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John F. Kennedy Administration: Memorandum on the U.S. Israeli Security Guarantee

(September 20, 1963)

This is a memorandum from the Department of State Executive Secretary, Read, to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy, proposing a reply to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's letter requesting a security guarantee for Israel.

Attached is a memorandum on an Israel Security Guarantee which Mr. Ball has approved. He has suggested that we transmit it to you together with a suggested Presidential reply to former Israel Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's letter of May 12. We are also attaching the Department of Defense study on this same subject.

On July 23 you suggested we tell the Israelis why we do not feel we can go beyond your May 8 press conference statement in providing new security assurances. We enclose a suggested letter to Prime Minister Eshkol responding to Ben-Gurion's of May 12. If approved, we hope this would conclude the current dialogue with the Israelis about more explicit security arrangements. We consider this justified because:

1. Our public and private commitment to Israel's security is clear, inter alia, from your December 1962 talk with Mrs. Meir, your April 26 letter to Ben-Gurion, your May 8 statement, and the present reply.

2. Arab leaders and the world at large are in no doubt as to this commitment, and the Arabs contemplate no military attack on Israel at this time.

3. We concur generally in the view expressed in the enclosed study by the Joint Chiefs that the United States has more than adequate military force available for unilateral deployment to make good its pledge to Israel. What Israel desires is what it sees as a political advantage deriving from our open military support.

4. These factors aside, the present Near East balance favors Israel and by Israel's own admission will continue to do so in the years immediately ahead.

5. We have the entire security situation in the Near East under constant study. If there were a change, serious threat of change, or material weakness in Israel's defenses, we would be ready to take immediate measures.

6. The security arrangements Israel seeks with the United States would in our judgment harm our interests in the area and weaken rather than strengthen Israel's ultimate security.

a. Our carefully built influence with the Arab states would be set back by the new bilateral arrangements Israel wants. This influence is useful to us and to Israel both as a deterrent and in the constructive sense of helping along those accommodations that we hope will ultimately make possible Israel's acceptance in the area.

b. New United States arrangements with Israel could result in comparable Soviet-Arab ties, bringing the Soviets back in, probably in a more permanent and damaging fashion.

c. As a consequence of (b), impetus would be given to the area arms race. Our capability to restrain this competition, which is moving into more sophisticated weapons, would be reduced and probably eliminated.

d. One major reason for Israel's non-acceptance by its neighbors is its foreignness; expanded ties with a foreign power would perpetuate its isolation in the area.

7. We should retain freedom of decision and action in the Near East to be able to deal decisively with aggression there from either disputant. Advance security arrangements with Israel would tie our hands undesirably.

8. Our firm but sympathetic reply to the Israelis can best be made now because:

a. The imminence of an encircling Arab unity which might be regarded as threatening by Israel has so obviously receded since the Cairo declaration of April 17. While current discord among the Arab states increases temptations in some to pin-prick Israel, Arab capacity to cause damage to Israel is correspondingly limited.

b. We have a fairly satisfactory reply regarding Dimona inspections. Israel has signed the Test Ban Treaty. There is broad appreciation for our stand in the Security Council's recent discussion of incidents on the Israel-Syria border, and consequently a greater confidence that we are prepared to act in Israel's interest. These circumstances create a good atmosphere for frank and forth-right exposition of our views.

c. Our reply will fall in context with answers already received from Prime Minister Macmillan and President de Gaulle. We know both have answered negatively to Ben-Gurion's request.

In short, we propose that your letter again make clear our concern for Israel's integrity, but convey our strong sense that there must be a balance in our approach to the Near East and that we conceive this, our present approach, as in Israel's best interests.

All available evidence indicates Israel has already anticipated a negative reaction regarding the formal security guarantee and will now go on to try to get alternatives such as joint military planning and assurance of freer access to United States weaponry. Such alternatives might cause difficulties as great or greater than the formal security guarantee. The implications of each should be examined carefully when and if presented by the Israelis.

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