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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Draft Memo to President Johnson about Aircraft Sales to Israel and Jordan

(December 1965)

This memorandum to President Johnson outlines the State Department and Defense Department's proposal regarding the selling of aircraft to Jordan and Israel. The US outlines the importance of its sale to Jordan, primarily to prevent Jordanian purchase of Soviet aircraft and push the Cold War toward the USA and against the USSR. The sale to Israel is intended to placate the Israeli desire for an American aircraft deal, particularly in the light of the American deal to Jordan.

Draft Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk and Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson/1/

Washington, undated.

Proposed Sale of American Aircraft to Israel and Jordan


We recommend you authorize us to proceed with a sale of American military aircraft to Israel and Jordan along the lines of proposals in Enclosure 1: (a) up to 24 U.S. A4's to Israel on MAP credit terms, with an option for Israel to buy 24 more at a later date, and (b) up to 36 F-5's or F-104 A/B's, or a mix of the two, to Jordan in increments of 12 for cash allocated to Jordan by other Arab states./2/


We have reviewed the options available to us in meeting Jordan's requirement for supersonic military aircraft (Enclosure 2) and conclude we must agree to sell up to 36 American aircraft if we are going to preclude King Hussein's accepting MIG's under pressure from the United Arab Command (UAC). The UAC has offered Jordan Soviet MIG's, but has allocated funds to Jordan to purchase 36 aircraft from Western sources in lieu thereof. Since the King feels he has already obtained the maximum numerical concessions at the last Arab Summit (from 60 to 36 aircraft), we believe an offer of less than 36 would not obviate the risk of his accepting MIG's. In making our offer, however, we would not relate it to the UAC requirements as such. (Enclosure 3 is a chronology of developments leading up to the present situation.)

This course is distasteful, but less so than the probable results of other courses of action. We agree with Ambassador Barnes' assessment that Hussein cannot put off a decision much beyond mid-January. MIG's in Jordan could precipitate a chain of events that would seriously damage our interests not only in Jordan but elsewhere in the Near East. A subsidy for the purchase of more expensive French or British aircraft would have balance of payments disadvantages and would put us in a position of indirectly fueling the Near East arms race without the compensating advantage of control we would gain from a U.S. sale.

We have been under considerable pressure from Israel to sell U.S. aircraft regardless of what we may do for Jordan. If we sell to Jordan there would have to be a compensating sale to Israel. Without the sale to Jordan we might be able to stall the Israelis for a time. However, particularly if we believe that eventually we must provide some aircraft to Israel, a sale now to Jordan would have a number of advantages. It would protect the considerable U.S. investment in that country, would enable us to exert continued influence for stability in the area and, by preempting the Soviets in Jordan, would prevent a major step toward an East-West polarization of arms supply to the area. At the same time, an offer to sell to Israel would make a sale to Jordan more acceptable to circles in which criticism of such a sale could be expected. Our agreement to sell U.S. supersonics to Jordan, to which we are convinced there is no feasible alternative, could be incorporated in the same kind of Israel-Jordan package arrangement developed for the ground equipment sales last March. (Enclosure 4 is a summary of U.S. aircraft cost and availability data.)

We recognize that the course of action recommended will not put an end for all time to either Jordanian or Israeli pressures on us for military sales of supersonic aircraft and other military equipment. The threat of Soviet equipment in Jordan will remain to be invoked in the future. Soviet supplies to the U.A.R., Syria, and Iraq will create continued Israeli pressures for deterrent equipment. Some sort of agreement with the U.S.S.R. would therefore appear to offer the best hope of ultimately checking the arms race in the Near East. The Soviets have been probed a number of times on this subject, most recently by Secretary Rusk on October 1, 1965, but our efforts have not been fruitful (Enclosure 5). We are now studying possibilities for a further effort to explore Soviet attitudes in this regard./3/

Dean Rusk
Robert S. McNamara/4/

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 452. Secret; Limdis. Filed as an attachment to a January 18 memorandum from John T. McNaughton to McNamara, a notation on which indicates that McNamara signed the draft memorandum to the President on January 19. A February 10 memorandum from Hoopes to Vance states that Rusk allowed the draft memorandum to go forward to the White House without his express approval. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 452)

/2/There is no indication of the President's approval or disapproval. The enclosures are not attached.

/3/Rusk raised this subject with Gromyko during an October 1 conversation in New York which covered a number of subjects. He stated that he thought it might be possible to reach an informal understanding to bring pressure on Israel and Egypt to limit their arms buildup and that some day it might be possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to jointly declare that they would not tolerate the use of force to resolve disputes in the Near East. Gromyko brought the conversation back to U.S.-Soviet efforts at arms control. The relevant portion of the memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XI, Document 97.

/4/Printed from a copy that bears Rusk's typed signature and McNamara's handwritten signature.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.