Israel presses the Johnson Administration to sell fighter aircraft, but State Department officials oppose the idea and hope to get the French or British to provide planes instead.
Action Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Handley) to Secretary of State Rusk
Israel has long sought access to U.S. supply of arms. Currently, the GOI is mounting a strong effort to acquire United States supersonic fighters and/or light bombers. Its objective is as much to identify the United States with support of a deterrent offensive air strike capability against UAR targets as the acquisition of the latest equipment at a cost substantially less than European supply.
The acquisition of modern supersonic aircraft by the Israel defense forces is recognized as in our mutual interest of maintaining Israel's defensive strength. This is evident from the fact that in the March 10, 1965 memorandum of understanding we agreed to "ensure an opportunity for Israel to purchase a certain number of combat aircraft, if not from Western [European]2 sources, then from the United States." (This was later understood to mean 24 aircraft, if provided by the United States, to be delivered after December 31, 1966.) The agreement emphasizes our policy need to avoid provision of offensive or sophisticated weapons when these are available in Western Europe even if it is ultimately necessary to provide a token quantity of United States aircraft. Israel is seeking, however, to interpret the agreement as a commitment for United States aircraft, regardless of European availabilities.
We do not wish to sell high-performance aircraft either to Israel or Jordan because the provision of these highly sophisticated and clearly offensive weapons would spell an end to our arms policy. Though tattered and torn, this policy has been a major factor in keeping us out of the Near East arms race and protecting the United States from the political damage that would result from a policy of uncontrolled military sales. However, we have used our facilitative services with the French and British for both countries, and in the case of Israel we have also offered the French the use of a U.S.-designed engine.
The next major Israeli push will take place during the visit by Air Force General Ezer Weizman, scheduled to arrive in Washington October 11 to request U.S. aircraft. Our basic position is that we have determined Israeli aircraft needs can clearly be met from French or British sources. Therefore, we will have discharged our commitment under the memorandum of understanding by locating and assisting toward acquisition of suitable non-U.S. military aircraft. We will continue to refuse to provide information on characteristics and performance, price and availability of United States aircraft inasmuch as we do not plan to provide such aircraft.
That you approve the basic position that: 1) in our judgment French or British aircraft should meet Israel's needs, 2) we are prepared to discuss performance, suitability, and availability of European aircraft, and 3) we are not prepared to discuss suitability and availability of United States aircraft.
1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Nyerges; cleared by Officer in Charge of Politico-Military Affairs in NR Lieutenant Colonel Billy W. Byrd, Davies, Evans in DOD/ISA, Meyers, and in substance by Townsend W. Hoopes in DOD/ISA.
2. Brackets in the source text.
3. Rusk initialed his approval on September 20.
Sources: U.S. Government. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000. Department of State.