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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on Possible Coup in Jordan

(April 28, 1963)

This is a memorandum of conversation from a Ball-Harman meeting regarding a possible coup in Jordan.

The Acting Secretary

Ambassador Avraham Harman of Israel

Mr. Mordechai Gazit, Minister of Israel

NEA--Acting Assistant Secretary James P. Grant

NEA:NE--William R. Crawford, Jr.

Ambassador Harman apologized for seeking an appointment on a Sunday, but said he had done so at Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's request to convey the latter's response to the information given Israel the previous day regarding a possible coup in Jordan. The Prime Minister's response consists of the following three points:

1. The major problem in the Middle East is not Jordan, but the new Egyptian-Syrian-Iraqi declaration of a war of destruction against Israel. Israel must ask itself how Soviet arms aid, US and Western economic assistance, and the principles of the UN Charter can be reconciled with the inclusion of this threatening statement in a "constitutional document".

2. It is incumbent upon the US and its allies to take positive, concrete measures to oblige these three states to comply with the UN Charter and renounce this threat of force.

3. As regards Jordan, "any change would make it imperative to have the West Bank completely demilitarized. It would be impossible to ask Israel to acquiesce in the presence there of Egyptian, Syrian, or Iraqi troops, or Jordanian troops should there be a change in Jordan. Such troops would be within 1/2 mile from Israel's capital in Jerusalem and adjacent to the critical Natanya waist where Israel is only fifteen kilometers wide. Without such demilitarization, Israel would find itself in permanent danger and inaction would be tantamount to suicide."

The Ambassador said Israel would wish to hold strictly confidential both the fact and substance of this meeting. It hopes the US will do so as well.

In elaborating on points (1) and (2), the Ambassador said Prime Minister Ben-Gurion has made clear in his letter to President Kennedy how he regards the April 17 UAR federation declaration. This constitutes a new and serious reality. Since April 17, not a day has passed without some measure taken to consolidate Nasser's triumph. Most recently, there have been military staff talks. The Ambassador said the Prime Minister has asked that he (the Ambassador) reemphasize his comment of the previous day: that any change in Jordan would have to be viewed in this context. This is a critical concern. Whatever the stresses between them, there is no difference in quality as between Egypt, Syria, and Iraq in their attitude of belligerency toward Israel.

The Acting Secretary said he appreciates Israel's swift response to the previous day's comments by our Government. We ourselves have regarded the "liberation" statement as a matter of concern. We immediately made representations to Nasser about it. Nevertheless, there is some difference between us as to the amount of emphasis which should be placed on this. To us this threat is largely a slogan. We would have thought it would probably appear in any document of federation. In the April 17 statement, however, it is but one article among a great many and receives less emphasis than it might otherwise have had. This statement on our part should in no way be construed as belittling our concern, particularly were there an effort to translate this statement into action.

The Acting Secretary said we can appreciate Israel's concern regarding a possible change in Jordan, particularly if the West Bank were invested by troops strengthened as the result of federation. Our request that the Ambassador call yesterday was an indication of the seriousness with which we regard this. The subject was discussed this afternoon on the telephone with President Kennedy. The President reiterated very strongly our concern regarding the situation as evolving. Whatever happens, however, and we hope nothing does, it is our request that Israel not act precipitously and would consult with the U.S. Government. The Middle East has heard of many coups which never occurred. We are watching with most intense concern. We hope to have a response to the Prime Minister's letter in a day or two.

Ambassador Harman said he was gratified to hear this from the Acting Secretary. Israel hopes to stay in constant touch. As to our respective evaluations of the federation declaration, this is a constitutional document, not a piece of paper. The Arabs have even made reference to the liberation of Palestine as the rationale for union. It would be quite irresponsible for Israel to shape its policies on any assumption other than that the Arabs mean what they say.

The Acting Secretary and Mr. Grant agreed that the federation declaration signals caution, but it is a declaration and falls far short of being a constitution. There is the possibility of real danger, but it is well in the future and we cannot believe that there will not be time for consultation between us.

Ambassador Harman replied that yesterday and today's talks have been most helpful to this purpose. It would be terrible to think what might have happened if there had not been these consultations and the consequent alertness and preparedness.

The Ambassador said he had often referred to the cumulative psychological effect of an unopposed, constant reiteration of belligerency by the Arabs. We see the result today. It is important to take a stand on the principles of the UN Charter. Israel is considering what formal action it must take in this regard. The form of such action has not yet been determined.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.