Tuesday, August 16, 2016

119 - Ambassador Lawson Report of Meeting with FM Sharett, May 28, 1956

          On Monday May 28 I called on the Foreign Minister in Jerusalem to pay courtesy visit following my return from the United States. The principal purpose of the visit was to review in general terms my visit to Washington, to inform him of the persons on whom I called and the general character of discussions, some impressions I had gained, and especially to point out that our basic policy with regard to the Middle East area and the sale of arms to Israel had not changed. I also stressed the fact that Israel’s problems and position within the area were matters which were fully understood and appreciated, and were matters of very great interest at ail official levels. To reinforce that statement I pointed to the very positive and what we believe effective conversations the Secretary had in Paris with the French and Canadians and the need for realization of the fundamentals of our problems not only with relation to Israel and the Arab States but to world in general.
          Sharett expressed gratification and appreciation of these comments. He realized, he said, that United States problems were worldwide and the United States carried terrific responsibilities; that our problems were not single ones involving one or two nations only; therefore, it required longer for us to work out matters than Canada, for example. He said he set great value and hope an the influence of the United States an France, Italy and Canada and at the same time was anxious for results without loss of time. He recalled that 8 months had passed since his [November / December 1955] conversations with the Secretary in Washington but volunteered the information that 18 French Mysteres were virtually in Israel’s hands and 6 more were expected to arrive soon. For this he gave large amount of credit to the Secretary for speeding up these deliveries. This total of 24 jets, however, stood out against Egypt’s total of 250 Russians MIG’s and bombers; certainly they were “better than nothing” but Israel’s air defense still remained far from the indispensable minimum of 72 jets. He said the fact that Syria was now receiving Czech arms including planes, further increased Israel’s air imbalance. “Where are we to get the additional 48 planes?” He said we must consider that the United States is out as a source of supply for the moment and that inasmuch as Italy was dependent on the United States for F-86’s for processing, (and he was not pressing us in this connection) France and Canada remained the only two sources for jet fighters. Israel had made no further approach to the French since the return of Pineau from Moscow  but France’s earlier statement that she would make no further deliveries until there was a change in United States policy remained for the time being their only guide as to France’s attitude. (In response to my question Sharett admitted planes from Canada would help to change Paris attitude.) He mentioned that France was being hard-pressed in Algeria but that the French Minister Defense [Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury] had just come out with a strong statement against Nasser. However, Sharett was not sure “what hands France was playing with Nasser” at this time.
          Regarding the Canadians he referred to Eban’s visit to Department May 23 to report no action from Canada and requesting some assistance in that connection. He referred to character of opposition in Canada to the proposed supply of planes. He said Israel would apply every peaceful persuasion, with United States direct help— combined Ottawa and Washington action—and “we will see where we stand in fortnight”. He thought that with effective help 24 planes could be obtained from Canada, in which event he was reasonably hopeful that further 24 could be obtained from France. “But if there are no planes from Canada and no change in United States attitude, Israel will face a blank wall in France. This will be terribly disappointing, especially after the encouraging speeches at the NATO meeting.”
          In connection with arms supply and Israel’s need for defensive weapons, Sharett underscored the very high defense budget which it must meet in some way. Even if there is favorable reaction from Canada and France, Israel will have to make unusually great efforts and sacrifices in order to meet the bill. In this same context, he referred to Israel’s hope that the ICA program this fiscal year might be upped by $5 million. He thought this was entirely within the discretion of the United States which had in the past followed a policy of helping friendly governments with free arms (although these funds would not be applied directly to military budget). He thought if the United States concludes Israel should be able to defend itself and aid in the preservation of peace in the Middle East yet could not give arms to Israel, it seemed reasonable that this additional financial aid could be supplied. He was confident this could be done in such manner as not to involve any embarrassment for the United States or Israel and “could be done within the economic framework”. Obviously he did not consider this as substitute for any other possible aid which might help Israel buy arms or as a complete substitute for the inability of Israel to purchase arms in the United States. (I agreed to transmit his comment on this matter to the Department. He informed me that Abba Eban had taken up subject with Under Secretary Hoover. Hale, Director USOM, has transmitted informally to ICA/Washington and informal request received from Teddy Kollek, Prime Minister’s office, for an additional $5 million but has received no formal application as yet. I would appreciate Department’s preliminary thinking on this request which possesses primarily political justification factor.
          I questioned him about his attitude toward the time element in matter of procurement of arms by Israel. He said there was no doubt that Nasser at sometime would attack Israel if the arms imbalance continued but made it clear that he was not predicting any date when Nasser might attack. “That would border on prophecy.” However he went on to point to the usually cited factors which in his mind were convincing that Nasser would attack unless Israel procured more arms especially jets, which would make Nasser think twice before attacking.
          I asked Sharett why in his opinion Nasser should have recognized Red China, and particularly at [this] moment. He is convinced that neither the principle involved nor the timing had anything to do with Israelis receiving arms or planes from any source at this time. He said it was completely within Nasser’s established pattern of action and merely underscored his constant assertions of his capacity to defy the West. At this point he said the Egyptian correspondent Izzat in an attempt to defend Nasser’s arms deal with the Soviets stated with great positiveness that the deal was made by Nasser to show the West he is capable of defying it. Sharett was convinced that Nasser’s recognition of Red China had some of its roots in the Bandung Conference where he was feted and praised so much. This developed in Nasser’s mind a concept of three great leaders in north Afro-Asiatic bloc; namely Nehru, Chou-en-Lai, and Nasser. Furthermore, Nasser had developed very closed personalities [sic. for “close personal ties”] with Nehru. Also by recognizing Red China he was able to link with him two important allies. The suggestion was also made by Shiloah[,] Counselor-Minister of the Israel Embassy Washington, that the Soviets were pressing Nasser to recognize Red China in ample time before upcoming UN assembly meeting; that large Egyptian cotton sales to China were in view.
          Sharett, speaking with some animation, then referred to what he terms “the dangerous situation in Jordan”. He reviewed the deteriorating features of the situation which Israel was regarding with some concern, such as the replacement of the Prime Minister [Samir Rifai] by a pro-Egyptian official [Sa’id al-Mufti] and the elevation of a definitely pro-Nasser military officer [Ali Abu Nuwwar] to Commander of the Legion and the growing number of undisciplined elements in Jordan. Sharett’s particular fear seemed to be likelihood of Jordan-based Fedayeen operations and increased and widespread border incursions by undisciplined as well as organized groups from Jordan. He suggested that the United States asked the Jordan Government to see “That nothing happens to open the question on self-defense for Israel”. In this connection, I asked Sharett if he felt Nasser could “turn on and off” Fedayeen operations based in Jordan as he had done in this connection with those in the past based in Egypt. He answered question by saying “I am confident Fedayeen operations from Jordan would not occur if Nasser objects”.
          Comment:  It seemed obvious to me that Sharett was more relaxed and less concerned about his responsibilities and, with the exception of Jordan’s situation, attacked the several subjects with less fire and determination. It was noteworthy that he is apparently convinced that we have not yet altered our basic policy re arms for Israel; that he is appreciative of the Secretary’s positive steps taken at Paris recently; and that he finally admits the great breadth and time-consuming character of our many world policy problems.

SOURCE: FRUS 1955-1957 XV, doc.380.