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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum on Aircraft Sales to Israel and Jordan

(March 31, 1966)

After completing negotiations for the sale of aircraft to Israel and Jordan, Israel was required to open the Dimona nuclear facility to U.S. inspections, agree that it would not be the first to admit nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and quell opposition to the sale of aircraft to Jordan. The Jordanian announcement was to be several weeks to months before the Israel announcement to ensure stability in the region. The U.S. reluctantly concluded that if Jordan's needs weren't met, that Jordan would seek Soviet technology.

Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McNaughton) to Secretary of Defense McNamara/1/


Washington, March 31, 1966.


Aircraft Sales to Israel and Jordan

I am glad to report that we have now successfully completed negotiations for the sale of aircraft to Israel and Jordan. Tim Hoopes handled both negotiations for ISA, in close collaboration with State and the White House. The relevant papers for Israel are at Tab A, and for Jordan at Tab B./2/


Israel accepted all of the conditions set forth in your conversation with Foreign Minister Eban, but for reasons of "sovereign dignity," they desired to state certain of these as affirmations of Israeli policy, rather than as conditions tied strictly to an aircraft sale. Prime Minister Eshkol was said to be particularly adamant in refusing a formal written agreement which might indicate to future historians that he had bargained away Israel's future nuclear policy and opened the Dimona facility to US inspection for the sake of "a mere 48 airplanes."

After debate with the Israelis on these points and after consultation with State and the White House, we accepted the Israeli formulations. These involved (a) an affirmation of Israeli policy not to be the first to develop nuclear weapons in the Middle East, in the body of the basic letter from Harman to Hoopes,/3/ but not under the paragraph dealing with specific conditions; (b) a statement of their specific undertakings to avoid and prevent criticism of the US aircraft sale to Jordan, in a memcon separate from the basic letter;/4/ and (c) a statement of their willingness to open the Dimona facility to US visits, in the form of a separate letter from Harman to Assistant Secretary of State Hare./5/ Notwithstanding these concessions aimed at assuaging the sensitivities of a small nation, we are satisfied that the conditions set forth by the President and yourself are fully incorporated in the agreements.


The only notable problem in the Jordan negotiation also involved a question of formulation, rather than of substance. We wished to make clear that the USG, while prepared to consider in principle a sale of 36 aircraft, insisted on describing the sale as involving an initial increment of 12 aircraft, with a follow-on sale of 24 aircraft being dependent upon satisfactory completion of the first increment. Jordan's problem, on the other hand, was to be able to show the United Arab Command a contract for 36 aircraft. We resolved this problem by insisting on our language in the Memorandum of Understanding/6/ (the basic instrument of the transaction) while making some concessions to the Jordanian position in the technical annex. As a practical matter, we have conclusive strings on this deal--i.e., cash on delivery of each aircraft, and also a requirement that Jordan be able to assimilate the aircraft into its defense establishment (adequate training for pilots and ground crews, and adequate maintenance funds from the UAC).

Public Disclosure

Neither sale has been publicly disclosed as yet; and to the best of our knowledge, there have been no leaks. An agreed disclosure plan calls for informing 11 Congressional leaders immediately, and 10 additional members immediately after disclosure of the Jordanian sale. The plan calls for a low-key announcement by King Hussein from Amman within a few days, stating the basic facts of the sale, but without reference to the number of aircraft involved. This will place the State and Defense Departments in a position to respond to press questions; if asked, they will confirm the fact of the sale with minimal elaboration./7/

The Congressional briefing will concentrate on the Jordan sale, emphasizing the general pressures created by the inflow of Soviet arms to the area and the specific pressures created by the force requirements levied on Jordan by the United Arab Command. It will also indicate that we understand the implications for Israel and are acting to meet the basic Israeli requirements. The briefing will emphasize also our efforts over two years to find a solution to Jordan's aircraft problem in Western European arms markets, and our reluctant conclusion that only US aircraft can avoid the introduction not only of Soviet MIGs, but also of Egyptian or Soviet technicians--developments which would create conditions incompatible with our economic and military aid to Jordan and which would create new and dangerous instabilities in the Arab-Israeli confrontation as a whole.

The timing of an announcement of the Israeli sale remains under consideration. We are anxious to avoid simultaneous disclosure of the two deals, as this could open King Hussein to an Arab charge that his arrangement with the US had triggered a larger sale to Israel. In this regard, the Arab Prime Ministers, at their recent meeting in Cairo, specifically condemned previous US military sales to Israel and warned the US against the consequences of future sales. Within limits, the Israelis agree with our arguments against simultaneity; they do not wish their deal to be linked to Jordan, preferring to place it in the larger context of the Arab threat as a whole. On the other hand, Israel definitely desires a short time-lag between the two announcements--perhaps 10 to 14 days--whereas we are hoping for an interval of about two months. Our view may be optimistic, and events could force an earlier disclosure. Nevertheless, we intend to keep the pressure on Ambassador Harman and his colleagues to reassure their American friends that Israel's interests are being met by actions of the United States, and thus to prevent or damp down domestic protests of the Jordan sale. As you know, this is a touchy business and must be played to some extent by ear. We will however be prepared to make an announcement of the Israeli sale from Washington at any time it is deemed necessary.

The negotiations are, however, successfully behind us.

John T. McNaughton/8/

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 4443, Israel 452. Secret; Sensitive.

/2/Attached but not printed.

/3/The letter under reference is dated March 17. Hoopes' March 23 reply to Harman and an additional letter of March 29 from Harman to Hoopes are also attached.

/4/The agreed memorandum of conversation is dated March 17.

/5/Harman's letter to Hare, dated April 11, states that the Israeli Government was prepared to issue invitations "from time to time" for visits to the nuclear reactor at Dimona by U.S. representatives. Airgram A-242 to Tel Aviv, March 28, noted that although the letter referred to visits "from time to time" rather than "periodically" as stated by McNamara and by other U.S. officials in conversations with the Israelis, the Department of State intended to continue to seek Israel's acquiescence in semi-annual visits. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 7 US)

/6/The memorandum of understanding was signed by Hoopes and Khammash on March 29.

/7/For the text of a statement issued by the Department of State on April 2 on the sale of military jet aircraft to Jordan, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, p. 541.

/8/Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature and an indication that the original was signed.

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