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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum from Joint Chiefs on Military Assistance to Israel

(March 12, 1964)

Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara/1/


Washington, March 12, 1964.

Military Assistance for Israel (U)

1. Reference is made to a memorandum by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, dated 11 February 1964, on the above subject, which requested the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding certain questions posed in a letter by the Deputy Under Secretary of State, dated 8 February 1964./2/ These questions, concerning the desirability of selling tanks to Israel, are:

a. Whether a significant imbalance exists in the relative strengths of the Arab-Israeli military forces;

b. The need for Israel to augment its tank strength;

c. The need for modernization of Israel's tank force; and

d. Possible substitution of antitank weapons that would meet Israel's needs.

2. A significant imbalance in the relative strengths of Arab and Israeli military forces does not exist at this time.

a. Though superior in total numbers and hardware, the Arabs trail Israel in quality and experience of leadership, in the level of general educational and technical background among the enlisted ranks, in mobilization capability, and in incentive to fight. The serious political differences and jealousies of the Arabs make effective combined military action against Israel highly unlikely. Israel will probably retain its over-all military superiority vis-a-vis the Arab States for the next several years.

b. Apart from such estimates of over-all capabilities, Israel's concern about tanks is justified. Israel cannot be complacent, for example, in knowing that Egypt has moved from a position of tank disadvantage to advantage in a period of five years. Egypt has moved far ahead in tank quality and has increased its tank inventory from 322 to 739, while Israel's has increased from 626 to 798.

3. There is no need for Israel to augment its tank strength at this time. Current force levels and equipment levels are adequate for the defense of Israel in the light of announced US policies and Arab disunity and weaknesses. With the ability to mobilize to a strength of 250,000 in two d4ays, Israeli forces can continue to counter Arab threats as long as such forces are well led, trained, and equipped.

4. There is a military need for Israel to modernize its tank force because the bulk of its tank inventory is obsolescent. The Arabs (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iraq) have already gained a favorable modernization differential as well as a numerical advantage, and they are gradually improving their training and maintenance. Thus, Israel needs to replace obsolete M-4 tanks in order to counter Arab T-34s, T-54s, and JS-3s.

5. With reference to the question of substituting antitank weapons for tanks, it must be noted that these weapons are complementary to each other. Even though a nation may have adopted a defense strategy, there is a requirement for an offensive tactical capability to repel and, if necessary, eject enemy forces which have penetrated its territory. Thus, Israel has a need for an appropriate mix of tanks and antitank weapons in order to maintain a balanced military force.

6. The foregoing comments do not alter the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as furnished in JCSM-953-63, dated 7 December 1963, subject: "Near East Arms Policy (U)," and JCSM-40-64, dated 18 January 1964, subject: "Arms for Israel (U)."/3/

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Earle G. Wheeler
Acting Chairman
Joint Chiefs of Staff


/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 470. Secret. A stamped note reads, "Mr. Vance has seen."

/2/The memorandum from Vance to the JCS Chairman and the letter from U. Alexis Johnson to Vance are not printed. (Both ibid.)

/3/See Document 10 and footnote 3 thereto.


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