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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Evaluating Arms Sales to the Middle East

(March 1, 1965)

The United States and Israel have difficult decisions ahead of them with regard to arms sales to Jordan and Israel's security.

Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

Washington, March 1, 1965, 12:02 a.m.

847. Eyes only for Harriman from the Secretary. I have had full discussion with President about your 1064 supplemented by 1068.2 We do not believe that further delays are desirable or practicable. The issues have been fully explored in great detail. What is now required are some hard decisions by the Israeli and United States Governments on questions to which there are no easy answers. Time is an urgent factor because we cannot be certain that the movement of the Arab bloc into Nasser's control and Soviet domination will not occur very fast if we are unable to proceed with Jordan. MIG aircraft could arrive in Jordan from Egypt within a week or two. Problem is now that of understanding of facts in the Arab world as they affect Israeli and U.S. interests. Therefore, if you are unable to obtain a final agreement on basis this telegram, Komer should remain behind to assist Barbour for further immediate discussions while you proceed on your schedule.

We fully understand the domestic difficulties which Israeli Government faces in connection with decisions it must make. But these difficulties must be faced because of the decisions which are necessary to protect Israeli security and U.S. vital interests in the Near East, which include Israeli security. It seems to us that Israel is not so alarmed as we about the prospect of solidification of the Arab world under Nasser's leadership with, in effect, a close working alliance with the Soviet Bloc. We had supposed that this would be the strongest imaginable threat to Israel security. Israel apparently has another view. If that is their considered judgment, we cannot force them to take another course but it would be necessary for us to consider most seriously whether we attempt to involve ourselves any longer in the problems of Near Eastern security. There should be no misunderstanding that the obligation of the United States Government is to act on the basis of the interests of 190 million Americans. And there should be no misunderstanding that Americans expect this of the United States Government.

From your 1064 we gather that Eshkol's principal problem is that he does not feel that he has a specific and firm commitment from us about military hardware. You should tell him that we have not been anxious to reduce these matters to specifics because (1) we do not yet know whether the West Germans will in fact complete their tank deliveries and (2) a flat commitment leaked to the press would make it extremely difficult for us to move diplomatically in support of U.S. and Israeli interests in our discussions with Arab governments. Nor do we wish to lose freedom of action in discussions with the Germans about their future course.

However, if Eshkol feels he must have something specific, you can tell him, and include in the memorandum of understanding, that if West Germany does not complete its delivery of tanks under the original arrangement, the United States itself will provide those tanks. You can also tell him that we will give careful consideration to further tanks if the general security situation in the Near East requires it.

We do not believe that we should make specific commitments at this time about further military hardware, such as planes, which Israel can always raise under the general language already proposed in the Memorandum of Understanding. You should not, however, encourage them to believe that they can get jet bombers merely by asking for them.

You should again make it clear to Eshkol that the decision to sell arms to Israel, even on the proposed basis, creates major problems for the United States in supporting U.S. and Israeli interests in the Arab world and you should make it clear again that this decision has been a major development in U.S. policy. You should also make it clear that if Israel makes it difficult for us to support U.S. and Israeli interests in the Arab world, they force upon us a fundamental reexamination of our role in the Near East.

Please be sure that Eshkol understands we cannot accept the idea that we should proceed to assist in the arming of Israel when we are on notice Israel plans to take preemptive military action with respect to Jordan waters. We will not support such preemptive action. We will continue to support in every way Israel's right to a share of Jordan waters within the framework of the Unified Plan. But we cannot leave any implication that we will support an Israeli military initiative leading to war in the Near East over this problem. You should further attempt to put this question into the background by insisting that our best information is that there will be very considerable time before Arab diversion of such waters could possibly affect Israel's share under the Unified Plan and that we shall do our best to support the Unified Plan by all other means.

You should further underline that the United States cannot support any Israeli flirtation with nuclear weapons. On nuclear matters, the United States is as old as Methuselah and utterly cold-blooded in terms of U.S. vital interests. We shall resist with every resource at our command the dissemination of nuclear weapons into the Near East. We shall try to find ways to bring the UAR into IAEA safeguards but there should be no misunderstanding between us and Israel as to our view of Israeli acquisition of such weapons.

If the above instruction about being specific about tanks does not open the way for the final agreement we seek, then Barbour and Komer should stay with it until we get such agreement. There is nothing that can be said in Washington that cannot be said in Jerusalem. (FYI. This means President does not want agree now to Peres-Rabin visit. End FYI.)

We approve changes suggested in your 10663 for your departure statement but suggest insertion of following sentence at end of first paragraph: "these exchanges will be continued through diplomatic channels."

We have some reservation about issuance of agreed communique, which would stimulate rather than suppress speculation. You might point out to Eshkol that, in your new role as Ambassador-at-large, you do not wish to set precedent of formal communiques since you will be visiting many capitals informally from time to time, and communiques become a complicating factor.

Let me conclude with point made at beginning, namely, that we are prepared to make extremely difficult decisions in support of Israel's security in the Near East, decisions which will greatly complicate American interests in that part of the world. What is called for is equally difficult decisions by Israel. They should know that if we cannot make these decisions jointly, they cannot assume that their decisions can be supported by the U.S. The President has a deep commitment to the security and well being of Israel but he wants their help on matters involving both the vital interests of the U.S. and our ability to help Israel.

Many thanks for your fine effort. We will keep trying to give Barbour and Komer quick answers to help them reach agreement, no matter how much midnight oil we burn.



1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 7 US/HARRIMAN. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted and approved by Rusk and cleared in substance with the President by Rusk.

2 Documents 167 and 168.

3 Dated February 28. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files, POL 7 US/HARRIMAN)

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.