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Lyndon Johnson Administration: McNamara Says No to Israel's Arm Request

(April 17, 1967)

In this memorandum Robert McNamara agrees with the Interdepartmental Regional Group for Near East-South Asia not to supply Israel with armored personnel carriers, saying Israeli security is ensured by the U.S. providing controlled military supplies to Arab countrues that do not terrorize Israel.

Israeli Arms Requests

I believe you are familiar with the recommendation of the Interdepartmental Regional Group for Near East-South Asia (IRG/NESA) that we should not accede to Israel's request for 200 armored personnel carriers (APCs), on either a grant aid or sales basis./2/

/2/See Document 400.

I personally support that recommendation, and believe it would be a serious mistake for us to provide APCs to Israel at this time, either 200 or any lesser number. I recognize our interest in the maintenance by Israel of an adequate deterrent against attack by any of its Arab neighbors, but the present and prospective military balance in the Middle East strongly favors Israel. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recently confirmed their view that Israel will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least during the next five years./3/ As presently trained and equipped, the armed forces of Israel are greatly superior in effectiveness and firepower to those of their potential opponents, individually or collectively.

/3/See Document 387.

Israeli security is also strengthened by the US policy of maintaining a controlled military supply relationship with those Arab states who show moderation toward Israel and who resist opportunities to acquire Soviet equipment; this helps to avoid a polarization of the Arab-Israeli dispute along East-West lines. Our dramatic airlift of equipment to Jordan last winter was necessary to save King Hussein's regime, which had been badly undermined by the unfortunate Israeli raid against Samu in November. Our failure to act could have led to a rapid deterioration in Jordan, involving the introduction of Egyptian armed forces and Soviet advisers and equipment. Provision of additional APCs to Israel at this time could, in my judgment, only serve to undercut the good effect of what we did for Jordan, to "pay twice" for the Israeli miscalculation at Samu, and to agitate a situation that is now relatively quiescent.

In the agreement of March 1966 for the purchase of Skyhawk aircraft,/4/ Israel explicitly recognized that that sale did not constitute a precedent for future U.S. action, and further agreed "to continue to look to Europe for the bulk of its military requirements and not to regard the U.S. as a major arms supplier." In making its current request for APCs, the Israelis would appear to be disregarding these conditions which they accepted just over a year ago. In my judgment, our recent supplementary aid to Jordan has not altered the validity of these conditions.

/4/See Document 283.

I therefore recommend that we turn down the Israeli request for APCs, and suggest that they should look to Western European sources if they consider it necessary to purchase APCs at this time.

Robert S. McNamara

Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Israeli Aid, 5/67. Secret; Exdis. Filed as an attachment to Document 406.

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