The Tentacles of the Porcupine

The recent unsealing of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings from 1967 affords a candid look at Washington's views on Israel, the Arabs and American Jews at the time of the Six-Day War.

The sense of the siege on Israel in May 1967, the admiration for the surprising performance of the Israel Defense Forces, the hostility toward the power of Israel's supporters - all these feelings are evoked by a reading of the 1,065-page volume of recently unclassified documents published this month by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The secret hearings of 40 years ago, during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, when Dean Rusk was secretary of state and Robert McNamara secretary of defense, show how much everything has changed and how much everything has remained the same - the Arab enmity, the occupation of the territories, the weight of the Jews in American politics, personal and local accounts to be settled: All existed back then, too.

When the U.S. spy ship Liberty was attacked, congressmen were outraged in the name of their constituencies, and demanded that Israel be punished. It was the Vietnam War era. Most of those who opposed intervention in the Far East were in favor of intervention on behalf of Israel. Those who were burned in the Gulf of Tonkin, it turns out, were ready to dip a hand into the Gulf of Eilat.

These are the protocols of the elders of the Senate. They found it difficult to speak up and didn't hear so well, either. Among them were Republican arch-conservative isolationists from the Midwest, such as Iowa's Bourke Hickenlooper. Not content with being an anti-Semite, he also objected to civil rights for blacks. There were Democratic adversaries to the Democratic administration, such as committee chairman J. William Fulbright, and there were also those who combined what was right with what was expedient, such as the Senate's most stubborn supporter of the U.S. Air Force, Stuart Symington. He hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, headquarters of McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the Phantom and Skyhawk jet fighters.

The Israelis tend to be a little jumpy

Sen. Albert Gore (father of the former vice president), May 23, 1967: "There would be danger in any equivocation on our part... because of the tripartite agreement, because of the statements of the President, because of the domestic political pressures in this country, the chances are overwhelming that this country would not see Israel destroyed."

Secretary Rusk: "I think, sir, that the picture of the Israelis being driven into the sea is a picture that I just think people cannot contemplate."

Sen. Wayne Morse, after noting that in December 1965 he led a delegation on a visit to Israel and met twice, at length, with foreign minister Golda Meir: "We were talking about the criticisms we were getting from Israel concerning military aid in the Middle East. She expressed quite a bit of concern, as I remember. It is my recollection, I remember [Sen.] Frank Lausche said to her very frankly - I paraphrase him - 'Mrs. Meir, I am at a little loss to understand your concern because you know that you have our pledge that we will come to your assistance if you are attacked.' She said, 'Yes, Mr. Senator, I know, but I am not so sure that there would be any Israel left by the time you came to our assistance.'"

Rusk: "You see, Israel is in a very, very difficult geographic position, and Mrs. Meir's comment to you in that conversation is relevant here. They are surrounded by Arab states who declare periodically or publicly their hostility towards Israel. They have not got much wriggle room in there. Therefore, they feel that they have got to bristle like a porcupine to fend off these neighbors if anything ever starts, so they tend to be a little jumpy."

Morse: "If you get to a point where these Arab states really do make war on Israel, and start trying to demolish Israel, let us face it, we do have a moral obligation and a very important moral obligation to come to her assistance."

What's with de Gaulle?

Sen. George Aiken: "France would not desert Israel at this stage, would they?"

Rusk: "If I were speaking for the corporate body called France, I would think, I would say, that I cannot imagine that France would. But when you ask me precisely about what President de Gaulle as an individual would do, which is France now for all practical purposes, I cannot be all that sure."

Sen. Mike Mansfield (June 1): "I note that France is hardly even mentioned. What is its position vis-a-vis the situation in the Middle East?"

Rusk: "We are consulting with them now and, as you know, consulting with France is rather difficult until other Frenchmen know exactly what one man has in mind, and that is sometimes hard to ascertain."

Assistant Secretary of State Lucius Battle (December 14): "As far as Israel is concerned, I strongly suspect that [the French] have continued, at the same time they have denied it, the supply of small spare parts to [Israel] even though they publicly profess to have an embargo.... I suspect the dollar or the Israeli pound has a good deal of influence in France, and I would not rule out the possibility they will find out a way to make... at the same time they profess in an effort to establish a very warm relationship with the Arabs, they may still work out some third country deal."

Within 12 hours

Sen. Stuart Symington (June 7): "When I came back from Vietnam in early January this year, I reported that scores of our pilots were pleading that they be allowed to do what apparently Defense Minister [Moshe] Dayan instructed General [Ezer] Weitzman [sic] and his pilots to do... In the last 12 hours, in 12 hours, I think it is fair to say.... General Dayan has really accomplished more against three or four countries... than we have in two years in Vietnam."

Rusk: "Well, Senator, if we were fighting primarily tanks and aircraft in open desert, the pattern of war would, of course, be different."

