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John F. Kennedy Administration: Telegram on Response to Reported Coup in Jordan

(April 27, 1963)

This is a memorandum for the record of a Presidential meeting addressing the situation in Jordan and possible U.S. courses of action.


The President

Undersecretary George Ball

Mr. James Grant

Mr. Robert Strong

Secretary McNamara

Mr. Mike Feldman

Mr. McGeorge Bundy

Mr. R. W. Komer

Secretary Ball described the situation in Jordan. The reported coup group seemed Baathist but friendly to Nasser. We face two questions: (1) what to do if Israel moves; (2) how to protect US citizens, chiefly in the Jerusalem area? He worried about the ferocity of an Arab mob if it lost its head, perhaps because the US appeared to be backing a pro-Israeli move. McNamara indicated we had about 500 Americans in the area, and that it should be possible to evacuate them by plane from the two Jerusalem airfields.

As to the Israelis, they had two alternative moves: to rectify their lines in the Jerusalem area or to take over the entire West Bank. Ball said our dilemma was what to do if they acted. The President's view was that obviously the UAR would not give Israel any guarantee in return for being allowed to incorporate Jordan in the new UAR. If we guaranteed Israel and then the Israelis moved, how would we handle the situation? Grant indicated that one way of protecting Israeli interests in event of a pro-UAR coup in Jordan would be to arrange that no non-Jordanian troops be stationed on the West Bank of the Jordan.

The President asked what we gained from our policy toward Nasser? He was obviously a coming force in the Middle East and we naturally wanted to stay on the right side of him, but what about the growing accusation that our support was helping him pursue expansionist policies? The President was concerned about the dangers of Israel building a case that our aid to Nasser made him play his hand far more boldly than otherwise and precipitate the current dangerous situation in the Middle East. We should find ways and means of refuting this charge. Grant explained the gains which we thought we had made as a result of our policy of giving certain assistance to the UAR. Nasser had put the Israeli problem in the icebox, he had shown restraint on various international issues where previously he had been strongly anti-US, etc. Komer pointed out that it was necessary to distinguish between the sheer physical fact that the UAR was the largest power in the Arab world and hence the natural focus of Israeli concerns and the question of whether the UAR was actively pursuing an anti-Israeli policy.

The President read BG's letter and discussion turned to his request for a joint US/USSR security guarantee. The President thought this was unrealistic; the USSR would never overtly back Israel in this manner. The President thought we should tell BG our situation with the USSR was currently so difficult--over Laos, testing, Cuba, Berlin--that we couldn't move jointly with them. As for BG's suggestion that he visit the US, this would merely exacerbate Arab feelings we were pro-Israeli. Nor would we want BG to come here until we knew what to tell him. McNamara asked whether Israel would ever be secure until it got the West Bank of the Jordan; this seemed the logical military frontier.

Grant felt that if Israel grabbed the West Bank, it would prolong Arab-Israeli hostility by 15 years. There was also danger that if Israel moved, the UAR might launch air attacks; it was difficult to see how the UAR could retaliate effectively otherwise. If the UAR bombed Israel, then the Israelis might retaliate against Egyptian targets. The President asked whether he should make a press conference statement, perhaps next week, that insofar as the US is concerned the 1950 Tripartite Guarantee still stood. As the President saw it, the real problem now was that the Israelis might move, not the Arabs. This was what BG's letter seemed to be telling us. Israel is really the danger, since it wants to move first if there is a coup in Jordan. Komer pointed out that there were two major threats to Arab-Israeli stability: first, the possible repercussions in Jordan of the current Arab unity trend, and second the likely escalation of the arms race into a nuclear-missile phase. Our hole card with Israel was its desire for a US security guarantee; if possible we should tie this not only to Jordan but to Israeli agreement not to develop nuclear weapons.

The President decided on the following courses of action:

(1) We should tell the Israelis not to take precipitate action; Ball said that we should tell them we were greatly concerned by various alarming indications of trouble in Jordan and could see them touching off a chain of events with serious possibilities of escalation so we hoped Israel would adopt a policy of restraint.

(2) We should go back to Badeau and have him make sure that Nasser understood the consequences if Israel moved. Badeau should tell Nasser we were sure he wasn't interested in an Arab-Israeli war at this point but indicate that the Israelis might well be interested in preventive war before the Arabs were ready. Therefore Nasser ought to do what he could to prevent such a confrontation. If we put the problem in this way, we should not look so pro-Israeli to Nasser.

(3) We should work on the UK to be prepared to move in troops if necessary. Because of the primacy of UK interest in this area, they ought to move in, not us (the consensus was, however, that the UK would not move except jointly with the US).

(4) We should move the Sixth Fleet carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean.

(5) We should consider sending the air squadron to Saudi Arabia before disengagement was actually underway as an indirect warning to Nasser.

(6) We should review the conditions under which we would restate the Tripartite Guarantee.

The President indicated he would like to be shown the various messages being sent out as a result of the above decisions, though not before they were sent.

R. W. Komer


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