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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum Warning President About Pressure To Aid Israel

(January 12, 1966)

This is a very revealing memo that gives a good sense of the behind the scenes political games played in Middle East diplomacy and how the pro-Israel lobby operates and is sometimes countered by the bureaucracy.

Memorandum From the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Komer) to President Johnson 1

Washington, January 12, 1966, 11 a.m.

Our Israeli Affairs. Mike Feldman says he hopes to see you in the next few days, probably to pass on a complaint about how poorly we're treating Israel. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you got a letter from Eshkol shortly.

Such gambits are part of a standard Israeli effort to put pressure on us for more military and economic help. I've been through them before and, as I wrote you,/2/ the best response is to play a little hard to get ourselves (and make clear we won't be muscled) before coming through. We end up spending less this way. Thus we've held up informing Israel of your economic aid decision just yet; we're also waiting till we can propose to you a solution on planes for Jordan and Israel.

One development has infuriated the Israelis. To counter all the public criticism they generated about US aid to Nasser and arms to other Arabs, somebody in the Pentagon defensively leaked that the Israelis were secretly buying fancy missiles from France. We haven't made them feel any better by pointing out that, while we deplore the leak, it serves them right.

Although Israel will complain about a crisis of confidence, this is par for the course. So is sending Feldman and Feinberg in to harry you. Thus, I'd see merit in telling Feldman to pass back word that we naturally bridle when Israel tells us how to run our business and that, if Israel expects help from us, it must be a two-way street. We could well afford to hold the line for another few weeks before easing up.

If you feel that we are trying to play too cozy a game, however, we can ease up. We can short-circuit most Zionist criticism by leaking the tank deal to Israel (even though this risks flak from Arabs, especially Nasser). We could also go ahead with the economic aid package, and then with the planes. In sum, we have more than enough goodies in hand to stem any tide of criticism. The only real issue is whether to play hard to get a bit longer as a lesson, or to begin caving now.

R. W. Komer

Keep holding back till February
Start easing up now 3

1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. 18. Secret. Filed with a January 12 covering memorandum from Bundy to the President noting that it replaced a memorandum that he and Komer had sent earlier and expressing disappointment that the Israelis were "still trying to use the Feldman/Feinberg channel for serious business."

2. A January 5 memorandum from Komer to the President noted several items that Komer attributed to an Israeli effort to put public pressure on the United States for more aid. He recommended telling the Israelis that "we simply refuse to do business this way." A note from Bundy on the memorandum endorsed Komer's recommendation. Johnson wrote "See me" on the memorandum. (Ibid., Country File, Israel, Vol. 5) Bundy stated in the January 12 memorandum cited in footnote 1 above that he had not done so because of the press of other business.

3. Neither option is checked.

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