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 6 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
The introduction above is copyright 2007 by Ami Isseroff. The
document below is in the public domain. Please cite the sources.
|61. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to
Washington, May 25, 1967, 6 p.m.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. II. No classification
marking. A handwritten "L" on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
[1 paragraph (4 lines of source text) not declassified]
Also attached is a CIA appraisal of this estimate which throws a great deal of cold water on the Israeli estimate./2/
/2/ Richard Helms described and quoted from the CIA appraisal at a conference on the Six-Day War, held June 3-5,
1992. He stated that Johnson met with him and some of his other advisers after his return from Canada and asked Helms
and JCS Chairman General Earle Wheeler to "have this scrubbed down," that is, to re-examine the situation and produce a
new paper. (Parker, Richard B., ed., The Six-Day War: A Retrospective (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of
Florida, 1996), pp. 216-217) Johnson met with Rusk, Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance, Helms, Eugene Rostow,
General Wheeler, Battle, and Walt Rostow from 7:02 to 8 p.m. on May 25. Vice President Humphrey joined them at 7:25 p.m.
(Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) No record of their discussion has been found.
P.S. The two estimates--Israeli and CIA--both show how explosive are:
--Nasser's hopes of picking up prestige;
--USSR desires for gaining prestige, short of a war.
/3/The postscript is written in Rostow's handwriting on the memorandum.
Mr. Bromley Smith, White House
Mr. Rusk, State
Mr. Eugene Rostow, State
Mr. Hughes, State
Mr. McNamara, Defense
General Carroll, Defense
Appraisal of an estimate of the Arab-Israeli Crisis by the Israeli Intelligence Service
1. The Director has asked that an appraisal be made of the "Israeli Intelligence Estimate of the Israeli-Arab
Crisis," dated 25 May 1967, a copy of which has already been sent to you./4/
The appraisal follows.
/4/Not printed, this estimate is an unsigned memorandum of May 25, headed "Israeli Intelligence Estimate of the
Israeli-Arab Crisis," [text not declassified]. The latter, citing various pieces of information, stated their
conclusion that the UAR was now actively seeking war. The memorandum notes that the Israelis believed that holding the
initiative was the key to the situation and that the opportunity to take the initiative would soon be gone. It notes
that they strongly urged that the issue at stake was not Israel but whether the Middle East would fall under Soviet
2. We do not believe that the Israeli appreciation presented [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]
was a serious estimate of the sort they would submit to their own high officials. We think it is probably a gambit
intended to influence the US to do one or more of the following: (a) provide military supplies, (b) make more public
commitments to Israel, (c) approve Israeli military initiatives, and (d) put more pressure on Nasser. The bases for our
disagreement with the Israeli view follow.
3. Not all the statements in paragraph 2 are confirmed by what we now know. According to our information:
Only the 3rd Brigade of the Fourth Armored Division is in Sinai
A. The Fifteenth Armored Brigade has been ordered to leave Yemen.
B. We have no information on the formation of a Second Army Group.
C. We are unaware of any message from the Iraqi Ambassador in Cairo informing Baghdad of the UAR's military aims.
D. We know of no UAR naval vessels which have left the Red Sea and entered the Mediterranean.
E. The UAR Defense Minister did go to Moscow, but we know nothing of his plans.
In our view, UAR military dispositions in Sinai are defensive in character.
4. Nasser has already had significant success in exploiting the crisis to restore his influence and acceptance at
home and abroad as leader of all the Arabs. He probably realizes that these gains would be quickly reversed if he were
humiliated or suffered military defeat. He probably calculates, however, that his interests would be satisfied by any
resolution of the crisis other than humiliation or defeat. He may not regard military victory over Israel as essential
to his ends.
5. We believe that the UAR is acting in this crisis essentially to put pressure on Israel short of attack on Israeli
soil. Whereas the UAR armed forces have improved in capability during the past decade, Nasser still probably estimates
that he does not have--even with the support of the other Arabs--the capability to destroy Israel by a military attack.
On the other hand, Nasser shows increasing willingness to pursue a policy of high risk in challenging Israeli interests,
such as free access to the port of Elath. Nasser may be convinced that his armed forces are sufficiently strong to be
able successfully to hold off an Israeli attack at least for long enough to get great power intervention. Nasser
evidently estimates that his ability to inflict damage through bombing on Israeli cities would discourage an Israeli
6. The steps taken thus far by Arab armies do not prove that the Arabs intend an all-out attack on Israel. The Iraqis
have long been obliged to send troops to assist Israel's Arab neighbors in case of conflict. The Iraqis simply lack the
ability to send meaningful amounts of troops to fight against Israel. They are not prepared to supply and maintain
sizeable units in a conflict. Lebanon's military capability is insignificant and the Lebanese are likely to participate
in a conflict only to the minimum extent consistent with maintaining relations with the other Arab world. There have
been no coordinated maneuvers by the various Arab states and it would be difficult if not impossible for the various
Arab units cited in paragraph 3 of the Israeli estimate to be used in concert. In sum we believe these are merely
gestures which all Arab states feel compelled to make in the interests of the fiction of Arab unity, but have little
military utility in a conflict with Israel.
7. As for the report that the Egyptians are preparing to use chemical warfare in the Sinai, the use of gas in this
terrain and in mobile engagement would be difficult if not entirely counterproductive for the UAR. And given Israeli air
defense, we do not believe that the UAR has the capability to make effective use of gas against urban concentrations.
8. We believe the Soviet aim is still to avoid military involvement and to give the US a black eye among the Arabs by
identifying it with Israel. Once this is accomplished--and this is happening fast--we think that the Soviets will not
wish to increase the crisis further. They probably fear an Israeli victory over the Arabs and that it would damage their
image as defender of the Arabs. They probably could not openly help the Arabs because of lack of capability, and
probably would not for fear of confrontation with the US.
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