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John F. Kennedy Administration: U.S. Aims to Achieve a Balanced Middle East Foreign Policy

(May 31, 1962)

This memorandum raises the issue of the U.S. establishing a more balanced foreign policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Deputy Special Counsel (Feldman)/1/

Washington, May 31, 1962.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Staff Memoranda, Robert W. Komer. Secret. Copies were sent to Bundy and Kaysen. A June 1 note attached to the source text from Komer to Bundy reads: "Mike is certainly beating on State these days with a drumfire of 'queries.' I'm not sure he realizes that our long-term ability to promote steps toward an A-I settlement depends largely on a sufficiently even-handed attitude toward Arab and Israeli to give us leverage with Arabs. As you know, I agree that pendulum has swung sufficiently that compensatory gestures toward Israel desirable, but I believe that: (1) what Israelis really need and want is reaffirmation of our security guarantee; (2) we should use this prospect to get certain concessions from them."


My reaction to State's 29 May report/2/ is that we ought to pursue a rather more active, though still "quiet", diplomacy on Arab-Israeli issues. I'm disturbed by the trend toward hotting up of A-I problem: (1) in anticipation of Israeli diversion of Jordan waters; (2) as part of the recurrent efforts by one Arab state or another to score points on yet other Arab countries for being soft on Israel. Recently the Syrians and Iraqis and now the Saudis and Jordanians are taking this line, aimed obviously at Nasser. No doubt one aim is to force Nasser into a more actively anti-Israeli policy and thus queer his relations with us. Then too all Arabs love to use the Palestine issue as a popular diversion from their own domestic failings.

/2/See footnote 3, Document 280.

We ought to ask State to include in its 1 July report less of an apologia for past actions (or inaction) and more of an action program of future moves aimed at forestalling a new rise in A-I frictions (especially over Jordan waters) and perhaps laying the groundwork for moves toward ultimate settlement. As you know, the general consensus that this is a well-nigh intractable problem which only time (if that) will cure has led to a certain feeling in State that there's not much we can do.

For my part, however, I'd like to see the following explored:

1. Measures to sustain a balance between Arabs and Israel (e.g. some form of new security guarantee, perhaps Hawk air defense missiles, the proposed exchange of assurances on Jordan waters). Such measures will also signal clearly to the Arab states that our new policies do not betoken any lessened interest in Israel's security.

2. Possibilities of talking Nasser into holding back his Soviet arms purchases if we keep lid on Israelis (this at least will serve to justify our stand if we later sell Hawks to Israelis).

3. More active effort to get Jordan and Saudis to tone down their current noisemaking. I can't understand why, when we're subsidizing Jordan so heavily, we don't tell them to lay off this silly new Palestine plan of theirs.

4. A stronger push behind Joe Johnson's refugee efforts (though this might be counter-productive).

5. A tough line with Israelis not to rock the boat, and to collaborate more effectively with UNEF and UNTSO.

6. A set of quiet but persistent diplomatic and other initiatives designed to remind Arabs that a third round against Israel is futile. We're too cautious about telling Arabs the score.

None of above are new, and all have their disadvantages. But my basic point is that we ought to be forehanded in anticipating new trouble in the Near East, not just sit back and wait for it.

R.W. Komer/3/

/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

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