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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Israelis Request Phantoms, U.S. Wants Conditions

(November 27, 1968)

This is one of many documents related to the Israeli request for Phantom jets. It reveals what would become a U.S. focus throughout negotiations on the Israeli nuclear weapon program.

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

This will acknowledge and respond to your letter of 22 November 1968, requesting on behalf of the Government of Israel that the United States sell to the Government of Israel fifty Phantom aircraft and related equipment and training. The Government of the United States agrees to sell to the Government of Israel fifty F-4 Phantom aircraft and related equipment and services in accordance with this exchange of letters and technical and financial annexes to be negotiated separately. This transaction is subject to the provisions of the Foreign Military Sales Act and the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement of July 23, 1952.

The United States Government, for its part, accepts the assurances given by the Government of Israel as stated in your letter:

"On its part the Government of Israel reaffirms its longstanding policy as laid down in the Memorandum of Understanding of May 10, 1965, that it will not be the first power in the Middle East to introduce nuclear weapons and agrees not to use any aircraft supplied by the United States as a nuclear weapons carrier."

In this connection, I have made clear the position of the United States Government that the physical possession and control of nuclear arms by a Middle Eastern power would be deemed to constitute the introduction of nuclear weapons.

I wish also to confirm the understanding of the Government of Israel as set forth in the fifth paragraph of your letter of 22 November 1968.1 Such unusual and compelling circumstances would exist in the event of action inconsistent with your policy and agreement as set forth in your letter.

1The fifth paragraph of Rabin's letter stated that Israel understood that the United States reserved the right, under unusual and compelling circumstances, to cancel all or part of its commitment to provide F-4 aircraft and related equipment and services at any time prior to delivery.

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