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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on Situation in Jordan

(April 30, 1963)

This is a memorandum from Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) commenting on the situation in Jordan and Israeli reactions to it.


Though anything could still happen, it begins to look as though immediacy of Jordan problem receding a bit. Both Hussein and Macomber are a bit more relaxed (Amman 503), and Nasser says (Cairo 1870) what's all the excitement about. We've also tried to cool down the Iraqis (Baghdad 709).

In fact I'm beginning to think that the immediate problem is less Jordan than Israel's obvious effort to take advantage of current tensions to push us into deeds or words which will bolster its security, regardless of the effect on our position with the Arabs. BG's emphasis on the 17 April UAR Declaration, Harman's statement that Israel wants us to take formal action to get UAR to renounce it, and all the flak about moving to the West Bank suggest that the Israelis want either to commit us publicly on their side or to get strong private reassurances from us (e.g. joint planning, security commitment).

If Arab unity is really on the upgrade (and this is still moot) we're unquestionably going to have to do something along these lines. But if at all possible, we must make sure that in return for such assurances, we get some constraints on Israel as well. We cannot commit ourselves to Israel's defense without making sure that we haven't given it a blank check.

Since BG's letter makes clear that Israel regards itself as still militarily superior to the Arabs, there is no immediate threat to Israel's security. Nor is it as open and shut as Bob McNamara put it last Saturday that the West Bank of the Jordan is Israel's logical military frontier (Mike latched on to this like a shot). The West Bank is such a cul-de-sac that Israel could pinch it off in 24 hours; ergo, no sensible Arab commander is going to put many forces in such a noose (Jordanians don't now).

The real threat to Israel's security lies in UAR acquisition of guided missiles and nuclear weapons over next several years. Nasser will undoubtedly go this route so long as Israel seems to be doing the same. We must break this vicious circle (unless we're willing to settle for a balance of terror in the area). Therefore I'd argue against our giving new assurances to Israel without tying them to movement on arms issue. Am working with State on just such a proposal.

For above and other reasons let's think twice before reiterating old Tripartite Declaration before we have to do so. It amounts to a security declaration, but in a form which annoys Arabs and won't satisfy Israelis. Moreover, if it is read as guaranteeing present armistice lines, it might just lead Nasser to think if he ran a coup in Jordan we'd do a Suez by keeping Israel from the West Bank.

Finally, Israel's patent attempt to embrace Hussein (and lead publicly that we too have done so) is so much a kiss of death to the brave young king as to raise suspicions Israelis want him to fall so they could take West Bank. BG's letter and other efforts to warn us may just amount to laying the groundwork for such a move, especially now while half of Nasser's army is locked up in Yemen.

All this suggests we should (1) stay loose; (2) minimize public statements in favor of quiet diplomacy; (3) do some active contingency planning; but (4) avoid being spooked prematurely into actions which we might later regret.

Bob K.

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