Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant
(Rostow) to President Johnson
CIA Estimate of Arab Intentions in 1967

May 25, 1967

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Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant
(Rostow) to President Johnson
CIA Estimate of Arab Intentions in 1967

May 25, 1967


Gamal Abdul Nasser and his fellow officers had taken power in Egypt in order they claimed, to modernize the country and undo the shame of the lost 1948 war. However, in 1956, after Nasser closed the straits of Tiran and Suez canal to Israeli shipping and moved terror squads into the Sinai peninsula, Israel, Egypt and France attacked Egypt. Israel captured the entire Sinai peninsula in 100 hours. Before agreeing to withdraw, Israel got a commitment from the US in the form of an Aide de Memoire, stating that it would support Israel's right to unrestricted access to the straits of Tiran, in accordance with international law, and the UN agreed to station an emergency force in Sinai (UNEF).

Subsequent clarifications by the US apparently confirmed that the US supported the right of Israel to use force to enforce freedom of navigation. Israeli passage in Aqaba became a sore point for Nasser, and he was taunted by other Arab states for permitting it. The Aide de Memoire and U.S. position became an issue in 1967 when prior to the Six day war Israel insisted that closure of the straits was an act of war. The U.S. agreed but asked Israel to allow the US to open the canal. Between 50,000 (US estimate) and 100,000 (Israeli estimate) Egyptian troops had been moved into Sinai by May 25.

Israel presented an intelligence estimate to the US on May 25th according to which an Egyptian attack in Sinai was imminent. Some sources claim that this was a deliberate exaggeration meant to goad the US into supportive action. The CIA dismissed the estimate as unfounded. In Six Days of War, (Oxford, 2002) Michael Oren, relying primarily on Egyptian sources, details an Egyptian plan to attack Israel, operation fajr (Dawn),  that was supposedly detected by Israel and stopped by US and Soviet intervention a few hours before it was to take place in the early morning of May 27, 1967. It is unclear if Israel had this information on May 25. US sources declassified to date do not give give any indication of this purported attack plan.

A telegram from U.S. Ambassador Barbour of May 25 1967 refers to the earlier Israeli defense estimate and insists that it is based on hard intelligence. It is unclear where this arrived and was considered before or after the CIA estimate of May 25. In a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Ambassador Harman on the same day, the U.S. Secretary of State and other officials discounted the Israeli intelligence and insisted that the CIA estimate was correct.


The introduction above is copyright 2007 by Ami Isseroff. The document below is in the public domain. Please cite the sources. This document was declassified under the U.S. Freedom of Information act. The source is at

63. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State/1/

Tel Aviv, May 25, 1967, 2240Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II. Top Secret; Nodis; Flash. Received at 8:05 p.m. Walt Rostow sent this telegram to the President at 10:14 p.m. with an attached note: "Herewith the same message Eban transmitted to Secretary Rusk as it was received and evaluated by Ambassador Barbour." Telegram 202239 to Cairo, May 25, states that at 5 p.m. Eban advised Rusk of a flash message from Eshkol that the Israeli Government was convinced a UAR-Syrian attack was imminent. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL ARAB-ISR) No memorandum of this conversation between Rusk and Eban has been found. In a telephone conversation with Goldberg, Rusk referred to a message from Israel and stated that the Israelis "are calling on us for an immediate statement that an attack on them is an attack on us." (Notes of telephone conversation prepared in S, May 25, 8:15 p.m.; ibid., Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls) Eban described the message and his conversation with Rusk in An Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 348-350, and in more detail in Personal Witness: Israel Through My Eyes (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1992), pp. 382-383.

3785. 1. FonOf Director General Levavi accompanied by Argov of American Department came to NA House 2300 hours this evening. Levavi said they called at moment of grave peril for Israel. Instructions had been sent to Harman for Eban, who should be consulting with highest U.S. levels within hours, to say that attack by Egypt and Syria appeared imminent and that it essential for U.S. to declare its intention to abide by its commitments and to implement declaration by appropriate movement U.S. forces to Israel's support.

2. Information on which this conclusion of Egyptian and Syrian intentions based is: (1) Egypt has held establishment of second army group in Sinai to reinforce divisions already there and has ordered armored brigade from Yemen to join such group. It has increased tanks in Sinai to total of 800. It has reversed naval forces proceeding to Aqaba and ordered them returned to Mediterranean. It has sent cabinet minister to Moscow to coordinate operations between Egyptian and Soviet Governments. (2) Syria is to receive Iraqi troops by airlift and has increased offensive posture its forces already on frontier. (3) Jordanians have announced willingness accept Iraqi and Saudi Arabian troops.

3. In addition to foregoing Egypt has started fabricating incidents with Israelis such as alleged clash with border patrol.

4. All this indicates that Egyptians and Syrians no longer concerned with Aqaba but prepared launch full scale attack against Israeli existence.

5. I noted there appeared doubt that in fact Jordanians anticipate any Iraqi or Saudi troops there to which Levavi responded Jordanians not important. The seriousness of the situation is Egypt and Syria and he reiterated that these developments most perilous for Israel.

6. While it obvious this further attempt strengthen Foreign Minister Dan's hand in discussions in Washington, I am confident that Israeli apprehensions are to them most genuine. As indicated in more detail in report forwarded by another channel earlier today information repeated to me tonight as to Egyptian moves is in large part result hard intelligence and there every collateral indication Egyptian belligerence unabated.

7. I told Levavi that since Eban had departed for Washington I did not have further information in addition to that I had passed on on Tuesday but that it my impression there had been no change in U.S. determination as I had expressed it to them at that time.




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