Lyndon Johnson Administration: Evaluating Progress Between the United States and Israel Regarding Arms
(February 28, 1965)
Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1
Tel Aviv, February 28, 1965, midnight.
1068. For President and Secretary from Komer. Following supplemental to Harriman report in Embtel 1064.2
For four days we have vigorously pressed Israelis to accept formal package deal covering all key aspects US/Israel relations except economic aid and desalting. Effort today, tabling our proposed memo of understanding and letter as reconfirmed by President, convinces us no quick agreement possible along these lines, even with sweetener that we'd now consider "sympathetically" replacement 90 tanks.
Partly for bargaining purposes, but also because of domestic political reasons and Israel's particular psychology, they refuse (1) deny themselves any later nuclear option by accepting IAEA controls; (2) utterly forswear residual right of pre-emption on water issue they consider vital; or (3) be required go UN. What they get in return is generalized promise we will in principle sell arms direct but only if there is agreed need, no other supplier, etc. Without minimizing great importance this commitment, it not sufficient enable US pressure Israelis into signing within three days such a broad series of undertakings affecting all their vital security concerns.
But our failure to get Israelis to sign firm written contract in language we want should not blind us to degree of broad understanding achieved. We have (1) satisfactory contingent promise to support tacitly Jordan arms deal; (2) renewed undertaking not to go nuclear, which in itself highly important, despite fact Israelis flatly unwilling brave domestic political storm or deprive selves of nuclear option by accepting IAEA controls; (3) assurance they won't use early force against Arab diversion scheme--in fact Israelis even willing have US take case to UN, though they won't do so themselves; and (4) Israeli agreement to maintain secrecy about any US/Israel arms transactions, provided we willing consult with them about how to handle such matters when they become public sooner or later. Depending on how long Hussein will wait, and on how tough we willing be, further hard bargaining might even bring Israelis around a bit further on recourse to UN and accepting IAEA controls if UAR did.
But to get these assurances more firmly tied down, and above all to get Israelis' cooperation on handling Jordan arms deal, will require more give on our part, firmer promise to supply tanks and/or planes. In my judgment, this true whether we reach understanding now or later.
We've all but accused Israelis of doubting USG's pledged word and of grievously overbidding, but fact that Israel's primary interest is in such security needs evident from PriMin's wish send Peres and Rabin to Washington instead of Golda Meir (though our hints Meir visit would not be productive helped).
Israelis want to prolong negotiations and shift to Washington, because they think they need, and can get, more than we willing give as yet. They willing take risk Jordan will go sour, or even that US will go ahead with Jordan arms sale in absence prior understanding here.
In this tough impasse, we see three alternatives:
A. Go ahead and sign with Jordan, depending on Israeli desire for proffered compensation to inhibit Israel from overreacting. Odds are Eshkol would keep still for time being, while negotiating with Washington. But Israelis would naturally threaten blowup unless we came through pronto on tanks and planes. Moreover, risk of leaks here would be substantial in absence prior Cabinet agreement.
B. Try for quick deal covering only immediate Jordanian problem. We could tell Eshkol we'd provide 90 tanks before end 1965 if Germans finally cancelled, provided he in turn agreed to quiet support on Jordan deal pending negotiation of other issues. We strongly doubt this salable but could try.
C. While Harriman must leave, we could still forestall new round negotiations Washington by having Barbour continue talks here. In many respects we close enough to acceptable formulation to offer hope. However, no point in continuing here unless we prepared say something more positive about tanks and/or planes.
All here feel unavoidable implication our own formula on "direct sales" if necessary is that at the least we must sell tanks, since only other M-48 supplier now gone. Israelis keep harping on fact that we accepted Israeli need for at least 300 tanks as long ago as November 1963. Since then, Soviets have delivered many more tanks to Arabs, and we've delivered 48 to Jordan. Now we propose sell 100 more, besides delivering another 48 gratis under MAP. So we're hooked for tanks, and for more than 90 too.
As to planes, Israelis point out that Soviets have already "injected" literally hundreds of jet bombers into Near East. Why are we so reluctant? However, I sense that Israeli interest in B-66s less urgent than previously thought. General Weizmann today said B-66 marginal; he much preferred French Vautour if only US could help pay for it. When I replied de Gaulle unwilling do business with us, even for Israel, he suggested we help buy UK Spey engines for Vautour.3 I've no idea whether this feasible, but it might be better than selling B-66s directly.
Washington will have to decide whether quick agreement with Israelis essential enough to pay the price. All I urge is that we make this decision in full recognition we'll sooner or later have to give Israelis some further indication our arms sales intentions. Pressures will become intense as Jordan waters crisis mounts. Also, sooner we do so the more we can get, particularly in way of firm Israeli secrecy pledges without which the policy shift forced on us by Jordan arms deal will be all the more risky. Am sure it possible cook up some formula which will satisfy Israelis while not materially reducing our leverage, since we can still stall on many related issues of price, delivery, publicity, etc. Will need such formula for Peres-Rabin visit, since this whole purpose of their coming.
In sum, we seven months pregnant on arms sales to Israel as well as Jordan. If we sell to Jordan, we must sell to Israel too. If we don't sell to Jordan, Soviets will. Then we'll have to sell to Israel anyway. So we must compare risk of greater commitment to tanks and planes now against risk in having to make these later anyway with far less in way of return commitments than we can get today.
1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12-5 ISR. Secret; Flash; Exdis/Tan. Received at 7:09 p.m. and passed to the White House.
3 This conversation was reported in telegram 1071 from Tel Aviv, March 1. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 7 US/HARRIMAN).
Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.