Symington: "Well, airpower is airpower regardless of the nature of the terrain underneath it, and it seems to me unfortunate that if we are going to use it at all, we do not use it properly."

Sen. Gordon Allott: "We found ourselves in an absolutely untenable position when the UAR [United Arab Republic, referring to Egypt] closed the Straits of Tiran. Now, fortunately for the United States, a courageous people, with guts and foresight, have saved our bacon... in the eyes of the world."

Rusk: "What we were not able to agree upon in the Security Council was the idea that the Security Council would order a withdrawal on the basis of a status quo of June 5."

Sen. Richard Russell: "The Israelis have not indicated any willingness to do that. If they do, they ought to have their heads examined."

If you were refugees

Rusk (June 9): "The tragedy of the refugee problem is that some of us are convinced that there is a practical solution which would be acceptable to both sides, but which in theory is unacceptable to both sides. If you could get each refugee into the privacy of a confessional booth and let him make a personal and secret judgment as to where he wants to live, many of us believe, are convinced, that their own personal and secret choices would produce a practical result which Israel could accept. I mean if the gentlemen around this table were Palestine refugees, would you all want to live in Israel? I doubt you would. But if one out of ten wanted to live in Israel, we could persuade Israel, I think, to accept that number, and we could find compensation and resettlement for those who are wanting to live in other places.

"What has stood in the way of that, and we have tried this several times, is the political fact that if you have a machinery which is known, the Arabs pass the word among the Palestinians, 'Now you go in there and tell them you want to go in Israel or you are going to get your throat cut,' and the Arabs insist as a matter of principle Israel would have to accept how many would opt to go to Israel. Israel can take 150,000, 200,000, but they are not going to take a million. But Arabs insist as a matter of principle a million must have a chance to opt to go to Israel."

Arabs first

Symington: "Why on the basis of the way things are going, inasmuch as the Arabs still say that they are going to drive them into the sea... why should they not keep what they have taken?"

Rusk: "They can play that game on a geopolitics basis and prepare for themselves fantastic problems for the future.... Over time, five years, ten years, 15 years, Israel will have to do it all over again, and under conditions that may be much more difficult next time because next time the Arabs will probably strike first."

Faisal's pregnant women

Rusk: "Over the last 20 years the Arabs seemed to have a genius for just being too late to take care of their own interests.... [In 1947,] at the instruction of President [Harry] Truman and General [George C.] Marshall, I was negotiating with the then Zionists and the Arabs about a military and political standstill so there could be at the termination of the [British] Mandate a further period in which a genuinely agreed solution could be found. I was up in the Savoy Plaza Hotel. I had the Arab delegation down one end of the hall and the Zionist delegation at the other end of the hall, and we got practically everything put together except the question of the number of Jewish immigrants that would be admitted into Palestine during the standstill. We got the Jewish side to accept 3,000 a month, which was very small compared to the numbers that they thought and hoped would want to come in.

"Then [Saudi] Prince Faisal, now King Faisal, who was the spokesman for the Arab side, refused to accept that 3,000 figure on the grounds that if you accepted 3,000 they would send in 3,000 pregnant women and that would make it 6,000."


Gore: "I have been shocked, and I believe the world was shocked, at the quick, dramatic results of the first strike. If that be true with conventional arms... I wish to reopen with you the question of negotiation with the Soviets on ABM [antiballistic missile] deployment. It becomes a pressing matter in view of this demonstration of blitzkrieg warfare."

Rusk: "There is a very big difference between a first strike which has a reasonable chance of paralyzing the other side's armed forces and a first strike which cannot do so, and this is particularly applicable to the missile field. To the extent that the Israelis got the first strike against the Arab forces, they did succeed in establishing air superiority apparently in a matter of four hours because they caught most of the Arab air forces on the ground. Now, with missiles we do not see any way in which a first strike by either side can deny to the other side a devastating second strike."

Hidden Jews

Hickenlooper: "Do we not give tax forgiveness for moneys contributed to Israel, which is rather unusual? We could stop that."

Rusk: "I believe contributions to the UJA [United Jewish Appeal] are tax exempt, yes."

Fulbright: "That is right. The only country. Do you think you have the votes in the Senate to revoke that?"

Sen. Clifford Case: "Are you in favor yourself?"

Hickenlooper: "I think we ought to treat all nations alike." Fulbright: "The trouble is they think they have control of the Senate and they can do as they please.... They know they have control of the Senate politically, and therefore whatever the Secretary [of State] tells them, they can laugh at him. They say, 'Yes, but you don't control the Senate.'"

Sen. Karl Mundt: "I was a little bit disturbed when I heard all this discussion that we do not control Israel, and Israel controls the U.S. Government and the Senate. I kind of hate to accept this philosophy."

Hickenlooper: "Karl, I merely suggest that you take up the hearings on the Foreign Agents Registration Act if you want to find the 19 ramified, concealed and camouflaged Jewish organizations in this country that have their tentacles all through this whole situation."