On April 4 the U.S. Department of State released Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XVIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1964-1967. This documentary collection recounts the difficulties President Lyndon Johnson and other U.S. policymakers encountered in dealing with the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict from 1964 to the eve of the Six-Day War in May 1967. The published documents illuminate the Johnson administration’s tenacious efforts to balance conflicting security needs and aspirations in the region while promoting the peaceful resolution of border conflicts. Continuing President John F. Kennedy’s policy of keeping the Arab-Israeli dispute “in the icebox,” Johnson administration officials undertook the formidable task of trying simultaneously to pursue good relations with Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Egypt (then called the United Arab Republic), maintain good relations with Israel, and support the stability of King Hussein of Jordan. Arab and Israeli differences over resource issues and the status of refugees further complicated U.S. endeavors to ameliorate the dispute.
Cold war tensions exacerbated the Johnson administration’s debate about providing arms to the area. At the beginning of 1964 Israel launched an intensive effort to obtain modern U.S. tanks to counterbalance Soviet-equipped UAR forces. King Hussein also requested U.S. arms, posing a difficult problem for policymakers: a sale to Jordan would lead to pressure to sell similar equipment to Israel, with the inevitable Arab reaction, but a Soviet presence in Jordan was unacceptable. President Johnson sent Robert Komer and W. Averell Harriman to the Middle East in 1965. The Harriman-Komer mission led to Israeli agreement not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area and U.S. agreement to sell Israel tanks equivalent to those sold to Jordan, as well as combat aircraft. The United States and Jordan soon reached agreement on a U.S. sale of tanks and other equipment.
President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk were particularly concerned about the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, and Rusk warned Israel that it would “lose U.S. support” it if developed nuclear weapons. The administration probed the possibility of an indirect arrangement to prevent the introduction of advanced weapons by Israel and the United Arab Republic. After an exchange of letters with President Nasser, President Johnson sent veteran diplomat John J. McCloy to Cairo to discuss possible limitations on missiles. Nasser told McCloy the problem in the Middle East was not missiles but Palestine; nothing could stop the arms race in the area except the solution of the Israeli problem. U.S. efforts to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union to reduce the flow of arms to the area were unproductive.
Bilateral U.S.-UAR relations also continued to be problematic. President Nasser’s intervention in Yemen and the Congo, acceptance of Soviet arms, and frequent anti-American statements undermined President Johnson’s efforts to develop good relations with him. The U.S. Congress threatened to cut off all P.L. 480 aid to the UAR, but Johnson and Rusk argued successfully for legislation that permitted carrying out the remaining commitments of the existing P.L. 480 agreement. Rusk advocated continued engagement with the UAR, and in February 1966 President of the UAR Assembly Anwar al-Sadat visited Washington, bringing about a moderate warming of relations.
By mid-1965 the number of terrorist incidents and skirmishes on Israel’s borders were on the rise. The United States opposed Israeli reprisals and in 1966 voted for a UN Security Council resolution censuring Israel after a large-scale Israeli retaliatory raid into Jordan. After threatening Israel with suspension of military shipments, President Johnson assured King Hussein of U.S. support, and in December 1966 the United States and Jordan reached agreement on a military aid package. After Israel protested the agreement, the Johnson administration, under domestic political pressure, approved an offsetting Israeli request for additional arms.
Three additional volumes in the Foreign Relations series cover the Middle East region for the 1964-1968 period: Volume XIX on the Six-Day War, volume XX on the Arab-Israeli dispute after the war, and volume XXI on regional issues, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Kuwait, and the Arab Peninsula. They will be published later in 2000 and in 2001. Volume XXII on Iran was published in November 1999.
The Office of the Historian has prepared a summary of the volume. For further information, contact David S. Patterson, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series at (202) 663-1127; fax: (202) 663-1289; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The texts of the volume, the summary, and this press release are available on the Office’s Web site: www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/index.html. Copies of volume XVIII can be purchased from the Government Printing Office (https://orders.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/prfgate.cgi).