerable risk and no assurance of leading to a solution. In any event, the chances are good that the threat of great power intervention will prevent an attempt by either side to resolve the problem by military force.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79-R01012A, ODDI Registry of NIE and SNIE Files. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet, the estimate was submitted by Director of Central Intelligence Richard M. Helms, and concurred in by the U.S. Intelligence Board on April 13. The Central Intelligence Agency, the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the NSA participated in its preparation. The CIA, State, Defense, NSA, and AEC representatives concurred; the FBI representative abstained, the subject being outside his jurisdiction.

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