Robert Sid Ahmed,
INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT MCNAMARA
INTERVIEWER: So this is the 9th of May roll 10573, interview with
Robert McNamara: Could you tell me what America's concerns vis a vis the Soviet Union were in the middle East. The Soviet Union had increased its influence in the Middle East partly as a result of America's actions. Secretary Dulles had pressured the world bank to withdraw financing which it had intended to extend to Egypt for the construction of the Aswan damn a very important element in Egypt's attempt to expand it's economy, increase it's agricultural production. Egypt as a result had turned to the Soviet Union for that financing, the Soviet Union had granted it and as a result there was in a sense an alliance between Egypt and the Soviet Union, at least that 's the way we saw it. At the time Egypt and more generally the Arabs had vowed to eliminate the state of Israel, and now at least Egypt appeared to have Soviet support of that objective. It was a very dangerous situation.
INTERVIEWER: And why was the middle East of such importance?
ROBERT MCNAMARA: It was important for many reasons including of course access to the petroleum supplies in the area, but more generally it represented Soviet advance into a part of the world that it had not been influential in before and we viewed it as another indication that George Canon was right in that famous article in foreign affairs in 1947 when he said it would be the objective of the communists to extend their hegemony across the globe. We saw their attempts to do so in Western Europe, we believe they were attempting to do so elsewhere and we feared that this was an effort to substantially put at risk the freedoms, the economic strengths of the West.
INTERVIEWER: And what exactly was the threat that Israel was facing?
ROBERT MCNAMARA: The basic problem was that with some 3 million Israelis confronting an Arab world of approximately 90 million. That was the military risk that Israel faced..
INTERVIEWER: And Nasser, had he what did he mean to the Arab world?
ROBERT MCNAMARA: Let's leave that out.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so would you like to take me onto the beginning in that case of, the of the meeting with Evan?
ROBERT MCNAMARA: : Well let me begin by stressing the action that stimulated US concern, Israel concern but particularly US concern. It was the denial of the freedom of the seas in the Gulf of Akaber. Egypt in effect closed the straits at Tehran that were the entry point to the Gulf of Akaber it did so not in effect to deny the US access although by it's action it did but rather to in a sense blockade Israel, the straits of Tehran where the entry point of Israel to the Seas and by, by closing them Egypt cut off Israel's entry to the outside world to the East of Israel to Africa to Asia etc., it was a condition Israel couldn't tolerate.
INTERVIEWER: And what in Washington did you see of the Israeli response and how did you feel in Washington?
ROBERT MCNAMARA: One should emphasize there was no US security treaty with Israel, we didn't have one then, we don't have one today. I don't believe 5% of the Americans understand that . We have security trewith Korea, with NATO with Japan, with many other nations of the world we did not then we do not today have a security treaty with Israel, Israel was in a very real sense was standing alone. But we did wish to support it, we did wish in particular to open the Gulf of Akaber and remove that as a threat to Israel and remove it as an excuse for Israel to possibly use military power against Egypt. We tried to open up the Gulf of Akaber by appealing to the maritime nations of the world, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Scandinavian Countries for example to join us in a declaration of freedom of the Seas demanding that Egypt open the Gulf of Aquaba. Perhaps we would have had to support that
Declaration of Freedom of the Seas with some military escorts in the area. We got absolutely no support from any of the maritime nations.
INTERVIEWER: So America was sort of standing alone. Now to take you on again in that case, just before towards the end of May Mr. Ava Evan came to the United States and you talked to him about the sort of you had intelligence that Israel was planning a pre-emptive strike against Egypt.
ROBERT MCNAMARA: The foreign minister came to the United States, I believe we met with him on the 26th of May if I recall correctly. President Johnson said to me and to the then Undersecretary of State Dean Restwood, the Secretary was out of the Cit at the time, asked us to bring the Foreign Minister to the family quarters of the White House and to speak rather crudely about it the intent was to work him over to persuade him is perhaps a more polite term to avoid a pre-emptive attack. Israel had knowledge we had knowledge that the Egyptians had massed their forces on the Israeli border we didn't believe the Egyptians planned to attack we looked upon it as a move by the Egyptians to prevent Israel from attacking in response to the Egyptian closure of the Gulf of Aquaba. In any event because we didn't have a security treaty with Israel because we knew that if Egypt attacked Israel it might be necessary for the US to supply military force because we did not wish to do that without Congressional support. The support of the American people, it was absolutely essential that Israel above all be clean that they not be the cause of the Egyptian attack. We feared that if they pre-empted the American support would be far less, we wouldn't have congressional support we wouldn't have the peoples support because Israel had taken the first military action. So we, we attempted to persuade that it was in Israel's interest not to pre-empt we thought that we had persuaded him. Obviously we hadn't.
INTERVIEWER: Was there any doubt if you had gone to war, who would have won.
ROBERT MCNAMARA: At the time we had 3 independent appraisals of the results, of Egyptian Israeli war all 3 showed that beyond a shadow of a doubt Israel would win, I think we estimated that if Israel pre-empted they would win in up to 10 days. If on the other hand they responded to an Egyptian attack I believe we estimated they would win in 14 days. There was no doubt of it. We had a meeting in fact with the Prime minister of England, Prime Minister Wilson, shortly before the war began, Britain had made it's own independent assessment and were within 2 or 3 days of the same figure.
INTERVIEWER: What finally brought America in on the side of Israel?
ROBERT MCNAMARA: Well we had better start again because we didn't supply military aid on the part to Israel, I mean we weren't we never supply military forces, so are you, should