Smythe Telegram - Israel is an Unviable Client State

June 1, 1967

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Smythe Telegram - Israel is an Unviable Client State

June 1, 1967

Introduction

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. However it became apparent that the US was not able or willing to fulfill its commitment.  

A circular telegram from Ambassador Smythe in Damascus summarized the views of State Department Middle East hands, that support for Israel was detrimental to US interests and that Israel was an "unviable client state."  Smythe's conclusion read:

... US reaping full harvest 20 year area policy which has regarded Israel as fulcrum, highest priority interest. This has rankled Arabs who now feel strong enough to challenge US, hoping jar it into full realization its total position now in jeopardy unless it revises its priorities in light overall US national interest. Failing this, Arabs determined smash US influence in area (in which they expect USSR backing). On scales we have Israel, an unviable client state whose ties, value to US primarily emotional, balanced with full range vital strategic, political, commercial/economic interests represented by Arab states. The folly of US pursing present policy obvious without further elaboration.

Smythe warned that the US would meet the determined opposition of the "monolithic Arab nation" which would crush US interests in the area and presumably crush Israel as well. He wrote that the attempt to open the straits was "foredoomed."

These statements are interesting in view of subsequent insistence by certain Middle East experts that everyone was certain that Israel would win the confrontation with the Arabs, and that the US was intent on reopening the straits of Tiran in a peaceful manner. 

This document was declassified under the U.S. Freedom of Information act. The source is at  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/johnsonlb/xix/28055.htm

Ami Isseroff

Copyright

The introduction above is copyright 2007 by Ami Isseroff. The document below is in the public domain. Please cite the sources.


117. Telegram From the Embassy in Syria to the Department of State/1/

Damascus, June 1, 1967, 1346Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL ARAB-ISR. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to Aleppo, Algiers, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem, Jidda, Kuwait, USUN, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, and Moscow. Received at 11:43 a.m. and passed to the White House at 12:15 p.m. Walt Rostow sent a copy to the President, at 2:10 p.m., with a memorandum calling it the "full flavor and feeling of one of our Arabist Ambassadors." Rostow also attached a copy of telegram 8313 from Cairo, June 1, which reported the Belgian Ambassador's view that Nasser "would not budge an inch on Aqaba" and that Israeli military action would be preferable to action by the Western powers. Rostow's memorandum states he wanted the President to have before him as wide a range of perspectives as possible. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Middle East Crisis, Vol. III)

1224. Ref: State 204952./2/ Arab Israel Crisis.

/2/Circular telegram 204952, May 31, sent to all U.S. missions, stated in part, "we are inclined to believe that unless a war between Israel and UAR breaks out, the political goals of the UAR and the Soviet Union are Nasser's ascendancy in the Arab world, and Soviet control of oil and other interests vital to the security of the United States, Europe and the free world generally." It outlined the steps underway to obtain action in the UN Security Council and signature of a Declaration of Maritime Nations, and it stated that contingency planning was underway for testing the UAR blockade and establishment of an international task force to support free passage for ships of all nations through the Strait and Gulf. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL ARAB-ISR)

1. After careful review reftel, I can only concur with dismay in Cairo's assertion (Cairo 8093)/3/ that shape US policy taking in present crisis sharply divergent from views reported area posts. Appears field assessments have played no role in policy formulation. Our appreciation situation contained Damascus 1200./4/ I fully endorse views Beirut, Baghdad, Amman, Jidda, Cairo, Kuwait, Algiers and others. Not necessary at this point to repeat eloquent and consistent argumentation of latter for, in effect, "hands off" policy in current Arab-Israel confrontation.

/3/Telegram 8093 from Cairo, May 28. (Ibid.)

/4/Smythe argued in telegram 1200 from Damascus, May 29, that the only U.S. commitment to the area was to oppose aggression from any source and that this should include an "aggressive act reopen Straits of Tiran." (Ibid.) He cited telegram 8046 from Cairo, May 27, in which Nolte argued that Israel had used force to acquire passage rights in the Gulf of Aqaba in 1956 and was now faced with the same situation in reverse with the UAR's reestablishment of the status quo ante 1956. (Ibid.)

2. There appears to be consensus best minds, most knowledgeable area experts that outline US policy to date directly opposed short and especially long term US national interests in area. Policy charts collision course with monolithic Nasser-led Arab nation. Deterioration US position has been so rapid that I believe we faced with few alternatives beside mounting salvage mission. Plan "isolate UAR from our ME friends" feeble if not ridiculous hope, particularly in light Husayn's dramatic trip to Cairo and solidarity views all Arab leaders well-disposed to US vs. our present policy stance.

3. US firm determination keep Tiran Straits open either through UN mechanism or by joint operation major maritime powers seems foredoomed. Cards already stacked against any effective UN action this sort in view indications substantial support UAR stance, and ambivalence SC members, others not fully committed support UAR, Arabs. Action by maritime powers would be thinly veiled direct US, UK intervention which destined produce perilous confrontation.

4. US "evenhanded" ME policy is viewed by Arabs as fraud, and US actions during current crisis have confirmed this belief. Our Arab friends have pleaded that we simply take our "even-hand" off. Nebulous commitments we have re Tiran Straits must be weighed in view area consequences if we honor them. Consensus informed opinion indicates disaster for us if it pushes Tiran claim either in multilateral guise or unilaterally

5. My view of situation, perhaps oversimplified, is that US reaping full harvest 20 year area policy which has regarded Israel as fulcrum, highest priority interest. This has rankled Arabs who now feel strong enough to challenge US, hoping jar it into full realization its total position now in jeopardy unless it revises its priorities in light overall US national interest. Failing this, Arabs determined smash US influence in area (in which they expect USSR backing). On scales we have Israel, an unviable client state whose ties, value to US primarily emotional, balanced with full range vital strategic, political, commercial/economic interests represented by Arab states. The folly of US pursing present policy obvious without further elaboration.

Smythe

 

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