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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum Warns Israeli Strikes Will Destabilize Jordan

(November 16, 1966)

Memorandum to President Johnson chastising Israel for its strikes against Jordan in 1966. The aide to the President claims here that these strikes destabilize Jordan, and having a stable Jordan is beneficial to Israel as it will result in a safer and more neighbor, and less of a threat to Israel.

Warning the Israelis. I promptly called Abe Feinberg to pass the blunt word that Israel was "going too far" in striking Jordan and had better lay off. Feinberg was quite receptive, and said he'd just had a meeting with Jack Herzog of PM Eshkol's office, who admitted that the strike had proven "unexpectedly violent;" the original plan was just "to blow 40 houses." I replied that they should have thought of such risks before they acted, not after.

Feinberg asked if he should call Harman. I told him I'd do that myself, but that you hoped he as a special friend would get the word direct to Eshkol through his own channels. He agreed to do so.

I gave Ambassador Harman the same pitch this morning, stressing that I was speaking privately and unofficially. I added that, while I was no longer up on Arab-Israeli affairs, it seemed to me that Israel's ill-considered and grossly excessive strike might have utterly disproportionate repercussions in Jordan. Moreover, how could we supply tanks to Israel if it was going to use such armor against Jordan, and after we'd asked the Jordanians at Israel's request to keep their armor out of the frontier zone Israel had now struck. I told Harman that in the event of any more such strikes we were determined to "reexamine" our supply of arms of Israel, regardless of whether contracts had been signed or not. The Israelis had put in jeopardy our whole policy of promoting Arab-Israel stability by subsidizing an independent Jordan.

I asked Harman not to give me the standard reply, as I was no longer in the business. But he did ask me to convey privately to you that Eshkol was under heavy pressure "from his own conscience," because as PM and Defense Minister he couldn't even assure his own people that they could travel safely in their own country or sleep safely in their own homes at night. If Israel didn't strike back when repeatedly provoked, other Arabs besides those in Hebron might conclude that it was "a sitting duck."

I told Harman that you fully understood Israel's problems, but that use of force was dubious at best and use of such disproportionate force--against Jordan to boot — was folly indeed. It undermined the whole US effort to maintain Jordanian stability, which was so much in Israel's own interest that Israel's action was almost incomprehensible.

R. W. Komer/2/

/2/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature and an indication that the original was signed.

Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. VI. Secret; Sensitive. A copy was sent to Rostow.

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