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John F. Kennedy Administration: Debate Over Selling Defensive Missiles To Israel

(May 8, 1961)

This memorandum discusses the debate surrounding whether or not to give Israel hawks missiles for defense.


"Hawks" for Israel


William Bundy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
Admiral Grantham
Ambassador-designate Walworth Barbour
Colonel Stanley Harding
NEA/NE--William L. Hamilton

FYI. A briefing arranged with the above-named officials for Ambassador Barbour/2/ became largely a discussion of Israel's request for the "Hawk" missile and the pros and cons of making it available to Israel.

/2/Walworth Barbour was appointed Ambassador to Israel on May 11; he presented his credentials on June 12.

I could detect in Mr. Bundy very little personal desire to deny the "Hawk" to the Israelis, whose professions of vulnerability to surprise air attack he seems to accept at face value. He remarked that if the political objection to their delivery to Israel were to be removed he would be prepared to review the classification problems, which he obviously does not regard as insuperable.

Admiral Grantham remarked that it might be difficult to deliver them to the Israelis and continue to decline to make them available to the Pakistanis and the Iranians, both of whom have requested the weapon. Mr. Bundy replied that there are two differences: (1) the Israelis have the technical competence to master their use in very short order, which is not true of the Pakistanis and the Iranians; and (2) the Israel deal would be a sale, whereas our CENTO friends would expect them as gifts.

We discussed the cost of the missile, and I pointed out that the $50 million estimated original cost would fall on the United States one way or another. Furthermore, we are averse in principle to large-scale arms transactions in the Middle East. I pointed out that our largest previous sale to Israel had a ceiling of $1 million.

Mr. Bundy made much of the fact that the "Hawk" is a purely defensive weapon and he was not particularly impressed, as far as I could see, with our arguments that, regardless of its defensive character, it would mean the introduction of an advanced type of weapon technology that all other governments of the Middle East would want immediately in equivalent or more lethal form.

I left the meeting with the conviction that if the President, following his conversation with Ben-Gurion, asked a reassessment of the request for the "Hawk", responsibility for resistance will rest completely with the Department and we shall receive no support from Defense for reasons of national security or classification.

End FYI.

Source: Department of State, NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 304, Israel Eyes Only 1960/61/62. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Hamilton on May 10.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.