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Memo from Komer to Bundy Regarding Arms Negotiations with Israel

(March 6, 1965)

Eyes only for Bundy from Komer. Here with my current appraisal our negotiating position.

1. Big problem is that it has probably lost good deal of its credibility in Israeli eyes.

A. Barbour’s initial demarche telling Israelis we had to go ahead pronto on Jordan arms was 4 February over month ago. Since then we’ve repeatedly underlined urgency this matter. As instructed I just told them again we must go ahead. But by this time, Israelis must have concluded we unwilling actually do so without adequate assurances at least tacit Israeli support.

B. Keeping Harriman and then me here so long further underscores our reluctance to move. Though Israelis also realize I being kept here so they can’t shift venue to Washington, even this adds to their bargaining leverage.

C. Fact that each time we get new instructions we slightly enrich our offer probably also convinces them that we prepared pay pretty high price if they wait us out. Even latest proposal, though deliberately conditioned be unacceptable, at least dangled possibility some 40–50 million dollars in arms sales, which would buy quite a few tanks and planes.

D. Inevitable publicity attendant on Harriman mission further eroded our bargaining position. I should have come out again covertly,  but hesitated argue this too strongly a second time. Adding to publicity is what I suspect is deliberate Israeli press campaign put pressure on us sell arms to Israel. This too probably inevitable once speculation onHarriman mission mounted and Israelis also found out we willing in principle.

2. Thus chief remaining credible element our position is that we keep insisting Israel give us quite far-reaching reciprocal undertakings for what they want from us. At bottom, Israelis have probably already accepted our basic propositions insofar as they can. Biggest difficulty is how to get these recorded in manner politically tolerable to Eshkol yet sufficiently reassuring to us.

3. You may recall my prediction about six weeks of haggling needed get Israelis signed on to Jordan arms sale. However, I was wrong in assuring President that adding major concession of willingness make direct sales Israel too at long last would permit quick agreement. Perhaps this was possible if negotiation confined these two issues.

But several factors—trying reach broad package understanding, necessarily high pressure tactics because of need go ahead with Jordan, some awkward phrasing, our brief, and Israeli inability shake hands on a deal without haggling, have stretched out bargaining process. Nor is this really surprising, given crucial importance to both Israel and US of series of matters we trying settle.

4. Next essential to be taken into account is that Israeli security position is in fact deteriorating, even if there were no prospective US arms sales to Jordan to add marginally to Arab threat. Crux of matter is continued Soviet arms supply to Arabs, but secondary factors are new degree of Arab unity of command under UAC, and German arms cancellation. Add to this Israeli nervousness over what they rightly see as mounting new Arab-Israeli crisis over Jordan waters, which will test their mettle and ours.

5. This is basic context in which Israelis (a) worry lest we tie their hands on preemption; (b) fear we falling away on Johnston Plan, where US their chief supporter; and (c) naturally seize on golden opportunity presented by our coming to them on Jordan matter to milk us for all they can get.

6. Important to recognize, however, that our coming to them merely precipitated these issues. They would have been at us shortly in any case with new arms requests and appeals for support on water. Remember they asked to send Golda Meir and military team for talks even before we hit them on Jordan arms.

7. If above analysis correct (Barbour, an old hand by now at Israeli game, believes it is), then we need reassess our negotiating position. Barbourcomments that we trying buy new Cadillac for ten bucks. If our real position is that we unwilling go ahead on Jordan arms without satisfactory assurance at least tacit Israeli support, and if Israelis convinced of this by now and think they can afford to outwait us, then have we any alternative but to pay the necessary price?

8. Little doubt their basic demand is for credible fleshing out our carefully hedged promise to sell arms. This probably will take light bombers as well as tanks. Perhaps best means of sawing off matter promptly enough to enable us move on Jordan sales, would be private oral commitment by me, on President’s behalf, that will provide certain number tanks and see that they get certain number light bombers at decent price within specified period, if they keep matter completely secret. Sanction would be, as on earlier tank deal, that we’d cancel if matter came out. Reason for wording on bombers is that we may prefer subsidize a Vautour/Spey engine deal.

9. Another way to restore credibility our position would be to take calculated risk Israelis already sufficiently hooked, and go ahead with Hussein now. Odds are Israelis would still keep reasonably quiet, while redoubling their pressures on us. But need not spell out risks this course.

10. In sum, maintaining Israeli deterrent edge is so important to us as stabilizing factor in new Arab-Israeli crisis, other commitments we seek are so valuable, and it so important go ahead with Jordan that we ought either (a) make final offer good enough to sign up Israel; or (b) soften up Israelis by showing them they don’t have veto on Jordan arms.

11. Believe I aware as anyone in Washington of importance preserving US position in Arab world. Moreover, I fear we’ll lose Hussein if we don’t sign contract before Arabs conclude from all the publicity that we have to buy off Israelis first. Indeed unless some secrecy preserved on Israeli arms, we may lose Hussein anyway, because Nasser will accuse Hussein of forcing US arms sale to Israel by his insistence on taking US instead of Soviet arms.

12. But underlying reality is that developing situation in Middle East will compel us to sell tanks and probably planes to Israel sooner or later anyway, as only alternative to binding alliance. So it strikes me as much better to promise this quietly now, when we can get maximum in return, than to stall till public pressures plus area imperatives force us to do so later with less return for US. Afraid my NEA colleagues fail grasp this fundamental.

13. Unless next Israeli counterproposal proves above analysis wrong, will send gist shortly to Department. But want inform you in advance in hope you can weigh in on these unpleasant realities; if relayed too bluntly from here they may sound like self-seeking advice.

Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Harriman Israeli Mission (I). Secret. Received at the White House at 2331Z.
Foreign Relations of The United States, 1964–1968, Volume XVIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1964–1967.