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Lyndon Johnson Administration:
Discussion of Selling Arms to Israel and Jordan

(February 9, 1965)


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The Johnson Adminstration was anxious to sell arms to Jordan. King Hussein was trying to extort the weapons by threatening to go to the Soviets if he didn't get what he wanted from the U.S. At the same time, Israel was concerned that its neighbor, which was still at war with it, was going to get a major weapons upgrade while the U.S. refused to sell comparable arms to Israel. The Administration still preferred to have a European nation sell to Israel instead. Also interesting is the continuing solicitation of Nasser even though he remained hostile toward the United States.

143. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1

Washington, February 9, 1965.

Jordan Arms. Here are the key issues for 4:30 p.m. meeting. Of course the underlying decision to be made is whether we should now sell arms to Israel as well as Jordan, as the only way to buy off the Israelis and protect your domestic flank. This would raise hob with the Arabs, but is probably necessary sooner or later anyway.

A. Should we sweeten the Jordan package? Talbot, Solbert and our Embassy recommend doing so pronto, to forestall Hussein going the Soviet route.2 They doubt Hussein would take even sweetened package, but feel we could buy 10 days or so by saying we'd reconsider in Washington.

1. Supersonics are still the crux. Talbot again urges we offer 20 F-104C's, since Hussein claims he's committed to take MIGs otherwise. If not, he suggests we say we'll reconsider and answer a week from now. He also suggests we tell King we'll help him try to get European jets, but if this fails we'll provide 104s. I'd prefer saying we'd "consider" 104s in that case.

2. Tanks. Talbot says we're in a bind because Jordan knows Israel is getting better tanks. He proposes offering M48A1 with promise to "discuss" conversion to M48A3 "at early date" (it would take two years to deliver in any case).

3. Timing of Deliveries. King claims they must meet UAC timetable, so must have whole ground force package in one year instead of four (1966-69) we propose. Talbot urges two years with added stretchout on tanks. I'd prefer three years because early deliveries might spook Israelis into pre-empting.

4. Credit terms. Jordan wants full credit terms (we offered only $7 million revolving credit) so it can get whole package before other Arabs pay for it. King claims Soviets offer easy credit terms. Talbot and State favor increasing credit margin to $15 million and letting first year's sales go on credit. I'd be much tougher, since our safety valve is to sell only what King can find money for.

Ball will argue for sweetening package as Talbot wants to keep Hussein on the hook while we take 7-10 days to reconsider. But the higher we bid the more trouble we'll have with Israelis (who now know our minimum). So I'd argue for just enough sweetening to show Hussein we're serious and 10 days reconsideration in Washington (while we beat up Israelis).

B. How do we calm down Israelis? Despite their leak, they're still salvageable in my judgment. My hunch is they panicked because Germans reneged on them at very same time. So after a great show of indignation, we ought to go back at them hard, since we need their active help to protect your domestic flank.

As I see it, more turns on what we're prepared to offer them than on who carries the word. To really calm them we'll have to say (once other arguments are exhausted), that we'll sell to them too if and when we both agree that a need arises. This is a mighty big sweetener, and a mighty risky one, since it may get us in real dutch with the Arabs. We may even make it impossible for Hussein to take our arms. State is for this in principle, but afraid to bite the bullet.

If we do go this route, we ought also to get some quid pro quos: (a) nuclear non-proliferation and acceptance of IAEA controls; (b) active Israeli lobbying in support of Jordan arms deal and aid to Nasser; (c) a commitment against pre-emption on Jordan waters.

C. How do we negotiate this? A special emissary is the best bet, and the sooner the better before the whole business leaks. But the more public the exercise the more risks of leaks. Harriman has the clout (and I'll gladly side him) but: (a) Israeli papers will have a field day speculating why Harriman is there; (b) Arabs may put two and two together and say he's there to get Israeli permission to sell arms to Jordan.

D. If we decide to sell to Israel, we must clue Nasser in advance. This may be a long shot, but it damped his reaction to Hawk deal. We'd have to tell Nasser face-to-face that if Arabs keep building up against Israel, we'll have to maintain the balance. Ball has talked with Bob Anderson, who is going to Cairo in about four days.

E. Getting the Germans to help. If they actually cancel their military aid to Israel,3 Israelis will immediately be after us to replace this. Therefore, I see every merit in urging Germans at highest level not to cancel but to promise Arabs they'll end program as soon as existing commitments are filled. They could claim this is a matter of honor.

The above combination of moves seems the best way out of our painful dilemma, but one which was going to be on us sooner or later anyway.

R. W. Komer

Notes

1 Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Jordan, Vol. I. Secret.

2 Talbot's recommendations, summarized in this memorandum, were sent in telegram 444 from Amman, February 9. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12-5 JORDAN)

3 Telegram 2940 from Bonn, February 6, reported that the German Government had concluded that it could not continue shipments of arms to Israel, which had been conditioned on secrecy but had become public knowledge, and had proposed to Israel that it stop further shipments and pay Israel a sum of money as a "quid pro quo." (Ibid., DEF 12-5 ISR)


Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.

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