At his request White was received by the Minister in order to congratulate him on his return [to Israel]. Herzog was present.
The Minister opened by saying that since the Ambassador was about to return [home] he would like to congratulate him in view of what he has heard about his diligence and wisdom in executing his task as chargé d'affaires. White thanked him but added that unfortunately he had failed in his reporting to the State Department. It was his impression several weeks ago from what the DG said that we were not considering retaliation for the incidents along the Jordanian border, and since the arms issue has been occupying a central place in the expectations of both the government and the public, he had assumed in his report that Israel would remain quiet during these weeks. But then came the Kinneret incident and proved him wrong. He has learned his lesson and will not prophesy any more. The Minister answered that in view of the constant provocations on the part of the Syrians for many years now, our patience could not but come to an end.
The Minister said that the publication of our peace plan [of December 6; see WebDoc #69] was criticized by different elements in the country, claiming it could be seen as a starting point only, thus inviting further concessions. This claim might be bolstered by the deduction of the press, via certain quarters in the State Department, to the effect that “the peace plan shows a constructive attitude hinting at the possibility of Israeli concessions.” If the State Department doesn't want to weaken those circles in Israel which are calling for peace and avoid adding superfluous complications to a situation which is already complicated anyway, it would be best if it ceased spreading such misleading and damaging hints.
To White's question regarding the atmosphere in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Minister answered by stressing that the fate of our appeal for arms is at the center of our interests.
White recalled the impressions of Nasser which Streibert conveyed to Ben-Gurion after his conversation with him, and said that the State Department assumed that possibly a positive change has taken place in Nasser's position regarding the question of a settlement with Israel. The Minister retorted that one should doubt this evaluation for it may be that Nasser is only maneuvering to repair negative impressions of him in the West following his Czech [arms] deal in order to strengthen his appeal for a loan for building the Aswan Dam and to buy time till the Czech weapons are absorbed into his army. The Minister was not entirely convinced that Nasser would soon go to war against Israel, but he doesn't want to be at the mercy of his statesmanship [in English] and to say that from the standpoint of his military power Nasser would feel free to decide. He recalled that in his closed meeting with the NYT editors he analyzed the considerations which may influence Nasser's position if the balance of power would heavily tilt to the benefit of Egypt. Nasser, without becoming entangled in war by normal evolution, would be able to try in a matter of a few hours to bomb Israel by his air force and create havoc, on the assumption that he would complete his move before the powers get together for consultation. Moreover, he may think that in view of the ties established between him and the Soviet Union, the powers would think twice before intervening for fear of global conflagration. He (the Minister) was not saying that this consideration would determine the powers' position, but it must be taken into account that Nasser would act according to it. Consequently, if we do not receive appropriate defensive weapons, a very serious danger would be looming over Israel.
As to rumors that the United States are about to grant a loan for the building of the Aswan Dam, the Minister said that in principle we have always welcomed economic development in the Arab countries, but a question arises whether it is possible that the greatest state in the world, which is calling for civilized relations between nations, would extensively assist a state which is behaving like a brigand toward her neighbor. The Egyptian revolutionary junta had two aims upon reaching power, one political – to evict the British from the Canal, the other economic - to build the Aswan Dam. US assistance was decisive in implementing the first aim, and now she is about to assist the implementation of the second. In both cases the United States has not made it a condition that its assistance would be given if the Egyptian stopped blockading Israel. The fears of the US that without her assistance the Aswan project would be executed by the Soviet Union were groundless. According to the Minister, the Soviet Union is not capable of implementing her plan of vastly enlarging her industry without harming the standard of living for its citizens while granting extensive assistance to foreign countries.
White retorted that the United States' evaluation was not the same as the Israeli one. The execution of the Aswan project would take years and the Soviet Union would not find it difficult to channel materials and machines out of its huge industrial production in a piecemeal way. The Soviets were attracted by the possibility of introducing thousand experts into Egypt.
As to the Minister's argument regarding the Egyptian blockade, White said that Eilat is not an economic necessity for the time being, and at present Egypt-Israel relations are not being discussed narrowly but with an aim of trying to reach a solution down to the core. The Minister retorted that Nasser was not showing any concrete willingness to reach a settlement. The Johnston plan was a clear-cut test, since Nasser promised him to get Arabs consent within three months, and, as he may recall, the Minister had told him that we are prepared to wait even four months till the end of February. In his meeting in Washington with Johnston the Minister found him for the first time deeply doubtful as to his plan's chances of execution.
White asked how the Secretary of State had evaluated Nasser's preparedness for a settlement [during his talks with Sharett], and noted that the Johnston plan was not essential for the situation. The Minister replied and said that until very recently the US had seen in the Johnston plan as a key to the reduction of tension. White retorted that since something big has happened in the region – the Czech deal – we were compelling to abandon the line of gradual approach [in English] and instead follow a general approach going to the roots of the problem. The Minister noted that things had been turned upside down and expressed deep doubts regarding the correctness of this assumption and its efficacy.
SOURCE: DFPI 10, doc.535.