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

1156. Subject: Arab-Israel Crisis. Ref: Damascus 11512 (Notal).

In hour and half session with FonMin Makhus (reftel) early afternoon May 20, whom Ambassador met without usual accompaniment DCM or POL Chief at FonMin request, Makhus discussed points raised by Ambassador in friendly but inflexible manner.
In response Ambassador’s caution at explosive potential recent arms buildup, Makhus replied US aware of threats Israeli leaders have made against Syria which left SARG and UARG no choice but believe Israeli aggressive intents. Said also SARG investigations showed Israeli troops in DMZ. SARG and UARG thus mobilized and made mutual defense treaty operative. Said although Israel created tense situation, measures SARG and UARG have taken are welcomed by all Arabs. Palestine issue is “sacred cause” and will never die, never be extinguished. Citing Crusaders, Makhus said “occupation of another’s territory can never be eternal.” Reiterating all Arabs ready, Makhus wanted USG understand any Israeli attack will be answered by war, regardless of consequences.
As for guerrillas, which Ambassador noted could trigger war no one wants, Makhus emphasized Palestinians are single people, wherever scattered, and no one has right rule them. They need not ask anyone’s permission fight for usurped homeland. Having waited 18 years for UN carry out resolutions which Israel refuses honor, Palestinians have right self-determination and right fight for freedoms guaranteed by UN Charter, UN resolutions, and internal law. SARG refuses “for once and for all” take any responsibility for actions Palestinians in their fight for rights and for despoiled homeland, since Palestinians not under command Syria. “Israel took their land; Israel must deal with Palestinian people.” As for infiltrators, “all might US armed forces [Page 40] Vietnam unable contain guerrillas there.” SARG refuses be threatened by others every time Palestinian takes action as infiltrator, such accusations being but excuse for aggression against Syria. Re UN peacekeeping, said SARG and all other Arabs had welcomed UNEF, but defended UARG right to request departure.
As for Kennedy statement endorsed by President Johnson,3 Makhus called Syria victim of aggression. Mere presence Israel is aggression against Arab nation which USG should oppose. Not to US advantage support such aggression or equate acts of Israeli aggression with Arab actions in fight for freedom, independence, and to regain lost territory. Neither US nor any other country has right serve as deterrent those fighting for rights or stop fight between independent states when one side struggling regain its heritage. Makhus concluded SARG thus does not accept Kennedy statement as operative in preventing Arabs from fighting for own rights.
In reply Ambassador’s emphatic denial that USG or any agency seeking overthrow SARG or plot against it, Makhus said he pleased have USG deny such role and hoped sincerely US will prove it speaks truth and show this in practical manner. Said he hoped fog between our countries and people would be dispersed, and that American people and “Embassy staff in Syria” will work to see no conspiracy against SARG occurs.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Confidential; Priority. Repeated Priority to Amman and to Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem, London, Jidda, Moscow, Paris, Tel Aviv, CINCSTRIKE, DIA, and Aleppo. Received at 12:56 p.m. Advance copies were sent to the White House, USIA, CIA, DOD, and NSA at 1:45 p.m.
  2. In telegram 1151 from Damascus, May 20, Ambassador Smythe reported that he was seeking an appointment with Syrian Foreign Minister Makhus to urge Syrian restraint, restate U.S. policy on aggression in the area, support UN peacekeeping instruments and measures, caution that a guerrilla incident could spark a conflagration, and inform Makhus that the United States was counselling restraint at the highest levels of the Israeli Government. (Ibid.)
  3. Concerning President Kennedy’s statement of May 8, 1963, see footnote 5, Document 5. President Johnson endorsed Kennedy’s statement in a toast at a dinner for Israeli President Zalman Shazar, August 2, 1966. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book II, pp. 796–797.