For some time, the United States had had an emergency plan to attack Israel, a plan updated just prior to the 1967 war, aimed at preventing Israel from expanding westward, into Sinai, or eastward, into the West Bank.
In May 1967, one of the U.S. commands was charged with the task of removing the plan from the safe, refreshing it and preparing for an order to go into action.
This unknown aspect of the war was revealed in what was originally a top-secret study conducted by the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington. The full story is detailed in Haaretz' Independence Day Supplement.
In February 1968, an institute expert, L. Weinstein, wrote an article called "Critical Incident No. 14," about the U.S. involvement in the Middle East crisis of May-June 1967.Only 30 copies of his study were printed for distribution. Years later the material was declassified and can now be read by everyone, although details that are liable to give away sources' identities and operational ideas have remained censored.
Strike Command, the entity that was to have launched the attack on Israel, no longer exists. It was annulled in 1971 for domestic American reasons and superseded by Readiness Command, which was abolished in the 1980s in favor of Central Command (CENTCOM) which today includes forces in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Afghanistan; and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
The general who oversaw the planning in 1967 was Theodore John ("Ted") Conway, then 56 and a four-star general, the head of Strike Command.
On May 20, 1967, according to L. Weinstein's confidential study for the Institute for Defense Analyses, cable No. 5886 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was sent to EUCOM and STRICOM. STRICOM was asked to refresh the emergency plans for intervention in an Israeli-Arab war: one plan on behalf of Israel and the other, on behalf of the Arabs.
The basis for the directive was Washington's policy of support for the existence, independence and territorial integrity of all the states of the region. This translated into adherence to the Israeli-Arab armistice lines of 1949. The policy was not to allow Egypt, or any combination of Arab states, to destroy Israel, but also not to allow Israel to expand westward, into Sinai, or eastward, into the West Bank.
The American pressure in this regard brought the IDF back from El Arish in Operation Horev in 1949 and from Sinai in 1956. A version of it would appear in Henry Kissinger's directives after the IDF encircled Egypt's Third Army at the end of the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Conway replied to the Joint Chiefs cable four days after it was sent. He was doubtful about combat intervention, and preferred an operation to evacuate American civilians from Israel and from Arab states.
The next day, the Joint Chiefs asked Conway for his opinion about how the United States should act if the war were to be launched by an Arab action or, alternatively, by an Israeli strike.
"The ultimate objective would be to stop aggression and insure the territorial integrity of all the Middle Eastern states," he was informed in cable No. 6365 of the Joint Chiefs, with a copy to EUCOM.
Conway's reply to this, dated May 28, is described in the top-secret study as "a strong plea for complete impartiality." The United States was liable to lose its influence to the Soviets, the general warned, and therefore it must demonstrate "strict neutrality" and avoid open support for Israel. The true importance of the Middle East lay in the American-Soviet context of the Cold War, Conway argued, and the American stance must derive from those considerations, not from "local issues."
Only as a last resort should the United States take unilateral action - and then only to put an end to the fighting. In the estimation of the STRICOM commander, the Egyptian forces were deployed defensively, whereas the Israelis were deployed in rapid-strike offensive capability.
On May 29, Conway recommended that any U.S. intervention be launched early in order to ensure the territorial integrity of all the countries involved; restoring the status quo ante would become more complicated as the attacking army captured more territory.
It might be difficult to determine which side had launched the hostilities, he noted, but the American response should be identical in both cases: a display of force, warnings to both sides, and if that should prove insufficient, "air and naval action to stabilize the situation, enforce grounding of aviation of both sides plus attacks on all moving armor or active artillery."
Following the cease-fire, U.S. ground forces would be moved in for peacekeeping missions. The return of territories would be achieved primarily by diplomatic means, with military force to be used only if "absolutely necessary."
General Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, barred the distribution of the planning concept to subordinate levels. A preliminary paper was prepared by June 5, the day the war erupted, and became outdated even before it could be used.
On June 6, when the success of the Israel Air Force was known, and as the divisions under IDF Generals Israel Tal, Ariel Sharon and Avraham Yoffe advanced into Sinai, the Joint Chiefs sent McNamara top-secret memorandum No. 315-67, recommending that the United States not intervene militarily, that it continue to work through the United Nations and bilateral diplomatic channels, including consultation with the Soviets, to stop the war, and that logistical support for all sides be suspended.
The American sigh of relief at the demise of the worst-case scenario - the danger that Israel would be destroyed - was replaced by the fear that the Arab defeat had been so crushing that the Soviets would intervene on their behalf, or at least would reap a diplomatic profit.
Because the United States did not know what Israel was aiming at, despite declarations by Eshkol and by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that Israel had no territorial ambitions, the administration "now felt that it was necessary to limit [the Israeli] success to reasonable bounds."
Two retired IDF major generals, Israel Tal and Shlomo Gazit, who was then head of research in Military Intelligence, said recently, upon hearing the secret plan of the U.S. military, that Israel had no knowledge of this.
The IDF fought the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the Syrians without imagining that it might find itself confronting the Americans as well, in their desert camouflage fatigues.