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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on Review of U.S. Policy Toward Israel

(August 7, 1962)

Memorandum from U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, to President Kennedy reviewing and reiterating U.S. policy toward Israel.

An extensive and intensive review of our policy toward Israel has been conducted in recent weeks. We were fortunate in having as part of the review a thorough discussion of all aspects of our policy in the Near East at the Chiefs of Mission Conference in Athens June 12-15. The results of our examination are compatible in all respects with the extraordinary degree of consensus achieved by the Conference, which concluded that the relatively high standing of the United States among the Arabs, while still fragile, provides us with a minor degree of maneuvering room in terms of adjustments in policy with respect to Israel.

From the time we assisted at Israel's birth in 1948 until the present, the United States has had an unusually close relationship with, and has done a great deal for, Israel. We strongly supported Israel's entry into the United Nations in 1949. We encouraged many other nations to recognize Israel and enter into diplomatic relations. Economically, Israel has received assistance from the United States unparalleled elsewhere, amounting to $665.9 million, or roughly $317 per capita, between 1952 and 1962. In addition, Export-Import Bank loans amounting to $209.3 million were granted in this period. We have encouraged Israel to broaden its horizons beyond the confines of the Near East and now find her engaging in commerce and technical assistance programs practically around the world. Over the years the Arabs have been made aware repeatedly of our continuing deep concern for the security and well-being of Israel.

Against this backdrop, Israel seeks from us a close military relationship, a security guarantee specifically formulated for Israel, and access to a wider range of military equipment including specifically the Hawk missile. Frictions that have arisen between Israel and the United States are found in Israel's use of large scale retaliatory raids, Israel's uncooperativeness with the United Nations peacekeeping machinery in the Near East (also true of the Syrians), Israel's (as well as Arab) distrust of Dr. Johnson's mission on the refugee question, the question of sovereignty over Lake Tiberias, Israel's objection to United States initiative toward persuading other states not to establish diplomatic missions in Jerusalem, Israel's pursuit of a "direct negotiations" resolution in the United Nations General Assembly, and our policy of restraint on training third country nationals in Israel.

The enclosed memorandum details those measures which we are implementing. In addition, I would appreciate your decision on several recommendations presented in the enclosure. They relate to (a) sale of the Hawk missile to Israel, should there prove to be no possibility within the next two months of achieving (b) an informal understanding on arms limitation for the Near East, and (c) an explanation to Israel of our legal position on the question of sovereignty over Lake Tiberias.

In the near future I shall forward specific proposals for pursuit of an arms limitation arrangement based on work now being done by the Departments of State and Defense.

I believe the measures being taken and those recommended together constitute a well-balanced and feasible policy which duly safeguards United States national security interests and meets Israel's needs realistically.

Dean Rusk


The Department is proceeding with Israel as follows:

1. Military Relationship Sought by Israel. We shall avoid establishing any type of special military relationship with Israel. To create what would in effect be a military alliance with Israel would destroy the delicate balance we have so carefully maintained in our Near Eastern relations and would bring insufficient compensatory advantages.

However in our view it would be useful and feasible further to strengthen in the near future assurance given in the President's recent letter to Ben-Gurion of our continuing concern for the security and well-being of Israel. We believe we have in the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 a suitable vehicle. That Declaration is to all intents and purposes a security guarantee to both Israel and the Arabs. We shall use an early opportunity to reaffirm unilaterally (asking the British and French not to follow our example) that portion of the Declaration dealing with aggression. It might prove useful to link such a strengthened assurance to our negotiations with Israel on the Johnson mission. Our concern is to reduce any urge Israel may feel to undertake a preemptive attack against UAR air and eventually missile installations and/or growing Syrian ground strength.

2. Jordan Waters. The President having assured Israel in writing of our support for Israel's water program and having received Israel's assurances that its withdrawals will remain within the Johnston plan allocations, we are now in a position to reassure the Arabs that their legitimate water rights are protected and to discourage Arab action against Israel's water scheme. At such time as we shall find it necessary to engage in further quiet diplomatic activity to this end with the Arabs, we expect to find it useful to reaffirm to them that that portion of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 relating to aggression continues to be an expression of United States policy. In the meantime we shall encourage from behind the scenes Jordanian-Syrian development of the Yarmouk (recently we have had an indication from an important UAR official that the UAR has decided not to embarrass Jordan and Syria over their Yarmouk plan).

3. Strengthening of UN Peacekeeping Machinery. Israel has now expressed its willingness to cooperate more fully with the UN mechanisms in the Near East. Meantime we have studied measures to improve the effectiveness of the UN machinery.

