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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Aides Discuss Implications of Jordan Arms Deal with Bundy

(February 7, 1965)

President's Johnson's aides discuss the domestic repercussions of selling arms to Jordan and the Israeli reaction.


This is memo I sent LBJ yesterday,2 which I believe had major impact on tentative decisions taken. Since he had Moyers sit in on meetings and Bill called me for lunch, I showed it to him and he asked me to tell LBJ he agreed.

In the series of meetings we held it became crystal clear that the President's chief reason for not accepting the repeated State/DOD/CIA recommendation was his concern over the US domestic reaction when it came out that the US was supplying arms to a UAC aimed at Israel. Of course this was the angle we kept cluing him on, since State/DOD tended to argue only in terms of keeping Jordan from going the Soviet route. The predictably violent Israeli reaction (see Eshkol letter)3 and Feldman's flank attacks added to his worries.

It gradually dawned on me that we were three-quarters pregnant anyway. If Hussein accepted our package he'd have to tell UAC in Cairo; once it then came out that US selling to Jordan, we'd be trapped. In fact, Israelis themselves threatened they might have to reveal it (according to Mike). Moreover, US role in German tank deal is bound to leak soon; when this happened, we'd stand revealed as making arms sales to Israel too. So I kept pressing on State to face up to fact that if we agreed to sell Jordan, we'd have to sell Israel too--as the only way of protecting our domestic flank. Moreover, as I argued in attached, maintaining a decent Arab-Israeli deterrent balance was essential to forestall another Arab-Israeli clash, one piling up of Soviet arms to Arabs gave latter enough confidence.

Moyers made a big contribution by arguing Friday4 that we'd have to make a public statement justifying arms to Jordan in a way that would satisfy domestic critics. So at Saturday afternoon meeting5 I expanded on this. My argument was that the only means of getting away with arms to Jordan was to say publicly we would help Israel too, in order to prevent piling up of Soviet arms from threatening peace.

In addition to above arguments, I pointed out that we were inevitably being pushed in this direction anyway, citing 1962 Hawk deal and then 1964 covert tank deal. It was a fact of life that we were going to have to change our policy. German attempt to renege on tank deal, coming at same time, might be panicking the Israelis. But we needed their active support if we were to get away with Jordan arms sale--only way to get this was to tell them we'd sell to them too. So why not bite the bullet?

Ball, Vance, Wheeler all agreed in principle, though expressing reservations as to how much we should say or do right off. I made clear that we'd get plenty of flak from the Arabs, but perhaps best to ride it out now. Only alternative was a flat US security guarantee and joint planning, which would spook the Arabs even more. Jernegan agreed, saying a security guarantee would force us into arms aid anyway, so was worse. There was no firm decision (I didn't press for one because this is a major policy shift) but I do feel all top echelon are on notice that if we sell to Jordan, we have no other viable alternative.

You should know that LBJ authorized modified offer to Jordan (only basic M-48s, no US jets) only on basis unanimous judgment Hussein wouldn't accept. Ergo, in effect it was a tactical device designed to buy a little time (I was only one to say I thought some chance Hussein might buy).

Am going on at this length, because this whole affair may come to a boil while I'm gone. I envisage a public statement (after news leaks) that US: (1) reiterates 8 May '63 statement against aggression in ME; (2) has sought for years to avoid contributing to ME arms race; (3) but in view of constant Soviet effort to upset stability by cut-rate sales, US prepared sell to friendly countries which don't wish to go Soviet route; (4) will sell arms only for defensive purposes when obvious cases of imbalance developing.

If we go this route, I believe we should send a credible emissary secretly to Nasser pronto to clue him, saying that public spat will help no one and just result in US/UAR split; we still prefer arms control to arms race but he left us no choice (cluing him in advance on Hawk deal helped immensely). Bob Anderson would be admirable (LBJ mentioned sending him to persuade Nasser to lay off Hussein, but Ball and I countered this wouldn't do any good just now).



1 Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. III. Secret. A note in Komer's handwriting at the top of the memorandum reads, "Essence of Jordan arms problem."

2 Reference is apparently to Document 138.

3 See footnote 3, Document 137.

4 February 5.

5See footnote 2, Document 135.

Sources: United States Department of State