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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Letter to President Johnson Complaining About Israeli Anti-Terror Raid

(November 15, 1966)

In this letter to President Johnson, Rostow expresses his condemnation of an Israeli attack on Jordanian terrorist targets. He mentions numerous reasons why Israel's raid into Jordan has undercut American and Israeli interests. He suggests strengthening those within Israel and the Israeli government who disagree with the raids. He suggests even supporting a UN resolution condemning the attack and trying to curry the favor and approval of "moderate Arab nations" and lets it be known that the U.S. can not consistently support Israel.

Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, November 15, 1966.

Israel-Jordan Clash at Today's Lunch

I'm concerned that we haven't reacted strongly enough against Israel's massive raid into Jordan./2/ I suggest discussing this with Secretary Rusk at lunch./3/

I'm not suggesting our usual admonition against retaliation. We'll maintain that posture, but I can sympathize with the Israelis' answer that they can't ignore increasing cross-border raids of Arab terrorists which generate strong pressures on the Israeli government to defend its border citizens. The coalition government can't stand up indefinitely to these pressures.

But retaliation is not the point in this case. This 3000-man raid with tanks and planes was out of all proportion to the provocation and was aimed at the wrong target.

In hitting Jordan so hard, the Israelis have done a great deal of damage to our interests and to their own:

--They've wrecked a good system of tacit cooperation between Hussein and the Israelis. We had his tacit agreement to keep his armor off the west bank of the Jordan, and he had made an honest effort to round up terrorists in Jordan. Continuing this kind of cooperation will be all but impossible now.

--They've undercut Hussein. We've spent $500 million to shore him up as a stabilizing factor on Israel's longest border and vis-a-vis Syria and Iraq. Israel's attack increases the pressure on him to counter attack not only from the more radical Arab governments and from the Palestinians in Jordan but also from the Army, which is his main source of support and may now press for a chance to recoup its Sunday losses.

--They've set back progress toward a long term accommodation with the Arabs. It makes even the moderate Arabs feel fatalistically that there is nothing they can do to get along with the Israelis no matter how hard they try. It puts a premium on extreme Arab chauvinism.

--They may have persuaded the Syrians, who are the main troublemakers, that Israel didn't dare attack Soviet-protected Syria but could attack US-backed Jordan with impunity.

It's important that we strengthen the hand of those within the Israeli Government who feel this is not the proper way to handle the problem. Even members of the Israeli military now doubt that retaliation will stop the cross-border raids, though they see no better solution.

We've already laid the groundwork for a sharp reaction, but this by itself doesn't go far enough. Ambassador Goldberg issued a statement in New York deploring the attack./4/ We refused to pass an Israeli message to King Hussein justifying the raid. We will probably support Jordan if it goes to the UN (though we'll also have to deplore the Jordan-based road-mining incident that killed three Israelis and provoked this attack). Ray Hare gave Ambassador Harman a pretty hard time this afternoon./5/ (Harman was more embarrassed than defensive.)

To stimulate discussion, you may want to raise the following possibilities with Secretary Rusk:

--You could send a message to Eshkol restating our interests and making clear that Israel has undercut those interests as well as its own.

--We could leak the main points of such a message to the press or in UN corridors to rebalance our image with the moderate Arabs.

--We could slow down military deliveries to Israeli inconspicuously but just enough to make our point. Vietnam priorities could be an overt excuse.

--We might begin putting out the line with our Jewish friends here that the US can't go on supporting Israel's interests in the Middle East unless the Israelis themselves show some intent over the long run to reach an accommodation with the Arabs. This, after all, is what we are trying to do with the Indians and Pakistanis.

--The most constructive thing we could do looking to the future would be to offer help either through the UN or bilaterally to make available the latest techniques in border security. Many new simple devices have been successful in Vietnam and have been available on the open market.

This is delicate business, but you've put a high priority on finding new ways to get at the Arab-Israeli stalemate. This kind of Israeli move makes progress impossible. We've felt that, with Eban's appointment, the winds in Israel might begin to shift away from the old timers' idea of "fortress Israel" to the younger men's hopes for some kind of break in the impasse. We ought to come down on the side of accommodation where we can. If we don't this time, no one will ever believe we care.

W. W. Rostow/6/

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VI. Secret.

/2/Rostow informed the President of the raid in telegram CAP 666983, sent to the LBJ Ranch on November 13, and summarized the U.S. response in a November 14 memorandum to the President. (Both ibid.)

/3/A November 15 memorandum from Read to Rusk states that Rostow called at noon to pass on suggestions from his staff of possible steps to underscore U.S. displeasure with the Israelis and to suggest that Rusk raise the matter at his lunch with the President that day. The suggestions included "talks with the Jewish Community here," slowing U.S. military deliveries, and a possible Presidential letter. Rostow discussed the suggestions with Hare, who opposed taking additional steps at that time. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 27 ARAB-ISR)

/4/The text of the statement issued by USUN on November 13 is in circular telegram 83788, November 13. (Ibid., POL 32-1 ISR-JORDAN)

/5/This November 14 meeting is recorded in telegrams 84604 and 84620 to Tel Aviv, both November 15. (Both ibid.)

/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

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