Johnson Warned of Backlash Following Israel Aircraft Sale

(April 29, 1966)


This memo updates President Johnson on the aircraft sales to Israel, particularly focusing on the need to "contain the Arab street" and prevent a strong Arab backlash against this sale to Israel.


Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, April 29, 1966, 5:45 p.m.

We will soon announce our aircraft sale to Israel./2/ We have made every effort to stave off an explosive Arab reaction like the row over the German tank sales to Israel in 1964-65. But I want to forewarn you that, at worst, Arab reaction could endanger some of our embassies.

We told Nasser through one of his advisers/3/ in hopes that a little warning might keep him from exploding in public. This tactic worked well when we sold Israel their Hawk missiles in 1962. However, he will make his annual May Day speech Sunday. If he sounds off on the sale, State will issue a low-key confirmation. If we get over that hurdle, we will press the Israelis to delay announcement until about 13 May--after the Arab Defense Ministers' meeting in Cairo. Before that announcement, we will brief other Arab leaders.

Eshkol wants as early an announcement as possible, but will probably accept our timing. He has so far managed to contain his opposition reaction to the Jordan sale and can probably hang on a little longer.

This announcement will win loud plaudits from Israelis and from their friends here. I am working on other new things you might do for Israel as you asked./4/ However, the $52 million in economic and food aid just announced, this sale of about $70 million worth of aircraft (though we will not publish the figure) and this year's slice of last year's tank sale ($21.2 million) are handsome evidence of your current support for Israel.

Walt

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. V. Secret. A copy was sent to Bill Moyers.

/2/It was announced on May 20. For text of replies made by Director of the Office of News Robert J. McCloskey to questions asked at a news conference that day, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, p. 540.

/3/Telegram 2701 from Cairo, April 20, reported that Battle had informed Presidential adviser Hassan Sabry al-Kholy of the pending aircraft sale. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12-5 ISR)

/4/An April 23 memorandum from Rostow to Rusk, recording decisions made by the President in the course of a review of foreign policy problems, noted that the President wanted development of new ideas in several areas, including, "Ideas for working constructively with Israelis and Arabs." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Non Vietnam, April-July 1966) A May 21 memorandum from Rostow to the President stated that he had been canvassing "new things we might do in Israel." It noted that because Israel's economic performance raised it far above the level where AID normally pulled out, any new programs "should capitalize more on imagination than on large sums of AID money." It listed a number of possibilities. (Ibid., Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 3) .


Source: "Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson" in Smith, Louis J. (Ed.). Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.