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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum on Israeli Concerns Over Near East Developments

(December 29, 1965)

In a meeting with the Secretary of State, the Israeli Ambassador, Avraham Harman, informed the U.S. that Israel objects to the American assumption that the Arabs were becoming more moderate, Israel is militarily superior to the Arabs, and Israel's Arab neighbors were rearming to catch up with Israel. Israel informed the U.S. that they felt that the Arabs were rearming themselves and arming the Arabs in the Gaza Strip into an army in order to attack Israel. The Arabs were cutting back on social programs to take care of their own people in order to rearm to attack Israel. Israel was concerned that the U.S. was aiding the Arabs while not bringing up these issues of concern to them. Israel was also upset that the U.S. was arming Jordan with more tanks than Israel had been informed. Israel informed the U.S. that significant defense needs were being unmet and also expressed their dissatisfaction that the Americans had not yet responded to Israel's request for economic assistance.

Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, December 29, 1965, 4 p.m.


Israeli Concern over Near East Developments


The Secretary
His Excellency Avraham Harman, Ambassador of Israel
Mr. Ephraim Evron, Minister, Embassy of Israel
NEA--Ambassador Hare
NE--David L. Gamon

Ambassador Harman said that during his recent visit to Israel Prime Minister Eshkol and other senior Israeli officials had discussed with him recent developments affecting the area that were causing the Government of Israel serious concern. In this connection the Prime Minister told him that he had to take exception to the following erroneous concepts that were current abroad: (1) Arab Summit meetings were becoming more moderate; (2) Israel is militarily superior to the Arab States; and (3) Israel's Arab neighbors were rearming merely to catch up with Israel.

As the Prime Minister saw things, the U.A.R. had been able to play on the common Arab desire to destroy Israel and had succeeded in rallying the Arab states behind the Unified Arab Command. Ambassador Harman then gave the Secretary the two attached documents ("Liabilities Imposed by Arab Summits" and "Arab Summit Budgets")/2/ and read from them to show how the Arabs were busily preparing themselves for the time when they would attack Israel. He dwelt at some length on the UAC plans for the rearmament of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon stating that their task would be to pin down Israeli forces in the north while the U.A.R. mounted the main attack. Once the refugees in the Gaza Strip were organized into an effective Palestine Liberation Army Nasser would have the option of letting them conduct Fedayeen-type operations or a "liberation war" as a cover for his own aggressive designs.

The U.A.R. was giving top priority to its armament while cutting back on economic and social programs. It had acquired 60 new MIG-21's, was getting 20-30 Sukhoi low-level attack planes, additional TU-16 bombers and helicopters, and the first of a large number of T-55 tanks had arrived. There was every indication that the U.A.R. was organizing a third armored division and that some of the Yemen veterans would be kept in the regular army rather than be placed on reserve status. In this context the resumption of a food program for the U.A.R. was causing Israel concern, particularly because the United States was apparently not taking up with Nasser the things he was doing to undermine Israel.

Although the United States had assured Israel that the primary purpose of the Saudi armament deal was to provide that country with an adequate air defense package, Israel could not gloss over the fact that the Saudis had an airfield only 200 kilometers from Eilat and that the process of arming Saudi Arabia would breed a new class of military in that country.

A second subject that was causing the Israelis concern was the status of U.S.-Israeli understandings on Israel's defense needs. During the discussions in March 1965, it had been agreed that Jordan had no need for a military build-up but that it would be preferable for Jordan to have Western rather than Soviet arms. The United States had made good Israel's tank deficiencies and had recognized that it would be in the interest of both countries for Israel to have modern aircraft. The Israelis were disappointed that, despite this commitment and Israel's repeated unsuccessful efforts to find planes in France, the United States was unwilling to set a date for a resumption of aircraft talks. The Prime Minister was under the impression that the United States would never supply Israel with aircraft, even if it were demonstrated that there was no alternative source.

Israel had welcomed American assurance that there would be no direct U.S. aid to Jordan for its aircraft acquisitions. However, Israel had learned that the United States was supplying Jordan with some 100 tanks beyond those about which the United States had informed Israel, although the United States had agreed to keep Israel informed of tank deliveries to Jordan. [On August 21, 1965, Mr. Rodger P. Davies informed Minister Evron that the U.S. had supplied Jordan with 96 M-48 tanks under MAP in 1964-65 and would be selling Jordan 100 M-48's under a special arrangement in 1966.]/3/

Finally, the Israelis were disappointed that the United States had not responded to their request for economic assistance. As far back as 1960 the U.S. had told Israel that economic assistance to Israel would take into consideration the latter's defense burden.

The Secretary said that he would have the Department study the assessment presented by the Ambassador as well as past U.S.-Israeli military discussions and would be in touch with him soon. With regard to economic aid, the Secretary said that the Israeli request was under study. This would have to take into account Israel's whole economic position./4/

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL ARAB-ISR. Secret. Drafted by Gamon and approved in S on January 5, 1966.

/2/The attachments are not printed.

/3/Brackets in the source text.

/4/Hare met with Harman on January 13 to respond to the points he had made. He stated that no decision had been made concerning the question of aircraft sales and that the Israeli request for economic assistance was under high-level consideration. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF ISR)

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