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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Telegram Commending Israel For Its Restraint

(January 17, 1967)

This telegram commends Israel for its restraint from attacking Syria in response to a terrorist attack from the country. The telegram speaks to the Israeli government of the necessity to show retraint now in order to create an everlasting peace in the future.

1. Following is text of "piece of paper" delivered January 16 by GOI Embassy to White House, described as message from Premier Eshkol to President Johnson but bearing no salutation or signature line:

"Today I took a most difficult decision--not to authorize a military reaction to the brutal Syrian provocation which took place yesterday morning. Terrorists from Syria mined the village of Dishon and put anti-personnel mines on a football ground. A young man was killed and others wounded. This outrage came as a climax to a period of sustained Syrian aggression which included the following acts over the past ten days: wholesale penetration of the Israeli side of the frontier; attacks with light arms on our farmers inside and outside the Demilitarized Zone; bombardment of Israelis on sovereign Israel territory with tank shells; laying of mines in roads and fields, and totally unprovoked shooting on Israeli vessels on Lake Tiberias which is Israeli territory.

Through all this period we kept our reaction to the minimum and tried to avoid escalation. The country is seething with indignation. It seems that Syria wishes to appear as the champion of anti-Israel militance, and to embroil it in the aggressive policy.

If we have decided not to act today it is because we still hope that Syria will understand the danger of her present course.

Since we agreed to be in close and frank contact I felt bound to share my deep concern with you."

2. Embassy should deliver following message in response either through Foreign Ministry or Prime Minister's office. Message should be prepared in style similar to GOI text, i.e., on plain paper without salutation or signature lines. Text follows: "Thank you for writing to me candidly about the present difficult situation on Israel's northern border. I respect the courage you have shown in dealing with it.

I was saddened to learn of the fatality caused by the mine explosion at Dishon. We share Israel's sorrow about this senseless and brutal act.

I want you to know how fully I appreciate the painful dilemma that you and your colleagues face in coping with continuing acts of terrorism along Israel's borders. No government can be expected to adopt a passive attitude toward incidents that threaten the lives and properties of its citizens. The tragedy is that the search for security can lead to actions which, perversely, threaten to destroy chances for the permanent peace we all seek and which thus in turn pose a serious dilemma for this government. I am therefore particularly gratified by your decision not to authorize military retaliation. I say this, believe me, in full appreciation of how difficult that decision must have been for you. I am convinced, however, that there are, fortunately, alternatives to military retaliation that in the long run will provide Israel with a greater measure of security. Your government and mine are already engaged in discussions concerning possible ways in which technology we are developing might help strengthen the capability of the Israeli border forces to intercept infiltrators. I believe this to be a promising approach, and I can assure you of our continuing interest in seeing this program go forward.

I earnestly hope that your government will continue to meet the present situation with the same high statesmanship which it has so frequently displayed in the past under trying circumstances. We believe that the evidence from years past demonstrates that military retaliation is not the answer to this problem. We have already seen enough of the present pattern of events in the Middle East to realize that armed reprisals not only fail to put a halt to terrorism, but on the contrary, strengthen the radical and irresponsible forces in the Arab societies that provide a favorable climate for terrorist activities.

I am encouraged by the initiative of Secretary General U Thant in calling attention to the present dangerous situation along the Israel-Syria border and asking both the Israeli and Syrian Governments to agree to an emergency meeting of the Israel-Syria Mixed Armistice Commission. I welcome your government's initial favorable reaction to his proposal. I hope that your government will be flexible about the details of the emergency meeting in the interest of furthering the overall objectives of relieving tension on the border.

We have instructed our Ambassador in Damascus to approach the Syrian Government urgently to call attention to the dangers of the situation, to stress our belief that acts of terrorism within Israel are a major factor threatening the peace, and to urge full cooperation with the Secretary General's appeal.

Let me once again assure you of my personal close attention and deep concern for Israel's security."/2/

/2/Telegram 2421 from Tel Aviv, January 19, reported that the message was delivered on January 18. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-1 ISR-SYR)


Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-1 ISR-SYR. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Sterner and Wolle; cleared by Davies, Atherton, Handley, Walt Rostow, and in draft by Buffum; and approved by Katzenbach. A note to Rostow from LN, dated January 17 at 7:35 p.m., attached to a draft of the telegram, states that Walsh had called to say that the telegram should go that evening and that Walsh had talked to Katzenbach who had not seen it but agreed that it should go; a handwritten note in the margin indicates that Rostow cleared with the President. The draft telegram and the note are attached to a January 18 memorandum from Wriggins to Rostow warning that the message might have given the Israelis an unintended signal because it was softer than the message Johnson sent to Eshkol after the Israeli raid into Jordan in November. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Israel, 10/1/66-6/30/67)

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