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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on Implications of U.S. Security Assurances to Israel

(August 7, 1963)

This is a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara addressing the question of a U.S. security assurance to Israel.

1. Reference is made to a memorandum by the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA), I-25160/63, dated 17 July 1963,subject as above. Because of the interrelationships in the several questions posed in the letter by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, dated 15 May 1963,1 the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been developed to address the central issue of US assurances to Israel touching on the points raised in the letter while discussing that issue.

2. Joint planning with the Israeli military staffs would facilitate early entry of US forces into the area and coordination of operations in the event of a US decision to intervene militarily on the side of Israel. However, such planning is not essential to assist Israel effectively in resisting Arab aggression. At the present time, it is estimated that the Israeli forces have the capability of defeating aggression by any combination of Arab states which might oppose them. Israel is vulnerable to air attack due to the proximity of Arab airfields and the short warning time available. Therefore, the most effective military support which US forces could provide to Israel in the event of Arab aggression would be to attack the facilities from which Arab air attacks might be launched. Similar considerations would apply in the future should the United Arab Republic attain an operational surface-to-surface missile capability. Coordination of US air strikes with those of the Israeli air forces can be undertaken rapidly even in the absence of advance bilateral planning. Coordination of ground force operations would be more difficult; however, the qualitative superiority of Israeli ground forces not only reduces the necessity for advance bilateral planning, but also makes it doubtful that intervention with US ground forces on the side of the Israelis would be required at any point to prevent significant loss of Israeli territory. Should they be required, however, US ground forces and/or amphibious elements could be introduced into the Middle East area within approximately 30 hours.

3. US contingency plans are in being which provide for military operations incident to the Arab-Israeli situation ranging from a show of force, through naval blockade and counter air operations, to amphibious and airborne assault. These plans are adaptable not only to the support of either side against the other as an aggressor, but also to the support of a United Nations or other combined effort to enforce a halt in hostilities. In addition, US-UK military studies for Arab-Israeli contingencies have been prepared which could form the basis for coordinated military operations. Depending on the degree of advance warning, US air and naval forces could undertake counter air operations almost immediately, and in any case within 72 hours of order of execution. However, the Egyptian Air Force has the capability to carry out a damaging surprise air attack against Israel provided the Egyptian air staff could plan and initiate such a move without Israeli detection. Joint US-Israeli military planning would not degrade this Egyptian capability except for any possible deterrent effect that knowledge of such planning might have. However, acquisition of Hawk missiles from the United States beginning in FY 1965 will increase Israeli capability to withstand such attack.

4. US security interests in the Middle East are primarily to maintain access to the area, insure the availability of Middle East oil to Western Europe on acceptable terms, and generally to promote stability in the area. The main threat to these interests comes from attempted communist penetration of the area. If the United States accedes to Israeli pressures, the Arab states would probably turn increasingly to the Soviet Union for support, thus reversing recent favorable trends in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. On the other hand, there is considerable sympathy for Israel in the United States. In these circumstances and in consideration of the military factors involved, US assurances to either party in the Arab-Israeli dispute should not be given beyond those contained in the statement of the President at his press conference on 8 May 1963. Additionally, the President's statement acts as a deterrent, while giving assurance, to both parties.

5. US capabilities to come to their assistance should be well known to the Israelis. Also, Israel has been able to fill most of her weapons requirements from Western European sources. Therefore, Israeli pressures on the United States are most probably politically motivated. In this connection, Israeli dissatisfaction with the public assurance given in the President's statement of 8 May could stem in part from recognition of the warning implied therein against Israeli aggression. Israel has demonstrated an ability to protect classified information. However, if the foregoing speculation on Israeli motives is correct, it could be part of the Israeli design to leak information to the Arabs on the nature and extent of joint planning. To this extent, therefore, such planning with Israel does entail a security risk.

6. Should there be overriding political reasons for continuing discussions with Israel of US security assurances and military support, it is recommended that they be conducted as political discussions in order to avoid any connotation of joint military planning against the Arabs. In such discussions, the United States could provide the Israeli side with the US estimate of Arab capabilities and generalized information on US capabilities to assist in the event of Arab aggression, emphasizing the US intention to act in the first instance in support of UN efforts to prevent or halt the aggression. In return, the United States should receive more information on Israeli plans for force development, and assurances that, in the event of political turmoil in neighboring Arab states, Israel would not seize the west bank of the Jordan or undertake other pre-emptive action without prior consultation with the United States.

7. In lieu of involvement on a military level with either side, the United States should continue efforts to impress both sides with the futility of seeking military solutions to their differences. Although final settlement of the major issues is not foreseeable in the near future, the United States should continue to promote negotiated settlement of lesser issues on a piecemeal basis. In particular, the Arab refugee problem should be susceptible to US leverage in view of US financial support to the UN Relief and Works Agency.

8. In summary, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:

a. No US security assurance to Israel be given beyond that enunciated by the President on 8 May 1963.
b. Joint contingency planning with Israel not be undertaken.
c. Present US arms policy in the Middle East be continued.
d. The United States continue to seek peaceful settlement of Arab-Israeli issues on a piecemeal basis.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

A. H. Manhar
Major General, USA
Deputy Director, Joint Staff


Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.