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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum on Alternative Weapons For Israel

(May 6, 1965)

The United States wants to give Israel as few weapons as possible. They are trying particularly hard to stay away from combat aircraft and looking for alternative weapons to give Israel that they feel will satisfy Israel's military needs.

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

SUBJECT: Impact on Area Arms Balance of Military Sales to Israel (S)

1. (U) Reference is made to a memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA), I-22656/65, dated 26 April 1965, subject as above./2/

2. (S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterate their view (JCSM-953-63, dated 7 December 1963)/3/ that our Middle East arms policy should not positively identify the United States with either side in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Every attempt should be made to avoid a polarization in the Middle East whereby the United States becomes increasingly identified with Israel and the USSR with the Arab World. Such polarization would have the undesirable consequence of promoting an anti-US Arab unity under United Arab Republic leadership. This process would tend to weaken the comparatively moderate, pro-Western Arab governments while strengthening Soviet influence among the Arab states. Sale to Israel of US offensive weapons, such as tanks and aircraft, can be expected to generate Arab reactions which would be detrimental to US political, military, and economic interests in the Middle East. The impact of US military sales to Israel is discussed in Appendices A and B hereto./4/

3. (S) Although the Israelis have requested 75 combat aircraft, presumably bomber aircraft, the Memorandum of Understanding,/5/ as understood by the United States, provided for no more than 24 aircraft. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the addition of even 24 jet light bombers to the Israeli inventory would provide a significant relative increase in the Israeli military capability, and the addition of 75 bomber aircraft would create a drastic change in the present military balance which cannot be justified on military grounds. With the addition of Hawk missiles, scheduled to become operational about 15 May 1965, the Israeli air defense system will provide an acceptable defense against the numerically superior United Arab Command offensive air capability.

4. (S) Israel's combat aircraft needs have been filled in the past from United Kingdom and French sources. The United States should avoid sale of any US combat aircraft to Israel, particularly bomber aircraft. Every effort should be made to persuade Israel to continue to satisfy its combat aircraft requirements from Western European sources. The British Canberra Mk II or the French Vautour II B (especially if it were equipped with the Spey engine) would give Israel a satisfactory bombing capability. Both aircraft are expected to be available.

5. (S) If a political decision is made to sell US aircraft, bomber aircraft should not be offered, since this would increase the severity of the Arab reaction. If US aircraft must be provided, the F-5 aircraft is the best available compromise on the basis of performance, cost, political considerations, and impact on US military posture. Although its performance does not meet the stated Israeli requirement, it is probable that Israel would accept the F-5 in order to obtain a US aircraft. Other US and Western aircraft which could be considered for sale to Israel are listed in Appendices C and D hereto. These aircraft are listed in the order of preference for sale to Israel if the F-5 is unacceptable.

6. (S) The Memorandum of Understanding commits the United States to provide tanks to Israel of at least the same number and quality as those sold to Jordan. In addition, it commits the United States to deliver the remaining 110 tanks from the German tank arrangement. In additional negotiations, Israel has asked the United States to furnish 100 M-48-A2C tanks to balance the initial commitment of 100 M-48s to Jordan and to furnish 100 M-48-A2Cs to fulfill the German contract. Consummation of the foregoing will significantly increase Israeli qualitative superiority. Therefore, in order to reduce Arab reaction, it is recommended that the M-48-A1 only be considered for sale to Israel in fulfillment of the Memorandum of Understanding to balance the tanks sold to Jordan. Moreover, any sale of current US Army M-48-A2 or newer model tanks would have an adverse impact on the armored capabilities of the US Army, whereas the sale of earlier model M-48-A1 or M-48 tanks would not.

7. (S) Since Israel has preferred in the past to consider self-propelled guns such as the USSR SU-100 in the category of armor and in view of the offensive capability of 155mm SP weapons, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that, if such equipment is requested, sales be approved only if the number of tanks sold is reduced by a corresponding amount.

8. (S) If the Israelis were to acquire, as postulated in the reference, 310 M-48 type tanks, 60 self-propelled 155mm weapons, and 250 Centurion tanks, the Arab-Israeli arms balance would be tipped in favor of Israel to a significant degree by the end of 1967.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1266, Israel 470. Secret; Sensitive. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: "Sec Def has seen Brief."

/2/Not found.

/3/Printed in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. XVIII, Document 383.

/4/The appendices are not attached.

/5/See Documents 182-185.

Sources: U.S. Department of State