4. Retaliatory Raids. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion has given the President a vague assurance that means other than the retaliatory raid (a response with large forces to an accumulation of small-scale Arab hostile actions, thus escalating the level of conflict considerably), will now be employed in an attempt to prevent serious trouble on Israel's borders. (Ben-Gurion letter at Tab K.) We have informed Ambassador Harman that we interpret Ben-Gurion's letter as a pledge to abandon Israel use of the retaliatory raid. At the same time we recognize that Israeli restraint over the long haul is possible only if the Arabs show control and restraint. We shall intensify our efforts with the Arabs.

5. Dr. Johnson's Mission. In line with the view of the Ambassadors at Athens we have agreed with Dr. Johnson that if possible at least a small start on his project should be made prior to UN General Assembly debate of the UNRWA item. Whether Dr. Johnson will be in a position to proceed toward this objective heavily depends a) on the consent of the President to US support of the project as well as the concurrence in principle of key Congressional leaders, and b) on achievement by the US of a private understanding with Israel. We shall present a proposal to the President shortly.

6. Diplomatic Missions in Israel. In line with Ambassador Barbour's recommendation, and with the concurrence of our Ambassadors to the Arab countries, we have informed Ambassador Harman that hereafter we shall take no initiative to persuade other countries to establish missions at Tel Aviv rather than at Jerusalem. However, we retain the right to respond to queries from other states. We shall give the Embassy in Tel Aviv greater latitude in conducting business and accepting social engagements in Jerusalem. This should serve to meet the Israeli complaint.

7. Direct Negotiations (Brazzaville) Resolution. In mid-June Mr. Feldman informed Ambassador Harman that we expected to be consulted before Israel undertook to campaign for a new direct negotiations resolution in the next General Assembly. However, in his reply to the President, Ben-Gurion stressed the importance Israel attaches to the direct negotiations principle, thus indicating we may have difficulty in persuading Israel to desist. Ambassador Harman recently notified us of Israel's intent to proceed with its campaign. In the view of the Ambassadors at Athens the direct negotiations issue holds danger for the United States. Our first course is to dissuade Israel and other countries from pursuing it. If despite our efforts such a resolution is introduced we shall be prepared to vote (but not campaign) against it provided Dr. Johnson has made some progress and provided it is necessary at the time in support of our tactical position in the debate. Our foreign policy interests clearly would not be served by a vote in favor. We are discussing this issue further with Ambassador Harman.

8. Training of Third Country Nationals in Israel. In accordance with the conclusions reached at the Athens Conference we are revising existing instructions to the field to permit, within reason, training of third country nationals in Israel in conjunction with our AID programs, a) provided Israel's training facilities best meet our needs and b) without becoming engaged in the Arab-Israel cold war in Africa.

Decisions by the President Are Requested on the Following:

A. Sale of Hawk Missile to Israel. Provision of the Hawk would enable Israel to reduce considerably its vulnerability to surprise air attack by low-flying aircraft. Greater confidence in its defenses would permit Israel the better to resist any temptation to engage in preemptive attack against the UAR air strike capability. (Conversely, significant reduction of Israel's vulnerability would remove one deterrent to Israeli preemptive attack.) Principal factors operating against sale of the Hawk are: a) existence of effective deterrents to attack by the UAR and of UAR vulnerabilities and limitations, and absence of conditions requiring or favorable to attack by the UAR; b) problems of production and training schedules, and reactions from allies and friends; and c) a strong preference first to seek Nasser's reaction to a proposal for an arms limitation arrangement.

However, since Israel has a military requirement for the Hawk, since the Hawk is a defensive weapon only and since United States intelligence clearly indicates that the UAR is in the process of obtaining comparable missiles from the USSR, we recommend that if within the next two months there is no serious prospect of an arms limitation arrangement we offer the Hawk to Israel after consultation with the British and discussion with the UAR.

B. Arms Limitation Understanding in the Near East. The Chiefs of Mission Conference at Athens proposed that an effort be made toward such an understanding. The Conference envisioned face-to-face meetings by the President with Ben-Gurion and Nasser as the initial step. Inevitably many months of delay would be entailed in this approach. Therefore we have in mind preparing a telegram instructing Ambassador Badeau to talk with Nasser in the name of the President, explaining our considerations and seeking a reaction from him. While we are not sanguine, we believe the attempt should be made. A similar approach would be made to Ben-Gurion if Nasser's response so warranted. We shall submit detailed proposals shortly based on work now being done by State and Defense.

C. Sovereignty Over Lake Tiberias. We have the choice of letting Israel's public claim to sovereignty over Lake Tiberias go unchallenged, of stating our position publicly, or of stating it either orally or in writing to Israel, privately. At a later date we intend to follow the latter course, with decision as to whether presentation is to be oral or written to be made at the time. Informally the Israelis have led us to believe our language will be acceptable to them, though further Israeli attempts to persuade us to their view seem likely.


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