Background Briefing for Feldman
Trip to Israel
(March 23, 1964)
A couple of interesting
aspects to this memo. One is the acknowledgment
of U.S. security backing for Israel at a far
earlier date than generally known. Related
to that is the blatant expectation that U.S.
aid should give America a voice in Israeli
policy and that U.S. policy is sensitive to
J33. Memorandum From Robert
W. Komer of the National Security Council
Staff to the President's Deputy Special Counsel
Washington, March 23, 1964.
Here's an extensive set of State talking, briefing, and background
papers for your trip to Israel.2 They seem to me quite
in line with the President's views, as put out to the town by Bundy.
Here are a few additional thoughts.
I. Missiles. Mac and I hope that you will make a real effort to turn
Israelis aside from SSMs. In so urging we are motivated as much by Israeli
as by US security interests. We simply do not seem to have gotten across
to Israel that, whereas present UAR missiles (even if multiplied) are
little if any threat, Israeli acquisition of good missiles will trigger
the UAR to get good missiles in return (and the only place to get them
is from the Soviets). This has in fact been the history of arms escalation
in the Middle East--whenever one side draws ahead, the other must needs
follow. We doubt that the Soviets would give Nasser nuclear warheads,
but they might just put Soviet missile bases in the UAR. Either of these
outcomes would magnify the threat to Israeli security (and incidentally
increase the pressures on Israel to go nuclear). Finally, there's the
risk of UAR pre-emptive attack, which our Embassy in Cairo takes most
seriously. Is it worth incurring such risks for the deterrent advantage
of being able to lob a few conventional warheads into Cairo?
If the above argument makes sense, then the corollary financial argument
does too. Acquiring a missile capability is hellishly expensive. Why
should Israel waste at least a few hundred million bucks on a deterrent
of marginal value (without nuclear warheads), when a sum of this size
could be far more efficiently used in other ways?
Nor do the Israelis seem to pay much attention to our intelligence
estimates, the gist of which we've passed quite freely to them. In fact,
Eshkol told Rowen we should not question their intelligence, because
knowing what the UAR is up to is a life and death matter to them. It
so happens, however, that the Israelis themselves have no evidence that
900-1000 UAR missiles are in the cards. There is a sheer guess, and
our guess as you know is only a "few hundred" by 1969-70 with
probably fewer. And here is one field where we, with our own vast missile
experience and intensive study of the Soviets, are a lot more competent
than our Israeli friends. They have very little basis for evaluating
program cost or the immense complexity of deploying, controlling and
salvoing a 1000 missile force. Israel makes much, for example, of the
psychological dislocation if several hundred missiles should land during
the crucial 72 hours of mobilization. We flatly doubt that the UAR could
achieve any such highly sophisticated salvo capability. We feel that
the Israelis have simply closed their ears to our efforts to clue them.
Bear in mind also that even the Israelis contend that the so-called
UAR missile threat will not reach full bloom until 1969-70. This gives
us room to maneuver. What the Israelis are apparently buying is the
first French SSM. If our experience is any guide, it will be very expensive
and may not be terribly good. Simple prudence would suggest that Israel
could afford to wait a few years under any circumstances before committing
itself to a major program. True, Eshkol himself says that it may be
another two years before they decide how much of a capability they need,
but this date could apply to the beginning of deployment or to a second
tranche of purchases.
The simple fact that the Israelis refuse to tell us what they have
in mind in itself adds greatly to our suspicions. Indeed, I think you
should make quite a point of saying that their evasiveness over Dimona,
now repeated with respect to missiles, is precisely what creates uncertainty
on our part.
II. Security Assurances. Israelis are constantly, though I think largely
for tactical reasons, stressing the tenuous nature of our security commitment.
You are in a good position to say categorically, from three years in
the White House, that there is absolutely no doubt as to US determination
to prevent Israel's destruction. This has been reiterated time and again,
publicly and privately. The only real question at issue is whether we
should give a formal security guarantee. We are unwilling to do so for
reasons which serve Israel's interests as much as ours, i.e. such a
guarantee would simply trigger offsetting Arab moves toward Moscow which
would actually increase the threat to Israel without at the same time
adding an iota to our determination to act.
III. Tanks. You are quite familiar with the tank arguments--pro and
con. Since you will want to avoid getting out in front on this issue,
why not emphasize that nothing Israel has told us suggests that the
armor imbalance has become so immediate and urgent a problem as to deprive
us of further time for reflection. The Israelis freely admit that the
time when the imbalance will become potentially serious is 2-3 years
hence. Why, therefore, are they pressing us so hard? The real answer,
of course, is that it's an election year.
IV. US Aid to Israel and the Arabs. It seems to me that you have got
to sustain the party line on this issue. Israel is doing magnificently
(10% growth rate, estimated $640 million in reserves by end of this
year, per capita GNP of $900 plus). We have given Israel through June
1963 approximately $1 billion in aid. True, we have given the UAR $880
million, but this is only $32 per capita (compared to $413 per capita
for Israel); much more important, it has been mostly food which goes
into the bellies of the fellaheen not the sinews of the state. The UAR
has bought Soviet arms with cotton which it couldn't sell to us. Moreover,
the UAR bought as many arms in the late 50's when we weren't giving
it much aid as it has during our three year PL-480 agreement.
V. Finally, I do hope that you can get across to our Israeli friends
that our relationship cannot be so much of a one-way street. Our underwriting
of their security necessarily gives us a legitimate voice in their policy.
All get and no give is unsatisfactory as a basis for our relationship.
Any objective observer looking at the Middle East of the last 16 years
would see US policy as being consistently pro-Israeli (aside from Suez,
on which I personally think we flubbed). In my opinion the Israelis
know this, they do count on us, and their frequent expressions of doubt
are far more for bargaining purposes than because of any real question
in their minds.
In fact, Mike, Israel seems to have quite deliberately been seeking
step-by-step to develop the kind of relationship with us (overt security
guarantee, military aid, joint planning) which will compromise our relationship
with the Arabs. No doubt the Israelis think that this will be a stronger
deterrent to Arab pressures. But in my view it is a most short-sighted
policy. The Arabs already regard us as so pro-Israeli that further steps
will not add much. What they will do, however, is to force the Arabs
to react, by squeezing our base and oil interests, and by moving ever
closer to Moscow. This will increase the threat to Israel far more than
the reassurance gained from making public what we already do privately.
Thus Israeli policy harms rather than serves US-Israeli interests. It
is no disservice to Israel to have this out with them, and I hope you
will help do so.
R. W. Komer3
1 Source: Johnson Library, National Security File,
Country File, Israel, Vol. I. Secret.
2 Filed with a March 20 covering memorandum from Read
to Bundy, they included unsigned and undated papers entitled: "Israeli
Missile Acquisition" and "Israeli Tank Acquisition" and
a suggested talking paper, as well as background papers. (Ibid.)
3 Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature
Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli
Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO,